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«THE RHODESIAN CRISIS IN BRITISH AND INTERNATIONAL POLITICS, 1964-1965 by CARL PETER WATTS A thesis submitted to the University of Birmingham For the ...»

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a fundamental Anglo-American concern. 221 Second, the FO and the CRO diverged on the objectives of British policy, and the most efficacious means of achieving those objectives.

FO officials felt that the CRO had given little consideration to the pressures that the British Government was likely to face as a result of the international reaction to a UDI, particularly in the United Nations, where responsibility for defending British policy and interests rested with the FO, not the CRO. In May 1965, Derrick March, an official in the

FO West and Central Africa Department wrote:

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question. It is one of the great faults of the Sub-Committee on Rhodesia that although many papers have been prepared on detailed aspects of a unilateral declaration of independence nothing has been written about the reactions of Afro-Asian Governments, the OAU and the United Nations, and the effect on our international position if [Her Majesty’s Government]

–  –  –

March argued that if economic warfare broke out between Rhodesia and Zambia, and the UN passed a resolution in Chapter VII terms, the British Government would have to demonstrate that it was willing to support African and UN forces to overthrow the rebel government. 223 March observed that if this situation was reached, the British See below, Ch. 6, for an extensive discussion of the problems that this caused in Anglo-American relations.

TNA: PRO, FO 371/181877, Minute by Derrick March, 24 May 1965.

Chapter VII of the UN Charter is concerned with ‘Action with respect to threats to the Peace, Breaches of the Peace, and Acts of Aggression’, i.e. situations that constitute a threat to the maintenance of international peace and security. This provides for Member States not actively concerned with a dispute to Government would have to consider the use of British troops to end the rebellion which would, in any case, be very much cheaper than the threat posed by economic sanctions to the whole Sterling area envisaged by the Board of Trade. March argued that the British Government should not allow a minority of 217,000 Europeans, of whom 75 per cent

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suggested that the Rhodesian Government would not contemplate a UDI if the British Government demonstrated sufficient resolve, but acknowledged that the situation might deteriorate ‘if the Rhodesian Government proceeds on the assumption that troops would never be used in any circumstances.’ 224 There was not much sympathy in the FO towards suggestions that force might have to be used. 225 However, senior officials certainly emphasised the need satisfy, so far as possible, public opinion in Britain, in Africa, and in the United Nations, without running Britain into bankruptcy in the process. 226 The FO therefore favoured measures with presentational value that could be implemented at little economic cost to Britain, such as take action against the state responsible for the existence of a dispute. The Foreign Office was concerned that the CRO did not understand the difficulties that the British Government was likely to face as a result.

See TNA: PRO, FO 371/181879, passim.

TNA: PRO, FO 371/181877, Minute by Derrick March, 24 May 1965. Emphasis in the original.

One official suggested that ‘no responsible government could willingly initiate the use of force for the solution of a political problem in the present situation in Africa. The experience of the Congo is surely too recent to be forgotten, and no one can foresee how, when released from the bottle, the genie of force could be put back. The one thing that does seem certain is that if force were employed against Rhodesia one of the principal and most immediate sufferers would be Zambia.’ TNA: PRO, FO 371/181879, C. M.

MacLehose to Oliver Wright, 28 September 1965.

TNA: PRO, FO 371/181877, Minute by Sir Roger Allen, 10 June 1965; and Minute by R. J. M. Wilson, 14 June 1965.

the exclusion of Rhodesia from Her Majesty’s Dominions. The CRO, on the other hand, believed that stringent economic measures would work if given sufficient time and there was therefore no need to consider exclusion. In July 1965, Arthur Bottomley wrote to the Prime Minister: ‘Such a Bill will not be required until some time after any unilateral declaration of independence, and only then if we have decided, in the light of developments, to accept the success of the declaration, which we hope will not happen.’ 227 FO officials were unhappy with Bottomley’s proposal that no further action should be taken, and Martin Le Quesne therefore prepared a draft minute of opposition for consideration by the Foreign Secretary. Meanwhile the Prime Minister took advice from Sir Burke Trend and the FO was advised that Wilson concurred with Bottomley’s

proposal. Michael Stewart then wrote to the Prime Minister:

–  –  –

period during which we hope that the various forms of economic and political pressure open to us will serve to bring public opinion in Rhodesia

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however, that we must, at any rate in our planning, admit the possibility that these measures will not succeed in their object and that we shall at some stage be faced with the necessity of taking the serious step of declaring that Rhodesia is no longer one of Her Majesty’s Dominions. 228 Stewart accepted that the problems involved were complex, but argued that these would not become any easier to resolve after a UDI had taken place. He suggested that Africans TNA: PRO, FO 371/181878, Bottomley to Wilson, 12 July 1965.





TNA: PRO, FO 371/181878, Stewart to Wilson, 20 July 1965.

would want the British Government to take action quickly and it would be embarrassing if the Government eventually decided to take the step and then had to wait for an official study to be prepared. Stewart therefore recommended that the problem should be considered immediately in order to identify and define the issues involved. 229 Bottomley responded: ‘The Bill would legally end the Rhodesian rebellion by admitting its success. It would terminate all responsibility of Britain for Rhodesia and make her a foreign country. It would put the world on notice that we washed our hands of the Rhodesian problem.’ With regard to the point raised by Stewart concerning the likely reaction of Africans, Bottomley contended: ‘I take the opposite view and believe that Africans would criticise us strongly and accuse us of connivance if we passed the ultimate legislation with indecent haste.’ Bottomley averred that it was not difficult to identify and define the issues with which the legislation would be concerned: some sixty Acts of Parliament applying to Rhodesia would have to be examined. Further, the experience of South Africa leaving the Commonwealth had indicated what issues would be involved if Rhodesia were to be excluded. Bottomley therefore concluded that he did not wish to amend his original recommendation to which the Prime Minister had agreed. 230 Le Quesne remained unhappy and discussed the matter further with officials in the CRO. 231 Although they were agreed that there would be a period after UDI during which the British Government would try to bring Rhodesia back to legality, they differed on the time scale involved. The CRO believed that this period might be as long as five years, Ibid.

TNA: PRO, FO 371/181878, Bottomley to Wilson, 27 July 1965.

TNA: PRO, FO 371/181878, Minute by Le Quesne, 13 August 1965.

which the FO thought quite unrealistic; Le Quesne suggested six months was more likely.

He refuted Bottomley’s view that Rhodesia’s expulsion from the Commonwealth was likely to be interpreted as evidence of collusion between the British and Rhodesian Governments. On the contrary, if the British Government failed to act quickly then Britain would be accused of acquiescence and collusion. Le Quesne commented: ‘It is true that it would also constitute an admission of our inability forcibly to impose our will on Rhodesia. But this is a fact which we at any rate accept and which, in the circumstances envisaged, will in any case have become apparent to all.’ 232 Le Quesne observed that as the Prime Minister had already endorsed Bottomley’s proposal, there was no point in challenging the accepted view. However, he suggested that a draft minute should be prepared for the Foreign Secretary in order to make the Prime Minister aware of the difference of view between the FO and CRO. The minute was sent on 31 August 1965, and recommended that the issue should be given further consideration in the official Rhodesia sub-committee. 233 In September the DOPC began to lean towards the Foreign Office position and encouraged a meeting between FO and CRO officials to revise the Government’s contingency plans. 234 When the meeting took place, CRO officials continued to profess their belief that if the British Government expelled Rhodesia from the Commonwealth it would be seen as connivance and would lead to the disintegration of the Commonwealth. 235 They did agree, however, that it was unrealistic Ibid.

TNA: PRO, FO 371/181878, Stewart to Wilson, 31 August 1965.

TNA: PRO, CAB 148/18, Minutes of OPD (65) 40th Meeting, Item 4, 22 September 1965. The Committee invited the FO and CRO to arrange for OPD (65) 132 Annex II to be amended to reflect the possibility that further measures to those proposed by the CRO might be necessary in the context of the likely response at the UN.

TNA: PRO, FO 371/181878, Minute by Le Quesne, 1 October 1965.

to think in terms of the British Government holding its position at the UN for up to five years, but CRO officials apparently told their FO colleagues that Bottomley refused to admit the possibility that the British Government’s contingency measures would fail. 236 This was at variance with the views of the FO, and the difference of opinion was never resolved. Shortly before UDI, Le Quesne wrote to his counterpart in the CRO, Derrick Watson: ‘I am sorry to keep reverting to this point, but we would be extremely grateful if you could let us have a reasoned statement of the grounds on which we believe that the measures which we propose to take against Rhodesia in the event of a UDI will be successful.’ 237 The absence of such a ‘reasoned statement’ can only be explained by the fact that there were no reasonable grounds on which to base the assumption that British objectives could be achieved by the measures that the Government proposed to take in the event of a UDI. This makes an even bigger nonsense of Wilson’s remark at Lagos in January 1966 that ‘the cumulative effects of the economic and financial sanctions might well bring the rebellion to an end within a matter of weeks rather than months.’ 238 Conclusion In his biography of Wilson Philip Ziegler observed that if the Labour Government’s foreign policy problems are considered in isolation it risks ‘misrepresenting the atmosphere in which such problems were considered and decisions made’, because Wilson had to grapple with so many interrelated problems simultaneously. ‘To give the Rhodesian negotiations the calm and concentrated attention which they deserved against Ibid.

TNA: PRO, FO 371/181880, Le Quesne to Watson, 21 October 1965.

Quoted in Pimlott, Harold Wilson, p. 377.

such a tempestuous background was beyond the powers of any except the superhuman.’ 239 It is right to acknowledge the multiple difficulties that Wilson faced from his very first moments in office, and indeed Wilson drew attention to these in his memoirs. 240 However, it is important not to overstate the problems that were not of Wilson’s making to the extent that they obscure the difficulties that he created for himself. During the 1964 general election Wilson need not have entered into an explicit commitment to bring about African majority rule in Rhodesia, especially as this was not even an issue in that election. 241 This commitment was at variance with his Party’s cautious approach to the Rhodesian problem in 1964, and it complicated the dialogue with the Rhodesian Government once Labour was in power. The Labour Government’s initial response to the possibility of a UDI was robust and effective, but the deterrent effect of Labour’s early posture wore off over the next few months because the Rhodesian Government was able to determine how it could circumvent the likely economic consequences of a UDI. The fact that the Labour Government was able to lock the Rhodesian Government into four rounds of substantive negotiations during 1965, and to stave off a UDI for so many months, was an achievement in itself. However, it made little sense to expend so much effort seeking a negotiated solution; it would have been more realistic to try to maintain the status quo. As Ben Pimlott has commented: ‘The most puzzling aspect is that the Rhodesian Government bothered to declare UDI at all. It puzzled Wilson at the time. At best illegal independence was bound to be risky and lonely, at worst disastrous. A rational course would have been to retain the stable limbo Philip Ziegler, Wilson: The Authorised Life of Lord Wilson of Rievaulx (London: HarperCollins, 1993), p. 218.

Wilson, The Labour Government, pp. 2-3.

D. Butler and A. King, The British General Election of 1964 (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1965), p. 121.

Cited in Windrich, Britain and the Politics of Rhodesian Independence, p. 29.

of minority rule under the technical suzerainty of the British Crown.’ 242 This might have been achieved if the British Government had been prepared to engage the key concern of the Rhodesian Government – economic uncertainty – through a massive programme of aid and technical assistance. Instead, the British Government created economic uncertainty of its own with its preparations to implement economic sanctions against Rhodesia in the event of a UDI. The contingency planning operation suffered from multiple weaknesses – a complicated decision structure, ministerial procrastination, and bureaucratic conflict – which adversely affected the preparations to deal with a UDI. To return to the point raised by Ziegler, it was all but impossible for Wilson and the Labour Government to grapple effectively with the Rhodesian Crisis when there were so many other problems to deal with at home and abroad. Yet there were alternative policies to which the Government might have given greater consideration, especially the use of force, which is discussed in the next chapter.

Pimlott, Harold Wilson, p. 372.

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