South Africa's Weapons of Mass Destruction

In This Review

South Africa's Weapons of Mass Destruction

By Helen E. Purkitt and Stephen F. Burgess
Indiana University Press, 2005
320 pp. $65.00

South Africa is the only country to have developed nuclear weapons and then voluntarily given them up. Purkitt and Burgess tell a comprehensive story of South Africa's nuclear program, from its inception, with inadvertent assistance from the U.S. "Swords into Plowshares" program, which provided the country access to nuclear technology in the 1950s, to the government's decision to close the program in the last years of apartheid. As apparently important in this decision as international pressure was opposition from within the South African military to a weapons capability with extremely high opportunity costs and few clear strategic benefits; military planners came to believe that a nuclear capability was coming at the expense of the modernization of the South African National Defense Force. Purkitt and Burgess also describe the rise and fall of South Africa's efforts to develop chemical weapons, a story that reveals the seamier side of the apartheid regime. Chillingly, they suggest that at least some Afrikaner leaders might some day contemplate using chemical weapons to maintain order in the increasingly unruly townships.

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