Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

South Africa and the Global Nuclear Bazaar: Norms and State Identity in the Nuclear Export Control Regime

Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

South Africa and the Global Nuclear Bazaar: Norms and State Identity in the Nuclear Export Control Regime

Article excerpt


As a former illicit importer and exporter of nuclear-related equipment, South Africa remains determined to project itself as a rehabilitated nuclear state. To achieve this, the country participates in various nuclear export control regimes. However, the South African government's efforts were undermined by a series of nuclear proliferation-related incidents, most notably the involvement of South Africans in the A Q Khan network. This article analyses South Africa's identity, roles and interests vis-a-vis the nuclear export control regime and concludes with an assessment of South Africa's nuclear diplomatic instruments and achievements in the nuclear export control regime.


In March 1993, President F W de Klerk announced to the South African Parliament that the termination of the country's nuclear weapons programme commenced in September 1989; shortly after he had taken office (De Klerk, 1993). Internationally, South Africa's nuclear volte face was lauded, but some concerns remained, which were only fully addressed once the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) verified the complete dismantlement of South Africa's nuclear weapons programme in 1993.

A few months into the African National Congress (ANC) led Government of National Unity (GNU), the South African Cabinet reiterated the country's commitment to nuclear non-proliferation and accepted, on 31 August 1994, a proposal by the then Minister of Foreign Affairs, Alfred Nzo, that South Africa should actively participate in nuclear non-proliferation regimes and suppliers groups; publicly adopt positions on nuclear non-proliferation and other weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in order to promote international peace and security; and use its position in the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and nuclear suppliers groups to ensure that nuclear-related export controls do not deny developing states access to advanced technology (Markram, 2004: 12). South Africa also adopted a strong position on the nuclear non-proliferation export control regime. In an effort to allay fears of a South African nuclear roll-back whilst maintaining its nuclear sovereignty, the South African government admitted that 'a primary goal' of its foreign policy is to "reinforce and promote South Africa as a responsible producer, possessor and trader of defence-related products and advanced technologies in the nuclear, biological, chemical and missile fields" to "promote the benefits of non-proliferation" in Africa and the NAM (DFA, 2009).

The nuclear legacy of South Africa's erstwhile nuclear weapons programme meant that the country could maintain and advance certain aspects of its nuclear programme to, inter alia, export to international clients; thus earning much-needed foreign currency. Despite its history of by-passing severe United Nations (UN) sanctions relating to its nuclear industry (UN, 1994), South Africa has constructed a new state identity as a state compliant with the major nuclear nonproliferation norms, including those pertaining to the international nuclear trade. South Africa constructed this identity by practicing a unique brand of niche diplomacy by employing typical niche diplomatic strategies, namely confrontation, parallelism and partnership (Henrikson, 2005: 70-71; 74).

Therefore, this contribution outlines the nuclear non-proliferation export control regime before it proceeds to focus on South Africa's compliance with the regime by implementing, in a Krasnerian sense, 'principles, norms, rules and decision-making procedures' domestic ally to comply with these regimes (Krasner, 2009: 113). The article also focuses on South Africa's construction of its compliance with and socialisation of norms related to the global 'nuclear bazaar', here referring to the international nuclear non-proliferation export regime. By joining nuclear export control regimes to reiterate the country's commitment to nuclear non-proliferation, and communicating the country's national interests as complementing (and not opposing) international nuclear non-proliferation norms, South Africa portrayed its newly constructed identity as a unique state, which abandoned its nuclear weapons programme but also as a state which continues to comply with these norms. …

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