Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Cape Sea Route

Naval choke point between the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, at the southern tip of Africa. The British naval withdrawal east of the Suez sparked fears that Western ships faced potential interception around the Cape of Good Hope. These concerns became more palpable following the Soviets' increased naval presence in the Indian Ocean during the early 1970s. The South African government, with the collusion of conservative think tanks, continuously raised the alarm over this issue. A central political concern was the need to supply naval equipment that would allow South Africa to protect Western shipping should the need arise.

The British Labour Party, under the leadership of Harold Wilson, opposed the sale of weapons to South Africa because of its apartheid policy and abrogated the British–South African Simonstown Maritime Agreement in June 1975. American interest in this had been settled during a visit of the U.S. aircraft carrier Franklin D. Roosevelt to Cape Town in February 1967; its multiracial crew was not allowed ashore because the ship's commander refused to comply with South Africa's racial segregation laws. The price to be paid for continued access to apartheid's strategic facilities was simply too high, despite Cold War concerns.

For South Africa's white minority, this was a clear case in which racial ideology trumped Cold War calculations. The debate over the strategic importance of this choke point continued in Britain until it was plain that in the event of an incident or war, apartheid South Africa would invariably side with the West.

Peter Vale


Further Reading
Rippon, Geoffrey. "South Africa and Naval Strategy: The Importance of South Africa." The Round Table 60(239) (July 1970): 303–309.; Schuetteringer, Robert L., ed. South Africa: The Vital Link. Washington, DC: Council on American Affairs, 1976.; Spence, J. E. "Southern Africa in the Cold War." History Today 49(2) (1999): 43–49.
 

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