“From the Viewpoint of a Southern Governor”: The Carter Administration and Apartheid, 1977–81


  • Simon Stevens

  • I am grateful to the late Ernest May, to Matthew Connelly, Jan Eckel, John Iliffe, Melvyn Leffler, Nancy Mitchell, Andrew Preston, David Reynolds, and Stephen Wertheim; to the editor and two anonymous referees of Diplomatic History; and to all the members of the Spring 2007 Harvard University Graduate Research Seminar in International Relations of the United States and the Michaelmas 2007 Cambridge University Graduate Workshop in American History for their comments and advice.


The Carter administration's adoption of an approach towards the South African government's policy of apartheid that was, as Jimmy Carter put it, “correct but as easy on them as possible,” cannot be explained solely by American economic and strategic interests in the region or by the administration's desire for South Africa's cooperation on nuclear nonproliferation and the resolution of the conflicts in neighboring Rhodesia and Namibia. The lessons Carter and Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young drew from their earlier personal experiences in the American South in the 1960s were also of great significance. Those experiences not only gave Carter and Young a strong commitment to ending apartheid in South Africa but also strongly influenced the ways in which they thought that objective might be achieved. First, Carter and Young had considerable sympathy for the position of white South Africans and were concerned to work with them toward peaceful change in a spirit of cooperation rather than confrontation. Second, they believed that American businesses could have a positive impact on race relations in South Africa. They therefore encouraged American investors to adopt “enlightened employment practices,” and resisted pressure from anti-apartheid activists to impose economic sanctions.