«THE RHODESIAN CRISIS IN BRITISH AND INTERNATIONAL POLITICS, 1964-1965 by CARL PETER WATTS A thesis submitted to the University of Birmingham For the ...»
independence it would threaten the fundamental interests of Britain and the Old Commonwealth. In terms of international security, Britain and, to a lesser extent, the Old Commonwealth, were concerned about the spread of Communism in Africa, but this did not threaten their immediate national security. In any event the Rhodesian Government was convinced that the ‘White Redoubt’ (Rhodesia, South Africa and the Portuguese colonies) was an effective barrier to the spread of Communism in Sub-Saharan Africa. In ideological terms, Britain and the Old Commonwealth professed that they were committed to democratic government and liberal freedoms, which the granting of independence was supposed to facilitate. The Rhodesian Government, however, believed that African majority rule would result in one party government in Rhodesia and recognised that the Australian and New Zealand Governments were sympathetic to Rhodesian concerns in this regard. In economic terms British interests in Rhodesia were well in excess of those of the Old Commonwealth. The only collective element of concern was the potential impact of a UDI on Zambia, whose copper production was essential to western defence contractors, but only the Canadian Government was actively involved in contingency planning to safeguard the Zambian economy.
The second reason why deterrence did not work is that Britain and the Old Commonwealth failed to develop threats that were credible or sufficiently potent to persuade the Rhodesian Government that they meant business. Britain and the Old Commonwealth coordinated their diplomatic warnings to some degree, but they did not act jointly, partly because of divergence in their views and partly because they did not want the Rhodesian Government to feel that the Old Commonwealth was conspiring against it. This perhaps reduced the impact of the warnings delivered by Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand individually. Britain and the Old Commonwealth ruled out the use of force, which meant that they could only make (usually vague) pronouncements about the dire political and economic consequences that would follow a UDI. Warnings were sent reluctantly, especially by Australia and New Zealand, and were received with regret by the Rhodesian Government, but they did not unduly concern Ian Smith and his ministers. They felt that their exclusion from the Commonwealth would be nothing more than symbolic and calculated that economic sanctions would have little effect because Rhodesian trade with the Old Commonwealth was in any case limited. The efforts of Britain and the Old Commonwealth to deter Rhodesia from a UDI therefore lacked much sense of credibility or potency.
The dilemma of representation One of the major arguments advanced in this thesis is that structural problems complicated the management of the Rhodesian Crisis, and this is no less true of the Commonwealth aspects than it is of the British domestic policy-making process or Britain’s relations with the United States. 117 The political and diplomatic channels of communication through which the Commonwealth aspects of the Rhodesian problem were managed were complex. They involved periodic consultation between the British Prime Minister and the Prime Ministers of Canada, Australia and New Zealand; personal communication between the Old Commonwealth Prime Ministers and the Rhodesian Prime Minister; regular consultation between British officials and their Canadian, See above, Ch. 1, and below, Ch. 6.
Australian and New Zealand counterparts; meetings between Rhodesian representatives and Old Commonwealth officials; and multilateral contacts in the context of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Meetings (which is discussed in the next chapter).
Rhodesia’s constitutional status as a self-governing colony was somewhat ambivalent but it was definitely not an independent member of the Commonwealth. As such, Rhodesian external affairs were the responsibility of the British Government and Salisbury had no constitutional right to enter into diplomatic relations with independent members of the Commonwealth or other sovereign states (though it did attempt to defy this convention).
The Rhodesian High Commission in London and the British High Commission in Salisbury served as the main channels of communication between British and Rhodesian Governments and there were no equivalent forms of bilateral representation between Rhodesia and any other state. As suggested above, this did not mean that there was a complete absence of diplomatic links between Rhodesia and other members of the Commonwealth. For example, the Canadian High Commission in London liaised with the Rhodesian High Commission, Rhodesian representatives who were attached to the British Embassy in Washington made periodic visits to Ottawa, Canadian diplomats occasionally visited Rhodesia, and there was also a Canadian Trade Commission in Salisbury. Similar arrangements pertained to Australia, though it did not place the same degree of emphasis on diplomatic links with Rhodesia that Canada did. New Zealand had no form of representation in Salisbury at all and did not attempt to cultivate a regular diplomatic relationship with Rhodesia (which reflected the fact that New Zealand’s material interests in Africa were so limited that it did not justify the costs of representation), though it did receive information from the Rhodesian Government, which it sought to verify through other channels. 118 For example, in November 1964 the Rhodesian High Commissioner in London wrote to his New All of this had different significance for the parties to the Rhodesian problem. The Rhodesian Government argued that because Canada, Australia, and New Zealand lacked sufficient diplomatic representation in Salisbury, they did not have an accurate picture of local conditions and therefore could not formulate a valid opinion about Rhodesian claims to independence on the basis of the 1961 Constitution. The Canadian, Australian and New Zealand diplomatic establishments sometimes felt that they lacked first-hand information, but the main concern, in Ottawa especially, was that without sufficient representation in Salisbury they were unable to exert influence on a regular basis. Britain and the Old Commonwealth were also conscious of the fact that the limited diplomatic links between Rhodesia and the Old Commonwealth could be interpreted by Salisbury as a lack of genuine concern with the Rhodesian problem. Yet the Old Commonwealth was, of course, faced with an obvious dilemma. If they had augmented the status of their representation in Salisbury it might have facilitated better relations with the Rhodesian Government, but at the same time it would have poisoned relations with the African members of the Commonwealth, who would have undoubtedly condemned the Old Commonwealth for colluding with the European minority in Rhodesia. The dilemma of representation is therefore an excellent illustration of the difficulties associated with the management of the Rhodesian problem.
Zealand counterpart: ‘In view of the manner in which the machinery of government in Rhodesia has been widely misrepresented, I am enclosing a booklet which sketches in outline some important background considerations that are all too often overlooked.’ ANZ: ABHS 950, W4627, 245/8/3, Part 10, Evan Campbell to Sir Thomas Macdonald, Letter, 11 November 1964. Macdonald forwarded the booklet, ‘Southern Rhodesia: Advance to Maturity’, to his Prime Minister and suggested that he could check the information against the first hand impressions of the party of New Zealand MPs who had attended the indaba in Rhodesia. Macdonald to Holyoake, Letter, 13 November 1964.
The ineffectual nature of Canadian representation in Salisbury acquired a farcical quality that did not sit well with the seriousness of the Rhodesian problem. In July 1964 the British High Commissioner in Salisbury commented on the incongruity between Canadian interest in a satisfactory outcome to the Rhodesian problem and the lack of
effective Canadian representation in Salisbury:
Until earlier this year their only representative was a Trade Commissioner [Lester Glass] of the most useless kind of near-pensioner it is possible to
certainly takes no part in local life whatsoever. He is a semi-invalid, and his wife apparently a total invalid – at least she has never appeared in
Day), and twice last – the first at the Armistice Day ceremony, when he forgot his wreath, and the second when the diplomats took formal leave of
To be sure, the Canadian Department of External Affairs (DEA) was aware of the nature of this problem, which had been under review since the impending dissolution of the Central African Federation. Lester Glass was due to be replaced by a younger official, Ian Smyth, who was scheduled to arrive in Salisbury by January 1964 in readiness to take over as Trade Commissioner by the summer. Officials also recommended that a Foreign Service Officer (FSO) should be attached to the Canadian Trade Commission in Salisbury for a number of reasons. First, it was important for Canada to establish a way of obtaining objective and reliable views on the Rhodesian problem. This would ensure that TNA: PRO, DO 183/317, J. B. Johnston, Salisbury, to Sir Saville Garner, CRO, Letter, 24 July 1964.
Canada was properly informed in the event that she was called upon to attend a Commonwealth conference on the Rhodesian question, or to make statements at the United Nations, where the issue had intensified since the independence of Kenya and Zanzibar. Second, it would be a useful means by which to establish regular contact with African nationalists. Third, because external aid to Rhodesia was likely to increase, it would be helpful to have a FSO in Salisbury to administer the programme. Finally, as Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia were both scheduled to attain independence in 1964, it would be useful to accredit Canadian representatives in Salisbury to the newly independent states. 120 The Canadian Government treated this recommendation with caution because it coincided with a request from the Rhodesian Government to exchange accredited diplomatic representatives. 121 This was obviously an attempt by the Rhodesian Government to subvert the constitutional convention that the British Government had responsibility for the conduct of Rhodesian external affairs, but the Canadian DEA did not dismiss the idea out of hand. In a meeting on 4 March 1964 it was suggested that there might be some advantage in securing the appointment of a Rhodesian High Commissioner in Ottawa, since this would allow the Canadian Government to exercise some influence on the Rhodesian Government to refrain from a UDI. However, it was also recognised that it would have serious drawbacks in terms of Canada’s relations with African members of NAC: RG 25, Vol. 10071, 20-1-2-SR, Part 1.1, ‘Attachment of Foreign Service Officer to Trade Commissioner’s Office, Salisbury’, Memorandum by R. G. Hatheway, AMED, DEA, to Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, 24 December 1963.
NAC: RG 25, Vol. 10071, 20-1-2-SR, Part 1.1, Canadian Embassy, Washington, to DEA, Ottawa, Cable No. 390, 30 January 1964. The Rhodesian Government proposed that Oliver Bennett be formally accredited to Ottawa and that the Canadian Ambassador to South Africa be accredited to Salisbury.
the Commonwealth, ‘since they would undoubtedly look on it as an Old Commonwealth
Government therefore declined the Rhodesian invitation to exchange diplomatic representatives on the basis that: ‘It is Canadian practice to use the title of High Commissioner only for representatives of independent members of the Commonwealth and that we do not think that the present circumstances would justify our making an exception in the case of Southern Rhodesia.’ 122 A similar desire to avoid gestures of encouragement to the Rhodesian Government was probably behind the Canadian Government’s decision not to attach a FSO to its Trade Commission in Salisbury.
Instead, Ian Smyth took on the task of political reporting, and according to the British High Commissioner Smyth quickly ‘got into local confidence and the local picture extremely well.’ 123 One incident that Smyth reported in June 1965 is worth recounting because it illustrates
advised his superiors that he had been called in to see M. B. Benoy, the Permanent Secretary of the Rhodesian Ministry of External Affairs, to answer questions about a recent visit to Salisbury by N. H. F. Berlis, the Canadian High Commissioner in Tanzania. Benoy, who referred to a letter from the British South Africa Police, wanted to know why the High Commissioner had not presented himself officially to the Rhodesian
explained that the visit was unofficial and personal but Benoy ‘virtually demanded to be NAC: RG 25, Vol. 10071, 20-1-2-SR, Part 1.1, DEA, Ottawa, to Canadian Embassy, Washington, Cable No. ME 95, 11 March 1964.
TNA: PRO, DO 183/317, J. B. Johnston, Salisbury, to Sir Saville Garner, CRO, Letter, 24 July 1964.
told what had been discussed at the meetings and suggested that perhaps Mr Berlis had been acting as a “courier”.’ Smyth gave a ‘short and sharp’ reply to the effect that he was not prepared to tolerate such a line of questioning and Benoy withdrew the accusation.
Smyth reported that Benoy was in fact a close personal friend and had later told Smyth that ‘he had been “put up” to the interview by certain Ministers.’ Smyth commented that the episode showed that either Berlis or more likely the African nationalists had been under police surveillance, and referred to a previous report in which he had advised that ‘our mail is still opened, our telephone tapped and, periodically, I am followed by various Rhodesian security personnel.’ 124 Smyth’s letter not only confirms that by mid-1965 Rhodesia had become a police state, but also demonstrates that the Rhodesian Government treated Canadian diplomats with contempt. This was at variance with the Rhodesian objective of establishing an enhanced diplomatic relationship with the Old Commonwealth, and appears even more incomprehensible given that Rhodesia was by this time in receipt of technical assistance from Canada.