401. Memorandum From Secretary of State Rusk to President Kennedy 0


  • South African Interest in Purchase of US Submarines

The South African Naval Chief of Staff urgently asked our Naval Attache in Pretoria to ascertain informally whether the US Government would be willing to entertain a request to permit the purchase of two or three modern conventional attack submarines of about 1700 tons, and would provide crew training for key personnel. Our Ambassador notes that our present policy with respect to South Africa, of which they have been advised, permits the sale of military equipment for external defense, and that this request could be given favorable consideration provided submarines were available.

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Submarines of this class are understood to cost approximately $40 million each. They would have to come from new construction, and there would be a three-year lead time from acceptance of order to delivery.

There are both benefits and difficulties inherent in this South African request. An affirmative reply to South Africa would aid in maintaining good military relations, this being of evident consequence in the light of the importance to us of various US military facilities and rights in the country, particularly tracking stations for Atlantic Missile Range operations, port facilities, and overflight rights. In the event the Suez Canal is closed to us, the Navy believes South African harbor and dock facilities are virtually irreplaceable. It is doubtful these strategic interests will be materially changed within the period in which the submarines would be delivered to South Africa.

On the other hand, the prospect of growing racial conflict in South Africa and of intensified international condemnation of the South African Government will make significant US arms deliveries to that country increasingly costly to us in political terms. Our efforts to encourage a moderate African approach to the problems of Southern Rhodesia and Portuguese Africa will be made more difficult. Furthermore, if South Africa’s international position continues to deteriorate, it is probable that delivery of US submarines in 1966 could have highly unfavorable repercussions abroad and at home.

On balance, however, in terms of our political relations with South Africa and potential benefits to our balance of payments, I believe we should give an affirmative reply to this informal inquiry and be in a position at least to discuss this sale. Military assistance credits should not be made available. It should be noted that the sale may not eventuate, since the UK is also offering similar submarines for mid-1967 delivery, and the UK price may be lower than ours.

I would appreciate your views.1

Dean Rusk
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Africa, General. Secret.
  2. On March 22, Carl Kaysen sent a memorandum to Secretary Rusk that reads: “The President has reviewed the course of action you propose in your memorandum of March 16 with respect to the sale of submarines to the Union of South Africa. He concurs with your judgment that on balance it is desirable to make such a transaction if it can be made on acceptable terms.” (Ibid.)