South Africa Gives Up Nukes and Missiles; Now Gets High-Tech Imports

South Africa is the only country in history to build nuclear weapons in secret and then dismantle them voluntarily. In July 1991, Pretoria stunned the world by announcing that it would join the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), a pact requiring it to give up its secret arsenal of atomic bombs. South Africa then opened all its nuclear sites to international inspectors and cleared the way toward a nuclear weapon-free zone in Africa.

In 1994, under pressure from the United States, South Africa further agreed not to build long-range missiles and to destroy the plants and equipment it was using to build large space rockets. After it demolished its key rocket sites last summer, South Africa was allowed to join the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), a group of 28 countries that agrees to restrict the spread of long-range missiles. The payoff for Pretoria has been access to the high-tech and military markets of the industrialized countries. In June 1994, the U.S. Government elevated South Africa’s trading status to the same level as other formerly proscribed destinations, such as Hungary and the Czech Republic.

But one snag remains: The State Department still bans the sale of defense articles and services to South Africa’s leading defense companies, Armscor and Denel, because of a 1991 U.S. criminal indictment. Armscor is charged with violating U.S. export control laws. And Denel is seen as Armscor’s successor. At the time of the indictment, Armscor was South Africa’s key missile developer.

In an exclusive interview with the Risk Report, Denel’s Managing Director Johan Alberts vents his frustration: “It’s totally unfair that the Americans are preventing business, and it puts my president in a very awkward position.” South African President Nelson Mandela has tried for two years to persuade Washington to drop its restrictions on trade with Armscor, to no avail. Meanwhile, Denel employees are crying foul play, accusing Washington of trying to quash South Africa’s defense industry.