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Digital Archive International History Declassified

August 24, 1977

TELEGRAM FROM SOUTH AFRICAN MISSION IN NEW YORK TO DEPARTMENT OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS ON THE NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL 'RUMORS, NOT BOMBS IN SOUTH AFRICA'

This document was made possible with support from the Leon Levy Foundation, Carnegie Corporation

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    Summary of New York Times editorial regarding Carter's press conference on South Africa's alleged development of nuclear weapons.
    "Telegram from South African Mission in New York to Department of Foreign Affairs on the New York Times Editorial 'Rumors, Not Bombs in South Africa'," August 24, 1977, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, South African Foreign Affairs Archives. Obtained and contributed by Anna-Mart van Wyk. https://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/116639
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3-690 SA

422299 SAUN UI

NEW YORK              0030:24 AUGUST 1977

IMMEDIATE

SECEXTERN PRETORIA

NO 58

PLEASE HAND OVER COPY WITHOUT DELAY TO MINISTER AND TO SECRETARY.

YOU WILL BE INTERESTED IN THE FOLLOWING MAIN ARTICLE UNDER HEADING "RUMORS, NOT BOMBS IN SOUTH AFRICA" WHICH APPEARED TODAY (24 AUGUST) IN THE NEW YORK TIMES. SINCE THE NEWSPAPER IS EARLIER AVAILABLE HERE, THE EMBASSY IN WASHINGTON WAS INFORMED, IN LIGHT OF YOUR B34 THAT THIS HAS BEEN BROUGHT TO YOUR ATTENTION.

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[In English] FOR A WHILE, OVER THE PAST SEVERAL DAYS, IT SEEMED AS IF THE SOUTH AFRICAN GOVERNMENT WOULD ADD THE HEAT OF NUCLEAR THREATS TO THE RACIAL TINDERBOX IN ITS PART OF THE WORLD. SO IT WAS WELCOME NEWS INDEED THAT PRESIDENT CARTER BROUGHT TO HIS NEWS CONFERENCE YESTERDAY - SOUTH AFRICA HAD ASSURED HIM IT WOULD NOT DEVELOP NUCLEAR EXPLOSIVES FOR ANY PURPOSE.

ON GROUNDS OF PLAIN RATIONALITY PRETORIA'S NEWS SHOULD NOT BE SURPRISING. EVEN ON A NARROW CALCULATION OF ITS OWN INTERESTS, THE SOUTH AFRICAN GOVERNMENT MUST HAVE CONCLUDED THAT THE COSTS OF DEVELOPING NUCLEAR WEAPONS WOULD BE VERY HIGH AND THE BENEFITS ALMOST NON-EXISTENT. WHAT, AFTER ALL, ARE THE THREATS IT IS LIKELY TO FACE OVER THE NEXT DECADE OR SO? THEY ARE LIKELY TO BE INCREASED MILITANCY FROM BLACKS AT HOME, A HEIGHTENED GUERRILLA STRUGGLE INCREASINGLY SUPPORTED BY NEIGHBORING BLACK STATES AND SEVERE ECONOMIC DISTRESS ACCENTUATED BY PRESSURE FROM THE INDUSTRIALIZED WEST. SOUTH AFRICA IS UNLIKELY EVER TO FACE THE KIND OF LARGE-SCHALE [sic] MILITARY ATTACK AGAINST WHICH NUCLEAR WEAPONS MIGHT POSE A DETERRENT OR, IN THE LAST RESORT, SERVE AS AN EXTREMIS WEAPON.

IN FACT, ACQUIRING NUCLEAR WEAPONS WOULD ONLY INCREASE SOUTH AFRICA'S ISOLATION AS A PARIAH STATE. THEY WOULD CONVEY THE MESSAGE THAT PETORIA'S STUBBORN LEADERS WOULD RATHER CONTEMPLATE MASS MURDER THAN GIVE UP THE POSITIONS OF PRIVILEGE FROM WHICH THEY NO EXCLUDE THEIR COUNTRY'S BLACK MAJORITY.

PRETORIA'S DECLARATION IS WELCOME NOT ONLY IN AN AFRICAN BUT IN A GLOBAL CONTEXT. SOUTH AFRICA IS ONE OF A GROWING NUMBER OF NATIONS TECHNICALLY CAPABLE OF PRODUCING NUCLEAR WEAPONS. IN EACH INSTANCE, THE DECISION TO GO NUCLEAR IS MADE A BIT EASIER IF OTHERS HAVE MADE IT FIRST. SOUTH AFRICA'S ABSTENTION MAY HAVE A BENEFICIAL INFLUENCE ON THE DECISIONS OF OTHER GOVERNMENTS.

IN THE WAKE OF THE SPECULATION ABOUT SOUTH AFRICA'S NUCLEAR INTENTIONS, THERE WILL SURELY BE APPEALS THAT OTHER NATIONS SHOULD CEASE ALL NUCLEAR COOPERATION WITH PRETORIA. AND THERE WILL BE ALLEGATIONS THAT SOUTH AFRICA OWES ITS LATENT CAPABILITY TO PRODUCE NUCLEAR WEAPONS TO OUTSIDE ASSISTENCE -- FROM WEST GERMANY, FRANCE, ISRAEL, THE UNITED STATES, AND OTHERS. THERE IS NO EVIDENCE THAT THESE ALLEGATIONS ARE WELL FOUNDED, AND THE CONCLUSION THAT COOPERATION SHOULD CEASE WOULD BE WRONG.

THE HELP SOUTH AFRICA HAS RECEIVED HAS BEEN OF TWO KINDS -- GENERAL NUCLEAR KNOW-HOW WHICH COMES FROM OPEN INTERCHANGE WITH THE INTERNATIONAL SCIENTIFIC COMMUNITY, AND SPECIFIC HELP WITH SOME PROJECTS THAT HAVE NO MILIARY APPLICATIONS. SO LONG AS SOUTH AFRICA GIVES NO SIGN OF PRODUCING NUCLEAR WEAPONS AND SO LONG AS OUTSIDERS CAN BE SURE THAT ANY PEACEFUL REACTORS THEY SELL TO SOUTH AFRICA ARE ADEQUATELY SAFEGUARDED, OUTSIDE ASSISTANCE SHOULD CONTINUE. BUT THE SAD FACT IS THAT OUTSIDERS HAVE LITTLE LEVERAGE OVER PRETORIA'S NUCLEAR DECISION-MAKING. WHAT LEVERAE THERE IS LIES IN THE PROSPECT OF FURTHER HELP."

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