Memorandum of Conversation, by the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern, South Asian, and African Affairs (McGhee)1


In an after dinner conversation of about an hour and a half, General Smuts2 presented his views on Africa and the world scene which may be summarized as follows:

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In General Smuts’ view the present world situation is very serious, more serious than at any time in his career which has seen the world in various vicissitudes. We face one of the real crises of history. The only hope for the world today is in the West, which has borne the burden of world responsibility for hundreds of years. The West can survive only if the Western nations will work more closely together. This cannot be achieved through the United Nations which, in his view, has been rendered ineffective by Russia. He does not, moreover, believe that any closer political union among the Western Powers is the answer, since this would serve to aggravate the fundamental national differences which exist. In his view the best results can be achieved through closer economic cooperation as separate political entities

In this effort the General believes that all the free European countries can play a part. Even the small countries can, because of their particular situations and capabilities, make a contribution. The United Kingdom can make a contribution, but not so much under the Labor Government as it could under Churchill.3 The Labor Government is so preoccupied with the creation of the welfare state that it fails to appreciate the true nature and seriousness of the world crisis. It has turned its view inward and has deprived its people of their energy and initiative at a time when they are most needed. The burden of the struggle must therefore rest principally upon the United States, even though the rapidity with which these responsibilities must be assumed raise difficult problems of assimilation. In the General’s view United States efforts in the postwar period, particularly the role that the United States played in Greece, shows that she is capable of meeting these responsibilities.

With a loss of a part and perhaps eventually all of Asia, the West must look more to Africa to make up for the resources lost, in preparation for the eventual struggle with Russia which the General considers more or less inevitable. In this struggle manpower and resources will play an important role. Africa, although not rich in good agricultural lands, has untold mineral resources including the ferroalloys, coal and uranium. Africa should be developed as an appendage of Europe with the European peoples taking the lead. The African native has shown individual capability, however, the natives do not have the drive which is a characteristic of Europeans. The native is content with life. There is at present no serious menace of Communism in Africa and there are no other seeds of instability which cannot be coped with in our lifetime. There is ample time to build on Africa as a base.

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General Smuts believes that America can play an important role in Africa. American private investment is required for the development of the Union of South Africa and is welcomed. Through the Point Four program America should be able to make valuable technical contributions, particularly in the field of transportation, which he considers the paramount need, and in mineral surveys.

The problem of the Indian in Africa is, if anything, greater than the problem of the African native. They are present in large numbers and are still immigrating and increasing. Their economic strength is in even greater proportion than their numbers. They are a grim and tireless people who maintain their separate Indian identity and are disliked by the native. The General believes that India itself has too many internal problems to be an aggressive force.

In General Smuts’ view there is no present basis for a new approach to Russia. President Truman is right in the stand he has taken in this respect. Mr. Churchill’s position to the contrary was taken for political reasons.4 Any overtures on the part of the West at this time would be considered a sign of weakness by Russia. Only when there is some fundamental change in the situation, which will come perhaps through some break-up of the unwieldy structure Russia has created, would a new approach be possible. Russia appears to have put her major offensive effort into the East where she has been highly successful and which is open to her. Russian efforts in the West appear to be only minor skirmishes.

In the General’s views the forces at play in the Far East are still beyond the control of the United States and the West. He was convinced of this at the time General Marshall’s mission failed to achieve its objective in China.5 By and large we can do little but sit and wait. Even if Southeast Asia falls to Communism, and the prospects of this are enhanced by the strong Chinese minorities in many countries and by the large Chinese Army which must be kept on the march, the General feels that there will ultimately be a break-up in the area of Communist domination, possibly through economic failure. If such a break-up occurs a condition of anarchy and chaos may exist for an extended period during which no outside efforts would be effective. The Asia we have known was largely run by Europeans, as in the case of India and even in China. There is no proof that the new leaders can hold these countries together.

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India is a source of special concern to General Smuts. He is pessimistic about the future of India. The present leaders of India are really like Europeans and he is not sure that they have any real hold on the people. In the present circumstances there is little that America can do to help except to be friendly. There is no solution to the problem through outside economic assistance. If England could not do anything it is unlikely that America can. General Smuts has some concern over South America, particularly the Argentine, as a potential source of weakness and as a possible opening for Communist infiltration.

  1. Assistant Secretary McGhee attended the American Consular Conference of United States diplomatic and consular officers held in Lourenco Marques, Mozambique, from February 27 to March 2. McGhee transmitted this memorandum of conversation to Secretary Acheson in a letter from Cape Town dated March 7.
  2. Field Marshal Jan Christiaan Smuts, Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa, 1939–1948.
  3. Winston S. Churchill, British Prime Minister, 1940–1945.
  4. In an election campaign speech at Edinburgh on February 14, Churchill had suggested a United States–United Kingdom–Soviet Union summit meeting to consider international control of nuclear weapons.
  5. For documentation on the mission to China of President Truman’s Special Representative, General of the Army George C. Marshall, December 1945–December 1946, see Foreign Relations, 1945, vol. vii, pp. 745 ff.; ibid., 1946, volume ix ; and ibid., vol. x, pp. 1 ff.