Practice Relating to Nuclear Weapons
In 1996, during a debate in the First Committee of the UN General Assembly, South Africa stated:
Recent years have seen many accomplishments in the area of disarmament. On the multilateral and global level, these have included … the strengthening of the network of nuclear-weapon-free zones with the recent conclusion of the Pelindaba Treaty and the Bangkok Treaty, which have had the effect of extending nuclear-weapon-free zones to cover the entire southern hemisphere. These initiatives are a clear demonstration of the continued commitment of non-nuclear-weapon States to the goal of ridding the world of nuclear weapons.
In 2009, in a statement at the 53rd session of the International Atomic Energy Agency General Conference, South Africa’s Minister of Energy stated:
Humanity is faced with critical challenges related to maintaining and enhancing its continued prosperity within the context of ever increasing demands placed on sustainable food production, health and security. …
These challenges require of the international community to recognize the mutually reinforcing roles of nuclear disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation, as we strive for the common objective of a world free of nuclear weapons. In this connection South Africa welcomes the entry into force of the  Pelindaba Treaty creating a Nuclear Weapon Free Zone on the African continent. South Africa would like to take this opportunity to urge the remaining 24 African States to become parties to the Treaty.
In April 2010, following the Fourth Summit of the India-Brazil-South Africa (IBSA) Dialogue Forum held in Brasília between the Prime Minister of India, the President of Brazil and the President of South Africa, a declaration was issued stating:
3. Recalling the Declarations and Communiqués issued during the previous Summits, [the Leaders of the participating countries] took the opportunity to deliberate on the topics hereunder.
Disarmament and Non-Proliferation
22. The Leaders reaffirmed their commitment to the goal of complete elimination of nuclear weapons in a comprehensive, universal, non-discriminatory and verifiable manner, and expressed concern over the lack of progress in the realization of that goal. They underlined the need for reducing the role of nuclear weapons in strategic doctrines and expressed their support for effective international agreements to assure non-nuclear weapon States against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons. The Leaders expressed support for an International Convention Prohibiting the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Nuclear Weapons, leading to their destruction. They reiterated that nuclear disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation are mutually reinforcing processes, requiring continuous irreversible progress on both fronts.
In 2010, in a statement at the Review Conference of Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, the Special Representative for Disarmament and NEPAD (New Partnership for Africa's Development) at South Africa’s Department for International Relations and Cooperation stated:
Recent positive developments in the disarmament and non-proliferation field would seem to indicate that the NPT [1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons] may be heading out of its crisis. It is, nevertheless, at a crossroads. The task before us, is to reach a consensual outcome that would strengthen all three pillars of the NPT and reinforce the consensus agreements reached in 1995 and 2000. In this regard, we are aided by a number of common objectives and previously agreed to principles that serve as a firm foundation that, if we build on them wisely, should facilitate our task of finding a consensus that would address the challenges facing the NPT. Among these, I would like to highlight the following:
1) We all agree that under the NPT’s “Grand Bargain”, the five nuclear-weapon States agreed to legally-binding commitments to pursue nuclear disarmament on the basis of which the non-nuclear-weapon States entered into legally-binding commitments not to receive, manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. In this regard, we all share the view that the unequivocal undertaking to nuclear disarmament made during the 2000 NPT Review Conference should be reaffirmed as the foundation for a step-by-step process which would reduce the threat posed by nuclear weapons, de-emphasise their importance and lead to their elimination.
2) We also all agree on the need to build upon the unequivocal undertaking made by the nuclear-weapon States to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals in a concrete, transparent, irreversible and verifiable manner in accordance with Article VI of the NPT.
3) We furthermore all agree that the full implementation of all non-proliferation commitments are undoubtedly of importance, but that the achievement of genuine security requires a similar commitment to the full implementation of all Treaty provisions under the other two equally important pillars of the Treaty, namely nuclear disarmament and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Nuclear disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation are inextricably linked and mutually reinforcing and we should underline that progress on both fronts is required to attain the goal of a world free from the scourge of nuclear weapons.
7) Nuclear Weapon-Free Zones (NWFZs), as envisaged in Article VII of the Treaty, remain an important aspect of the nuclear disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation process. We should agree on measures to implement, as a matter of urgency, the 1995 Resolution on the Middle East. We should also support the creation of new and additional NWFZs in other parts of the world. The Conference should furthermore urge all relevant States to sign and ratify the Protocols to the already existing NWFZs. An important precedent of a “nuclear-weapon-free State” already exists that could also be built upon by other States.
In 2010, in answer to a written question in Parliament regarding sanctions against Iran, South Africa’s Deputy President stated:
As a country that remains firmly committed to the elimination of all weapons of mass destruction and to their non-proliferation, South Africa does not wish to see any other country possessing or acquiring nuclear weapons, including Iran. South Africa’s position is informed by our own national experience as the only country to have voluntarily dismantled its nuclear weapons and related programmes.
In this regard South Africa acts on the basis of the principle and in full support of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the International Atomic Energy Agency where we are active as a member of its Board of Governors and act consistently to promote consensus.
In 2012, in opening remarks during a courtesy call by the President of China on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit in South Korea, the President of South Africa stated:
The Nuclear Security Summit process provides an important forum to raise awareness on nuclear security.
However, the important goal of the elimination of all weapons of mass destruction should not be diminished through this process.
Only the verifiable and irreversible elimination of nuclear weapons will ultimately prevent the use of such weapons.
In 2012, in a statement before the First Committee of the UN General Assembly on the humanitarian dimension of nuclear disarmament, made on behalf of a number of countries, including South Africa, the ambassador of Switzerland stated:
The sheer horror of the use of nuclear weapons informed the very first resolution adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1946 and was later reflected in key multilateral documents. The NPT [1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons] Preamble refers to 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 of such a war and to take measures to safeguard the security of peoples”. The First Special Session of the General Assembly devoted to Disarmament (SSOD-1) stressed in 1978 that nuclear weapons pose the greatest danger to mankind and to the survival of civilization. Several decades after their adoption, these expressions of concern are as pertinent as ever and will remain so for as long as nuclear weapons remain.
If such weapons were to be used, be it intentionally or accidentally, immense humanitarian consequences would be unavoidable. As the ICRC has already concluded, international organisations providing emergency relief would be unable to fulfill their mandates. In addition to the immediate fatalities, survivors of the horrendous effects of a nuclear explosion would endure immeasurable suffering. Studies have shown that the radiation released by even a single nuclear weapon would affect populations, agriculture and natural resources over a very wide area and also constitute a very real threat for future generations. Further studies conclude that even a “limited nuclear exchange” – in itself a contradiction in terms – would cause a global climate change with such a serious and long-lasting impact on the environment and food production that it could cause a global famine affecting over a billion people.
The grave humanitarian concerns resulting from the unique destructive capacity and uncontrollable effects in space and time of nuclear weapons also raise important legal issues. All rules of international humanitarian law apply fully to nuclear weapons, notably the rules of distinction, proportionality and precaution, as well as the prohibition on causing superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering and the prohibition against causing widespread, severe and long-term damage to the environment. In November last year, the Council of Delegates of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement adopted a Resolution emphasizing not only the incalculable human suffering resulting from any use of nuclear weapons but also stressing that it is difficult to envisage how any use of nuclear weapons could be compatible with the rules of international humanitarian law.
It is of utmost importance that nuclear weapons are never used again, under any circumstances. The only way to guarantee this is the total, irreversible and verifiable elimination of nuclear weapons, under effective international control, including through the full implementation of Article VI of the NPT. All States must intensify their efforts to outlaw nuclear weapons and achieve a world free of nuclear weapons. Civil society plays a crucial role in raising the awareness about the devastating humanitarian consequences as well as the critical IHL implications of nuclear weapons.
The catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons concern the community of States as a whole. Accordingly, the United Nations General Assembly has a particularly important role in addressing this matter in a comprehensive fashion.