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South Africa: Why Constructive Engagement Failed

Courtesy Reuters

Ronald Reagan’s imposition of limited economic sanctions against the South African regime in September was a tacit admission that his policy of "constructive engagement"—encouraging change in the apartheid system through a quiet dialogue with that country’s white minority leaders—had failed. Having been offered many carrots by the United States over a period of four-and-a-half years as incentives to institute meaningful reforms, the South African authorities had simply made a carrot stew and eaten it. Under the combined pressures of the seemingly cataclysmic events in South Africa since September 1984 and the dramatic surge of anti-apartheid protest and political activism in the United States, the Reagan Administration was finally embarrassed into brandishing some small sticks as an element of American policy.

The Reagan sanctions, however limited, are an important symbol: a demonstration to the ruling white South African nationalists that even an American president whom they had come

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