«THE RHODESIAN CRISIS IN BRITISH AND INTERNATIONAL POLITICS, 1964-1965 by CARL PETER WATTS A thesis submitted to the University of Birmingham For the ...»
Participants included: Lord Carrington, Foreign Secretary, 1979-1982; Lord Steel, leader of the Liberal Party, 1976-88; and Peter Jay, British Ambassador to Washington, 1977Finally, 11 November 2005 marked the fortieth anniversary of UDI, which occasioned two academic conferences. In September 2005, the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities, Cambridge, organised a conference entitled ‘UDI Forty Years On: Liberation, Confrontation and Co-operation’, opened by Kenneth Kaunda, President of Zambia at the time of UDI. 12 In January 2006, a similar conference was held as part of the Southern Africa Initiative in the Cold War Studies Centre at the LSE, opened by Lord Owen, who was involved in the Rhodesian Crisis as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Navy, 1968-70, and as Foreign Secretary, 1977-79. 13 See http://www.icbh.ac.uk/icbh/witness/rhodesia/ See http://www.lse.ac.uk/collections/CWSC/events/pastEvents2005.htm#CWSCNationalArchiveWitnessSeminar See http://www.udi40.org See http://www.lse.ac.uk/collections/CWSC/events/rhodesia_jan_06.htm This level of academic interest looks set to continue, especially under the auspices of the Southern Africa Initiative and the Struggles for Freedom in Southern Africa Collection (Aluka Project).
project, once completed, will be extremely valuable for future scholars, particularly those interested in the Rhodesian Crisis from the perspective of the Liberation Movements.
The thesis: scope, historiography, and arguments These multiple signs of proliferating interest in southern African studies are encouraging, but the history of Rhodesia’s UDI – especially the period leading up to UDI – remains relatively under researched, particularly the international context. 17 This thesis is therefore intended partly to fill some of the gaps in existing knowledge, and in other respects to revise the contemporary interpretations of events (both of which are wellestablished rationales for many doctoral theses). Part One investigates the Rhodesian Crisis from a British perspective, challenging some of the extant academic studies and autobiographical accounts of the Wilson Government’s handling of the issue. Part Two examines the Commonwealth dimension, especially the involvement of the Old Commonwealth, which has been a sorely neglected topic in studies of UDI. Part Three documents the impact of the Rhodesian Crisis on the Anglo-American special relationship, and analyses the nature of policy formulation in the Lyndon B. Johnson administration, adding to the existing literature in those academic fields of enquiry. It should be appreciated that due to the limitations of length imposed on this thesis, it is necessarily selective and limited to discussion of the British, Commonwealth, and United
comprehensive international history: such a study would obviously have to take into account the involvement of the United Nations, and the Organisation of African Unity;
This is acknowledged, for example, in Coggins, ‘Rhodesian UDI and the search for a settlement’, p. 30.
and the role of regional actors, including South Africa and Portugal. 18 This is first and foremost an empirical study, but it does make some limited use of international relations and political science theories where this helps to frame the research (especially in the third section of the thesis). The remainder of this Introduction provides further details of the historiography that is relevant to the three parts of the thesis, the arguments advanced, the sources used, and a brief indication of the major conclusions reached.
Part One: Britain and the Rhodesian Crisis Robert Good, the U.S. ambassador to Zambia at the time of UDI, suggested a few years later that the British Government’s Rhodesia policy had suffered from multiple weaknesses: poor political judgment (especially the mistake of ruling out the use of force publicly); unrealistic aims (attempting to produce a ‘change of heart’ among white Rhodesians); and insufficient means (economic sanctions). 19 Some early British accounts were also highly critical of the Wilson Government’s handling of the Rhodesian Crisis.
Kenneth Young, the political adviser to Beaverbrook Newspapers, wrote an account that was highly sympathetic to the Rhodesian Front. Whilst this thesis is certainly not written from a perspective that shares Young’s political sympathies, it does agree with his conclusion that the Rhodesian Crisis ‘disclosed all too clearly the erratic nature of [the British] Government’s policy-making, before and more particularly after UDI … It certainly had a desperately ad hoc quality, never seeming on Monday to look further than See Carl P. Watts, Rhodesia’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence: A Study in International Crisis (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, forthcoming, 2008).
Robert C. Good, UDI: The International Politics of the Rhodesian Rebellion (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1973), p. 293.
the following Friday.’ 20 In other cases, criticism of British policy was informed by a belief that both main political parties had demonstrated an inexcusable weakness in their dealings with the Rhodesian Government. Elaine Windrich, a research assistant to the Parliamentary Labour Party during the 1960s, initially began writing her book as ‘a critique of the Labour party’s failure to implement its policy commitments on Rhodesia.’ However, she recognised that the Conservatives had a comparable record and therefore extended her discussion of British policy up to the date of publication (1978). Windrich observed that both parties ruled out the only effective means of resolving the Rhodesian Crisis (use of force) and became trapped in a fruitless search for an agreement between the Rhodesian Front and the African nationalists, neither of whom were prepared to compromise. 21 There is much to be said in favour of Windrich’s argument, and in this thesis it is argued that the use of force was indeed the most efficacious means of producing a solution in Rhodesia. Another participatory account came from Miles Hudson, who was head of Rhodesian affairs in the Conservative Research Department from 1965, Political Secretary to Alec Douglas-Home 1971-74, and closely involved with the settlement of the Rhodesian problem 1979-80. Hudson recognised that ‘political leaders are constrained by circumstances in the decisions they come to’, but suggested that the response of politicians to the Rhodesian problem was ‘muddled and inconsistent’, and characterised by a ‘constant series of miscalculations... often palpable and gross...
Kenneth Young, Rhodesia and Independence (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1967), p. 504.
Elaine Windrich, Britain and the Politics of Rhodesian Independence (London: Croom Helm, 1978), p. 7.
Windrich also edited a collection of ‘documents’ on the Rhodesian problem. These are mainly partial extracts from command papers and memoirs, and journal articles written in the 1960s. Windrich (ed.), The Rhodesian Problem: A Documentary Record, 1923-1973 (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1975).
nearly all the result of wishful thinking.’ 22 This thesis puts forward a substantial body of documentary evidence that substantiates the view that there was considerable muddle and wishful thinking in the Labour Government’s handling of the Rhodesian Crisis.
These examples of the critical literature on Labour’s Rhodesia policy fit into a broader historiographical orthodoxy in which politicians, journalists, and academics have lambasted the Labour Government, and Harold Wilson in particular, for its failures.
Clive Ponting equated the poor record of the Labour Government with Wilson’s leadership and suggested that ‘the blame for the government’s overall failure has to rest largely with him.’ 23 A number of Wilson’s colleagues drew attention to his faults, including his scheming, indecision, excessive concern with detail, and absurd optimism.24 Denis Healey commented that ‘His short-term opportunism, allied with a capacity for self-delusion which made Walter Mitty appear unimaginative, often plunged the government into chaos.’ 25 One early biographer argued that this ‘Walter Mitty’ side of Wilson’s character affected his foreign policy, because he deluded himself that he could end the Vietnam War and bring down the illegal Rhodesian regime. 26 Writing in the late 1980s, Kenneth Morgan observed that Wilson seemed ‘in acute danger of becoming a universal scapegoat … for all the misfortunes of British life between 1964 and 1976’, but Miles Hudson, Triumph or Tragedy? Rhodesia to Zimbabwe (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1982), ‘Introduction’.
Clive Ponting, Breach of Promise: Labour in Power, 1964-70 (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1989), p. 405.
In Ch. 8, ‘The Shadow of the Past: Rhodesia’, Ponting is less critical of Wilson.
Young, The Labour Governments 1964-70, Vol. 2, pp. 3-4.
Denis Healey, The Time of My Life (London: Michael Joseph, 1989), p. 331.
Andrew Roth, Harold Wilson: Yorkshire Walter Mitty (London: Macdonald, 1977), pp. 6 and 53. Cited in Young, The Labour Governments 1964-70, Vol. 2, p. 4.
thought it probable that ‘historians will take a more charitable and compassionate view of his career and achievements’. 27 This was a prescient comment, as subsequent biographies of Wilson portrayed him in a much more sympathetic light, observing the serious political and economic constraints under which he had to operate and acknowledging his success in maintaining party unity and winning elections. 28 Revisionist historians have also challenged the disastrous reputation of the Labour Governments of the 1960s, both in domestic and foreign policy. 29 Chris Wrigley has emphasised the essential continuity in foreign policy between the Conservatives and Labour, which is masked by the fact that ‘Wilson’s actions were often remarkably volatile in the short term.’ 30 Certainly it can be argued that there was considerable continuity between the Conservatives and Labour in terms of their foreign policies. This is evident for, example, in the fact that Wilson continued the special relationship with the United States and submitted an application for EEC membership, and such policies tended to produce dissent on the Labour backbenches. 31 Continuity was also clear in their Rhodesia policy, which Wilson himself Kenneth O. Morgan, Labour People. Leaders and Lieutenants, Hardie to Kinnock (First published 1987;
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), pp. 246 and 247.
Ben Pimlott, Harold Wilson (London: HarperCollins, 1992); and Philip Ziegler, Wilson: The Authorised Life of Lord Wilson of Rievaulx (London: HarperCollins, 1993).
Richard Coopey, Stephen Fielding and Nick Tiratsoo (eds.), The Wilson Governments 1964-1970 (London: Pinter, 1993); and Young, The Labour Governments 1964-70, Vol. 2. A forthcoming study, which also contributes to the revisionist literature on the domestic and foreign policy of the Labour Government, is Glen O’Hara and Helen Parr (eds.), The Wilson Governments 1964-70 Reconsidered (London: Routledge, 2006).
Chris Wrigley, ‘Now you see it, now you don’t: Harold Wilson and Labour’s foreign policy 1964-70’, in Coopey, Fielding, and Tiratsoo (eds.), The Wilson Governments 1964-1970, p. 124.
J. Richard Piper, ‘Backbench Rebellion, Party Government and Consensus Politics: the Case of the Parliamentary Labour Party, 1966-1970’, Parliamentary Affairs, Vol. 27, No. 4 (1974), pp. 384-96.
was keen to emphasise in order to prevent the Conservatives from scoring any political points at Labour’s expense. 32 Yet this hardly constitutes a revisionist assessment because it was acknowledged – indeed it was criticised – in the orthodox literature.
As indicated above, this thesis lends additional weight to the orthodox view of the Labour Government’s Rhodesia policy. Chapter One begins with a brief look at the policy of the Labour Party in Opposition. It notes that during the 1950s Wilson demonstrated little interest in the Central African Federation, but when he became Party leader he expressed strong views publicly and privately that Southern Rhodesia should not be granted independence before African majority rule, which was increasingly at variance with the