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Richard Goldstone Ambiguity and America: South Africa and US Foreign Policy INTRODUCTION The relationship between South Africa (as represented by the majority of South Africans) and the United States has a complex history/ The reaction in the United States to racial oppression and racial discrimina­ tion, and the m anner in which it shaped the foreign policy ofthe United States with respect to Africa and South Africa in particular, reflects a long-standing ambivalence about the promotion of and compliance with international human rights principles. The United States has been an active supporter ofthe codification ofinternational human rights norms and draws from a strong American ethos based on democracy and rights protection. The United States, for example, played a key role in establishing the United Nations, contrib­ uting to the intense debate about race and equality in the development of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a nonbinding aspira­ tion. In 1943, a committee of the US Department of State produced draft articles for the United Nations that included a prohibition of discrimi­ nation on the basis of race, nationality, language, political opinion, or religious belief (Goldstone and Ray, 2004:107). The State Department’s work focused on securing strong antidiscrimination language in order to guard against the type of racism expressed in the Nuremberg Laws: [The] ban on discrimination [is] fundamental because with­ out it no person’s rights are assured and those of all may be underm ined.. . . The prohibition of discrimination on the social research Vol 72 : No 4 : Winter 2005 811 grounds of race is intended to prevent the enactment of laws like the notorious Nuremberg laws, and similar laws in other countries, discriminating against “non-Aryans” (Lauren, 1983:1). Yet, the United States has always strongly qualified any commit­ ments made to institutional arrangements that would enforce such norms domestically or require national accountability to international bodies (Steiner, 2000:139). Even at the end of World War II, when demo­ cratic nations in the West wished to respond to the consequences ofracist Holocaust policies, there was a fear that such a response would invite scrutiny of legal segregation policies in the United States and Australia, and racist policies in the British and Portuguese colonies. Tellingly, the same State Department committee crucial to the drafting of rights in the Universal Declaration, stated that the above provision would not interfere with segregation laws in the United States, because of “[tjhe absence of guarantees or measures ofenforcement” (Goldstone and Ray, 2004:107). Notwithstanding concerns about the domestic effect of inter­ national human rights instruments, which were becoming more and more important in the global community, policymakers in the United States recognized as early as 1942 that a commitment to human rights at the international level was necessary to the maintenance of inter­ national peace, and that prohibiting discrimination was an essential aspect of that commitment. This is the crux of American ambivalence in foreign policy: a desire for international law, yet a resistance for any possible affect it may have domestically. At the same time that the United States government sent mixed signals about its compliance with international human rights law, civil society in the United States agitated for the implementation of princi­ ples of racial equality. Undoubtedly, the United States has a vibrant and well-organized network of advocates for human rights. Human rights advocacy, which draws heavily on American constitutional principles, is often at odds with the US government’s continued reticence when it comes to submitting to more binding notions of international law. 812 social research Domestic civil rights activists in the United States attempted creatively to use these new international agreements in their fight against segre­ gation, with very mixed results. In this regard, the role of US policy toward South Africa’s apart­ heid government illustrates this American ambivalence. Consideration of this history is timely as the United States confronts growing opposi­ tion at home and abroad to policies responding to the tragic events of September 11,2001. In light of this, it is not surprising that the percep­ tion ofAmerica is contradictory and complex. AM ERICAN POLICIES TOW ARD APARTHEID SOUTH AFRICA South Africa’s invidious and well-documented racial discrimination...


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