Opening Remarks by Deputy Minister Luwellyn Landers at the African Regional Conference on Nuclear Disarmament and Lethal Autonomous Weapons, 16 August 2018, Premier Hotel, Pretoria

Excellencies, and Distinguished guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my honour and great pleasure to address you this morning and to welcome you to the African Regional Conference on Nuclear Disarmament and Lethal Autonomous Weapons.

Firstly, I would like to express my Government’s appreciation to our co-hosts, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), for making this event possible, and creating a platform to exchange information and discuss the way forward on these important issues.

Ladies and Gentlemen.

We meet at a time when we face the greatest threat to our existence.  This threat does not come from nuclear weapons alone, but in the main, is as a result of the creeping new ideology of unilateralism. As we deal with the threat of nuclear and how best to arrest it, we must be vigilant against the menace of unilateralism that is in stark conflict and pointed contradiction to our survival and humanity.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is significant to recall that South Africa’s struggle for political freedom was closely linked to the campaign for nuclear disarmament, including the elimination of the apartheid nuclear bomb. The eventual abandonment of the nuclear weapons programme by South Africa is testimony to the principled stance of the overwhelming majority of South Africans against nuclear weapons and their elimination.

Given its unique history as the first country to have eliminated its nuclear weapons, South Africa is proud to have been able to play a role in the creation of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, together with its partners in Austria, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico and Nigeria. We also thank the International Campaign To Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) and the vast majority of States and members of civil society that actively contributed to the process and the adoption of the Treaty in July last year. 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

South Africa’s signature of the Treaty reflects its continued commitment towards the achievement of a world free from the threat posed by nuclear weapons and ensuring that nuclear energy is used for peaceful purposes only.  Our signature is also a fitting tribute to the values espoused by the late President of the African National Congress, Oliver Reginald Tambo.  Already in 1987, as a guest of honour at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, Mr Tambo wrote the following inscription in the Guest Book:

“History chose the city of Hiroshima to tell the world never again to go to war, never ever to abandon the struggle for peace. The tragic story of Hiroshima told in this painful museum is a guide to present and future generations if mankind and our planet are to be saved from complete obliteration“.

While we celebrate this historic achievement, we are fully aware that the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is but one piece of the puzzle.  While the Treaty is neither the proverbial silver bullet nor the final word on nuclear weapons, it seeks to establish an international norm, delegitimising and stigmatising the possession of nuclear arms. It aims to contribute towards achieving the objective set out in the very first resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1946 to eliminate all weapons of mass destruction.

The Treaty complements other international instruments by contributing towards fulfilling the nuclear disarmament obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the objectives of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the various nuclear weapon free zone treaties, such as the Pelindaba Treaty that already banned nuclear weapons in Africa.

For South Africa, the negotiation and entry into force of the Pelindaba Treaty is a true reflection of what African States have achieved in pursuance of our common security objectives. The Treaty provides tangible security benefits to us all and effectively bans nuclear weapons on the Continent, whilst recognising the rights of State Parties to utilise the atom for peace and to make full use of nuclear technologies to enhance their social and economic development.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As if the threat of nuclear weapons is not enough, we also face the prospect of the development of weapons, which once activated, could select and engage targets without human control. This category of weapons has been termed Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS).

Although it would appear as though the dictum is that Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS) do not currently exist, it is certainly true that as a result of technological innovation, certain critical functions in weapons systems currently operate autonomously. The danger exists that should this trend in research development continue without being regulated, it follows that humans will be removed from the loop of control. Thus permitting machines to determine targets in warfare.

In continuing this trend in weapons development, a range of humanitarian, ethical, legal and technological considerations arises, which you will examine in detail tomorrow. In this regard, an important consideration relating to Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS) is that if human control is removed, the attribution of responsibility for breaches as applicable to current legal provisions will not be possible. In addition limits on autonomy in weapon systems should be established to ensure International Humanitarian Law (IHL) compliance and to satisfy ethical concerns.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This year we celebrate the centenary of the Late President NeIson Mandela under who’s leadership South Africa drove our progressive post democratic nuclear disarmament order. Through our presence and participation here let us use this space constructively to pay tribute to Madiba’s legacy by showing a clear demonstration of our collective and unwavering commitment towards a Continent that is peaceful, stable, secure and prosperous – but also to international peace and security. I wish you well and trust that your constructive deliberations over the next two days will take us forward towards our common security objectives and towards achieving a world free from the threat posed by nuclear weapons. With these brief remarks, I would like to welcome you all.

I thank you.


OR Tambo Building
460 Soutpansberg Road





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