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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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Government was doubtful that the U.S. Government would take sufficient economic measures against Rhodesia in the event of a UDI. A few days after the Washington talks involving Stewart and Rusk, the State Department received a worrying report that Wilson had formed an impression that the United States was ‘rather reserved on the whole subject’ and that if a UDI did occur and sanctions were imposed ‘he was not at all sure that [the] U.S. was as close to [the] British line as he would have hoped and still hoped we would be.’ 67 The NSC was alarmed by this report, which arrived in the middle of a bureaucratic battle concerning the degree of support that the United States should give to Britain. George Ball took the view that a UDI was inevitable and argued that the United States should disengage from the situation, but the NSC contended that the U.S.

Government should try to deter Rhodesia by issuing a statement that it intended to support economic sanctions in the event of a UDI. 68 The matter was referred to Rusk, who instructed the U.S. Embassy in London to advise Wilson: ‘Our considered judgment is that any further public statement at this eleventh hour would run the risk of driving the Smith government further into a corner and stiffening their desperate resolve.’ However, Rusk assured Wilson that he had the support of the President Johnson, who had no objection if Wilson wished to convey that fact to Smith during his negotiations. 69 At this LBJL: NSF, UK Country File, Box 209, ‘Memos Vol. VII 10/65–1/66’, Harlan Cleveland, Paris, to State Department, POLTO 549, 20 October 1965. Cleveland was U.S. Ambassador to NATO and former Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs.

LBJL: NSF, Rhodesia Country File, Box 97, ‘Memos and Misc., 12/63–1/66’, Memorandum, Haynes to Komer, 19 October 1965; and Memorandum, Haynes to Bundy, 20 October 1965.

TNA: PRO, FO 371/181893, Rusk to Bruce, Cable No. 2129, 22 October 1965; FRUS, p. 828. The British Ambassador in Washington also advised that State Department officials had stressed that George Ball’s legalistic emphasis should not be interpreted as ‘illustrative of a general dragging of feet by the stage, therefore, senior figures in the U.S. Government were still trying to avoid direct presidential involvement in the Rhodesian Crisis, which fell short of British expectations.

Wilson flew to Salisbury on 24 October for talks with the Rhodesian Government, African Nationalist leaders, church leaders, and the business community. Wilson found that the Rhodesian Government was ‘impervious to argument … collectively like a suicide on a windowsill waiting to jump.’ However, Wilson also found some doubt in Salisbury about the attitude of the United States towards a UDI and therefore requested that Johnson send an unequivocal personal message to Smith, delivered through the U.S.

Consul General in Salisbury, which might act as a deterrent. 70 Bundy advised the President that Ball had agreed that they could not reject Wilson’s request. 71 Johnson therefore sent Smith a vague warning that in the event of a UDI the United States did not intend to change its ‘course of firm support for the British Government,’ and that ‘in addition to all its other consequences, [UDI] would inevitably break the strong ties of friendship and understanding which have bound our countries together in war and peace.’ 72 In his reply Smith thanked Johnson for his interest and assured him (disingenuously) that ‘it is the firm intention of [the] Rhodesian Government to seek solution of its problems with [the] British Government through patient negotiations and Americans in regard to the question of a possible UDI.’ TNA: PRO, DO 183/619, Dean to Foreign Office, Cable No. 2714, 21 October 1965.

TNA: PRO, FO 371/181893, Wilson to Johnson, Cable No. 1494, UK High Commission, Salisbury, to UK Embassy, Washington, 29 October 1965; FRUS, pp. 829-30.

Bundy to the President, 29 October 1965, FRUS, p. 829.

Johnson to Smith, Cable No. 342, Washington to U.S. Consul General, Salisbury, 29 October 1965, FRUS, p. 830.

discussion.’ 73 Smith had already decided upon a UDI, so Johnson’s warning had no impact. 74 State Department officials obviously did not know quite how ineffectual American representations were, but they were concerned that the media in Salisbury was playing down the significance of U.S. approaches to the Rhodesian Government. 75 Wilson’s pressure for presidential involvement in the Rhodesian Crisis ultimately had no positive effect, but it did generate considerable bureaucratic conflict in the Johnson administration and placed a strain on Anglo-American relations.

Noer has commented: ‘The American position on the eve of UDI thus remained as it had been for nearly four years: dedicated to support of Great Britain yet unclear on any precise policies.’ 76 It was not surprising that intense frustration and even hostility towards Britain permeated parts of the U.S. bureaucracy. George Ball might well have agreed with the assessment of one U.S. diplomat who thought that the Labour Government had made ‘a traditional British mess’ of its dealings with Rhodesia. 77 When the Rhodesian Government finally declared itself independent on 11 November 1965 it caught the U.S. Government unprepared. The President and his senior advisers were at Smith to Johnson, Cable No. 281, U.S. Consul General, Salisbury, to Washington, 1 November 1965, FRUS, p. 832.





According to the Rhodesian Intelligence Chief, Ken Flower, the Rhodesian Security Council decided on 19 October 1965 to proceed with a UDI. Serving Secretly: An Intelligence Chief on Record. Rhodesia into Zimbabwe 1964-1981 (London: John Murray, 1987), p. 47.

TNA: PRO, DO 183/691, Dean to Foreign Office, Cable No. 2607, 13 October 1965.

Noer, Cold War and Black Liberation, p. 196.

TNA: PRO, FO 371/181881, Ronald Burroughs, British Embassy, Lisbon, to Derek Dodson, Central Department, Foreign Office, 22 October 1965. Burroughs reported the views of Admiral George Anderson, U.S. Ambassador to Lisbon.

his ranch in Austin, conducting a major review of Vietnam policy and the only decision that Dean Rusk could announce to the press was that the U.S. Government would recall its Consul General from Salisbury. 78 Further measures were announced at the United Nations the following day but it took until 19 November for the State Department to produce a detailed analysis of the Rhodesian Crisis and the range of available options. 79 However, continuing British prevarication encumbered the American response, as Assistant Secretary of State G. Mennen Williams complained: ‘The U.S. is anxious to support [the British] but we do not understand the general outlines of their program or what their over-all thinking is.’ 80 One month after UDI, ‘American policy remained a mixture of public support of Wilson and private grumblings about his tentativeness and imprecision.’ 81 This illustrates just how frustrated and confused Anglo-American relations became during the period leading up to Rhodesia’s UDI and beyond. To explain how and why these strains occurred within the special relationship, theories of alliance politics can be applied to the Rhodesian Crisis.

Explaining the frustration in Anglo-American relations International relations theory addresses the general propositions that may be advanced about the political relations between states. A key component of the literature on international relations is alliance theory, which examines the reasons why alliances are formed, how they are maintained, and why they collapse. The Anglo-American special Noer, Cold War and Black Liberation, p. 198; DeRoche, Black, White and Chrome, p. 113.

Noer, Cold War and Black Liberation, p. 200.

Williams to Ball, 24 November 1965, Williams Papers, Box 5, National Archives, Washington. Quoted in Noer, Cold War and Black Liberation, p. 202.

Noer, Cold War and Black Liberation, p. 203.

relationship is an obvious case study for testing such theories. 82 Writing in 1970 about the Suez and Skybolt crises, Richard Neustadt discerned a pattern of crisis behavior in Anglo-American relations that consisted of muddled perceptions, stifled communications, disappointed expectations, and paranoid reactions. 83 He argued that whilst the first three elements were common enough in the international states system, the fourth tends to be found only in intimate relationships such as those that exist between London and Washington: ‘paranoid reactions are associated with relations bearing something like the burden of an unrequited love.’ 84 Although the Rhodesian Crisis was obviously not as serious as either Suez or Skybolt, Neustadt’s approach is nevertheless useful for analysing Anglo-American relations during the Rhodesian Crisis.

Neustadt observed that a number of factors contribute to misperception between allies, including clash of personalities, divergence in policy, and different orders of priority. 85 There is little to suggest that poor personal relations inhibited Anglo-American

–  –  –

administration were well aware that Wilson and other senior members of the Labour Government attached considerable significance to their relations with the U.S.

administration and were conscious of their personal standing in Washington. 86 Johnson John Baylis, ‘The Anglo-American Relationship and Alliance Theory’, International Relations, Vol. 8 (November 1985), p. 368.

Richard Neustadt, Alliance Politics (New York: Columbia University Press, 1970), p. 56.

Ibid., p. 72.

Ibid., pp. 57-58.

Shortly before the Washington talks in December 1964, Bundy advised Johnson: ‘It is extremely clear on all the evidence that Wilson has staked a great deal on having a “successful” visit with you.’ LBJL: NSF, UK Country File, Box 214, ‘UK Prime Minister Wilson Visit’, Memorandum, Bundy to the President, 5 was not by nature an enthusiastic Anglophile and indeed Wilson was well aware of this, which is why he worked hard to gain Johnson’s trust. 87 Noer observes that prior to their meeting in December 1965 – at which UDI was discussed extensively – relations between Wilson and Johnson ‘had been rather cool,’ but on this occasion Wilson ‘greatly impressed’ the President. 88 Wilson was obviously concerned to establish a good working relationship with Johnson and in this he largely succeeded, though he was perhaps inclined to exaggerate its intimacy. 89 However, the degree of friendship between Wilson December 1964. There is, of course, a distinction to be drawn between Labour revisionists and those on the left of the Party regarding their attitudes towards the United States. See Peter Jones, America and the British Labour Party (New York, I.B. Tauris, 1997), p. 124; and Steven Fielding, ‘Labour revisionists and the imagining of America’, in Jonathan Hollowell (ed.), Twentieth Century Anglo-American Relations (New York: Palgrave, 2001), Ch.5.

Wilson met Johnson during a visit to Washington earlier in 1964, whilst Wilson was still Leader of the Opposition. Wilson recalled in his memoirs that on that occasion Johnson had told him he did not trust British Prime Ministers because it seemed to him that their visits to Washington were mainly about cultivating British domestic opinion. Johnson repeated this view to Wilson in December 1964 and, in an attempt to put Johnson at ease, Wilson assured him that his public statements on Anglo-American relations would correspond entirely with what he said to the President. Harold Wilson, The Labour Government 1964-1970 (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, and Michael Joseph), pp. 46-47.

Noer, Cold War and Black Liberation, p. 204.

Dick Crossman was amused by the hyperbole in Wilson’s account of the warmth and significance of his relationship with LBJ. See R. H. S. Crossman, The Diaries of a Cabinet Minister. Volume 1, Minister of Housing 1964–1966 (London: Hamish Hamilton and Jonathan Cape, 1975), p. 94, entry for 11 December

1964. On the other hand, the U.S. Ambassador to London, David Bruce, suggested that Wilson and Johnson found considerable common ground, enjoying private talks about their respective domestic political situations. LBJL: Oral Histories, Transcript of Interview, 9 December 1971, pp. 10-11. Historians have advanced several interpretations of the nature of the relationship between Wilson and Johnson. For a brief summary of these views see John W. Young, The Labour Governments 1964–70. Volume 2, and Johnson does not really shed much light on the reasons for misperception during the Rhodesian Crisis, since relations can become strained irrespective of the degree of cordiality between principals. 90 There is also little evidence of divergence in policy between the United States and the United Kingdom with regard to the Rhodesian issue. One contemporary commentator, Waldemar Nielsen, observed: ‘In the past, the U.S. has perhaps taken too dutiful and passive a stance in its dealings with Great Britain on the Rhodesian question.’ Nielsen suggested that if the U.S. Government deemed British policy too weak then ‘the only sensible course for the U.S. would be to separate itself from its ally and seek an independent line of action.’ 91 Yet this was never on the cards before UDI, since American interests (domestic and foreign) were best served by a pro-African and proBritish policy. This also remained true for a few years after UDI, but when Rhodesia declared itself a republic in 1969 – and it became apparent that the British Government had all but abandoned any pretence of being able to influence developments – the United States did indeed begin to pursue a separate policy. As a result of Henry Kissinger’s International Policy (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003), pp. 20-22. For a more detailed discussion see Sylvia Ellis, ‘Lyndon B. Johnson, Harold Wilson and the Vietnam war: a not so special relationship?’, in Hollowell (ed.), Twentieth Century Anglo-American Relations, pp. 180-204; Jonathan Colman, ‘Harold Wilson, Lyndon Johnson and Anglo-American “Summit Diplomacy”, 1964–68’, Journal of Transatlantic Studies, Vol. 1, No. 2 (2003), pp. 131-151; and idem, A ‘Special Relationship’? Harold

Wilson, Lyndon B. Johnson and Anglo-American Relations ‘at the Summit’, 1964–68 (Manchester:

Manchester University Press, 2005).

Neustadt, Alliance Politics, p. 57.

W. A. Nielsen, African Battle Line: American Policy Choices in Southern Africa (New York: Harper and Row, 1965), p. 56.



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