No Farewell to Arms

On May 11, after months of U.S. arm-twisting and a four-week review conference in New York, the nations of the world agreed to a South African proposal for a permanent extension of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). U.S. diplomats had threatened, cajoled, and lobbied for 18 months to block measures proposed by developing nations that would have required that the nuclear states take steps toward disarmament as part of the extension-steps already agreed to in the original NPT 25 years ago.


Terry Crawford-Browne is convenor of Economists Allied for Arms Reduction in South Africa, the only country to have developed and then abolished a nuclear arsenal. Crawford-Browne, a former international banker, is an adviser to Archbishop Desmond Tutu on arms issues. -The Editors

The whole world rejoiced with us in South Africa last year when Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as president of a democratic and non-racial society. The transition from the violence of the apartheid era has been described as a miracle.

The previous government had deluded itself as being a regional superpower in Africa and the Southern Hemisphere. In the "national interest," it had armed itself with nuclear bombs, missiles, fighter aircraft, helicopter gunships, artillery, and all manner of military paraphernalia that proved in the end utterly useless. The regime collapsed because of the nonviolent, mass democratic movement backed by international sanctions-and the ripples were felt around the world.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu commented, "We marched for peace in Cape Town, and the Berlin Wall fell down."

South Africa could and may become the bridge between the First and Third Worlds, rich and poor, and nuclear and non-nuclear nations. Negotiations over the renewal of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty provided a unique forum for South Africa to promote international human rights as a fundamental premise of foreign policy.

This country's role in proposing a compromise at the NPT conference between the stance of the United States and that of the Non-Aligned Movement has, however, prompted considerable controversy among activists. Some fear that South Africa capitulated to American pressure, and thereby threw away the rare opportunity to champion nuclear disarmament through a system of rolling extensions-and periodic reviews-of the NPT.

Diplomatic inexperience, it has been alleged, squandered the moral high ground gained through South Africa being the only country voluntarily to have relinquished its nuclear arsenal.

Not so, insisted officials from South Africa's Department of Foreign Affairs. They contend that South Africa's stance followed close legal study of the NPT and of the technical difficulties in its extension. The last review of the NPT in 1990 had ended in stalemate. South African officials felt without doubt that the NPT had to be extended, for without it there would be no control whatsoever over the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

AFTER YEARS OF isolation from the diplomatic arena, South Africa was surprised that neither the nuclear nor the non-aligned nations even submitted proposals to the conference. South Africa was the only country to make suggestions that, consequently, were adopted pretty much as presented. These provide for universal adherence to the NPT (which was a stipulation of Arab states to include Israel); prevention of the proliferation of nuclear weapons; and a global commitment by nuclear-weapon states to the ultimate goal of eliminating nuclear weapons.

A declaration is expected shortly of Africa as a nuclear weapon-free zone. Chemical and biological weapons and anti-personnel landmines will also be discussed at a forthcoming Organization of African Unity meeting in Addis Ababa.

Yet on a continent riven by civil wars and famines, the NPT, quite candidly, does not hold the highest priority. The devastating wars of the past 30 years-in Angola, Liberia, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, and Sudan-have, primarily, been internal wars fought with less sophisticated weapons.

People are being killed by small arms and machetes, or maimed by hand grenades and land mines. Farmers are unable to cultivate their fields because of the risks of being blown up, and then they suffer starvation. The Angolan city of Cuito is a city of rubble. The armaments industries of 23 countries supplied the explosives. The biggest threat is to children, to whom a cluster bomb looks like a shiny toy. Military dictatorships-maintained in power by weapons supplied mainly by First World countries-have had appalling consequences for both human rights and poverty.

The governments of the United States, Britain, and France encourage the export of weapons to Third World countries. Such exports are fallaciously promoted as creating jobs and earning foreign exchange. In fact, they are heavily subsidized at the expense of social investments for the poor. For Africa, the consequences of such exports are disastrous.

South Africa is itself debating what to do with the armaments industry inherited from the apartheid regime. Literally the day after the U.N. embargo was rescinded, officials of the arms industry bragged that it intended to triple South African arms exports, some two-thirds of which go to the Middle East. Many in the country were acutely embarrassed by revelations that France, Egypt, and South Africa provided the weapons that so exacerbated the Rwandan genocide.

Churches in South Africa have called upon the government to end immediately the authorization of arms exports, and progressively and rapidly to dismantle the armaments industry. The final collapse of apartheid has brought the realization that the international promotion of human rights, not the proliferation of arms, will far better serve the country's interests-and those of the world.

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"No Farewell to Arms"
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