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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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President bore ultimate responsibility for foreign affairs, he could, Williams suggested, be very persuasive in explaining and obtaining support for U.S. foreign policy. Williams also observed, ‘The image of this administration, as distinct from its predecessor, is still unclear in Africa.’ A presidential visit would demonstrate to Africans Johnson’s personal impact on domestic policy in the U.S., especially his dynamic projection of the ‘Great Society’ and his struggle for civil rights. It would also reciprocate the many visits of LBJL: NSF, Files of Ulric Haynes, Box 1, Memorandum, Haynes to Bundy, 15 June 1965.

African heads of state to Washington, and undermine Communist claims that only they were really interested in Africa. 25 Williams was also central to the exposition of U.S. policy on the Rhodesian problem. On the same day that Haynes wrote to Bundy about inertia in the Bureau of African Affairs, Williams gave a speech entitled ‘Southern Rhodesia Today,’ in which he stated

unequivocally the U.S. position:

–  –  –

Williams was therefore working just as hard as the NSC to convince senior government figures that the United States should be playing a more active role in African affairs, though his approach was not coordinated with the NSC. As the Rhodesian Crisis became more acute, the NSC became disillusioned with the tactics that it thought the Bureau of African Affairs was using to advance its position.

BHL: Williams Papers, State Department Files, Microfilm Edition, Series I, ‘Correspondence’, Reel 4, Memorandum, ‘Presidential Visit to Africa’, 11 June 1965.

BHL: Williams Papers, State Department Files, Microfilm Edition, Series I, ‘Correspondence’, Reel 5, ‘Speech to the Chicago Chapter of the American Federal Bar Association’, 15 June 1965, p. 6.

By October 1965, the NSC and the Bureau of African Affairs were clearly convinced that the British Government should adopt an effective deterrent strategy in its negotiations with the Rhodesian Government. They struggled, however, to convince George Ball that the U.S. Government should apply diplomatic pressure both privately and publicly in support of that strategy. Ball was resistant to deeper involvement in the crisis and told Bundy that the U.S. position should be to follow the British lead, so that if there was a ‘blowup’ the British would not be able to blame the U.S. Government. 27 Ball told Fredericks and other officials that a UDI was inevitable and suggested that the United States had ‘nothing to worry about.’ Both the NSC and the Bureau of African Affairs were alarmed by this complacency. They wanted the public release of a private statement that the U.S. Government had sent to the Rhodesian Government warning against a UDI, and exerted pressure on Ball to refer the matter to Rusk. 28 The Secretary of State refused to clear the statement, but this was by no means the end of the matter. The next day, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran an article on Rhodesia reporting the ‘deep division of sentiment within the Johnson Administration’ and that Ball had blocked expressions of U.S. support for the British position and for economic sanctions. The NSC staff thought that the leak came from the Bureau of African Affairs. Komer sent a copy of the article to Bundy with a note, ‘This is lousy and will do no one any good! I suspect some AF [Bureau of African Affairs] hands!’ 29 Komer’s suspicions about the origin of the leak are logical enough, since it suggested a straightforward attempt by the Bureau of African Memorandum of Telephone Conversation, 5 October 1965, FRUS, p. 816.

LBJL: NSF, Rhodesia Country File, Box 97, ‘Memos and Misc., 12/63-1/66’, Memorandum, Haynes to Komer, 19 October 1965; also FRUS, p. 827.

LBJL: NSF, Rhodesia Country File, Box 97, ‘Memos and Misc., 12/63-1/66’, Memorandum, Haynes to Komer, and Komer to Bundy, 2 November 1965. This incident is also cited in Noer, Cold War and Black Liberation, p. 195.

Affairs to undermine the position of its opponents, which is ‘a standard bureaucratic maneuver.’ 30 However, press leaks can be used very subtly and it is worth considering what George Reedy has described as the ‘reverse-thrust technique.’ 31 In this case, as the story undermined rather than enhanced the position of the Bureau of African Affairs, it is possible that the leak came from Williams’ opponents. Ultimately, however, the leak’s origin is not as significant as the fact that it demonstrates the methods used by factions within the bureaucracy to advance their policy positions.

The question of support for Zambia As noted in the previous chapter, Zambian copper production was a key interest for the United States. 32 Once the proposal to construct a railroad that would bypass Rhodesia and reroute Zambian trade through Tanzania began to work its way round the U.S.

Government, the usual clash of interests rapidly emerged. In a brief to Thomas Mann, the Undersecretary of State for Economic Affairs, Williams explained that the Bureau of African Affairs regarded Zambia as the keystone in a ‘Zone of Peace’ along the frontiers of the ‘white redoubt’ in southern Africa, which could be imperilled by Rhodesian economic warfare against Zambia in the event of a UDI. 33 Williams acknowledged that the proposed Tanzania-Zambia rail link could not be completed in less than five years and Morton Halperin, Bureaucratic Politics and Foreign Policy (Washington D.C.: Brookings Institute, 1974), p. 173.

G. Reedy, The Twilight of the Presidency (New York: World Publishing Company, 1970), pp. 90-91.

Quoted in Halperin, Bureaucratic Politics and Foreign Policy, p. 179.

See above, Ch. 6, pp. 316-17.

BHL: Wiliams Papers, State Department Files, Microfilm Edition, Series I, ‘Correspondence’, Reel 4, Memorandum, Williams to Mann, 6 May 1965.

therefore could not provide a solution to the Zambian transportation problem during a period of confrontation with Rhodesia. 34 However, Williams was still in favour of the

project on the basis that:

[It] may still be regarded as a psychological safety valve by which to moderate Zambian reactions to a Rhodesian UDI … Zambia could more rationally withhold any action against Rhodesia if morally and emotionally sustained by the belief that the action could be taken more effectively in a number of years when the link was completed. Thus the maintenance of a receptive and helpful position by the United States toward the complicated rail link … is regarded as an important part of whatever temporizing

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The debate about the value of the Tanzania-Zambia rail link became complicated when Kenneth Kaunda, the Zambian President, informed Williams that the Chinese Government was going to offer to build it. Ball, Rusk, and Johnson, dismissed this as nonsense. 36 They were probably influenced by the most recent National Intelligence Estimate on sub-Saharan Africa, which had concluded that although Communists would be presented with new opportunities to expand their influence in sub-Saharan Africa, ‘even the militant radicals prize their freedom of movement, and we consider it unlikely that any African country will become a full-fledged Communist state, or will reject all The rail link (which was built with Chinese, not Anglo-American aid) actually took eight years to build.

The UDI period lasted until 1980, but it is doubtful that this could have been foreseen by anyone in 1965.

BHL: Wiliams Papers, State Department Files, Microfilm Edition, Series I, ‘Correspondence’, Reel 4, Memorandum, Williams to Mann, 6 May 1965, p. 2.

Memorandum, Komer to Bundy, 28 May 1965, FRUS, pp. 798-99.

ties with the West.’37 However, the Bureau of African Affairs sharply rejected this complacency at the apex of U.S. policymaking. Williams went head-to-head with Ball, arguing that potential Chinese involvement in the Tanzania-Zambia rail link ‘represents the most serious and dangerous Chinese thrust into Africa to date.’ 38 Williams pointed out that acceptance of the Chinese offer to build half the link would give the Chinese a bridgehead in Africa that would greatly facilitate support of the Congo rebels. Also, failure to offer Western assistance would undercut President Kenneth Kaunda’s strategy of combating radical pressure on Zambia and Tanzania to take hostile action against the ‘white redoubt.’ That could increase the likelihood of a racial war in southern Africa, ‘heavily stacked in favor of the Chinese Communists and permitting full exploitation of their racial and violent revolutionary themes.’ 39 Williams acknowledged that the rail link would be expensive (estimates varied between $400 and $500 million) but argued that inaction could be even more costly in the longer term. The potential financial and military risks for the United States included combating a reinvigorated rebel movement in the Congo, helping to offset the United Kingdom’s losses as a result of the cessation of Zambian copper production, and dealing with an increasingly violent racial confrontation in southern Africa that would be exploited by the Communists.40 Accordingly, Williams suggested that in order to avoid these risks the U.S. Government should offer to finance a survey of the rail link and form an international consortium for its construction. 41 LBJL: NSF, National Intelligence Estimates, Box 8, ‘Problems and Prospects in Sub-Saharan Africa’, NIE Number 60/70-65, 22 April 1965.

BHL: Williams Papers, State Department Files, Microfilm Edition, Series I, ‘Correspondence’, Reel 4, Memorandum, Williams to Ball, 8 June 1965, p. 1.

Ibid., pp. 1-2.

Ibid., pp. 2-3.

Ibid., p. 3.

Elsewhere in the bureaucracy there was some limited recognition of the Chinese threat, but no commitment to the Tanzania-Zambia railroad project. In July 1965, the NSC staff advised the President that the Chinese had indeed offered to survey the rail link and possibly build the Tanzanian segment. They noted that although the cost of building a railroad might have been exaggerated, a highway project would still be a better option for a number of reasons. First, construction of a railroad would take many years, by which time the Rhodesian threat might have receded and the railroad would therefore be a multimillion dollar ‘white elephant.’ Second, the fact that Zambia and Southern Rhodesia jointly owned the existing rail route discouraged them ‘from taking precipitous vindictive action against the other.’ 42 And third, it was not clear that the Chinese possessed the financial resources for a large-scale construction effort. Nevertheless, the President was advised ‘this whole problem bears close watching, since a major Chicom bridgehead in East Africa could be highly painful.’ 43 It is evident that for the NSC, the idea that the Chinese might become involved could not be dismissed as easily as Ball, Rusk, and Johnson had suggested. The debate over the Tanzania-Zambia railroad project illustrates the relative priority attached to African policy by the different elements within the U.S.

bureaucracy. It gives a clear indication of the strategic thought within the Bureau of African Affairs and the NSC, which differed to varying degrees with the sanguine assessment of senior policymakers. Ball, Rusk, and Johnson saw little direct threat to U.S. interests, and they demonstrated a clear preference for limited liability in funding support of U.S. policy objectives.

Memorandum, Komer and Haynes to the President, 12 July 1965, FRUS, pp. 800-01.


After UDI Once the Rhodesian government declared its independence unilaterally, it pushed to the foreground questions about what economic sanctions the United States intended to impose upon the illegal regime, and what support would be given to Zambia. These issues threatened to spill over into other aspects of U.S. policy in southern Africa, as Thomas J. Noer has observed: ‘Ball quickly recognized that the African Bureau and its supporters planned to try to use the Rhodesian crisis to implement all of the rejected options they had pushed for in the other areas of white rule.’ 44 In order to prevent this Ball sought to gain control of the decision-making process by appointing someone to take responsibility for U.S. policy on Rhodesia. Ball’s first choice was U. Alexis Johnson, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, but he declined. He then approached Roswell Gilpatric, who had been Assistant Secretary of State for Defense under Kennedy.

This time, however, the President vetoed the appointment because of possible Congressional objections, and perhaps also for personal reasons. 45 Ball and Bundy next turned to William D. Rogers, a former Attorney General, whom they both knew and whom the President approved. According to Anthony Lake, Rogers was left in no doubt that the Bureau of African Affairs and its supporters ‘were trying to push a harder policy than Ball wanted’ and that it would be his job to act as ‘Ball’s lid on the rest of the Noer, Cold War and Black Liberation, p. 198.

Johnson told Rusk: ‘I don’t want this fella in my administration in any capacity and I’ve made it abundantly clear to McNamara and to Bundy time and time and time again, and I don’t want people shovin’ me on it … They all tried to shove him in as CIA Director and they’ve been bitchin’ with me ever since because I didn’t name him.’ LBJL: White House Telephone Conversations, WH6511.09, Lyndon B.

Johnson and Dean Rusk, 29 November 1965. This was the only intervention that Johnson made in the management of the Rhodesian problem.

bureaucracy.’ 46 In a recent work, however, Andrew DeRoche rejects this ‘conspiratorial’ interpretation of Ball’s actions and suggests that Ball was not plotting to advance his ‘Europeanist’ agenda at the expense of the more progressive ‘Africanists’ in the

administration. 47 DeRoche argues that:

The implication of Lake’s account is that Ball was a racist who did not

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