South Africa tables resolution on ethical imperatives to prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons
October 18, 2015
Last week, South Africa circulated a new draft resolution for this year’s UN General Assembly called “Ethical imperatives for a nuclear weapons free world”. If the humanitarian impact discussions highlight the unacceptability of any use of nuclear weapons and the risk they pose, the ethical imperatives tabled by South Africa crush any arguments for possessing and relying on nuclear weapons.
The text contains a strong rejection of nuclear weapons, based on ethical and moral principles. The resolution builds on the legacy of Nelson Mandela and the recent moral argument against nuclear weapons by Pope Francis. As a country that has unilaterally disarmed its nuclear arsenal, South Africa has moral leadership on this issue. At the closing of the failed 2015 NPT Review Conference, South Africa argued that there was a lack of moral courage on nuclear disarmament, and expressed a sense that the NPT had degenerated into minority rule—as in apartheid-era South Africa—where the will of a few reigned supreme over the majority.
This resolution highlights that leadership can and should come from non-nuclear weapon states, and sets the stage for commencing negotiations of new legally-binding instruments. It in particular highlights that all states have a responsibility to protect its people from a nuclear detonation and an ethical responsibility to act urgently to prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons.
All governments serious about nuclear disarmament must be upfront about what nuclear weapons are. They are indiscriminate, immoral, and unacceptable weapons of mass destruction. Governments should therefore support this resolution, in addition to the humanitarian pledge, and make it the basis for moving forward to develop a new legally-binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons.