Statement by HE Deputy Minister Alvin Botes to the High-Level Segment of the Conference on Disarmament, 26 February 2020

Statement by HE Deputy Minister Alvin Botes to the High-Level Segment of the Conference on Disarmament, 26 February 2020


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


Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,


During 2020 we will be commemorating a number of milestones including the 75th anniversary of the United Nations, the 50th anniversary of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and the 25th anniversary of its indefinite extension. This year also marks 75 years since the first use of nuclear weapons where we witnessed the catastrophic consequences of these weapons.


Mr President,


It must be recalled that the very first resolution adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1946 called for the elimination from national armaments of atomic weapons. Consequently, we developed the NPT whose preamble emphasises the devastation that would be visited upon all mankind by a nuclear war and the consequent need to make every effort to avert the danger. South Africa continues to view the NPT as the cornerstone of the nuclear disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation regime. The Treaty 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.


However, while non-proliferation measures have been strengthened, similar concrete progress has not yet been realised in the area of nuclear disarmament. We believe that efforts to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons should be matched by a concurrent effort to eliminate all nuclear weapons, in a verifiable and irreversible manner.


We likewise remain seriously concerned about the apparent lack of urgency and seriousness with which the solemn undertakings, particularly in respect to nuclear disarmament, continue to be approached. Still more concerning are attempts to negate or reinterpret the nuclear disarmament undertakings made since the 1995 Review and Extension Conference.


Whilst reductions are important, they do not substitute for concrete, transparent, irreversible and verifiable nuclear disarmament measures. On-going modernisation programmes, including in relation to delivery systems, make it clear that some States still wish to indefinitely retain these instruments of destruction, contrary to their legal obligations and political commitments. This undermines the NPT bargain and also the non-proliferation norms established by the Treaty.


Mr President,


As we move towards 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. In South Africa’s view, a starting point of the Review Conference needs to be a reaffirmation of the unequivocal undertaking towards nuclear disarmament and the principles emanating from the previous Review Conferences, including that the principles of transparency, irreversibility and verifiability should apply to all nuclear disarmament, nuclear arms reduction and arms control measures. Any future outcome should not roll back or reinterpret the agreements reached during the 1995, 2000 and 2010 Review Conferences which remain valid until fully implemented. Concrete progress on these agreements will be essential to the success of the 2020 review cycle. We should not become complacent about the threat posed by nuclear weapons and the lack of full implementation of the disarmament obligations flowing from Article VI. The provisions of the NPT and the outcomes of its Review Conferences must be respected to maintain the continued vitality of this important legal instrument.


Mr President,


The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) was but one piece of work to lead us towards a nuclear weapon free world. The TPNW 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. The TPNW includes different pathways for States possessing or hosting nuclear weapons to join when they are ready through a time- bound, verifiable and irreversible process of nuclear disarmament. The TPNW does not spell out all the details of such a process, but rather allows for further negotiations on these arrangements to be agreed upon when States possessing or hosting nuclear weapons are ready to accede to it. While the doors into this Treaty have always been open, some chose to abdicate leadership and not participate in it. However, it must be noted that the manner in which the TPNW was drafted was sensitive to their needs and anticipated what they will require when they join.


Mr President,


The First Special Session on Disarmament (SSOD-I) considered the significant role that can be played by appropriate international machinery designed to deal with the problems of disarmament. In this regard, we are here today in the Conference on Disarmament which was established as the “single multilateral disarmament negotiating forum” of the international community. It is regrettable that even though we have a body that is mandated to negotiate multilateral disarmament instruments, it has not discharged its basic mandate for 24 years.


In South Africa’s view, there are several items on the CD’s agenda that are ready 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. The discussions in and reports of Groups of Governmental Experts on these issues have displayed a positive inclination to negotiations. There is therefore 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. We do not 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.


Mr President,


While we regret that the Conference on Disarmament has not been able to fulfill its mandate for the last 24 years, it is our hope the efforts on reaching consensus on a Programme of Work and starting negotiations continue. We have no doubt that this will require increased flexibility by all CD members and a willingness to move beyond narrow interests. Though at the same time we must guard against conferring on the Conference on Disarmament a “deliberative mandate” as opposed to a “negotiating mandate”, noting that SSOD-I made a clear distinction between the machinery for deliberation and the machinery for negotiation. Reinterpretation of past agreements such is SSOD-I is contributing to the impasse in the CD, due to the inflexibility of members to reflect the mandate in line with the outcome of SSOD-I.


In conclusion Mr President,


As Archbishop Desmond Tutu said “Disarmament is not an option for governments to take up or ignore. It is a moral duty owed by them to their own citizens, and to humanity as a whole. We must not await another Hiroshima or Nagasaki before finally mustering the political will to banish these weapons from global arsenals.” The catastrophic humanitarian consequences of the use of nuclear weapons must spur disarmament efforts and make any use of nuclear weapons unthinkable. The credibility of multilateral bodies and the sanctity of agreements and commitments from multilateral processes have to be respected and protected to preserve the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation architecture.


While the primary responsibility for undertaking the necessary steps for the elimination of nuclear weapons lies with the nuclear- weapon States, all of us must play our part to achieve our common goal. It is therefore incumbent upon all 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.


I thank you.




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