Publication: Issued: Date: 2003-01-28 Reporter: Jan Hennop Editor:

South Africa : A Model of Weapons Disarmament


Date 2003-01-28


Jan Hennop

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Amid the clang and furore over Iraq's alleged weapons programme, one country has stood out as a model of how to get rid of arms of mass destruction - South Africa.

Last week Hans Blix, the UN's chief weapons inspector in Iraq, praised what he called "the South African model of co-operation" and urged Baghdad to adopt it as he prepared his report on six weeks of UN inspections in Iraq.

A decade ago he was the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

On March 24, 1993, former South African President Frederik de Klerk, revealed the country had developed a "limited nuclear deterrent" during the 1970s and 1980s.

The country had seven nuclear weapons, De Klerk said, but added it had dismantled them, inviting the IAEA, headed by Blix, to conduct inspections.

"Our experience at the IAEA was that South Africa wanted to create confidence that they had done away with nuclear weapons they had built and they invited the IAEA to carry out a full inspection," Blix said, quoted by The Sunday Independent in South Africa.

His implication was that by contrast the Iraqis were playing a more passive role, leaving it up to inspectors themselves to find weapons if they could, the newspaper said.

Blix cautioned, however, that South Africa's situation had been "much simpler" than that of Iraq.

"Nevertheless it demonstrated the will and eagerness of South Africa to be believed in the world," Blix said. "They set an example, I think, for Iraq," he added.

Pik Botha, South Africa's foreign minister at the time, said: "Our policy was 'you can visit anywhere, anytime. "They (the IAEA) had access to all our scientists and experts without supervision or anyone else being present. They could look at every book and file," Botha told the Sunday Independent.

He said the IAEA inspectors did not know the details of South Africa's nuclear plants and facilities "and so the duty was on us to say 'these are all the facilities connected with the things we made and if you want to see anything else, or talk to anyone else, we will oblige'."

Botha said he recalled instances where inspectors wanted to go where South African officials said: "We can assure you that you will find nothing there, but if you want to go, let's go."

"We opened up fully. A full account could be given of every bit of nuclear fuel and material. And so they were able to confirm that the six of seven nuclear devices we had disclosed were the only ones ever made and that we had dismantled them.

"That's the model they require and that's the response they don't get from Iraq," added Botha.

South African analyst and professor at the South African Institute for International Affairs (SAIIA) John Stremlau, agreed on Monday.

"It has been held since then as the model of how you do nuclear disarmament," he said.

"It will be interesting to see being debated in the UN Security Council how close to that standard can you get so you can avoid a war?" he added.

South Africa's foray into the world of nuclear weapons started in 1948, the same year the white apartheid government came to power, with the establishment of the Atomic Energy Board (AEB).

During the 1970s, however, white South Africa's security situation deteriorated rapidly and in 1978 government approved a "nuclear deterrent strategy".

Towards the end of the 1980s the situation around South Africa changed, with the withdrawal of 50 000 Cuban troops in Angola, the agreement of UN Security Council Resolution 435 which led to Namibian independence, and the collapse of communism.

Internally the situation in South Africa was also changing and De Klerk completed the dismantling of the country's nuclear weapons just under a year before the white government handed over power to the black majority, lead by Nelson Mandela's African National Congress (ANC).

With acknowledgements to Jan Hennop and