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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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The New Zealand Government was aware of Canadian thinking, but made no comment. ANZ: ABHS 950, W4627, 245/8/3, Part 11, New Zealand Deputy High Commissioner, Ottawa, to Secretary of External The threat of economic sanctions in the event of a UDI certainly did not have much psychological effect on the Rhodesian Government, which knew very well that Rhodesian trade with the Old Commonwealth was limited and therefore dispensable. For the same reason, the Old Commonwealth did not have faith in sanctions either as an instrument of deterrence or coercive diplomacy. Doubts were even evident in Canada at both the official and political levels. Trade between Canada and Rhodesia was worth around $3 million annually, which gave the Canadian Government very little economic leverage. 95 The Canadian Government also knew that Ian Smith was unperturbed by the loss of Commonwealth preferences, since he thought that these would probably disappear within a few years anyway. 96 Lester Pearson was therefore not optimistic that the threat of economic sanctions would have much effect in deterring Rhodesia from a UDI. 97 Australian trade with Rhodesia was on a similar scale to that of Canada. Shortly after the dissolution of the Central African Federation Australian officials reported that in 1961-62 Australian imports from the Federation amounted to just under £2 million and Australian exports were worth a little more than £3 million. 98 In 1965-66 Australian exports to Affairs, Wellington, Letter, 26 January 1965; and New Zealand High Commission, Ottawa, to Prime Minister and Secretary of External Affairs, Wellington, Cable No. 62, 18 February 1965.

NAC: RG 25, Vol. 10071, 20-1-2-SR, Part 1.1, ‘Southern Rhodesia – Possible UDI – Canadian Interests’, Memorandum by Tom Carter, AMED, DEA, for Under-Secretary of State for External Affairs, 28 October 1964.

NAC: RG 25, Vol. 10071, 20-1-2-SR, Part 1.1, Ralph Collins, Canadian Ambassador to South Africa, to DEA, Ottawa, Cable No. 85, 3 July 1964.

ANZ: ABHS 950, W4627, 245/8/3, Part 13, Copy of text of cable from McGill, Canadian High Commission, Dar-Es-Salaam, 8 October 1965.

NAA: A1838, 190/10/6, Part 1, ‘Australian Trade Commissioner, Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia’, Memorandum by R. L. Harry, First Assistant Secretary, Division IV, DEA, Canberra, 17 January 1964, para. 4.

Rhodesia were around $5 million (and remained at a similar level for the remainder of the decade despite the introduction of sanctions). 99 It is therefore not surprising that Australian officials repeatedly advised that sanctions would have little effect. 100 New Zealand was an even greater irrelevance to the Rhodesian Government in economic terms. In 1963-64 New Zealand exports to the Central African Federation were worth only £169,792 and imports from the Federation amounted to just £293,330. 101 Trade figures clearly demonstrate that the relationship between Rhodesia and the Old Commonwealth was a long way from being a vital economic interest for either side, and threats of economic sanctions could not, therefore, be expected to deter Rhodesia from a UDI.

Shortly before the negotiations between Wilson and Smith in London in October 1965, Wilson requested Pearson, Menzies, and Holyoake to ‘approach Smith in whatever way you think best calculated to influence him and his colleagues against extreme action on their part … It seems to me, subject to the course of events in the next few days, that a message from you would be most effective if it were made immediately and publicly after it became clear that the current negotiation has foundered.’ 102 The Old Commonwealth Prime Ministers were at a loss to understand Wilson’s reasoning; they recognised that if Figures cited in Glen St. J. Barclay, ‘Friends in Salisbury: Australia and the Rhodesian Unilateral Declaration of Independence, 1965-72’, Australian Journal of Politics and History, Vol. 29, No. 1 (1983), p. 47.

NAA: A1838, 190/10/1, Part 5, ‘Rhodesia – Present Situation’, Report by J. C. G. Kevin, Australian Ambassador to South Africa, 6 May 1965.

ANZ: ABHS 950, W4627, 245/8/3, Part 11, Department of Trade Memorandum, 27 January 1964.

TNA: PRO, DO 183/674, Wilson to Pearson, Cable No. 2374, 2 October 1965. Similar messages were sent to Menzies and Holyoake.

they delivered their messages to Smith after negotiations had failed it would have little effect. Holyoake advised Wilson: ‘I prefer that a candid but friendly warning from New Zealand be delivered during your current negotiations and before any irrevocable step is taken.’ 103 Holyoake’s message was indeed forthright but balanced. He warned that in the

event of a UDI New Zealand would not recognise an illegal regime, and observed:

‘Economic and trading preferences would have to be withdrawn and it would breach the present sympathetic relationship between our two governments.’ Holyoake affirmed New Zealand’s admiration for the European achievement in Rhodesia and suggested that their interests would be best served by a policy of reconciliation and acceptance of the principle of majority rule, with an appropriate period of transition. 104 Menzies rejected the two extreme positions associated with the Rhodesian question – that there should either be immediate majority rule or indefinite minority rule – and asserted that the problem was one of timetable. Menzies warned Smith that if a UDI took place ‘the results, not all of which are foreseeable, could be both painful and difficult.’ In particular Menzies pointed out that if the United Nations became involved it could lead to a situation that the Australian Government could neither ‘anticipate nor control.’ Menzies also praised Wilson’s handling of the Rhodesian question at the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conference: ‘He was patient and understanding and avoided all suggestion of having fixed or intolerant views.’ Menzies concluded that there was therefore no reason ANZ: ABHS 950, W4627, 245/8/3, Part 13, Holyoake to Wilson, Cable No. 3156, 5 October 1965 (also in TNA: PRO, DO 183/676). Similarly, Menzies wrote: ‘I am not attracted by the idea of sending a message or making a public statement after your conference has failed, assuming it does fail. I much prefer to send a direct message to Smith, without publicity, in the hope, however slight, that it may help him in the direction of reasonable conclusions.’ NAA: A1838, 190/10/1, Part 5, Menzies to Wilson, Cable No.





O.31260, 5 October 1965.

ANZ: ABHS 950, W4627, 245/8/3, Part 13, Holyoake to Smith, Cable No. 3155, 5 October 1965.

why the London negotiations should not be approached in a statesmanlike manner. 105 Pearson’s message was very similar in tone. He advised Smith that he had no intention of expressing any detailed views on the negotiations, and emphasised the common heritage between Canada and Rhodesia. Pearson reminded Smith that Canada had attempted to maintain ‘close and effective relations’ by providing aid to Rhodesia, and was trying to appreciate Rhodesia’s problems and the Rhodesian Government’s approach to them.

Pearson asked Smith ‘to give very careful thought to all the consequences before taking any irrevocable step which could separate you from Britain, from Canada, and from other Commonwealth countries.’ 106 In his replies to the Old Commonwealth Prime Ministers Smith assured them that the London negotiations had been undertaken with goodwill and in the hope of reaching a settlement, but if an agreement could not be reached he would do what was in Rhodesia’s best interests. Smith expressed his hope that in the event of a UDI it would still be possible to maintain friendly relations with the Old Commonwealth and asked for a deferred judgment to see how the Rhodesian Government discharged its responsibilities towards the Rhodesian people. 107 When the London negotiations did break down, Pearson was quick to advise Wilson and Smith that in the event of a UDI it would not be possible for Canada to maintain normal relations of any kind with Rhodesia. 108 Holyoake released a press statement expressing New Zealand’s NAA: A1838, 190/10/1, Part 5, Menzies to Smith, Cable No. O.31259, 5 October 1965 NAA: A1838, 190/11/1, Part 3, Pearson to Smith, Cable No. ME105, 4 October 1965.

TNA: PRO, DO 183/674, Smith to Pearson, 9 October 1965; NAA: A1838, 190/10/1, Part 5, Smith to Menzies, 9 October 1965; ANZ: ABHS 950, W4627, 245/8/3, Part 13, Smith to Holyoake, 9 October 1965.

TNA: PRO, DO 183/674, Pearson to Wilson, and Pearson to Smith, 12 October 1965.

disappointment at the failure of negotiations and warning of the ‘incalculable’ consequences if this were to be followed by a UDI. 109 Smith clearly hoped that in the event of a UDI it would be possible to maintain a diplomatic relationship with the Old Commonwealth. The private messages from and public statements by the Old Commonwealth Prime Ministers, though clearly warning Rhodesia of the consequences of a UDI, do not appear to have destroyed Smith’s illusions. A better way to disabuse Smith of his misplaced hopes would perhaps have been to orchestrate a truly joint approach by Pearson, Menzies and Holyoake. This would at least have given the impression of Old Commonwealth solidarity on the Rhodesian issue (even though this was not actually the case). Yet the New Zealand Prime Minister took the opposite view, advising Wilson: ‘In the past, I recall, the Rhodesians have referred somewhat scathingly to what they regard as evidence of the Old Commonwealth acting in concert and it may perhaps have been that the joint approach has tended to lessen our influence.’ 110 Canadian officials also expressed their concern that the Rhodesian Government might interpret the separate but simultaneous approaches by Canada, Australia and New Zealand ‘as evidence of carefully planned collaboration.’ 111 The final Old Commonwealth initiative that may have had a potential deterrent effect upon the Rhodesian Government (though it was not conceived in such terms) came NAA: A1838, 370/1/26, Australian High Commission, Wellington, to DEA, Canberra, Cable No. 495, 11 October 1965.

ANZ: ABHS 950, W4627, 245/8/3, Part 13, Holyoake to Wilson, Cable No. 3156, 5 October 1965 (also in TNA: PRO, DO 183/676).

ANZ: ABHS 950, W4627, 245/8/3, Part 13, New Zealand High Commission, Canada, to Secretary of External Affairs and Prime Minister, Wellington, Cable No. 576, 5 October 1965.

during the hiatus in the final stages of negotiations between the British and Rhodesian Governments. Upon learning of Smith’s rejection of a proposed Royal Commission, Lester Pearson telephoned Harold Wilson to discuss the possibility of a Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Meeting to consider action in the event of a UDI. They agreed that a Commonwealth meeting would be useful to limit the damage to the Commonwealth and to prevent the matter from getting out of hand at the United Nations. 112 British officials recognised that it would be advantageous in terms of demonstrating positive action in the context of the Commonwealth, which could head off proposals for more extreme courses of action. On the other hand there were several disadvantages: Rhodesia was primarily a British responsibility; a meeting ‘would provide a splendid forum for the Africans’ to bring maximum pressure to bear on the British Government; an initiative could fail (as had the attempted mediation over Vietnam); if the matter were before the United Nations it could confuse the issue; and many Commonwealth Prime Ministers would be unwilling or unable to attend at short notice. 113 Indeed, the New Zealand and Australian Governments objected for a number of reasons, some of which had already been anticipated by British officials: the Commonwealth had no legal standing in the matter; a meeting would be used by African Prime Ministers to urge extreme courses of action, including military intervention, which Australia and New Zealand would not countenance; and as the decision on action to be taken in the event of a UDI rested with Britain, each Commonwealth government would wish to consider its own actions in the light of measures adopted by Britain. 114 These were logical arguments, especially since TNA: PRO, DO 183/674, ‘Confidential Note for the Record: Rhodesia’, 19 October 1965.

TNA: PRO, FO 371/181880, ‘Commonwealth consultation in the event of a UDI’, CRO Memorandum, October 1965.

ANZ: ABHS 950, W4627, 245/8/3, Part 14, ‘Commonwealth conference on Rhodesia’, Memorandum by A. D. McIntosh, Secretary of External Affairs, to Keith Holyoake, 21 October 1965. NAA: A1838, the British Government was known to oppose the use of force but had not made clear what measures it would take in the event of a UDI. Wilson was still considering the Canadian proposal when he made his decision to fly to Salisbury for one more round of negotiations. 115 However, Wilson’s personal diplomacy, combined with the reluctance of Australia and New Zealand, pushed the Canadian proposal into the background. Yet if Wilson had left instructions to prepare for a Prime Ministers’ Meeting in the event of a UDI, he could have used this to bolster his position while he was in Salisbury, which might have created a pause in which the Rhodesian Government could reconsider its intended course of action. On the other hand the Rhodesian Government might well have accused the British Government of bad faith in its negotiations and pointed to arrangements for a Commonwealth conference as a justification for a UDI. The fact that

–  –  –

Commonwealth opinion suggests that the latter response was more probable.

Nevertheless, a Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Meeting held before or immediately after a UDI could still have had some value in terms of signalling British and Commonwealth determination to deal swiftly with a UDI. It would also have avoided the situation that later transpired in which Wilson agreed only reluctantly to Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa’s invitation to attend a Commonwealth meeting in Lagos. 116 The efforts of Britain and the Old Commonwealth to deter Rhodesia from a UDI failed for two major reasons. First, the Rhodesian Government did not believe that if it declared 190/11/1, Part 4, Australian High Commission, Wellington, to DEA, Canberra, Cable. No. 516, 22 October 1965; Sir Robert Menzies, Canberra, to Sir Alexander Downer, Australian High Commissioner, London, Cable No. 5882, 22 October 1965.

TNA: PRO, DO 183/674, Wilson to Pearson, Cable No. 2532, 21 October 1965.

See Miller, Survey of Commonwealth Affairs, pp. 215-19.



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