We talked to Dr Antje Nötzold about her book
We are pleased to present the book “Decision to Denuclearise: A Process Analysis of Nuclear Disarmament in South Africa” by Dr Antje Nötzold, based on a short interview. The book provides a ground-breaking analysis of South Africa’s decision to dismantle its nuclear arsenal.
Your book focuses on the decision-making process for denuclearisation in South Africa and the internal and international influences. What is the current state of denuclearisation in South Africa?
“South Africa is so far the only country that has not only stopped a military nuclear programme by its own decision, but has completely disarmed existing nuclear weapons. With its comprehensive and sustainable nuclear disarmament and subsequent commitment to nuclear non-proliferation, South Africa is also known as the “champion of non-proliferation efforts”. We have not seen any efforts to restart a military nuclear programme in the last 30 years, nor do we see any at present. On the contrary, Pretoria has been instrumental in the indefinite extension of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1995 and the establishment of an African Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone (ANWFZ), is a member of various nuclear export control organisations, ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 1999 and in 2019 became the 22nd state party to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which outlaws nuclear weapons in their entirety.”
To what extent did the international context also play a role in the denuclearisation of a country in the case of South Africa?
“The international context is very important. On the one hand, the international community has created norms against the proliferation and use of nuclear weapons. With 190 states parties, the NPT is an almost universal norm and the “nuclear taboo” of no further use of nuclear weapons has remained unbroken for almost 80 years. On the other hand, the international community can create a framework that favours a decision against a nuclear weapons programme by means of sanctions, international ostracism and exclusion, threats to or guarantees for security – depending on the country – and by controlling and restricting access to materials and technology relevant to nuclear weapons. These factors can be used to create an international and national environment in which the costs of pursuing nuclear ambitions become too high and factors come into play that lead to the decision to denuclearise.”
What lessons can be learned from the successful denuclearisation of South Africa – the only case of disarmament of existing nuclear weapons to date – for the current proliferation crises in North Korea and Iran?
“The most important realisation is that one factor alone is not enough for nuclear disarmament. Non-proliferation is characterised by multi-causality and equifinality, i.e. several causal factors work together and have a different impact in each case. The specific trigger of the decision that ultimately brings about the denuclearisation decision, such as the change in presidency to de Klerk, can only be controlled from the outside to a limited extent. At the same time, this individual trigger can only unfold its triggering effect in the corresponding context of the other factors. It is therefore important to maintain the favourable framework conditions and at the same time remain alert to changes in the country. This requires strategic patience and is politically rather unsatisfactory. It is therefore important to strengthen the entire non-proliferation regime in order to slow down progress in nuclear programmes and generate more time for the right moment.”