Abstract

South Africa had a small, highly classified nuclear weapons program that produced a small but potent nuclear arsenal. At the end of the 1980s, as South Africa was nearing a transition to black majority rule, the South African government destroyed its nuclear arsenal and its research facilities connected with nuclear armaments and ballistic missiles. This article, based on archival research in the United States and South Africa, shows that the South African nuclear weapons program has to be understood in the context of the Cold War battlefield that southern Africa became in the mid-1970s. The article illuminates the complex U.S.–South African relationship and explains why the apartheid government in Pretoria sought nuclear weapons as a deterrent in the face of extensive Soviet-bloc aid to black liberation movements in southern Africa, the escalating conflict with Cuban forces and Soviet-backed guerrillas on Namibia's northern frontier, and the attacks waged by the African National Congress from exile. A clear link can be drawn between the apartheid government's quest for a nuclear deterrent, liberation in southern Africa, and the Cold War.

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