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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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immediately recognised that his previous views left little room for manoeuvre in negotiations with the Rhodesian Government, and he was prepared to compromise the principle of African majority rule in order to obtain a settlement. The chapter observes the dominant role that Wilson played in the shaping of British policy and the conduct of negotiations with the Rhodesian Government, but suggests that the focus of the negotiations was misplaced. They were therefore unlikely to produce an outcome satisfactory to the British Government, the Rhodesian Government, or the African nationalists in Rhodesia. The chapter then uses a variety of public records to examine the contingency plans that the British Government formulated to deal with a UDI, and argues Hence Barbara Castle’s comment that: ‘Harold Wilson was obsessed with the need to get a consensus with the Conservatives on Rhodesia if at all possible.’ The Castle Diaries, 1964-1970 (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1984), p. xv.

that the planning process was compromised as a result of procrastination, bureaucratic conflict, and wishful thinking. 33 Chapter Two examines two alternative policies that the Labour Government could have pursued either to rid itself of the Rhodesian problem or to impose a settlement. The chapter first considers the advantages and disadvantages of handing responsibility for Rhodesia to the United Nations. The chapter argues that the British Government was afraid to do so because of the likelihood that it would have led to the application of sanctions against South Africa, which would have further undermined Britain’s already precarious economic position. Second, the chapter uses correspondence from former members of the Rhodesian security services, recent oral testimony from British politicians and civil servants, and newly available documentary evidence from archives around the world, to re-examine the viability of British military intervention in Rhodesia during 1964 and 1965. 34 The chapter argues that the military and political obstacles to the use of force cited at the time and since have been grossly exaggerated.

These competing claims have never been properly assessed on the basis of the considerable documentary evidence The chapter is based on a large number of public and private archives, but the main British Government records series used are: The National Archives [hereafter TNA]: Public Records Office, Kew [hereafter PRO], CAB 130, Cabinet: Miscellaneous Committees: Minutes and Papers (GEN, MISC and REF Series), 1945-1976; CAB 148, Cabinet Office: Defence and Oversea Policy Committee and Sub-committees:

Minutes and Papers (DO, DOP, and OPD Series), 1964-1970; DO 183, Central African Office and Commonwealth Relations Office [hereafter CRO]: Central Africa: Registered Files (CAO Series), 1962and FO 371, Foreign Office: Political Departments: General Correspondence, 1906-1966.

The British Government records dealing with military contingency planning are in: TNA: PRO, DEFE 25, Ministry of Defence: Chief of Defence Staff: Registered Files (CDS, SCDS and ACDS (OPS) Series), 1957-1980; and DEFE 32, Ministry of Defence: Chiefs of Staff Committee: Secretary’s Standard Files, 1946-1983.

available in international archives and the one study of any consequence is now thirty years old. 35 The chapter argues that with sufficient resolve, the Labour Government could have used force in an attempt to prevent or end UDI. This might have offered a forthright solution to one of the most protracted and embarrassing international problems that confronted successive British governments during disengagement from Empire. The discussion of military intervention is one of the most distinctive parts of the thesis and it has already been published. 36 Part Two: The Commonwealth and the Rhodesian Crisis Within a few years of the end of the Second World War the Commonwealth began to change. With the admission of India, Pakistan, and Ceylon it was no longer the British Commonwealth of Nations, bound by blood ties, but a multiracial Commonwealth, based on the principle of racial equality. 37 The British Government presented this process as the Douglas G. Anglin, ‘Britain and the Use of Force in Rhodesia’, in Michael G. Fry (ed.), Freedom and Change: essays in honour of Lester B. Pearson (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1975), pp. 43-75. For a short analysis that does refer to British documentary sources concerning the use of force see Young, The Labour Governments 1964-70, Vol. 2, pp. 177-79. See also Philip Murphy, ‘“An intricate and distasteful subject”: British planning for the use of force against European settlers of Central Africa, 1952-65’, English Historical Review (forthcoming, 2006).

See Carl P. Watts, ‘Killing Kith and Kin: The Viability of British Military Intervention in Rhodesia, 1964-5’, Twentieth Century British History, Vol. 16, No. 4 (December 2005), pp. 382-415.

In 1948 Whitehall mandarins advised that ‘British’ should be omitted in front of ‘Commonwealth of Nations’. William David McIntrye, ‘The Commonwealth’, in Robin W. Winks (ed.), Oxford History of the British Empire Volume V: Historiography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 558; and idem, ‘Commonwealth Legacy’, in Judith M. Brown and Wm. Roger Louis (eds.), Oxford History of the British Empire Volume IV: The Twentieth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 696.

culmination of an imperial mission to prepare colonial peoples for self-government. 38 Some historians perpetuated this Whiggish interpretation. Nicholas Mansergh, for

example, suggested that when the Asian Dominions became part of the Commonwealth:

‘The image of [the] Commonwealth was thereby embellished in the eyes both of Asian, African and other colonial nationalist leaders and also in those hitherto unenthusiastic or, more usually, sceptical left-wing progressives in Britain and the old dominions.’39 Britain’s image within the Commonwealth was of course subsequently tarnished by the Suez debacle, 40 but by 1961 the British Government had managed to restore some of its moral credibility with Commonwealth members through its espousal of the ‘wind of change’ in Africa. This apparent moral and political unity resulted in South Africa’s departure from the Commonwealth in May 1961, and some commentators heralded a new era in which the Commonwealth would become a prominent international actor. 41 Yet as Stephen Chan has acknowledged, at this time ‘the Commonwealth was far from an institution of triumphant virtue.’ 42 Difficult issues still remained unresolved, including relations with the apartheid regime in South Africa and the question of Rhodesian independence. Harold Wilson was of course acutely conscious of the strength of Commonwealth feeling on the Rhodesian issue, later writing in his memoirs that the Wm. Roger Louis, ‘The Dissolution of the British Empire’, in Brown and Louis (eds.), Oxford History of the British Empire Vol. IV, p. 329.

Nicholas Mansergh, The Commonwealth Experience (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1969), p. 341.

See Michael G. Fry, ‘Canada, the North Atlantic Triangle, and the United Nations’; Peter Lyon, ‘The Commonwealth and the Suez Crisis’, and Bruce Miller, ‘Australia and the Crisis’; in Wm. Roger Louis and Roger Owen (eds.), Suez 1956: The Crisis and its Consequences (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989).

Stephen Chan, The Commonwealth in World Politics. A Study of International Action 1965 to 1985 (London: Lester Crook Academic Publishing, 1988), p. 4.

Ibid., p. 5.

Commonwealth was one of four ‘constituencies’ whose opinion he had to consider in attempting a settlement. 43 Yet despite the importance of the Commonwealth as a conditioning factor in British policy, the Commonwealth aspects of the Rhodesian Crisis have not attracted much scholarly attention and there has certainly been nothing published on this recently. 44 This thesis therefore places a heavy emphasis on the Commonwealth dimension in order to Harold Wilson, The Labour Government 1964-1970: A Personal Record (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, and Michael Joseph, 1971), pp. 180-81. The other three ‘constituencies’ were Rhodesian opinion, British opinion, and international opinion at the United Nations.

Studies of domestic opinion and bilateral relations include: Robert Matthews and Cranford Pratt, ‘Canadian Policy Towards Southern Africa’, in D. G. Anglin, T. Shaw, and C. Widstrand (eds.), Canada, Scandinavia and Southern Africa (Uppsala: Scandinavian Institute of African Studies, 1978), pp. 164-178;

Richard V. Hall, ‘Australia and Rhodesia: Black Interests and White Lies’, in Frank S. Stevens (ed.), Racism: The Australian Experience, Volume 3: Colonialism (New York: Taplinger, 1972), pp. 175-86;

Glen St. J. Barclay, ‘Friends in Salisbury: Australia and the Rhodesian Unilateral Declaration of Independence, 1965-72’, Australian Journal of Politics and History, Vol. 20, No. 1 (1983), pp. 38-49;

Malcolm McKinnon, Independence and Foreign Policy: New Zealand in the World Since 1935 (Auckland:

Auckland University Press, 1993), pp. 235-38; M. P. K. Sorrenson, New Zealand and the Rhodesia Crisis:

The Lessons of History (Auckland: Citizens Association for Racial Equality, 1968). Two studies that discuss the Rhodesian problem in the context of the Commonwealth as a whole are: James Barber, ‘The Impact of the Rhodesian Crisis on the Commonwealth’, Journal of Commonwealth Political Studies, Vol. 7, No. 2 (July 1969), pp. 83-95; and J. D. B. Miller, Survey of Commonwealth Affairs: Problems of Expansion and Attrition 1953-1969 (London: Oxford University Press for The Royal Institute of International Affairs, 1974), Ch. 9 ‘Rhodesia (i): The Lost Dominion’, pp. 167-203; and Ch. 10 ‘Rhodesia (ii): The Commonwealth After UDI’, pp. 204-46.

correct the deficiencies in existing scholarship. 45 Chapter Three discusses the attitudes of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand towards the new, multiracial Commonwealth, and investigates their attitudes towards the problem of Rhodesia independence. The chapter examines the strong undercurrent of racialism in Australia and New Zealand, and uses many new archival sources to demonstrate that there was significant sympathy for the European settlers in Rhodesia and an aversion to African nationalist demands for majority rule. The chapter shows that Canada, on the other hand, adopted a much more positive attitude towards the multiracial Commonwealth and was sympathetic towards African aspirations in Rhodesia. This chapter therefore exposes the fractures within the Old Commonwealth, which determined the extent to which Canada, Australia, and New Zealand were prepared to become involved in the Rhodesian Crisis. 46 Chapter Four argues that despite the problems of racialism, the Commonwealth dimension of the Rhodesian Crisis should not be interpreted simply as an unwelcome complicating factor, because there were expectations in several quarters that the Old See also Carl P. Watts, ‘The Old Commonwealth and the Problem of Rhodesian Independence, 1964-5’, Cold War History (forthcoming, 2007).

The main records series used are: TNA: PRO, DO 183. The National Archives of Canada, Ottawa [hereafter NAC]: RG 25, Department of External Affairs [hereafter DEA], Series A-3-c [most files relating to Southern Rhodesia are in Vols. 8985-8987, but these were only declassified in January 2006 and therefore could not be incorporated within the thesis, which was in an advanced state by that time]; MG 31E47, Records of Arnold Cantwell Smith, External Affairs Series. National Archives of Australia, Canberra [hereafter NAA]: A1209, Prime Minister’s Department, Correspondence files, annual single number series (classified); A1838, Department of External Affairs, Central Office, Correspondence files, multiple number series; A5828, Eighth Menzies Administration – Cabinet Files (Folders of Decisions of Cabinet and Cabinet Committees). Archives New Zealand/Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga, Head Office, Wellington [hereafter ANZ]: Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade – Head Office, Series 950, Accession W4627.

Commonwealth could play a modest role in the management of the Rhodesian problem.

Although Britain consistently reaffirmed its sole responsibility for bringing Rhodesia to independence, it nevertheless looked to its Old Commonwealth partners to make a constructive contribution in maintaining positive relations with the Rhodesian Government and the wider Commonwealth. Harold Wilson followed the precedent established by his Conservative predecessors of consulting with the Old Commonwealth Prime Ministers about the handling of the Rhodesian problem. Wilson ensured that they were kept informed of developments in the negotiations between Britain and Rhodesia, urged them to dissuade Ian Smith from a UDI, and looked to them for help in assuaging Afro-Asian criticism of British policy. It was not only the British Government that entertained hopes and expectations that the Old Commonwealth could ward off a UDI.

European moderates in Rhodesia approached the British Government and the Old Commonwealth to suggest that greater Commonwealth cooperation was needed in helping to find a solution to the Rhodesian problem. 47 Some officials in the U.S. State Department also thought that the Old Commonwealth had a role to play and suggested that Rhodesia was most open to the influence of Australia and New Zealand. 48 Similarly, some African governments and African nationalists in Rhodesia regarded Australia as the member of the Commonwealth that was potentially most influential. 49 Yet it was the ANZ: ABHS 950, W4627, 245/8/3, Part 9, Garfield Todd and Hardwicke Holderness to Keith Holyoake, 9 June 1964, enclosing a copy of a letter from Todd and Holderness to Sir Alec Douglas-Home, 15 May 1964.

NAA: A1838, 190/10/1, Part 3a, Australian Embassy, Washington, to Department of External Affairs, Canberra, Savingram 1284, 30 October 1964.

TNA: PRO, DO 183/324, E. V. Vines, British High Commission, Dar Es Salaam, to D. F. B. Le Breton, UN and General Africa Department, CRO, London, Letter, 3 February 1964. Vines reported a visit by Ralph Harry, Australian Department of External Affairs, to several African states including Tanganyika.

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