Positioning South Africa in 21st century global nuclear security debates

Seoul, South Korea: People watch TV showing a North Korean missile launch at the Seoul Railway Station on October 2019. Image: Getty, Chung Sung-Jun

South Africa’s third term on the UN Security Council (UNSC), which began in January 2019, takes place within a more constrained domestic milieu than its previous terms.


  • The threat of nuclear war is rising as tensions in the Korean Peninsula persist and conflict between the US and Iran appears to be escalating.
  • South Africa’s legacy in leading disarmament and non-proliferation debates stems from its unique history of voluntarily disarming its weapons, but its ability to lead is constrained by capacity and resource issues.
  • South Africa’s domestic economic constraints provide an opportunity for it to be more innovative in how it engages diplomatically on global nuclear security debates.
  • The country can maintain its relevance in global affairs through a greater reliance on alliances and partnerships.
  • South Africa would be wise to use its time at the UN Security Council and as chair of the AU in 2020 to further this objective.
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