Newsweek published “an interview”:http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/12758097/site/newsweek/ the other day with former South African president F.W. de Klerk.
He discussed several topics, including South Africa’s past nuclear weapons program.
Asked about the country’s decision to give up its weapons, he said:
I wasnâ€™t part of the inner circle that developed [the program]. It was not my decision to build [the bomb], and I did not have the power to stop it. I was never enthusiastic about it. But as it was explained [to me] then, it was built never to be used, but to have it as a deterrentâ€ to almost be used as a shield. It was built in the face of a definite threat, a definite strategy by the U.S.S.R., to directly or indirectly gain control of the whole of southern Africa â€¦ When I became president this threat changed in the sense that the Berlin Wall came down. Suddenly the U.S.S.R. was no longer this world power …
Interestingly, he addressed the oft-repeated claim that South Africa gave up its weapons because it didn’t want the ANC to have them:
Some people accuse me of doing it [because] I realized that our constitutional negotiations would lead to a [Mandela-led] African National Congress government and [that] I was not prepared to let them control such a weapon. Itâ€™s not true.
First of all, the threat had changed, we didnâ€™t need [the bomb], it had become a millstone around our neck. [Also,] I wanted South Africa to return as soon as possible to the international arena, and I wanted to convince the rest of the world that we really were not playing with words, we really were prepared to undertake negotiations which would result in fundamental change. I wanted to achieve international support for the change process in South Africa, and I wanted to ensure that the leading countries of the world would keep an eye over the negotiation process and that if [there were] a threat of the negotiations deteriorating into further conflict, then they would step in to assure that a negotiated solution is guaranteed.
The former president also commented on the Iran situation. Asked whether isolation and negative incentives could persuade Iran to compromise on its nuclear program, de Klerk noted that South Africa developed nuclear weapons
because of the stick… [the] result of growing isolation from the rest of the world. Iâ€™m not a believer in sanctions [which were imposed against South Africa] as being a very successful method of exercising pressure. My viewpoint about the value of sanctions and international isolation is that they should be reserved for very serious situations, and if that doesnâ€™t work in 18 months or two years, then it should be accepted that as a strategy it has failed to achieve its objectives. I believe in engagement, and I believe in negotiation.”