Memorandum by the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs (Perkins) to the Secretary of State 1


Subject: Visit of the Honorable F. C. Erasmus, Minister of Defense of the Union of South Africa


Mr. Erasmus, Minister of Defense in the South African Government, is arriving in New York on October 3 and will be in this country until October 10. According to the South African Embassy, he desires to discuss with you and with the Secretary of Defense general questions of African defense planning.2


Mr. Erasmus has been in London for discussions with officials of the British Government of plans for the defense of Africa south of the Sahara. He has also explored the possibility of purchasing modern army and air force equipment. Before leaving South Africa a member of his party told our Embassy at Pretoria that if Britain were unable to supply the military equipment in the quantities desired they would seek to obtain the equipment in the United States.

Mr. Erasmus is accompanied on his visit to the United States by General C. L. du Toit, Chief of the General Staff; Brigadier H. B. Klopper, Director General of the Land Forces; Mr. R. F. Cuff, Secretary for Defense; and Mr. D. D. Forsyth, Secretary for External Affairs.

In August, 1949 Mr. Erasmus, accompanied by the then Chief of the General Staff, General Beyers, visited Washington and discussed with Mr. Webb the possibility of South Africa obtaining military equipment from the United States. Mr. Erasmus said at that time that, because of limited man power and financial resources, South Africa for the most part was interested only in obtaining training equipment which would enable South African forces to go into action, in the event of war, at an earlier date than would otherwise be the case. He was told that the MAP legislation, then in draft form, did not provide authority for the transfer of military equipment to South [Page 1833] Africa on a reimbursable basis and that there was no legislative authority for grant assistance to South Africa. Mr. Erasmus also discussed South Africa’s strategic importance in time of war with Secretary Johnson and with General Bradley.

In a letter to Mr. Erasmus in November 1949, Secretary Johnson stated, at the suggestion of Mr. Webb: “It is probable, however, that-early consideration will be given to an amendment to the MDA Act so that the United States can extend procurement assistance to free countries whose security is of importance to the United States.” This amendment was in fact accomplished through changes in Section 408 (e) of the Act which were made by Public Law 621.

In view of the shortness of time, it would probably be impossible to arrive at a determination before Mr. Erasmus departs from the United States as to whether or not South Africa would be eligible for such procurement assistance in terms of the revised MDA Act. Since South Africa is in fact not eligible to join with the United States in any existing collective defense and regional arrangement, there would remain to be decided whether or not South Africa’s ability to defend itself, or to participate in the defense of the area of which it is a part, is important to the security of the United States. In any general discussions with Mr. Erasmus, however, it would be desirable to have in mind such a readily identifiable United States security interest as South African uranium. Ambassador Erhardt has been instructed to emphasize to Prime Minister Malan the urgency attached by the United States to the production of uranium in South Africa in quantity and in the shortest possible time.3 We are also interested in South African manganese production. As regards South Africa’s willingness to shoulder defense responsibilities, the Union Government several months ago informed the British Government that it had decided, in the event of war, to make two divisions available for service outside South Africa in defense of the African continent. The South African Government also advised us officially of this decision. Furthermore South Africa has despatched an air squadron for service in Korea.


We were frank in our discussions with Mr. Erasmus last year with the result that even though he obtained nothing tangible from his visit he went away with a better understanding and appreciation of the problems with which we are faced in meeting even the most urgent defense requirements of the free world. Furthermore, he returned to South Africa convinced that we were mindful of South Africa’s defense [Page 1834] problems and of its strategic importance on the African continent. Continued frankness in discussing the strategic position of the United States and its world wide commitments with Mr. Erasmus will contribute to the maintenance of our present cordial relations with him.

It is recommended that you take the opportunity to express our warm appreciation of the South African decision to send an air squadron to Korea.
It is recommended you state, if the question is raised, that there is no legislative authority at the present time which would permit the United States to extend military assistance to South Africa on a grant basis.
It is suggested that you explain to Mr. Erasmus the changes made in the provisions of the MDA Act relating to eligibility for procurement assistance. It is further recommended that you state that this Government would be prepared, upon receipt of a formal request from the South African Government, to make a determination as to the eligibility of South Africa, in terms of the revised Act, for military assistance on a reimbursable basis.
It is recommended that in your discussions with Mr. Erasmus you stress the fact that supplies of military equipment now and in the immediate future will be insufficient to meet requirements, particularly in view of the Korean war and the needs of Western Europe.
  1. A marginal notation on the source text indicates that this memorandum was sent to New York on October 2. Secretary of State Acheson was in New York where he was serving as the head of the U.S. Delegation to the Fifth Session of the U.N. General Assembly which opened on September 19.
  2. For the record of the Secretary of State’s meeting with Defense Minister Erasmus in New York on October 4, see p. 1837. For the record of Erasmus meeting with Secretary of Defense George C. Marshall (who succeeded Louis Johnson on September 21), see Gen. Lemnitzer’s memorandum of conversation, October 5, p. 1839.
  3. Regarding the instructions of October 2 to Ambassador Erhardt on the matter of uranium procurement, see the editorial note, p. 1842.