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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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influence American policy became more favorable towards the white Rhodesians, which

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commentator, the results of this shift were illegal, since it involved breaking UN mandatory sanctions; and immoral, because it abandoned the principle of democracy in Rhodesia. 92 Certainly, it can be argued that different orders of priority were evident in London and Washington during the Rhodesian Crisis. Interestingly, Wilson’s Foreign Office Private Secretary Sir Oliver Wright thought that although Rhodesia took up a lot of time, it was a ‘problem of the second order’ when compared with East-West relations. 93 Nevertheless, it was a problem that commanded far more attention at a higher level in London than in Washington. This is not surprising as much of Johnson’s time was (quite naturally) absorbed by the escalation of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. 94 The other major concern for the Johnson administration during 1965 was the Dominican Republic, where some 33,000 troops were deployed to crush a rebellion. 95 Terence Lyons has noted that Africa T. L. Hughes, ‘Foreword’, in Lake, The ‘Tar Baby’ Option, pp. vii-x.

Churchill Archives Centre, Cambridge: British Diplomatic Oral History Project, GBR/0014/DOHP 17, Sir John Oliver Wright, Transcript of Interview, 18 September 1996, pp. 12-13.

Dean Rusk refuted the suggestion that Vietnam distracted Johnson from other problems: ‘There were times when for weeks on end President Johnson would give more time to Europe or to the Middle East or to Latin America than he did to Viet Nam.’ LBJL: Oral Histories, Transcript of Interview, 8 March 1970, p.

1. One recent study that tends to support Rusk’s defense of Johnson is Thomas Alan Schwartz, Lyndon Johnson and Europe: In the Shadow of Vietnam (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003).

DeRoche, Black, White and Chrome, p. 104.

was a very low priority on Johnson’s foreign policy agenda. 96 Andrew DeRoche agrees, but has argued that Johnson demonstrated a ‘personal interest in the Southern Rhodesian conflict’. 97 However, there is clear evidence to the contrary, which suggests that the President was in fact keen to deflect the issue. Shortly after UDI the staff on the NSC learned from the State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs that senior figures in the administration were being ‘kept under wraps on Rhodesia by the President’s strong desire not to be bothered with another major problem at this time.’ 98 Similarly, although Dean Rusk was involved in several high-level meetings with British ministers in which the Rhodesian problem was discussed, he had little time for, or interest in, African matters.

Rusk later observed that during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations the United States was a ‘junior partner’ in Africa, which was reflected in the fact that 75 per cent of African aid came from Western Europe and only 25 per cent from the U.S. Rusk thought that was an appropriate arrangement because Europe had relatively little involvement in other regions such as Latin America and Asia. 99 Rusk’s indifference meant that Terence Lyons, ‘Keeping Africa off the Agenda’, in Warren I. Cohen and Nancy Bernkopf Tucker (eds.), Lyndon Johnson Confronts the World: American Foreign Policy 1963-1968 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), pp. 245-78.

DeRoche, Black, White and Chrome, p. 8. DeRoche does qualify his observation by stating that the President’s interest was not sufficient to overturn the ‘middle course’ that had hitherto characterised U.S.

policy towards Africa.

LBJL: NSF, Name File, Box 6, ‘Komer Memos’, Vol. II (1), Komer to Bundy, 3 December 1965.

LBJL: Oral Histories, Transcript of Interview, 8 March 1970, pp. 33-34; and D. Rusk, As I Saw It (New York: W. W. Norton, 1990), p. 273. Averell Harriman (U.S. ambassador at large) echoed Rusk’s view when he visited Harold Wilson in London. TNA: PRO, PREM 13/316, ff 2-5, ‘Haute politique: thoughts for the weekend’, Minute by Oliver Wright to Harold Wilson, 12 February 1965, in S. R. Ashton and Wm.

Roger Louis (eds.), British Documents on the End of Empire Series A, Volume 5, East of Suez and the Commonwealth, Part II: Europe, Rhodesia, Commonwealth (London: The Stationery Office, 2004), p. 1.

management of the Rhodesian problem consequently devolved upon George Ball, whose approach was cautious to say the least. Although Ball was keen not to prejudice relations with the United Kingdom he felt that on the Rhodesian issue the British were ‘playing a game of trying to push us out in front’. 100 Ball did not believe that the United States could shape societies and events in the Third World and he saw the Rhodesian problem as a secondary issue on which American action was neither possible nor desirable. 101 With the most senior policy-makers in the Johnson administration trying to marginalise the Rhodesian problem it might be argued that there was an increased likelihood of misperception between London and Washington. However, as Neustadt acknowledged, different orders of priority are commonplace and this does not produce a state of continual crisis in relations. 102 It may be argued, then, that the interaction of personalities, degree of policy divergence, and differences in orders of priority, do not provide a convincing explanation of the frustration in Anglo-American relations during the Rhodesian Crisis.

In his analysis of the Suez and Skybolt crises, Neustadt suggested that communications were stifled by concerns that ‘any word to friends across the ocean may come back to other ears at home. As well, a word to friends at home may skip across the water.’103 Neustadt also recognised that in addition to reticence, communications were often inhibited by complicated embassy arrangements and failure to make effective use of established channels of communication. He observed that the embassies in London and Memorandum of Telephone Conversation between Ball and Bundy, 5 October 1965, FRUS, p. 816.

Lake, The ‘Tar Baby’ Option, p. 69.

Neustadt, Alliance Politics, p. 59.

Ibid., p. 65.

Washington consisted of many different departments that tended to deal only with their official counterparts, which failed to yield a coherent view of ministerial motives.

Further, as the ambassadors only acted on instructions – which did not contain the pointed questions necessary to obtain clarity – crucial details remained missing. Neustadt therefore implied that, as a matter of routine, ambassadors must be permitted to use their own initiative to ask the questions that may give an insight into ministerial motives. 104 During the Rhodesian Crisis there was some evidence of reticence on the American side, which perhaps reflected Ball’s unwillingness to be ‘pushed out in front’ on the Rhodesian problem. It is remarkable that the New Zealand Embassy was often better informed about concerns in Washington than the British Embassy, especially as the latter has been perceived as such a crucial element in the effective functioning of the special relationship. 105 Perhaps more significant than reticence, however, were the regular difficulties created by breakdowns in communication, which emanated from the structural problems in Anglo-American relations at this time. In late 1963, following a suggestion that U.S. and British regional policy could be effectively co-ordinated through the British Embassy in Washington, the U.S. Government considered the removal of its regional specialists in the Political Section of the U.S. Embassy in London. The U.S. Ambassador to London, David Bruce, argued a strong case for retention of the regional specialists.

Bruce observed that the structure of British policy making militated against the co

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Ibid., pp. 132-34.

See Michael F. Hopkins, ‘Focus of a Changing Relationship: The Washington Embassy and Britain’s World Role Since 1945’, Contemporary British History, Vol. 12, No. 3 (Autumn 1998), pp. 103-14; and Gillian Staerck (ed.), ‘The Role of the British Embassy in Washington’, ibid., pp. 115-38.

responsibility for British relations with Africa, Asia and Latin America was divided between the Foreign Office, the Commonwealth Relations Office, and the Colonial Office. Some of the ‘hottest’ foreign policy problems (which by the following year included Rhodesia) therefore fell outside the remit of the Foreign Office. Although the Commonwealth Relations Office and the Colonial Office were represented on the staff of the British Embassy in Washington they tended to regard the Embassy as ‘the arm of “another government agency,” without “primary” interest and responsibility for the areas which come within the purview of these two ministries.’ The recommendations of the British Embassy in Washington therefore carried more weight with the Foreign Office than with the other two ministries. 106 Bruce argued that the State Department required its own channel of communication on regional matters with each of the British ministries and suggested that greater emphasis should be placed on the links provided by the

regional specialists:

Not infrequently, when we have a ‘regional’ position to sell the British, we initiate the matter with the British Embassy in Washington. Our position does not ‘sell’ in London, and at that point the State Department calls on one of the Embassy regional specialists in London to straighten the matter out. Our regional specialist often finds that the British position has too far jelled, personal prestige has become too involved, to salvage as much for

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Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan: G. Mennen Williams Papers, State Department Files, Microfilm Edition, Series V, ‘Miscellaneous’, Reel 14, Memorandum, Bruce to Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs William R. Tyler, 5 November 1963.


Bruce concluded that the regional specialists should therefore be entrusted with ‘the initial sales effort,’ since they had the advantage of being able to conduct face-to-face talks with British policy-makers, ‘to feel out the ground and to proceed accordingly.’ 108 One year later, Averell Harriman echoed the concerns expressed by Bruce regarding the structure of British policy-making, but this time American concerns were addressed directly to the British Government. He told Patrick Gordon Walker that the U.S.

Government experienced difficulties in dealing with the Commonwealth Relations Office, which was regarded as ‘a second Foreign Office in the important parts of the world.’ Walker responded to these concerns by assuring Harriman that the Commonwealth Secretary, Arthur Bottomley, would give his full co-operation in matters of AngloAmerican interest. 109 Yet despite this assurance it is clear from the documentary evidence that the division of responsibility within the British Government for Rhodesian matters militated against effective communication and co-ordination with the U.S.

Government. In May 1965, one Foreign Office official wrote:

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unilateral declaration of independence nothing has been written about the reactions of Afro-Asian Governments, the [Organisation for African Unity] and the United Nations, and the effect on our international position Ibid.

LBJL: NSF UK Country File, Box 212, ‘Walker Visit Briefing Book’, Memorandum, Harriman to Bundy, 27 October 1964.

if [Her Majesty’s Government] did nothing to put an effective end to the

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As long as such major questions remained unanswered it was impossible for the British Government to give a clear indication of its policy to the U.S. Government, which explains why American policy-makers such as Ball felt such intense frustration

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communication was exacerbated by the fact that the American Embassy in London had its own institutional weaknesses. Bruce had a ‘hands off’ style of management, which meant that his staff enjoyed considerable leeway and Bruce often did not see much of the correspondence that went out of the embassy, or get around as much as senior British officials would have liked. 111 This lack of supervision and contact may help to explain the origins of American misinformation, such as the ‘tendentious’ reports by Wendell Coote on the Rhodesian problem.

Neustadt observed that since Britain and the United States are such close allies, both sides ‘habitually expect accommodation for themselves.’ 112 Consequently, expectations were disappointed on several occasions in London and Washington during the Rhodesian Crisis. Harold Wilson, for example, over-estimated the significance of the United States as an actor in the Crisis. As the prospect of a UDI drew closer, he clung desperately to the idea that the United States might be able to help avert it by expressing its unequivocal TNA: PRO, FO 371/181877, Minute by Derrick March, WCAD, Foreign Office, 24 May 1965.

Jonathan Colman, ‘The London Ambassadorship of David K. E. Bruce During the Wilson-Johnson Years, 1964–68’, Diplomacy and Statecraft, Vol. 15, No. 2 (2004), pp. 330-31.

Neustadt, Alliance Politics, p. 66.

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