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Why South Africa Built Nuclear Weapons and Then Gave Them Up via The National Interest

Why? 
by Robert Farley

Key Point: The Republic of South Africa felt safer by disarming.

Why did South Africa decide to build nukes, how did it build them and why did it decide to give them up? The answers are largely idiosyncratic, although they may hold some lessons for the future of nuclear weapons development on the Korean Peninsula and elsewhere.

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South Africa could mine the requisite uranium on its own territory, and enrich it in domestic facilities. With a modern industrial economy and access to technologically sophisticated institutions of learning and research in the United States and Europe, South Africa could easily develop the technical expertise needed to build a weapon. Already the target of harsh international disdain for its domestic institutions, the South African government did not worry overmuch about how the pursuit of nuclear weapons might make it into an international pariah.

Overall, South Africa constructed six uranium gun fission weapons (similar in nature to the Little Boy weapon dropped on Hiroshima).

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No full test of the devices has ever been confirmed, as heavy pressure from the United States, the Soviet Union and France helped force Pretoria to cancel an underground detonation in 1977.

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At the same time, the National Party began negotiations with the African National Congress to end apartheid rule. The prospect of a South African government led by the ANC possessing nuclear weapons may also have given the apartheid regime some pause;FW De Klerk denies this, but there are surely reasons to doubt that the security apparatus of the National Party shared his reasoning. As it turned out, the ANC had little-to-no interest in paying the diplomatic and military costs of maintaining a nuclear deterrent that deterred, in effect, no one. By 1994 all of South Africa’s nuclear devices had been disassembled.

Read more at Why South Africa Built Nuclear Weapons and Then Gave Them Up

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