The 1962 State Department Paper, ‘The White Redoubt,’ Demonstrates Myriad of Problems with Crafting Policy towards Apartheid-era South Africa
Set against the backdrop of the Cold War, a declassified 1962 State Department paper, entitled ‘The White Redoubt,’ is a fascinating glimpse at US relations with apartheid-era South Africa, encapsulating the myriad of concerns US policy makers faced as they crafted diplomacy towards the country.
The report successfully predicts increasing racial tensions across all of southern Africa, and suggests short-term policies to help achieve regional stability while not entirely compromising America’s reputation as an advocate of self-determination, a task complicated by relations with the Portuguese dictatorship and concerns of potentially increased Soviet influence throughout Africa.
By 1962, the ruling white settler population across southern Africa was growing increasingly alarmed, both by the number of African countries gaining independence in the aftermath of the Second World War, as well as by the exodus of Europeans from Algeria and increasing unrest in the Congo.The paper notes that the European population had “established a pantheon of privilege, wealth and status which they do not intend to surrender.” In response to these perceived threats, white groups across southern Africa –primarily those in South Africa, Southern Rhodesia, and Angola—began proposing a regional mutual defense strategy for protection of white interests from black nationalists, termed ‘White Redoubt.’
According to the State Department report, the proposed cooperative had two primary goals: the “establishment among the states concerned of effective security and military arrangements to frustrate any attempts to subvert legally constituted white governments through violence or other extra-legal means,” and “the blunting of black nationalism by forceful repression of ‘seditious’ groups in each of the threatened territories.” The report called this a “philosophically indefensible” approach, but believed that it would nonetheless “lead to a strong regional security pact.”
The document argues the primary factor tying the US’ policy hands in the face of these concerns was relations with Portugal. While Portugal and the United States had a mutually convenient security alliance that allowed the US to use the Azores –an archipelago off the coast of Portugal– as a military base, the relationship was complicated by Portugal’s role as “the oldest dictatorship in Western Europe with a colonial history extending back 500 years on the African mainland, forces us to make an embarrassing choice between security requirements and basic political principle.”
The report noted that the US was recognized as the defender of peoples’ right to self-determination, yet it must “necessarily be concerned with the maintenance of order.” The desire for order likely referred to the need to neutralize pro-communist developments that were gaining strength not only in Portugal, but along the African coast and down through the Portuguese colony of Angola. Both the pro-communist and liberation movements in southern Africa were feared to align themselves with the Casablanca Group, a group of North African states both vulnerable to Soviet influence and capable of providing financial aid to the movements in the southern quarter of the continent. In such an environment, there were concerns about how the Soviet Union would see “numerous rather obvious advantages for itself” in buoying the Casablanca states of Egypt, Ghana, Mali, and Morocco, thereby promoting communism throughout the whole of Africa and gaining a stronger hold directly beneath Europe.
While the US was hesitant to make any moves that would solidify communist allegiances in Africa, at the same time policy-makers were wary of promoting deeper ties between the white governments of South Africa and Southern Rhodesia. The State Department report recommended that United States policy toward South Africa should aim to prevent South Africa from forming closer ties with Rhodesia out of concern that it would cause a backlash among black nationalists in the two countries and further cement racial animosity. To this end, the US wanted to encourage US businesses operating in southern Africa to pursue “enlightened” policies regarding both labor and education. The report further recommended that arms sales to South Africa be terminated since the weapons could be used against black South Africans to enforce apartheid.
Aside from considering White Redoubt “philosophically indefensible,” the US was concerned by the practical ramifications of such a group, including how it would alter American standing in the Middle East and Asia, how the white supremacist coalition would play out domestically in the States with the burgeoning civil rights movement, and how it would influence US investments and personnel in the region. This unique document presents a microcosm of the abundance of policy options and pitfalls the US faced when crafting policy towards the apartheid-era government, and is just one of many in the Archive’s collection. For more of the Archive’s South Africa Collection, visit the National Security Archive’s collection, South Africa: The Making of US Policy, 1962-1989.