Issued by the FW de Klerk Foundation on 26/03/2024



This article acts as the first in a series on nuclear weapons and the increased threat these weapons once again pose to civilisation. 

In this initial article we will look into the geopolitics of nuclear weapons and efforts aimed at nuclear non-proliferation.


Nuclear Armaments

Since the dawn of the nuclear age, and the American nuclear attack on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, nuclear weapons have figured centrally in the plans of countless states and non-state actors – with non-state actors including terrorist groups and private military corporations. While nuclear warfare is not foreseeable in the near future, nuclear weapons still pose great risk to global stability – more especially in an age of increased geopolitical rivalry and political polarisation. Nine countries currently possess nuclear weapons. Every member state of the United Nations Security Council (“UNSC”) possesses a large arsenal of nuclear weapons – this currently includes the United States, Russia, China, France, India, Pakistan, North Korea, Israel and the United Kingdom. 


Nuclear weapons per country:

Source: The Geopolitics of Nuclear Weapons – Geopolitical Futures

The image above shows the number of nuclear weapons countries have. What we can take from it is that the United States of America and Russia hold thousands of nuclear stockpiles. However, when one takes into account that the United States, France and the United Kingdom are all members of NATO, one can conclude that NATO almost holds a majority in this sphere.

Furthermore, we see how nuclear weapons can merely be seen as strategic tools utilised to exert power, safeguard national security and deter aggression from a foreign state or a non-state actor. To an extent, nuclear weapons can be used as a way to move from agency to influence within the global political arena, because a state with nuclear weapons may get a seat at the global affairs’ table as opposed to being on the menu.  

While the nuclear arsenals depicted in the map above may seem worrisome, it is important to take note that it once looked worse: The image below shows that nuclear disarmament and controls have gone a long way in decreasing the number of nuclear weapons and nuclear programmes globally. 

Source: The Geopolitics of Nuclear Weapons – Geopolitical Futures


Countries that previously possessed nuclear weapons as depicted above adhered to nuclear disarmament measures and controls as they relinquished their arsenals and nuclear programmes. 

South Africa became the first nation to voluntarily relinquish its nuclear weapon capability as a commitment to longstanding peace and respect for the international community. It remains the only nation to have voluntarily relinquished weapons it developed itself. During former President FW de Klerk’s presidency in March 1993 at a special session of Parliament, he announced that South Africa has developed its own nuclear weapons programme, and under his presidency has decided to dismantle the programme – while also choosing to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferations Treaty (“NPT”). President de Klerk stated that South Africa had pursued the nuclear weapons programme in 1974 with the objective of safeguarding its national interest and developing deterrence from attack by neighbouring nations. 

The problem with nuclear weapons as a safety strategy:

Every effort should be made to ensure that nuclear disarmament takes place. As, the more nuclear weapons there are that exist, the greater the chance of a rogue state or non-state actor acquiring a nuclear weapon. This  may only lead to heightened global instability and nuclear confrontation. It may also trigger the rise of a security dilemma: If one country increases its security (by obtaining more nuclear weapons), another country may feel threatened by this and start increasing its own security through proliferation of nuclear weapons. 

The long-standing tension between India and Pakistan only fuelled instability after India developed nuclear weapons in 1974 and Pakistan, feeling threatened, became a nuclear power in 1998. Nations, such as South Korea and Japan, have also sought countless security guarantees from the United States of America against North Korea as a nuclear power. Without such security from American forces in the region, both nations would eye nuclear weapons as a means of safeguarding their countries against the North Korean threat. 


Pursuing non-proliferation:

UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, highlighted during the 74th session of the UN General Assembly, that the elimination of nuclear weapons has been the UN’s highest priority from day one, Mr Guterres was quoted as saying that, “we strive for a world free of nuclear weapons because we know these weapons pose a unique and potentially existential threat to our people and planet”. 

Nuclear weapons testing programmes also serve to undermine the global fight against climate change, which is by far one of the gravest threats humanity will have to face in the 21st century. Nuclear weapons tests disperse toxic radiation into the atmosphere which poses risks to both environmental stability and human health. 

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (“TPNW”), is a key international agreement aimed at constraining the use of nuclear weapons. Restrictions revolve around undertakings not to test, produce, acquire, stockpile, use or threaten to use nuclear weapons. The treaty officially entered into force on 22 January 2021. Despite this reality, several nuclear powers have not signed nor ratified the treaty which in essence renders the TPNW as just a piece of paper. Russia since the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine war, has even gone as far as to pull out of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.



In an age of poly-crisis, nuclear weapons development poses more harm to humanity than good. The threat or use of nuclear weapons only serves to add an additional layer of stress for the world to grapple with. What solution or protection can nuclear weapons offer to the world in a time of threats such as climate change, global financial instability and the ever-present threat pandemics? Nuclear weapons are thus obsolete and instead of driving peace only fuel distrust between countries.