This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Atomic Apartheid: United States-South African Nuclear Relations from Truman to Reagan, 1945-1989




Frazier, Javan

Type of Degree





This dissertation analyzes nuclear cooperation between the United States and South Africa from the Truman to Reagan administrations. The focus of this work is to examine how and why the United States became involved in this type of relationship with South Africa and how issues of race and nuclear proliferation affected this partnership. South Africa’s dependability as a Cold War ally, its large supply of uranium, and the potential promise of nuclear power prompted the United States to assist South Africa’s nuclear program. Yet, growing international and domestic concerns regarding apartheid and nuclear proliferation caused the United States to pressure South Africa, for the most part unsuccessfully, to reform its racial policies and to adopt nuclear nonproliferation policies. Because of this failure, the United States restricted nuclear cooperation with South Africa but never severed it completely, as government officials reasoned that doing so would limit America’s influence over South Africa’s nuclear program and hamper its ability to pressure it. This dissertation also demonstrates how consistent were the policies of administrations from Truman to Reagan in maintaining nuclear cooperation with South Africa. Once nuclear proliferation became a major issue after the Kennedy administration, presidential administrations consistently advocated strong nuclear nonproliferation policies toward South Africa. The only difference that political party affiliation caused in nuclear relations with South Africa was that Democratic administrations tended to be more publicly critical of South Africa than Republican ones. Finally, this study shows the limitations of America’s influence during the Cold War as it balanced its strategic interests with its commitment to civil rights. Even though the United States had more economic and military power than South Africa, it was unable significantly to pressure South Africa to change its nuclear or apartheid policies. As South Africa’s nuclear program matured and it became more isolated internationally in the 1970s and 1980s, America’s influence became even weaker. America’s nuclear cooperation with South Africa demonstrates how limited its influence was over an ally, even when it provided invaluable aid.