United States Foreign Policy In Southern Africa--A Closer Look
AUTHOR LtCdr. Armstead J. Galiber, USN
SUBJECT AREA - Foreign Policy
TITLE: UNITED STATES FOREIGN POLICY IN SOUTHERN AFRICA--
A CLOSER LOOK
I. Purpose: To examine alternatives to current United States foreign
policy in Southern Africa.
II. Problem: Although the United States is opposed to the practice
of apartheid, its economic relations and policy of Constructive
Engagement serves to perpetuate apartheid and hinder the spread of
III. Data: South Africa's economic and military power over its
neighbors and its insistence on preserving white minority rule
present a serious foreign policy dilemma for the United States.
Current U.S. foreign policy is based upon the concept of
Constructive Engagement which is intended to give incentive to the
Pretoria Government to end its practice of apartheid and end
destabilization practices against South Africa's neighbors. The
United States is faced with a dilemma because it is dependent upon
South Africa for its source of strategic metals and cannot afford an
interruption in that supply. The United States also sees support of
South Africa as necessary to hold back the expansion of communism in
the region when, in fact, South Africa's efforts to preserve its
form of government sow seeds of discontent conducive to the growth
IV. Conclusions: Although the accelerating trend in southern Africa
toward a major extension of regional conflict has been slowed by the
recent peace agreement between South Africa, Cuba and Angola, United
States foreign policy in southern Africa has encouraged a build up
of Soviet and Cuban influence in the area. United States import
vulnerability has forced it to take foreign policy positions that
compromise its integrity as a world power.
V. Recommendations: The United States government must begin to
invest in developing alternative sources of strategic metals by
carrying out the provisions of the 1980 Comprehensive Nonfuel
Minerals Policy. Given the continued resolve of the South African
white minority not to promote meaningful change, the United States
should support comprehensive economic sanctions against the Pretoria
government and invest in those Front Line States struggling to
survive independently of South Africa.
South Africa is a powerful military and industrial state of
strategic importance to the United States, but because this state is
built upon a national political system devoted to the perpetuation
of white domination, the United States is faced with a serious
foreign policy dilemma.
Constructive Engagement and the imposition of limited economic
sanctions against South Africa is the United States attempt to
push the Pretoria government toward a peaceful end to the practice
of apartheid and destabilization. The rationale supporting this
approach is based upon what appears to be both humanitarian and
ulterior motives. First, South Africa is the United States
primary source of strategic metals critical to U.S. national
security. Second, South Africa represents a deterrent to the
progress of communism in southern Africa. Third, the economies of
the Front Line States, and the income of the Black, Coloured and
Indian South African citizens is dependent upon the South African
economy. And so, in a sense, Constructive Engagement is the United
States' attempt not to throw out the baby (the South African
government) with the bath water (apartheid).
Although this rationale appears valid on the surface, I invite
you to take closer look from a different perspective. I think you
may find that U.S. rationale is, in fact, irrational.
The United States should throw out the baby with the bath water.
Not as a malicious act, but as an act of warranted desperation.
There are three points I will develop to support this position.
First, the importance of South Africa's resources to United States
national security can and should be reduced. Second, it is the
illegal practice of apartheid, and the destabilization tactics of
South Africa that not only sow seeds for the growth of communism in
southern Africa, but serve to perpetuate the Front Line States'
dependence on the South African economy. Third, although there is
still a small ray of hope for peaceful change, comprehensive
economic sanctions is the only remaining tool that the United States
can use to force the Pretoria government to discontinue the unjust
and intrinsically violent practice of apartheid.
While I develop these points, I ask that you consider these two
underlying thoughts. First, America's commitment to the survival of
Israel may be proportional to the U.S. Jewish population's
commitment to their mother land, and the level of Jewish political
and economic influence on the U.S. government. Also, hypothetically
consider what the level of U.S. commitment to ending apartheid would
be if the roles of whites and blacks in South Africa were reversed.
According to a paper written by W.W. Malan, Vice President of the
South African Chamber of Mines, the United States annually imports
more than one-billion dollars in chromium, manganese, and platinum
for its industrial economy and national defense. Most of the world's
manganese reserves are held by the Soviet Union and South Africa,
and these countries own the world's platinum. Together, South Africa
and the Soviet Union "...hold some 95 percent of the world's
vanadium reserves, 94 percent of its manganese, 90 percent of its
platinum group metals, ... and an important proportion of strategic
With these statistics, it is obvious to see that South Africa is
strategic to the United States economy and national security. The
question is whether or not there is an alternative to this
The United States has options to free itself from strategic
dependence on South Africa thereby allowing more flexibility in
foreign policy matters in southern Africa.
In 1980 the United States Senate Subcommittee on African Affairs
of the Committee on Foreign Relations advocated a comprehensive
nonfuel minerals policy "...formulated in cooperation with our
allies." (1:189) This policy recommended alternatives to the view
that the United States cannot do without South Africa's critical
minerals. Its intention was to give the executive branch greater
control over the problem of import vulnerability.
Rhoda Plotkin, a lecturer in political science, studied this
problem and analyzed the Reagan Administration's approach in the
light of constructive engagement. She found that the Administration
had not carried out the provisions of this 1980 materials act fully,
and she offered two possible explanations for this outcome. First,
the Administration did not see a meaningful change in the status quo
in South Africa and believed that revolutionary violence could be
curtailed with the help of constructive engagement. Second,
"President Reagan's political philosophy and style was the call to
reduce the size and role of the federal government." (7:203)
This approach cannot continue. It would be unwise to rely solely
on foreign sources of metals and technology from areas of potential
A comprehensive nonfuels policy as recommended by the U.S.
subcommittee recommends stockpiling of the four critical materials
that the United States imports from South Africa: chromium,
manganese, vanadium, and platinum group metals. This would raise
the levels of these critical materials to serve as a buffer should
any interruption occur. The United States National Materials
Advisory Board in 1978 concluded that the U.S. is strategically more
vulnerable to a long term interruption of chromium than an embargo
of any other natural resource including petroleum. (7:205)
Conservation through reducing consumption, recycling and
substitution are other promising alternatives discussed in this
study. For instance, platinum uses could be limited to essential
industrial and defense uses. The use of platinum in the automobile
and petroleum industry can be reduced by developing a method for
recovering the 70-80 percent of the platinum that is salvageable
after catalytic use in the process of refining high-octaine gasoline
to control auto pollution.
A strategy of diversifying and expanding the range of foreign
suppliers and domestic producers would also give the United States
greater control over import vulnerability. Manganese is also
produced in Brazil, Australia, India and Gabon.(4:34A) Although
these minerals are not as well processed as they are in South
Africa, these countries should be used as alternative suppliers.
It is true that alternatives such as stockpiling critical
materials, conserving critical metals through reduced consumption,
recycling, and use of alternative suppliers are costly endeavors. It
is also true that none of these alternatives will discontinue our
dependence on South Africa over night, but to not develop these
alternatives perpetuates our vulnerability, influences our foreign
policy decisions, and sends a disturbing message to the world about
our level of commitment to human rights.
SEEDS OF COMMUNISM
Congratulations are in order to the United States for its role in
bringing about the signing of the historic peace agreement between
South Africa, Angola, and Cuba. To then say that U.S. support of
South Africa indirectly promotes the cause of communism in southern
Africa may sound contradictory. Let me explain.
The presence of Cuban and Soviet troops in Angola, and the Soviet
presence in Mozambique exemplify Soviet expansionist doctrine. I
compare their method of expansion to that of an opportunistic
infection that takes over the body because of weakness caused by an
underlying systemic disease.
In the case of southern Africa, the Pretoria government's
aggression against the surrounding states (destabilization), though
rationalized in the idiom of anticommunism, is the underlying
systemic disease of that region. The hearts and minds of the
African people broken and tortured by these destabilization
practices are therefore the bodies most susceptible to the
opportunistic infection of communism.
Roger Martin, a British diplomat who recently served as Deputy
High Commissioner in Zimbabwe defines destabilization as both direct
military action and support of insurgent groups. In the land-locked
states, the targets have been largely military and political,
whereas in Mozambique they have been economic.(7:389) Until the
recent cease fire with Angola, all three forms of power were targets
in that country.
The Southern African Development Corporation Conference (SADCC)
embodies the counter-strategy attempts of Front Line States. Their
main efforts are directed toward rebuilding and improving a
transport and communications infrastructure necessary to sustain
economic growth. Although efforts are spearheaded by several
governments, the private sector, including many large western
corporations, are involved in the projects.(7:391)
South Africa is using its military power and its support of
insurgent groups to block or control these trade routes between
members of SADDC. RENAMO (Mozambican National Resistance), created
by the Rhodesian Central Intelligence Organization in the late 1970s
as a reconnaissance and harassment force, was handed over to South
African control after Robert Mugabe's accession to power in 1980.
This transfer gave South Africa the means to create blockades on
five of the land-locked states. Due to this campaign of terror and
destruction, these states are forced to use routes going through
South Africa at great cost to their economies and independence.
The National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA)
is another insurgent group sponsored by the South African
government. The Benguela line through Angola has been closed by
UNITA since 1976. Angola, a resource-rich nation that maintains
excellent relations with many United States corporations cannot feed
its people. UNITA rebels have driven people from their homes and
halted agriculture by sowing fields and roads with antipersonnel
mines, producing the world's greatest proportion of amputees,
estimated to number between 20,000 and 50,000. It is estimated that
UNITA gets 150-200 million dollars in military and other aid
The logistic benefit UNITA derived from South Africa's military
and administrative occupation of neighboring Namibia contributed to
a growing Soviet and Cuban commitment to the Marxist Angolan
government. Under the Reagan Doctrine of aiding anticommunist
guerrillas, the United States directed 15 million dollars annually
to UNITA. President Bush has continued this support. In line with
the escalating military interventions inside Angola, Cuban troop
levels are believed to have tripled since 1980, to 50,000. (14:66)
Fortunately, progress in the U.S. sponsored peace talks involving
Angola, Cuba and South Africa offer some fresh hope for the region.
Should these talks succeed in removing Cuban forces from Angola, in
ending South African's interventions inside Angola, and in bringing
Namibia to independence, it will be a tribute to the
Administration's perseverance. It would also signify a shift to a
more evenhanded U.S. appreciation of Angola's genuine security
concerns. However, according to Representative Howard Wolpe,
Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, the
new momentum in diplomatic negotiations has relatively little to do
with either constructive engagement policies of Assistant Secretary
for African Affairs Chester Croker or U.S. military assistance to
the insurgents of UNITA.(14:61)
South Africa's newfound interest in cooperating in Angola-Namibia
talks stem primarily from Cuba's deployment in 1988 of an estimated
15,000 soldiers along the Angolan Namibian boarder. Their deployment
shifted the region's strategic balance, causing the South African
military deep consternation while fueling the debate at home in
South Africa over the wisdom of costly military adventures hundreds
of miles away.
If South Africa's violence against the region continues, Moscow's
hand may be strengthened. For instance, in 1987 the Zimbabwean
government made inquiries into the possibility of purchasing MiG-29
fighter planes. The British immediately made serious counter
proposals, and the prospect of a turn to the Soviets faded. (14:66)
This points out the willingness of Front Line States to seek
protection in the face of South African threat.
A discussion of Soviet opportunities for expanding their
influence in the area would be incomplete without including a
discussion of the African National Congress (A.N.C.).
The African National Congress is the oldest and most influential
rebel movement, whose record of opposition to official racism dates
back some 75 years. Banned in 1960 after generations of nonviolent
activism, the group launched a campaign of armed resistance to
apartheid from headquarters within South Africa, and then from exile
in Zambia and Tanzania. The A.N.C. leader Nelson Mandela, jailed
since 1962, has become a political celebrity of almost mythic scale.
The A.N.C. is now governed by an interracial National Executive
Committee of 30 men and women. (13:22)
The United States has shunned any formal contacts with the A.N.C.
because of its long standing ties to the banned South African
Communist Party. However, as the extent of the A.N.C.'s following in
South Africa grows, the U.S. Government has begun to encourage
direct negotiations between the rebel group and the Pretoria
To the white South African Government, the A.N.C. is seen as part
of a Communist-inspired movement to completely overthrow white rule.
Therefore, any dialogue with the A.N.C. is out of the question.
There are differences of opinion in the literature over the
extent of Communist influence in the A.N.C. David Roberts, Jr., a
free-lance writer and a student of South African affairs, presents
evidence in a July 1988 issue of Commentary that, in his opinion,
the A.N.C. "...is driven by a commitment to Leninist ideology that
goes far beyond mere rhetoric and by political intentions that are
concomitantly totalitarian. "(10:31)
On the other hand, Thomas G. Karis, professor emeritus at the
City University of New York, and a leading expert on black politics
in South Africa emphasizes the serious discussion within the A.N.C.
in support of a deeply entrenched bill of rights for individuals,
including the right to strike, an independent judicary, a multiparty
system, and a mixed economy.
Professor Karis does categorize the A.N.C. as pro-Soviet but sees
this as a "crude characterization" because it "...imputes unthinking
motives to a national movement whose pragmatic search for
international support is as wide-ranging as its non-doctrinaire
search for white and black allies within South Africa." (6:12) The
A.N.C. can also be labeled pro-Western since it seeks and receives
support from Western governments and organizations, including such
anti-Soviet organizations as the Socialist International.
Following the recent peace agreement between Angola, South Africa
and Cuba, the A.N.C. has suffered a support set back. Financial
support from the Soviet Union has been reduced and refuge in Angola
was discontinued as part of the agreement. Although this weakens the
A.N.C.'s support, it opens the door for the United States to warm up
the now cold-shoulder relationship between itself and the A.N.C.
which is due to the overt U.S. support for the South African
COMPREHENSIVE ECONOMIC SANCTIONS
The practice of apartheid and destabilization cannot be separated
into two distinct entities, but for the sake of clarity, lets leave
the concept of destabilization and focus on apartheid in South
Africa, current U.S. economic policy, and the feasibility of
comprehensive economic sanctions.
Constructive engagement was a U.S. offering of incentives to
South Africa to institute meaningful change in this peculiar
institution of neoslavery built on severe racial segregation. These
attempts to encourage reform by working within South Africa's system
simply haven't worked.
For more than a century, foreign economic interests have profited
from and bolstered the South African system of white domination.
Yet, in the last decade, in response to internal unrest and the
international divestment movement, U.S. corporations and Washington
officials have argued that economic involvement can actually
accelerate the process of reform; that they should stay and use
their influence as a positive force for change. But the improvement
they point to in working conditions and housing for a small minority
of black South Africans have done nothing to end apartheid. In
fact, between 1960 and 1980, while U.S. investment increased,
Pretoria consolidated its apartheid policies, and forcibly removed
over 3.5 million Blacks to impoverished homelands.(11:2)
According to a Washington Post article on November 13, 1988, in
spite of the Pretoria government's cautious efforts at racial
reforms, the extreme right-wing Conservative Party is insisting on a
reversal of reforms and a return to the comprehensive, 1950's-style
apartheid laws. In the May 1987 national whites-only election, the
Conservative Party won 23 seats and became the official opposition
party in the 178-seat white chamber. (2:34-A) Thus, the citizens of
South Africa appear to be saying to the United States and to the
world, "no deal."
The ultimate motivation for apartheid, like most forms of
oppression, is greed. Removing the profit motive through a decisive
weakening of the present system is considered by many the only
possible external influence to force change. Those who argue that
sanctions won't bring down apartheid are right; they were never
intended to do so. Effective economic sanctions would simply end
American economic support for apartheid thereby contributing
significantly to weakening the regime and shortening the time of
strife before a negotiated settlement. The political issues will be
decided by South Africans, either at the negotiating table or
through violent upheaval.
The U.S. acting alone has already had a major effect on the South
African economy. U.S. banks, for example, triggered the debt crisis
of August 1985. The U.S. is South Africa's leading trading partner,
and plays a strategic role in the supply of products such as
computers, electronic equipment, aircraft and machinery. The U.S.
is also the second leading investor in South Africa, with an
estimated $10 billion in direct and indirect investment.(11:4)
There is a possibility that the U.S. share of investment and
trade would be replaced by European or Japanese firms should the
U.S. pull completely out. But South Africa's other major economic
partners are also under domestic pressure to take strong action. If
the U.S. acted, it would increase that pressure on other
governments. For example, when the U.S. tightened restrictions on
computer exports to South Africa in 1985 the Japanese announced they
were taking similar action. (11:6)
If general economic sanctions were imposed by the U.N. Security
Council and effectively enforced, South Africa would be in serious
trouble. First, in 1980, imported oil provided 90 percent of South
Africa's liquid fuel requirements. Efforts to reduce consumption and
build refineries has reduced their level of dependence, but in the
absence of discovery of natural oil inside South Africa, the country
will continue to be dependent on imported oil. This would result in
severe damage to the transportation, mining and agricultural
South Africa is also dependent on imported machinery and advanced
technological equipment. Although efforts to substitute local
products has been intensified, the cutting off of supplies would
The country would also suffer from the loss of her export
markets. Arnt Spandau of the University of the Witwartersrand has
estimated that a 20 percent reduction of South Africa's exports
would cost the country about $3 billion a year. This would also
exacerbate the already serious unemployment problem, especially
among Blacks, with serious consequences in terms of social
These projections, however, are based upon the assumption that
sanctions would not merely be voted by the UN Security Council, but
that they would be effectively enforced. This is highly unlikely.
For instance, South Africa has had little difficulty buying
oil, though at high prices, despite the oil embargo declared by the
OPEC countries. Also, the 1986 Anti-Apartheid Act of the United
States, though a step in the right direction, was considered by
anti-apartheid activist to have many loopholes which have been
exploited to the benefit of South Africa. (5:13)
South Africa would probably develop a system of
sanctions-busting, with some support from Western industrial states
and even several African states. Tanzania and Angola are the only
two members of the Southern African Development Coordination
Conference (SADCC) that are totally committed to sanctions in
practice. The remaining members benefit from sanctions evasion
(relocation of firms like Coca-Cola who have divested from South
Africa; relabelling of produce of South African origin,
In the long run, however, comprehensive economic sanctions
will eventually force the South African government to the
The baby in the bath water is spoiled. And like a baby, it fails
to understand the consequences of its self-gratifying actions.
In 1986, President Reagan said, "Time is running out for the
moderates of all races in South Africa." (9:5) He is correct. And
make no mistake about it, youths committed to violent overthrow are
increasing in age and number. Our own recent history has shown us
that military strength alone cannot suppress the will of a people
The United states has an obligation to take a mature, realistic
approach to this problem, protect itself from import vulnerability
and seize opportunities to truly promote democracy in the region.
My intention has been to show that current U.S. policy in
southern Africa, though well-intentioned, is flawed. The underlying
thoughts I asked the reader to keep in mind was not an attempt to
judge America, but an attempt to highlight what I feel are real
motivating factors behind our levels of commitment as a nation. The
United States has overcome more obstacles to freedom quicker than
any nation in history. It is because of this history that we owe the
citizens of this country, if not the world, a foreign policy that is
consistent, sound, and devoted to human rights for all, regardless
of race, creed, or the color of the baby in the bath water.
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