South Africa: Moral Leader on Nuclear Non-Proliferation

South Africa: Moral Leader on Nuclear Non-Proliferation

by / 3 Comments / 21 View / 21st April 2010

President Barack Obama has lauded South Africa’s moral leadership on the issue of nuclear non-proliferation at the just concluded nuclear summit in Washington . Obama praised President Jacob Zuma and his administration for keeping up their unique policy, after South Africa became the world’s only nation to voluntarily give up its previous nuclear weapons program, back in 1993 {++}

Prior to this, South Africa had a fully functioning nuclear arsenal and deterrent. The country was also one of the world’s largest producers of uranium, and in fact still holds large deposits of the mineral, mostly as a result of its gold mining activities. The management of this resource in line with the aims of international non-proliferation may thus serve as an example to the world.

The aim of the Nuclear Summit from 12th-13th April was to promote non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and materials, specifically by securing loose nuclear materials and in the words of Obama ‘locking it down within a specific time frame’, initially four years.

African nations were well-represented at the talks, with Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria and South Africa’s Jacob Zuma both meeting with the US president at and on the eve of the summit. The two countries had the chance to demonstrate their capacity for leadership on both the African and international stage.

South African State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele described how the country would share its experiences and leadership at the conference, by outlining the measures taken to give up its nuclear arsenal and program, and the ramifications of doing so for the country’s security policy.

Meeting with Goodluck Jonathan, Obama was reported to mainly discuss security issues and stability in Nigeria’s oil rich delta region, along with issues not necessarily directly related to nuclear non-proliferation. However, the conversation inevitably turned to the need to prevent terrorists getting access to nuclear weapons, which Obama described as perhaps the greatest salient security issue facing the democratic world. The U.S. is also pushing for sanctions to be placed on Iran, due to its apparently unchecked expansion of nuclear activities, at an upcoming United Nations summit, and there was some indication that Jonathan would abstain from voting on Nigeria’s part at the meeting.

Jonathan was also said to raise the issue of the US placing Nigeria on its list of ‘terrorist countries’. The country has been on the American watch list since the attempted aeroplane bombing by British-based Nigerian student, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. Goodluck Jonathan reportedly pressed for Nigeria’s removal from the list, a request that will surely serve as a litmus test for ongoing relations between the two countries.

The importance of the efforts of these two major African players as partners on this issue in the international community should not be underestimated. The African continent, with Nigeria and South Africa as exemplars, has enough experience of dealing with past and present instability to make a wise contribution to international policy. Dealing with the roots of terrorism in its current Islamic fundamentalist manifestation is a challenge that Nigeria, along with Sudan, Egypt and many other African countries can take action on, sharing knowledge and strategic direction with the international community. As respected members of the Muslim group of nations, many of these countries also have the international moral support of the Islamic community, putting them in a good position to collaborate on sending out a clear message that violent and fundamentalist tenets will not be tolerated by the representatives of a peaceful religion.

The need for action and collaboration has been stressed at the current summit. Obama in a speech credited not just the commitment of the nations present to the ideal of non-proliferation, but also claimed to be encouraged by the fact that many of the delegates had arrived with definite ideas and approaches as to how the problem could be solved. With their positions of leadership and relevant experience in matters relating to security, peace, and even nuclear non-proliferation, South Africa and Nigeria, along with their colleagues on the African continent, have the chance to demonstrate moral leadership and an active commitment to this peaceful but forceful collaboration. Africans should demonstrate their commitment to peace, international cooperation and partnership on the platform they are being given. This example will serve not only as inspiration for the African continent, but also the world.