Understanding South Africa's past nuclear weapons programme

Nic von Wielligh's book provides an insider's account of how South Africa came to play a leading role in global nuclear disarmament efforts.

Vienna, Austria – In the late 1970s and 1980s, South Africa developed a nuclear weapons programme. Then, in the 1990s, it voluntarily dismantled the programme and joined the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). South Africa’s unilateral dismantling of a fully mature nuclear arsenal made it the first, and only country to take such a decisive step.

This dramatic transition underscores the leading role of democratic South Africa in promoting disarmament and non-proliferation. It is the focus of Nic von Wielligh’s book The Bomb: South Africa's Nuclear Weapons Programme – which is being launched today by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in Vienna, Austria.

‘The way in which South Africa dismantled its weapons, joined the NPT and accepted comprehensive safeguards on all its nuclear facilities may serve as a useful future model for other nuclear armed states,’ says Noël Stott, a senior research fellow at the ISS. ‘This book will go some way to achieving further steps needed to rid the world of nuclear weapons and prevent others from seeking them.’

At the launch, well-known experts who were instrumental in dismantling South Africa's nuclear weapons programme, namely Nic von Wielligh, Jean du Preez, Neville Whiting and Dimitri Perricos will offer insights into the process and discuss lessons learnt for current and future disarmament and non-proliferation needs.

While a great deal has been written on South African’s nuclear weapons programme, much of this is based on speculative analysis. Von Wielligh’s book gives readers an insider’s account of the programme.

'This is truly the only comprehensive work so far on South Africa’s share in this historic topic which has been turned into a readable account,’ says Waldo Stumpf, a professor of metallurgic engineering at the University of Pretoria.

The event will be co-hosted with the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation (VCDNP) and the London-based Verification Research, Training and Information Centre (VERTIC).

Co-published by the ISS and Litera Publications, The Bomb: South Africa's Nuclear Weapons Programme will soon be available in bookstores and through On the Dot Distributors. A second launch of the book will take place at the ISS in Pretoria on 18 November. Details will be announced at a later stage. 

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The ISS is grateful for support from the following members of the ISS Partnership Forum: the Hanns Seidel Foundation and the governments of Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the USA.
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