Statement by Deputy Minister Landers at the High Level Segment of the Conference on Disarmament Geneva, Switzerland, 28 February 2018

Thank you Madam President for the opportunity to address this august body. 

Madam President,

At the outset, let me state unambiguously that South Africa is a strong proponent of disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control and an ardent supporter of a world free from the threats posed by weapons of mass destruction and the proliferation of conventional arms. While the threat to humanity posed by chemical and biological weapons has led to the banning of these weapons of mass destruction through negotiations in this very body, the achievement of a world free from nuclear weapons remains an unfulfilled and elusive goal.

South Africa’s commitment to disarmament has never been a goal in itself.  Amongst others, it is based on our belief that international peace and security cannot be divorced from development - that global security is not achievable when enormous financial and other resources continue to be diverted towards the acquisition of more and more destructive capabilities, while more than a billion people around the world continue to suffer from hunger and deprivation.  We believe that common threats can only be effectively addressed through enhanced international co-operation and strong international institutions that can respond to our collective security concerns.

Madam President,

There can be no doubt about the inextricable link between disarmament and non-proliferation and that continuous and irreversible progress on both fronts are required. As the cornerstone of the nuclear disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation regime, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) represents a historical bargain between the nuclear-weapon States and the non-nuclear-weapon States, in terms of which the former has undertaken to eliminate their nuclear weapons based on the reciprocal undertaking by the latter not to pursue the nuclear weapons option. Regrettably, this grand bargain has been challenged by its partners not living up to their commitments, especially under article 6.

We are convinced that neither the possession nor the pursuit of nuclear weapons can enhance international peace and security. We are particularly alarmed about statements seeking to justify the retention of nuclear weapons on the basis of the perceived benefits of nuclear deterrence. Such justifications and the notion that nuclear weapons provide an ultimate security guarantee, weaken arguments against proliferation and the development of nuclear weapons by others, which tend to use the very same arguments to justify their decision to pursue the nuclear weapons option. Simply put, there are no right hands for wrong weapons and the idea of responsible possession of nuclear arms therefore has to be contested.

The primary responsibility for undertaking the necessary steps for the elimination of nuclear weapons lies with the nuclear-weapon States. It is therefore incumbent upon these States to engage, without further delay, in an accelerated process of negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control.

Madam President,

As you are aware, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) was adopted on 7 July 2017 by a United Nations Conference. The adoption of this Treaty through an inclusive multilateral process in the United Nations framework, which involved both States and members of civil society, is the culmination of three international conferences held between 2012 and 2014 that considered the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of the use of nuclear weapons and their associated risks.  We regret the decision by the States possessing nuclear weapons not to participate in the UN Conference.  The adoption of this Treaty by two thirds of the UN membership displays the moral and security concerns of the international community with regard to the catastrophic consequences of the use of nuclear weapons and the need for security for all.

As one of the most significant developments in the area of nuclear disarmament since 1945, the TPNW represents the highest non-proliferation standard that any State can commit to, thereby strengthening and complementing the NPT. This was also the reason why it was acknowledged by the Nobel Peace Committee in 2017. It also provides the opportunity for those States that are not located in nuclear-weapon-free zones to join an instrument that expresses total opposition to nuclear weapons.

The TPNW is fully consistent with the NPT and endeavours to contribute towards fulfilling its provisions, including the obligation under Article VI to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures towards nuclear disarmament. It neither distracts from or adds to the safeguards regime established under the NPT, nor precludes the further strengthening of any safeguards regime or the additional measures that States may have already committed to, or may undertake in the future.  As with the NPT, any State joining the Treaty is required, as a minimum, to conclude and implement a comprehensive safeguards agreement with the IAEA.

The UN Conference endeavoured to ensure that the Treaty does not inadvertently create loopholes in the existing regime, while recognising that detailed verification arrangements would need to be developed in the future, hopefully with the participation of all States. 

Madam President,

I have to reiterate that the TPNW is not the final word on nuclear weapons, but a critical step in the evolution of the regime that would be required to achieve and eventually maintain a world without nuclear weapons. Its approach is consistent with the approach taken in the elimination of other unacceptable weapons, where prohibition preceded elimination.  Importantly, the Treaty does not prioritise the security interests of one or a few States above the security interests of the international community as a whole, but rather recognizes that nuclear weapons pose a threat to all States and people.

South Africa was among around 50 countries that signed the Treaty when it was opened for signature on 20 September 2017 in New York and we look forward to the soonest signature and ratification of the TPNW by all States that are committed to the complete elimination of all nuclear weapons.

The TPNW Madam President, does not distract from, but rather encourages, urgent progress towards the implementation of the nuclear disarmament obligations and commitments under the NPT.  What undermines confidence in the NPT is lack of the judicious implementation of article 6 and the necessary sense of urgency in fulfilling commitments. We believe that the faithful implementation of the nuclear disarmament commitments with the necessary sense of urgency will restore confidence in the regime and strengthen international peace and security.

As we prepare for the 2020 NPT Review Conference, it is imperative that we take stock of the progress made towards the implementation of all Treaty provisions and the solemn commitments made in this regard. We should guard against some States opposed to the TPNW using this to distract our attention from an objective assessment of the progress made in the implementation of the 1995, 2000 and 2010 NPT Final Documents.

In this regard, we will have to assess why the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), the last treaty to be negotiated in the CD 22 years ago, has still not entered into force. Given recent international developments, the importance and urgency to achieve the early entry into force of the Treaty cannot be over-emphasised.

Madam President,

The present CD Session takes place against the backdrop of a number of challenges that have affected international disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control efforts during the last few years.  The continuing deadlock and inability of the CD to deliver on its responsibility as the “single multilateral disarmament negotiating forum” of the international community must rank very high amongst these challenges.  We regret that the recent decision adopted by the CD once again fell short of our expectations for an end to the protracted impasse.  Past repetitive activities have not brought the Conference closer to agreement on a programme of work.  Nevertheless, it is our hope that the recent decision would not distract the CD from the imperative of reaching consensus on a Programme of Work early during the 2018 session and starting negotiations. We have no doubt that this will require increased flexibility by all CD members and a willingness to move beyond narrow interests.

In South Africa’s view, there are several items on the CD’s agenda that have long been ripe for negotiations, including a fissile material treaty, a treaty on the prevention of an arms race in outer space, as well as other effective measures towards nuclear disarmament.  We see no reason why any or all of these issues cannot be subjected to negotiations in the CD, especially given the complexities of each of these areas which may take time to resolve.  Neither do we believe that the conclusion of such instruments could in any way jeopardise the national security interests of any State.  To the contrary, new norms in these areas can only serve to strengthen international and regional peace and security.  In addition, the mere act of negotiation can also help to rebuild trust among States, something that is desperately needed.

Madam President,

There is an urgent moral duty for the CD to be a working and functional platform as envisaged by the founding fathers. Collectively, Members of the CD hold the key to unlock this body’s true potential and through the CD we can respond to the current global challenges.

I thank you.


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