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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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Anglo-American Relations and the Rhodesian Crisis Introduction Part Two of the thesis has demonstrated that Wilson and his ministers looked to the Old Commonwealth for assistance in coping with the Rhodesian Crisis, and that to a certain extent the Old Commonwealth obliged. Part Three of the thesis shows that the British Government had similar – if not greater – expectations of the United States, but observes that the United States was not as forthcoming as the British Government hoped it would be. This chapter briefly notes the attitudes of the U.S. Government towards the Central African Federation, explaining why the United States was interested in the politics of the region. The chapter then explores in detail the nature of Anglo-American consultation between 1964 and 1965, during which time Britain and the United States were involved in joint consideration of two sensitive and complicated issues. First, what help the United States could give to support the Zambian economy in the event of economic warfare with Rhodesia following a UDI. Second, what measures the United States could take to give effect to British efforts to deter Rhodesia from declaring its independence unilaterally.

The chapter argues that on both issues Anglo-American relations were subject to considerable strain, and explains the misunderstandings and frustrations in AngloAmerican relations by reference to alliance theory.

The United States, Britain, and the Central African Federation Thomas J. Noer has commented: ‘Rhodesia was Lyndon Johnson’s “crisis”, even though it had been a “problem” for American diplomats for nearly five years.’ 1 During those five years American policy makers considered the Rhodesian problem to be of secondary importance compared to the difficulties presented by the Congo, Angola and South Africa. Nevertheless, Washington could not ignore the situation in the Central African Federation and two broad policy options were available to the U.S. Government. It could disclaim any involvement on the basis that it was an internal matter for the British Government. However, the United States rejected this policy because it would have done nothing to counter the possibility of violent action by African nationalists or an attempt to impose majority rule through the United Nations. The alternative was to support British efforts to retain control of the situation, which committed the United States to oppose any efforts by the white minority to seize independence unilaterally. 2 Larry Butler has observed that from 1959 until the demise of the Federation, the United States gave consistent support to British policy. Although the Americans offered encouragement and advice during this period, there is little evidence of direct American influence on British policy formulation. 3 There are several reasons for this. First, British and American Thomas J. Noer, Cold War and Black Liberation. The United States and White Africa, 1948-1968 (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1985), p. 185.

Ibid., p. 188.

This substantiates the views expressed in R. Ovendale, ‘Macmillan and the Wind of Change in Africa, 1957–60’, Historical Journal, Vol. 38, No. 2 (June 1995), pp. 455-77; and Wm. R. Louis and R. Robinson, ‘The Imperialism of Decolonization’, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, Vol. XXII, No. 3 (1994), pp. 462-511. Cited in L. J. Butler, ‘Britain, the United States, and the Demise of the Central objectives in Central Africa were much the same, with both seeking a swift end to empire and the establishment of independent states friendly to the West. Second, decolonisation had strong domestic political implications in Britain and the United States. Third, Cold War considerations were of only marginal relevance; there was no significant Communist activity in any of the Federation territories and African nationalists actively sought American support, which meant that the U.S. Government could afford to be relatively relaxed about British policy. Fourth, ‘there was no perceived threat to British or American business interests, which may account for the surprising absence of the economic dimension in Anglo-American discussions during this period.’ Fifth, and in Butler’s view most significant, Britain and the United States shared an abhorrence of the prospect of racial conflict in Central Africa and tended to view settler attitudes as being a greater problem than African nationalism. These factors, taken together, help to explain the ‘helpful but silent’ approach adopted by Washington during the last years of the Federation. 4 Anglo-American consultation, 1964-65 During 1964 and 1965 the basic pattern of U.S. policy on the issue of Rhodesia’s independence remained the same as it had been during the final years of the Federation.

The Johnson administration continued to encourage the British and Rhodesian African Federation, 1959–63’, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, Vol. XXVIII, No. 3 (September 2000), pp. 131 and 147.

Butler, ‘Britain, the United States, and the Demise of the Central African Federation, 1959–63’, p. 147.

For the growing significance of racial considerations on U.S. policy towards the Federation see also Andrew DeRoche, ‘Establishing the Centrality of Race: Relations Between the U.S. and the Rhodesian Federation, 1953–1963’, Zambezia, Vol. XXV, No. 2 (1998), pp. 209-30.

Governments in their search for a constitutional settlement, but some of the underlying factors that had shaped U.S. policy in the earlier period began to shift. For example, as the discrimination against Africans in Rhodesia showed no sign of abatement and Britain continued to profess its inability to intervene, opportunities for Communist infiltration increased, which tended to alarm some sections of the U.S. bureaucracy. Also, whereas in the final years of the Federation there had been no threat to British and American economic interests, the prospect of a UDI by Rhodesia suggested the possibility of economic warfare against Zambia, which Britain and the United States could not ignore because they were heavily involved in and dependent upon Zambian copper production.





These shifting circumstances prompted the United States to become more vocal in the period following the dissolution of the Central African Federation. As the likelihood of a UDI increased, Anglo-American relations became subject to greater strain, as Noer has commented: ‘The problems of UDI forced America and Great Britain into even closer policy coordination than usual, but the crisis also showed the tension, jealousy and rivalry within the “special relationship.” America was unaccustomed to following any nation. It was often frustrated and impatient in its role as supporting actor to Great Britain’s lead.’ 5 Yet this was not the only cause of friction in Anglo-American discussions. Despite the fact that some U.S. officials urged the British Government to take a firmer approach to the Rhodesian problem, British ministers formed the impression that the highest echelons of the Johnson administration wanted to wash their hands of the Rhodesian problem. It is now necessary to document the development of this ‘tension, jealousy and rivalry’ before proceeding to analyse the causes of it.

Noer, Cold War and Black Liberation, p. 186.

American frustration and impatience became apparent in early 1964 shortly after the dissolution of the Central African Federation. The British Government denied a request from the Rhodesian Government for independence on the basis of the 1961 Constitution, which, as noted above, resulted in the downfall of Winston Field and his replacement by Ian Smith. The State Department viewed these developments with mounting concern.

Undersecretary of State George Ball noted that Smith’s ousting of Field had increased the danger of UDI because it wiped out moderation in the Rhodesian cabinet and decreased the slim possibility of successful negotiations with Britain or agreement with the African nationalists. Ball observed that the U.S. had virtually no leverage for directly influencing developments and should remain in the background, leaving the British Government as

–  –  –

development of U.S. policy towards Rhodesia and his posture contributed to significant tension between the American and British governments during the course of the next eighteen months.

The State Department moved swiftly to obtain British assessment of the situation. At a meeting of officials the Permanent Under Secretary at the Commonwealth Relations Office (CRO), Sir Saville Garner, told the U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Ball to U.S. embassies in Africa, Circular Cable No. 1924, 15 April 1964, Declassified Documents Reference System – Index and Abstracts (Woodbridge, CT: Gale/Primary Source Media, 1998). Ball invited local assessments of the developments in Rhodesia and these were not optimistic. In June 1964, Ambassador Satterthwaite in Pretoria concurred with Ball’s assessment that UDI was an increasingly likely possibility, and warned that South Africa would be almost certain to give strong economic support to Salisbury. In September 1964, Consul General McClelland in Salisbury predicted that UDI would occur within a year unless the British Government abandoned its conditions for independence. Noer, Cold War and Black Liberation, pp. 190-91.

Affairs, Wayne Fredericks, that Field was extremely bitter towards Smith and there was a strong possibility that he could move into opposition, taking with him sufficient

–  –  –

enthusiastic about this (relations with Welensky had been somewhat prickly) it was thought that Welensky would at least be willing to discuss reasonably the possible formulas for a constitutional settlement. 7 A few days later, at a higher-level meeting, Foreign Secretary R. A. Butler told Secretary of State Dean Rusk that Ian Smith ‘seemed to be moving away from a unilateral declaration of independence.’ 8 British officials and ministers were therefore sanguine about the situation, despite the recent developments in Rhodesian politics that had given greater cause for concern in the State Department. As detailed below, these discussions saw the early development of a pattern in AngloAmerican consultation on the Rhodesian problem. The British failed consistently to reassure the Americans that a UDI could be prevented, or that adequate contingency plans existed to deal effectively with a UDI. Senior members of the U.S. Government therefore became increasingly concerned that the British were trying to entrap them in the management of the Rhodesian problem to a degree that was well beyond an acceptable level of U.S. commitment.

Archives New Zealand/Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga, Head Office, Wellington [hereafter ANZ]:

ABHS 950, W4627, 245/4/1, J. H. Weir, Counsellor, New Zealand Embassy, Washington, to Secretary of External Affairs, Wellington, 23 April 1964.

Lyndon Baines Johnson Library, Austin, Texas [hereafter, LBJL]: National Security File [hereafter, NSF], UK Country File, Box 212, ‘UK Vol. XV 12/63–9/65’, Memorandum of Conversation, 27 April 1964.

American officials were right to be concerned, since a corollary of the Micawber-like attitude of the British Government was that little, if any, thought had been given to contingency planning to deal with a UDI. U.S. officials became starkly aware of this during the meetings with their British counterparts in April 1964. The exchange between Sir Saville Garner and Wayne Fredericks is worth recounting because it demonstrates the casual British attitude towards the Rhodesian problem. Whilst discussing the African nationalist movements, 9 Garner reported inter alia that Joshua Nkomo had been seeking money to finance the training of guerillas in Zanzibar and that one of his deputies, George Silundika, was presently in Peking soliciting funds. When Fredericks asked what the British Government would do in the event of widespread violence in Rhodesia, Garner replied that the Rhodesian Government was likely to be able to contain violence on any foreseeable scale. Fredericks asked if the British Government would intervene if there were a Sharpville-type scenario. Garner told him that a decision would be taken in the light of the circumstances that prevailed at the time, but he was inclined to doubt whether a mass African movement – which had been a precondition of Sharpville – was likely to develop in Rhodesia. Fredericks then questioned what would happen if freedom fighters were infiltrated into Rhodesia, but Garner also thought that this was unlikely. Although Tanzania had provided facilities to train guerillas from Mozambique, Garner thought that it would not allow freedom fighters to be infiltrated into another Commonwealth country.

Fredericks also asked how the British Government would react if the African nationalists established a government-in-exile. Garner agreed that this was a possibility and indicated that it would be considered if and when it occurred. When asked what would happen if Commonwealth governments recognised a government-in-exile, Garner commented that For brief details see above, Ch. 1, p. 36, n. 33.

many doubtless would but it would make no difference to the British Government. 10 Garner therefore gave a clear signal that the British Government had not addressed several contingencies relating to the Rhodesian problem. In its report of the discussions

the New Zealand Embassy commented:

Though Garner’s casual remarks were probably not intended to be taken literally, the State Department certainly seems to have taken them at their face value. Perhaps as much as anything else the State Department’s tendency to be unimpressed by British efforts in Southern Rhodesia reflects United States frustration at seldom being consulted on this question except where their

–  –  –

Equally, however, the British occasionally found that the United States frustrated ideas that they did have for advancing towards a solution in Rhodesia. For example, the British Government was hopeful that an extensive education program would enfranchise Africans under the 1961 Constitution, eventually bringing about majority rule. Garner was therefore dismayed to learn that the United States was tapering off its aid to Rhodesia and would be unable to make any significant contribution to the education project. 12 The records of these early exchanges between British and American officials show clearly that Anglo-American consultation and cooperation on the Rhodesian problem was very poor.



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