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Old December 6th, 2013 #2
Alex Linder
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Alex Linder
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[this was an opinion piece i wrote as a sophomore. back then, apartheid and divestment were big campus issues. divestment meaning the libs were trying to get their various institutions to pull out of companies doing business with South Africa, which still had apartheid at that time. this was one of the biggest 'issues' on campus during the mid-eighties, along with debate over communism in Central America, namely danny ortega and the commies in Nicaragua and the similar battle in El Salvador. Very hot issues then, unheard of after the reagan administration left office. reagan's man in South African policy was chester crocker, and he urged 'constructive engagement' with the country, and i'm more or less parroting the partyline without actually using the term. feel free to comment in this thread, i dont mind. keep in mind that this article is written BEFORE the internet existed (for the public). i recall being abroad in germany in 1987 and seeing a jew use email, first time i had ever heard of or seen the thing. just remember what Steven Barry said, which goes for me too, and should for you: i reserve the right to grow more intelligent.]

[published in Pomona College's The Student Life, Friday, October 24, 1986]

South African Economics As A Carrot, Not a Stick

By Alex Linder

We may question the order of priorities that made it so, but there is no denying that South Africa, on college campuses at least, has become the major foreign policy issue of the 1980's. Let us then attempt to define the proper policy for the United States.

To begin, let us note that American foreign policy must necessarily be primarily concerned with the protection of American interests, strategic and otherwise. The world is full of nasty people intent on doing nasty things. Unfortunately, the U.S. must ally itself with certain countries run by this type of person in the interest of serving a loftier goal: the preservation of the Free World. While it is true that the U.S. may be allied with several authoritarian regimes, can you think of any truly free country that is neither allied with nor protected by the U.S.?

South Africa is an historical anachronism; a bit of twentieth century Europe bordering Sub-Saharan Third World. It is perhaps the one country in which American moral concerns and strategic/economic interests are hardest to reconcile. Nevertheless, we must strive to remember that South Africa is hardly the "worst" or most evil country in the world. We must keep in mind that while the white elite may have killed 2000 blacks over the last two or three years, the Soviet Union has systematically waged what amounts to a genocidal war in Afghanistan, killing over half a million Afghans in the process. Still, the U.S. must strive to do what it reasonably can to bring about an end to apartheid while at the same time protecting the rights of the white minority as well as American interests.

Currently, economic sanctions have been deemed by most to be the best instruments for bringing about change in South Africa. Interestingly enough, the balance of scholarly studies shows sanctions to be extremely ineffective tools for obtaining foreign policy goals. Generally, when the country imposing sanctions lacks near-total control over the "target" country, sanctions will fail. The United States has a relatively small amount of money directly invested in South Africa; Britain has more than twice as much. Oil is the only mineral that South Africa cannot do without that is supplied in part by the U.S. However, South Africa has at least a two-year supply in reserve and could resort to rationing and alternate fuels (oil makes for only twenty percent of the Republic's energy requirements) such as gasohol if coerced. In fact, South Africa has vastly more economic leverage over the West, and the U.S. in particular. South Africa supplies the West with metals vitally needed for military and heavy industrial uses. Of several of the most important minerals (vanadium, manganese, and chrome), the Soviet Union is the largest alternative supplier.

Strategically, South Africa is the key to southern and central Africa. The ANC, should it gain power, would undoubtedly form a socialist, Moscow-leaning government; by most accounts, roughly half the members of the congress are self-admitted communists. An ANC takeover would assuredly result in the destruction of Jonas Savimbi and his UNITA freedom fighters, as well as other anti-communist forces in countries such as Mozambique currently supported by the Botha government.

It is my belief that sanctions will not only fail to abolish apartheid, they will exacerbate racial tensions and further entrench the white ruling elite. The U.S., even acting in concert with Britain and West Germany, does not possess enough economic leverage to impose a heavy enough burden on South African whites to get them to dismantle apartheid. I suspect that the cost to the Afrikaner of relinquishing power could never be equalled by any economic cost the West is capable of imposing. Rather than using sanctions as a stick, I believe we ought to use them as a carrot.

While calling for divestment and other punitive sanctions may be rhetorically and moralistically pleasing, in practice sanctions will do little more than impose minor economic costs on South Africa -- costs that will undoubtedly be disproportionately borne by South African blacks, the very people we are ostensibly trying to help. The claims of groups like SAA [Students Against Apartheid] notwithstanding, American firms are forces for good in South Africa and not integral props for apartheid.

I believe that increased American investment is a better solution. It may well be that with increased economic expansion there will be greater social mobility for blacks leading to greater political leverage and in time equality. It seems likely that enhanced trade relations might encourage the more moderate whites, and lead to the breakdown of apartheid. The alternative, punitive sanctions, will lead to white hardliner entrenchment and contribute to what may well be a coming civil war. Finally, apartheid is essentially an internal South African issue; to the extent that we can do anything at all we ought to use our economic and political leverage to try to unify rather than polarize that sorely troubled nation.

Last edited by Alex Linder; December 6th, 2013 at 04:26 PM.