A recent Washington Post article reports that South Africa has a significant stockpile of highly enriched uranium and has rebuffed US entreaties to relinquish the bomb-grade material. According to the article:
- South Africa has 485 pounds of highly enriched uranium, enough to build half a dozen large nuclear weapons. This is the fissile material that was melted down from Pretoria’s nuclear weapons program when the country abandoned the bomb in 1990.
- The Obama administration has tried to persuade South Africa officials to give up the highly enriched uranium, in exchange for a steady supply of lower-grade uranium for reactor fuel, but Pretoria has refused.
In rejecting U.S. proposals, South Africa cites U.S. hypocrisy. Washington tries to remove nuclear capability in other states while clinging to nuclear weapons itself. Like many other countries in the developing world, Pretoria has long insisted that the U.S. and the other nuclear weapons states must fulfill their obligation under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to negotiate for disarmament. The NPT is a bargain: states without nuclear weapons are required to forego nuclear weapons, while those with the bomb agree to move toward disarmament.
South Africa has special status in this debate as the only state to develop nuclear weapons and then give them up. Pretoria will have an important voice at the international nonproliferation treaty review conference that convenes next month in New York at the UN. They will join many states in urging the nuclear states to fulfill their part of the bargain and get back to the process of progressive denuclearization.
President Obama has said the United States supports the goal of achieving a world without nuclear weapons, but some in his administration seem not to have gotten the memo. The Washington Post article has a stunningly cynical yet honest quote from the former White House Coordinator for Arms Control Gary Samore, replying to South Africa’s nuclear negotiator:
“Nuclear disarmament is not going to happen…It’s a fantasy. We need our weapons for our safety, and we’re not going to give them up.”
This from the person responsible for managing the President’s supposed commitment to disarmament. Hypocrisy indeed.