v15_2004l - White Elephants:Why South Africa Gave Up the...

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1 White Elephants:Why South Africa Gave Up the Bomb and the Implications for Nuclear Nonproliferation Policy 7 Maria Babbage is a Master of Arts candidate at the Norman Paterson School of Inter- national Affairs, Carleton University (maria_babbage@yahoo.ca). Journal of Public and International Affairs, Volume 15/Spring 2004 Copyright © 2004, the Trustees of Princeton University http://www.princeton.edu/~jpia W HITE E LEPHANTS : W HY S OUTH A FRICA G AVE U P THE B OMB AND THE I MPLICATIONS FOR N UCLEAR N ONPROLIFERATION P OLICY Maria Babbage This article examines why the South African government chose to dismantle its indigenous nuclear arsenal in 1993. It consid- ers three competing explanations for South African nuclear disarmament: the realist argument, which suggests that the country responded to a reduction in the perceived threat to its security; the idealist argument, which sees the move as a signal to Western liberal democratic states that South Africa wished to join their ranks; and a more pragmatic argument—that the apartheid government scrapped the program out of fear that its nuclear weapons would be misused by a black-major- ity government. The article argues that the third explanation offers the most plausible rationale for South Africa’s decision to denuclearize. Indeed, it contends that the apartheid South African government destroyed its indigenous nuclear arsenal and acceded to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to “tie the hands” of the future ANC government, thereby preventing any potential misuse of the technology, whether through its proliferation or use against a target.
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2 Maria Babbage In March 1993, South African President F.W. de Klerk made a startling announcement, not only to the country’s parliament, but to the entire world—South Africa had dismantled its nuclear weapons program. Few South Africans were aware that their country was a nuclear power that had built almost seven nuclear weapons. Yet little was explained in de Klerk’s announcement. Between statements about increasing political violence and ongoing multi-party peace negotiations, de Klerk merely offered this rationale: “a nuclear deterrent had become not only superfluous but, in fact, an obstacle to the development of South Africa’s international rela- tions” ( BBC 1993a). A decade later, South Africa is still one of the few states in the world to have produced its own nuclear weapons, and is still the only one to have dismantled its own arsenal (Liberman 2001, 45). Apart from its contribu- tion to the country’s relatively peaceful transition to a multi-racial democ- racy in 1994, nuclear rollback was one of the crowning achievements of the departing apartheid government. Soon after de Klerk’s revelation in 1993, South African Foreign Minister Pik Botha told reporters he hoped that other nuclear-capable countries would “follow our example to take this decision voluntarily without having any obligation to do so, for the sake of making the earth and the world a safer place and avoid conflict
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v15_2004l - White Elephants:Why South Africa Gave Up the...

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