South Africa's Weapons of Mass Destruction

By Stevenson, Jonathan | Naval War College Review, Summer 2006 | Go to article overview

South Africa's Weapons of Mass Destruction


Stevenson, Jonathan, Naval War College Review


Purkitt, Helen E., and Stephen F. Burgess. South Africa's Weapons of Mass Destruction. Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 2005. 322pp. $24.95

North Korea's prime motive for developing and possessing nuclear weapons is probably regime security. Leader Kim Jong-Il's rationale would be that absent weapons of mass destruction (WMD), the international community would find some way to dismantle a repressive, autocratic regime that is completely out of phase with twenty-first-century norms. Authors Helen Purkitt and Stephen Burgess argue in their analysis of South Africa's weapons of mass destruction programs that in the latter part of the twentieth century the white ruling elite made similar calculations, premised on idiosyncratic political ideology and national emotions as much as on rational neorealist power assessments. South Africa's nuclear, biological, and chemical capabilities (unilaterally abandoned by the mid-1990s, after majority rule was established and Cold War threats had receded) arose from its white leaders' alarm over rising regional threats unleashed by decolonization, détente, and corresponding American timidity vis-à-vis the Soviet Union in Africa, and growing international opposition to apartheid.

The book is analytically sound if somewhat inelegantly written. The authors- Purkitt, a professor of political science at the U.S. Naval Academy, and Burgess, an assistant director of the U.S. Air Force Counter proliferation Center as well as an associate professor at the U.S. Air War College-systematically illuminate South Africa's furtive route to clandestine WMD know-how and arsenals. Steps included exploitation of South Africa's own natural resources (uranium), dual-use technology, porous arms-control regimes, and technologically advanced states that perceived themselves as comparably besieged (for instance, Israel and Taiwan). Careful not to oversimplify, the authors also note the organizational, personal, and cognitive factors that enforced this effort. …

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