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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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withdrawal of Commonwealth preferences; the effects of a UDI on Rhodesia’s membership of the Commonwealth, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), and UN specialised agencies; and the question of recognition of a government in exile. A major concern was the possibility that the use of sanctions against Rhodesia could set a precedent for their use against South Africa. 168 Officials gave detailed consideration to the implications for New Zealand of a UDI and concluded that in some respects the position taken by the New Zealand Government would depend upon following British or international precedents. For example, in terms of the constitutional status of Rhodesia after a UDI, ‘the choice for New Zealand will probably lie between regarding Rhodesia as a rebellious piece of Commonwealth territory or as an alien territory whose paternity is no longer acknowledged; and it is primarily for the British to say what is the situation.’ 169 As far as tariffs were concerned, the New Zealand Government could withdraw Commonwealth preferences by Order in Council, but the GATT was an inhibiting factor because it imposed a legal obligation to place Rhodesia on the Most Favoured Nation Tariff (as opposed to the General Tariff) unless this were set aside by UN Security Council directive. Any embargo on trade would involve the same considerations. 170 The withdrawal of South Africa from the Commonwealth had shown that matters relating to Commonwealth agreements, such as telecommunications and merchant shipping, could be dealt with at leisure. When it came to membership of international organisations such as the GATT and UN specialised ANZ: ABHS 950, W4627, 245/8/3, Part 12, ‘Rhodesia: New Zealand Contingency Planning’, Memorandum by T. C. Larkin, 28 September 1965.

ANZ: ABHS 950, W4627, 245/8/3, Part 12, ‘Consequences for New Zealand of a Rhodesian UDI’, DEA Memorandum, 30 September 1965, para. 1.

Ibid., para. 2.

agencies, however, Rhodesia could only be excluded by collective international action.171 On the political side, officials noted that in keeping with previous announcements New Zealand would not be able to recognise an illegal Rhodesian Government, but beyond this


New Zealand is free to act as our conscience and interests dictate, although

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Asia we cannot fall too far behind in the sincerity and credibility of our response. In view of the very limited volume of New Zealand trade with Rhodesia, decisions of an essentially political character will be required to

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Officials concluded that in addition to non-recognition of an illegal Rhodesian Government it would also be impractical to recognise a government in exile because that too would lack any constitutional basis.173 If the United Nations imposed mandatory sanctions then the New Zealand Government would be obliged to comply, but up to this point it would be in New Zealand’s interests to argue against their adoption because of the implications that this could have for relations with South Africa. 174 The Department of External Affairs therefore determined that New Zealand’s response to a UDI ‘should be a graduated one which would take account of the intentions and actions of other Commonwealth countries and the pressures which may develop within the UN.’ Whilst Ibid., paras 4 and 5.

ANZ: ABHS 950, W4627, 245/8/3, Part 12, ‘Rhodesia: Political Implications for New Zealand of a Unilateral Declaration of Independence’, DEA Memorandum, 30 September 1965, p. 1.

Ibid., p. 2.

Ibid., pp. 2-3.

New Zealand would support the British it had ‘no intention of undertaking more severe courses of action than they contemplate.’ 175 Australian officials reported the New Zealand attitude more bluntly: they did not want to be ‘out in front’ on the Rhodesian issue and felt that ‘any action against Rhodesia would be unwelcome though in the event of a UDI some would have to be taken (including of course, non-recognition).’ 176 When Rhodesia declared its independence unilaterally Keith Holyoake issued a press statement that action by New Zealand would be ‘determined after consultation with other

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Secretary of External Affairs advised the Prime Minister that New Zealand could implement a number of measures including (in ascending importance) ‘an embargo on he export of strategic goods, the withdrawal of Commonwealth preference, the prohibition of Rhodesian tobacco imports and a complete trade embargo on all Rhodesian exports to New Zealand. The total severance of all trade between us would, of course, be a final step.’ 177 McIntosh commented that there would be no advantage in taking measures more extreme than those implemented by Britain and the Old Commonwealth but New

Zealand’s response would be monitored by the Commonwealth and at the United Nations:

‘Should we fall too far behind our fellow members of the Commonwealth we run a risk of provoking criticism and of impairing the concerted international efforts which are necessary to induce a change of heart in Rhodesia.’ McIntosh therefore recommended ANZ: ABHS 950, W4627, 245/8/3, Part 13, DEA, Wellington, to New Zealand High Commission, London, Cable No. 3187, 7 October 1965.

NAA: A1838, 190/11/1, Part 4, Australian High Commission, Wellington, to DEA, Canberra, Cable No.

516, 22 October 1965.

ANZ: ABHS 950, W4627, 245/8/3, Part 15, A. D. McIntosh to Holyoake, Memorandum, 12 November 1965.

that the minimum response of New Zealand should be: an embargo on strategic goods, which would have no economic significance but ‘considerable presentational value’; and removal of the British Preferential Tariff, which again would have no economic ramifications because the Most Favoured Nation and General Tariff rates were the same on tobacco (the only significant import from Rhodesia). 178 Only after Britain and Australia had announced more stringent economic measures did McIntosh recommend that the New Zealand Government should adopt a parallel response, including an embargo on Rhodesian tobacco. 179 However, Holyoake’s public statement on the issue demonstrated an unwillingness to go this far and a lack of understanding of the symbolic importance of sanctions. He questioned whether sanctions were effective, suggesting that they ‘are at any time an uncertain means of inducing any country to change its policies’, and observed that if sanctions were to have a chance of succeeding ‘they need to be

widely supported and firmly sustained.’ Holyoake concluded that:

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other Commonwealth governments. Its trade with Rhodesia is small. It has no diplomatic or trade representative in Salisbury. Unlike Britain and Canada, it does not import Rhodesian sugar. The only possible practical

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ANZ: ABHS 950, W4627, 245/8/3, Part 15, McIntosh to Holyoake, Memorandum, 17 November 1965.

NAA: A1838, 190/11/1, Part 5, Australian High Commission, Wellington, to DEA, Canberra, Cable No.

549, 18 November 1965.

Holyoake’s position drew criticism from Britain and the Commonwealth. At a meeting in London an official from the New Zealand High Commission was told that ‘the British were surprised and disappointed with [the] cautious attitude adopted by Wellington over [the] matter of economic sanctions.’ 181 Similarly, Alhaji Obisesan, a Nigerian parliamentarian, was reported as saying that at the Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference in December 1965 he would strongly criticise Holyoake’s ‘almost reluctant decision’ to impose sanctions. 182 New Zealand was, like Australia, very reluctant to consider the ramifications of a UDI.

When New Zealand officials did finally examine the legal, political, and economic issues associated with the various measures that might be required, it was decided that an incremental approach to dealing with a UDI would be in New Zealand’s best interests.

However, New Zealand’s gradualist response did not impress the British Government or the African Commonwealth. It may therefore be argued that although the attitudes of officials and politicians in Wellington and Canberra towards the Rhodesian problem were very similar, the New Zealand response to UDI was not as effective as the Australian reaction.

NAA: A1838, 190/11/1, Part 5, Australian High Commission, London, to DEA, Canberra, Cable No.

10527, 22 November 1965.

NAA: A1838, 190/11/1, Part 5, ‘Holyoake to get ‘punch for timidity”’, Canberra Times, 27 November 1965.

Conclusion This chapter has noted that the Old Commonwealth faced several obstacles in its attempts to influence the Rhodesian Government from either a positive or negative perspective.

Perhaps foremost among these was the fact that the Rhodesian Government denied the competence of Commonwealth states to discuss Rhodesia’s internal affairs and to make suggestions for constitutional change in Rhodesia. It is also evident that the Old Commonwealth lacked credibility in its efforts to deter the Rhodesian Government from a UDI, which was a result of both subjective and objective factors. Sympathy in Australia and New Zealand for the Europeans in Rhodesia meant that they were not terribly enthusiastic about threatening the Rhodesian Government with reprisals in the event of a UDI, but such sympathy belied the truth that the Australian and New Zealand Governments would have little choice but to impose sanctions against Rhodesia in the event of a UDI. In any event, the Old Commonwealth and Rhodesia knew perfectly well that the threat of sanctions carried little weight because trade between Rhodesia and the Old Commonwealth was so limited. An additional factor that restricted the influence of the Old Commonwealth during the Rhodesian Crisis was its inadequate diplomatic representation in Salisbury. In this respect, however, the Canadians and Australians were confronted by an awkward dilemma, because any increase in the status of their representation could be misconstrued in Salisbury and the Commonwealth as approval of Rhodesian Government policy.

This chapter has also argued that opportunities to influence Rhodesia from a positive or a negative angle could have been pursued more vigorously. For example, on the positive side the Old Commonwealth had the resources to improve the socio-economic status of Africans in Rhodesia, and thereby prepare them for majority rule. The British Government ought to have explored the possibility of greater collaboration with the Old Commonwealth in this regard and it stands out as a missed opportunity. The Old Commonwealth might also have exploited feelings of ‘kith and kin’ to increase confidence among European Rhodesians that the Commonwealth was a worthwhile association, and to convince them that they were not alone in their defence of ‘standards’, or their resistance to Communism in Africa. Further, the Old Commonwealth could have offered assisted passage schemes to Europeans who did not wish to remain in Rhodesia under African majority rule. From a negative perspective the Old Commonwealth might have given more effective warnings of the consequences that would follow a UDI, perhaps even hinting that they would not condemn any British threat to use force, though this would of course have been possible only if the British Government had been willing to give a lead to such an approach.

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Introduction The racial issues that were involved in the Rhodesian problem inevitably heightened the level of interest among the African and Asian Commonwealth states, which saw the

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Government, however, denied that the Commonwealth had any competence to discuss Rhodesia’s internal affairs, which reflected not only its insistence on the principle of domestic jurisdiction but also a general disdain for states north of the Zambesi. This placed the British Government in a difficult situation because by convention it reported to Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Meetings on the constitutional progress of colonies that were moving towards independence, ‘not as something for the meeting to decide but as something in which its members were closely interested.’ 1 The Rhodesian problem made the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Meetings of 1964 and 1965 (and beyond) potentially explosive affairs. In the period preceding the 1964 Meeting, Sir Alec Douglas-Home’s Conservative Government had to deal with the delicate question of whether the Rhodesian Prime Minister should attend, which required careful consultation with the Commonwealth to avoid wrecking the Meeting. The Rhodesian question was a difficult feature of the 1964 Meeting, but the Commonwealth, though divided, remained intact. In the period leading up to the 1965 Meeting, Harold Wilson’s Labour 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), p. 187.

Government was acutely conscious that its inability to negotiate a settlement and the threat of a UDI would lead to African and Asian demands to use force to impose a solution in Rhodesia. Once again, despite savage criticism of British policy and fears that the Commonwealth would disintegrate, it did not do so. The fact that the Commonwealth survived these Meetings relatively unscathed requires some explanation. First, it can be argued that Douglas-Home and Wilson presided over the Meetings with enough patience and skill to avert disaster. Second, it is clear that the Canadian Prime Minister helped to moderate criticism of British policy towards Rhodesia, which made it possible to compromise on the final communiqués. Third, and perhaps most significant, divisions among radical and moderate Commonwealth leaders – whose numbers increased between the 1964 and 1965 Meetings – meant that Douglas-Home and Wilson were not faced by an obdurate monolith of critical Commonwealth opposition.

Rhodesian resistance to Commonwealth interference Between the break up of the Central African Federation and Rhodesia’s UDI, the Rhodesian Government consistently resisted any Commonwealth involvement in, or advice about, Rhodesian constitutional politics. Yet whilst Rhodesian intransigence accorded with the formal constitutional position, it was at odds with the spirit of

Commonwealth consultation and co-operation, as Bruce Miller has observed:

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