The Mainichi Shimbun answers some common questions readers may have about countries that have abolished their own stockpiles of nuclear weapons.
Question: North Korea has apparently expressed its intention to carry out denuclearization, right?
Answer: Yes, but it's uncertain whether denuclearization will actually happen there. Motives for developing and possessing nuclear weapons include protecting one's country by preventing an enemy from attacking it. It would be difficult for a country to abandon its nuclear weapons if it considers there is an external threat that cannot be countered without such weapons. Historically, not many countries have abolished their own nuclear weapons, but some have.
Q: Which countries have done this?
A: South Africa abolished about six nuclear weapons that were developed inside the country. In exchange for uranium from South African mines, nuclear technology and equipment were introduced from countries such as the United States, and production of enriched uranium -- as a material for nuclear weapons -- got underway in the 1970s. In 1979, the country completed its first nuclear bomb, and produced a total of six bombs by 1989.
Reasons for South Africa's nuclear program included isolation from the international arena due to policies such as apartheid, as well as the threat of the Cuban army stationed in nearby Angola during a civil war there, which broke out at the time of the Cold War.
Q: How was abolishment decided?
A: Then President F.W. de Klerk, who came to power in September 1989, ordered the abolition of the country's six nuclear bombs, as well as an additional bomb undergoing production in 1990 after having decided to end South Africa's nuclear program. The International Atomic Energy Agency later confirmed during an inspection in South Africa that all the nuclear weapons had been abolished.
Reasons behind the abolition include the waning of communism at the conclusion of the Cold War, the high costs of developing and possessing nuclear weapons, and a reduced threat from other countries. Some speculate that De Klerk also judged that nuclear weapons should not be passed on to the next administration for them to deal with after the end of apartheid.
Q: Have any other countries abolished their nuclear weapons?
A: Yes. Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan. The nuclear weapons that were possessed by the former Soviet Union were passed on to Russia, which was formed after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In Ukraine's case, protection from Russia, the U.S. and the U.K. was a factor behind carrying out denuclearization. (Answers by Hiroaki Wada, Foreign News Department)