Memorandum of Conversation, by the Under Secretary of State (Webb)
Mr. F. C. Erasmus, Minister of Defense in the South African Government, accompanied by General L. Beyers, Chief of Staff of the South African Defense Forces, and the South African Ambassador, Mr. H. T. Andrews, called on me at his request today.1
After expressing appreciation for the arrangements which had been made for his visit, Mr. Erasmus made a brief statement on South African defense planning. He stated that South Africa had occupied a strategic position on the sea lanes during the last war and could do so again, particularly if control of the Mediterranean and Suez Canal were lost in some future war. Mr. Erasmus commented, in passing, that South Africa was not a member of the Atlantic Pact,2 although this did not mean that his country would not have liked to have participated. He also mentioned the substantial uranium resources of South Africa which enhanced its strategic position.
Mr. Erasmus said that South Africa wished to be in a position to make a useful contribution in the event of war, and for that reason [Page 1806] he had visited the United Kingdom and was now in the United States in an effort to obtain certain military equipment. He indicated that his Government would probably obtain some destroyers and jet fighter aircraft from the United Kingdom. He went on to say that his Government hoped to obtain bombers and other equipment such as tanks from the United States. He said that South Africa, because of her limited manpower and financial resources, was for the most part seeking only training equipment which would enable trained South African forces, in the event of hostilities to go into action in Egypt, or elsewhere, earlier than would otherwise be the case.
Mr. Erasmus went on to say that his Government’s financial position, at the present time, would not permit payment for equipment required. In reply to my question whether the problem was basically one of South Africa’s current dollar shortage, Mr. Erasmus indicated that the difficulty was both a question of the dollar shortage and lack of funds.
I pointed out that the flexible provision permitting the President to make military equipment available on a cash or deferred payment basis to other countries, such as South Africa, had been eliminated from the legislation. I did say, however, that the MAP legislation, when enacted, would provide a basis on which we could continue to build a security system on a broader basis. I said that I was sure Mr. Erasmus would appreciate that, given limited supplies, it was necessary to utilize them at those points where the danger was greatest. In strengthening the defense of Western Europe, however, we were, by discouraging aggression, contributing indirectly to the security of other countries including South Africa.
Mr. Andrews remarked that as he saw the problem it was a question of sufficient flexibility in the military aid programs of the United States to permit assistance to additional countries such as South Africa. He recognized that it was impossible to anticipate the final shape which the MAP legislation would take. He went on to say that the uranium resources to which Mr. Erasmus had alluded also provided a quid pro quo for the military assistance which South Africa was seeking.
I remarked that the development of these uranium resources would furnish South Africa with dollars which would enable her to take advantage of any increase in flexibility in our aid programs. I remarked, however, that the amount intended for use at the President’s discretion in the MAP legislation as originally drafted was already covered by commitments which could be anticipated in such places as the Philippines and Austria. Restoration of this provision to the present legislation would not provide the basis for immediate assistance to [Page 1807] South Africa. In this connection, I said that it appeared very unlikely to me that there would be any prospect of being able to assist South Africa in the next nine months.
Mr. Erasmus said that he understood the situation and sought only to bring to the attention of the United States the strategic significance of South Africa. He said that he felt now, after his talks with our Defense officials, that the United States did appreciate this fact. I told him that we would be glad to have further talks with his people on this subject and in reply to his question, said that the proper approach was through the State Department.
General Beyers did not participate in the discussion except to refer briefly to South African apprehensions because of Indian penetration in East Africa.