Treaty on Prohibition of the Nuclear Weapons ratification

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Meeting Summary

The Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) provided some background to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). The United Nations Conference adopted the TPNW on 7 July 2017. The TPNW was the culmination of the humanitarian initiative on nuclear weapons. It was a strategic intervention given the lack of progress on nuclear disarmament. Some statistics provided to the Committee was that there were around 18 000 warheads in the world. The majority was in the hands of Russia – 8 000 and the USA-7500. The rest was held by China- 200, France- 200 and Britain- 150. India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea were amongst those who were also nuclear possessors. The problem was that nuclear states were not disarming but rather kept them deployed. A concern was that if there was an accidental detonation then it could lead to nuclear war. Scientists warned of a nuclear long winter that could befall Africa if this was to happen. A total of 69 states had signed the TPNW. Thus far nineteen states had ratified the TPNW. Fifty states had to ratify in order for it to come into effect.

The Committee recommended that the House in terms of section 231(2) of the constitution approves the said Treaty. The Committee agreed to the adoption of the Treaty. 

Members were hugely concerned about the vast amounts of nuclear weapons that Big Five Superpowers ie USA, Russia, China, Uk and France had. They were further concerned about the catastrophic effect it would have on the rest of the world if any of these warheads should be detonated by mistake. There was a serious need for regulation. The million dollar question was how. The DIRCO was asked whether the TPNW would make some sort of impact to safeguard the world. What role could SA play to make a real impact? Members expressed concern that only nineteen states had ratified when 50 was needed for the TPNW to take effect. The DIRCO was asked what was being done to ensure that 50 states ratified. What were the challenges around ratification? What was the likelihood of African states ratifying? Members observed that the USA on the one hand wished to condemn countries for having nuclear capability but it was one of the biggest culprits when it came to the proliferation of nuclear weapons. There seemed to be a contradiction.

Meeting report

The Chairperson placed minutes dated 7 November 2018 before the Committee for consideration but due to a lack of quorum this could not be adopted.

After a brief discussion amongst members, the Committee agreed – at its next meeting - to deal with its oversight reports on visits to Mangaung in the Free State Province and to the West Coast in the Western Cape Province.

The Chairperson pointed out that in the absence of official apologies from the Executive of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) the records would reflect the Executive to be absent from the meeting.

Ratification by SA of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW)
Adv Doc Mashabane, Chief Director: United Nations Political Peace and Security, DIRCO, provided some background to the TPNW. The United Nations Conference adopted the TPNW on 7 July 2017. The TPNW was the culmination of the humanitarian initiative on nuclear weapons. It was a strategic intervention given the lack of progress on nuclear disarmament. There were around 18 000 warheads in the world. The majority was in the hands of Russia – 8 000 and the USA-7500. The rest was held by China- 200, France- 200 and Britain- 150. India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea were amongst those who were also nuclear possessors. The problem was that nuclear states were not disarming but rather kept them deployed. A concern was that if there was an accidental detonation then it could lead to nuclear war. Scientists warned of a nuclear long winter that could befall Africa if this was to happen. A total of 69 states had signed the TPNW. Thus far nineteen states had ratified the TPNW. Fifty states had to ratify in order for it to come into effect. The Treaty had unlimited duration and entered into force 90 days after deposit of the 50th Instrument of Ratification. Member states would meet biannually to review progress in implementation and universalisation. Review conferences would take place every six years. No reservations were allowed. Withdrawal from the Treaty could only take place if there were “extraordinary events” had jeopardised the supreme interests of the state concerned. North Korea had withdrawn on this basis. Withdrawal entered into force twelve months after notification, but only if the state concerned was not involved in armed conflict. On implementation there would be cooperation with the Africa Group, the Non-Alignment Group (NAM) and other likeminded states to promote the Treaty. There would also be engagement with states that were opposed to the Treaty to seek support/understanding of its objectives. The TPNW was in line with SA’S disarmament policies, domestic legislation and international obligations. President Jacob Zuma had signed the TPNW at a High-Level signing event on 20 September 2017. The TPNW prohibited the development, testing, production, manufacture, acquiring, possession, stockpiling, transfer or receive transfer, use or threaten to use , assist, encourage or induce to engage in prohibited activity, allowing stationing or deployment of nuclear weapons on territory. Prohibitions were consistent with treaties establishing nuclear-weapon-free zones (Pelindaba), and reinforce and complement the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

Committee Report on Treaty
The Chairperson read out the Committee Report which essentially stated that the Committee recommends that the House in terms of section 231(2) of the constitution approves the said Treaty.

The Committee agreed to the adoption of the Treaty. 

Discussion
Mr W Faber (DA, Northern Cape) stated that Russia, the USA, France, the UK and China had 6 815, 6 550, 300, 120 and 280 nuclear bombs respectively. However the bombs of today were 3000 times more powerful than the atom bomb that was used in Hiroshima. It was hugely concerning. There needed to be some form of regulation. He asked whether the TPNW would be able to safeguard the world. A small mishap could have dire consequences for the world. He mentioned the Tsar Bomb test that was done by Russia. Did SA sign the treaty in good faith? DIRCO was asked what role SA could play to make a real impact.

Mr L Magwebu (DA, Eastern Cape) stated that if 50 states needed to ratify and only nineteen had done so thus far he was concerned whether ratification would become a problem. What was being done to get 50 states to ratify? He asked what the challenges around ratification were. What was the point of having these treaties?

Mr Mashabane, on ratification, said that it was unexpected when Gambia was the first to ratify. For most of the states ratification could be tedious because of common law. Those states who had voted in favour numbering 40 were also part of the process at Pelindaba. The DIRCO was working with I Can and also with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Mr M Rayi (ANC, Eastern Cape) shared concerns around ratification. What was the likelihood that countries in Africa would ratify? On nuclear proliferation, the USA was first to point fingers towards North Korea and Iran but they were also culprits. He asked whether there was not a contradiction.

Mr Mashabane said the DIRCO did speak to African states about ratifying. Nigeria was part of the core states on the TPNW. The number of states that had ratified was 19. SA would be the 20th and it was a major breakthrough to have that many. The Big Five Superpowers were totally against the TPNW. They were putting pressure on other states not to ratify. Before the TPNW there was no law which stated that nuclear weapons were illegal. It was the first treaty of major consequence that the USA was not part of. The USA no longer had an exclusive monopoly. The USA was vehemently against the TPNW coming into force. If SA ratified it would go a long way to lead the ratification process. Nobody spoke about how Israel was transgressing by having nuclear weapons. Iran too claimed that they had nuclear capability but that it was for peaceful means. North Korea also had nuclear weapons.

The Chairperson was under the impression that the TPNW was not a new treaty but was a renewal.
He asked what other role players like Ambassador Abdul Minty who was a board member of the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation of SA was doing.

Mr Mashabane said that Ambassador Minty would play a role. The International Coalition Against Nuclear Weapons was coming to SA. Much work was being done. DIRCO was working with the ICRC based in Pretoria as well. He explained that the TPNW was a new treaty. The 1970 treaty had prohibited those who did not have nuclear weapons from having them. It also recognised those countries that had nuclear weapons. India and Pakistan had not signed the 1970 treaty as it had double standards. The issue was not about uranium enrichment for peaceful means.

The meeting was adjourned.


 

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