Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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National Security Study Memorandum 39 (10 April 1969)

Review of American foreign policy in southern Africa, commissioned during President Richard Nixon's first administration. On 10 April 1969, U.S. National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger authorized National Security Study Memorandum 39 (NSSM 39), a detailed critique of American foreign relations in southern Africa that included proposals for future policy options. Both the memorandum and the study itself were imbued with Kissinger's notions of realpolitik. Avoiding a military confrontation in Africa was a high priority given the nature of U.S. military commitments elsewhere, particularly in Vietnam. Thus, to ensure the region's political stability, NSSM 39 analysts suggested that U.S. doctrine shy away from dictating reform policies to colonial governments. Public denunciations of South Africa's racist politics were therefore deemed unwise for fear of risking American intervention and strategic destabilization in the region.

Rather than advocating social justice, the study's key recommendations revolved around safeguarding American strategic and economic interests. Maintaining South Africa's gold production was the chief financial concern, while the prime strategic goal was limiting Soviet and Chinese influence in the area. Conceivably, these policies were intended not only to enhance the U.S. government's regional influence but also to reduce the likelihood of American military intervention in an African civil conflict. The report stated explicitly that "the whites are here to stay and the only way that constructive change can come about is through them."

Scot D. Bruce


Further Reading
El-Khawas, Mohamed A., and Barry Cohen, eds. The Kissinger Study of Southern Africa: National Security Study Memorandum 39 (SECRET). Westport, CT: Lawrence Hill, 1976.; Hesse, Brian J. The United States, South Africa, and Africa: Of Grand Foreign Policy Aims and Modest Means. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2001.; Prados, John. Keepers of the Keys: A History of the National Security Council from Truman to Bush. New York: Morrow, 1991.
 

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