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Three steps to dismantling arms
South Africa's experience proves that regimes must be made to feel confident to disarm, thus there must be a regional ban on WMD's to prevent an arms race in the Middle East, Korea, and other areas of conflict.
Three steps to dismantling arms
March 3, 2003.
By Greg Mills & Annelize Schroeder
Three stages can be identified in the troika (nuclear, chemical and biological) of disarmament measures taken by South Africa.
The first stage involved the dismantling of SA's six complete and one partially assembled nuclear "devices". A decision to this effect was taken by then-president FW de Klerk in February 1990, shortly after the release of Nelson Mandela from prison and the unbanning of the ANC, PAC and SACP.
This announcement was preceded by the establishment of a steering committee of senior officials, appointed by De Klerk, to investigate the possibility of dismantling the programme.
They were tasked to dismantle the devices, return High Enriched Uranium from these devices to the Atomic Energy Corporation (AEC), decontaminate AEC facilities, submit a full and complete national initial inventory of nuclear material as well as its facilities as required by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), terminate operation of the so-called Pilot Enrichment Plant at Valindaba, and make available (and later destroy) the "how to do it" bomb construction documentation.
The country acceded to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) on July 10 1991. Seven weeks later, on September 16 1991, the country signed a Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA, allowing for frequent IAEA inspections of its facilities with the enriched material still under 24-hour video surveillance from Vienna, where the agency is based.
South African authorities co-operated fully with the IAEA during the whole verification process, and were commended by the then-director-general of the agency in 1992, Dr Hans Blix, for providing inspectors with unlimited access and data beyond those required by the Safeguards Agreement.
Second, the scrapping of SA's ballistic missile programme commenced in 1992, and took around 18 months. This process culminated in its admission to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) in September 1995 after the destruction of the last of its missile engines had been verified.
The third stage involved the conclusion of SA's biological and chemical warfare programme. Unlike the nuclear field, however, there was no clear-cut process of international acceptance or approval, since no similar legislation existed comparable to the NPT.
But to illustrate its commitment to chemical disarmament, SA ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1995, and played a leading role in negotiations on a Protocol to the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention.
SA has also adopted strict legislation in the form of the Act on the Non-proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction which came into force in 1993. The act makes provision for a South African Council for Non-proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction to control exports of dual-use materials, equipment and technology.
SA has also joined several control regimes, such as the Nuclear Suppliers Group and Zangger Committee (nuclear) and the MTCR, as mentioned above, whose objective it is to monitor the supply of equipment, technology and materials.
The country thus occupies a unique position in the world as being the first country to have voluntarily dismantled its nuclear weapons capability.
But is the South African experience relevant to Iraq?
There are three critical differences.
First, although there was a degree of international pressure on SA to comply with the NPT and disarm, including losing the African seat which it occupied in the IAEA Board of Governors, this was essentially a voluntary process.
In the case of Iraq, Saddam Hussein's government has not displayed a similar change of heart, at least not voluntarily, raising the suspicion that, if the threat of military pressure and related inspection regime were relaxed, Baghdad would again seek to acquire weapons of mass destruction.
A change of political intent is at least as important, thus, as the inspection regime. It is doubtful that Saddam can afford to be seen to back down in the face of international pressure, and disarm. This would, in terms of his regional and domestic persona, amount to regime change, with potentially dramatic implications for his political survival.
Second, this reflects a fundamental difference in the trajectory of the two states. At the time, white SA was emerging from international isolation and moving rapidly towards democracy, Iraq is not.
The Southern African region was also democratising. The Gulf is slowly liberalising its economies, but none of the region's states can be described as a functioning liberal democracy.
Third, it is uncertain whether Saddam will be willing to sacrifice the considerable investment he had made in his weapons programme.
It is estimated that SA's nuclear project cost about $200-million over its lifetime. This is a fraction of what Iraq has invested - reportedly more than $500-million in just the first eight years of Baghdad's nuclear programme.
The South African experience does, however, point to the importance of creating the right environment in which regimes can be made to feel confident enough to disarm and stay that way.
In part this has to come from within - that regimes have to visibly see the benefits of disarmament. Regionally, it involves altering the tenor of debate and climate of suspicion, and the related need to no longer see security in purely military terms.
It can also be created in the wider external context by stressing the positive benefits of adherence, not just in terms of removing the threat of military action, but spelling out the carrots of reacceptance including trade, investment and, crucially, emergence from pariahood. - Independent Foreign Service
Dr Greg Mills and Annelize Schroeder are respectively the National Director and Director of Operations at the SA Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA)
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