South Africa considers follow-up to the Vienna conference

May 20, 2014

South Africa, no doubt, has a special status in the nuclear disarmament community. Ever since the country decided to put its nuclear weapons programme to a halt and unilaterally eliminate its nuclear arsenal in the 1990s, South Africa has been a vociferous critic of the lack of progress in nuclear disarmament, and a consistent supporter of bold measures to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons.

At an event in Oslo, Norway, on 12 – 13 May 2014, Acting Chief Director at the South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO), Ms Titi Molaba, said that South Africa is “considering the possibility of hosting a fourth conference” to follow up on the Vienna conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons.

The event, From the end to the beginning – Celebrating 20 years of South African Democracy and Nuclear Disarmament, was organised by ICAN Norway in partnership with a long range of Norwegian humanitarian and development organisations, and featured the attendance of Jay Naidoo, Minister in Nelson Mandela’s government and Hans Brattskar, State Secretary at the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, amongst others.

The South African announcement comes only a few months after the Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz invited all states to a third conference on this topic later this year, and the deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Mexico, Juan Manuel Gomez Robledo, in his summary of the Nayarit conference, concluded that “the broad-based and comprehensive discussions of the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons should lead to the commitment of States and civil society to reach new standards and norms, through a legally binding instrument”.

“This is obviously a very promising development for anyone believing that the humanitarian initiative should initiate negotiations of a legally binding instrument prohibiting nuclear weapons. There is probably no country better placed to take this process forward than South Africa” says Beatrice Fihn, member of ICAN International Steering Group (ISG), adding that ICAN, a global civil society coalition of more than 360 organisations in 93 countries, stands ready to support South Africa, should it decide to host a conference.

The humanitarian initiative has come a long way since the Norwegian Foreign Minister, Jonas Gahr Støre, announced that Norway would host the first conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons in April 2012. More and more states are starting to draw the political and legal conclusion from these conferences, most recently at the 2014 Preparatory Committee of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in New York, where a growing number of states voiced the need for a legally binding instrument to implement the Treaty’s disarmament obligations.

In his address to the United Nations General Assembly in 1998, Nelson Mandela said: “We must ask the question, which might sound naive to those who have elaborated sophisticated arguments to justify their refusal to eliminate these terrible and terrifying weapons of mass destruction – why do they need them anyway!”

Perhaps South Africa will be the place to finally put those ‘sophisticated arguments’ to rest.

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