Memorandum of Conversation, by the Secretary of State

top secret

Subject: South African Defense Problem

Participants: Mr. Francois C. Erasmus, South African Defense. Minister
Mr. Douglas D. Forsyth, Secretary of South African
Department of External Affairs
Ambassador G. P. Jooste, South African Delegation1
The Hon. Dean Acheson, United States Delegation2
Mr. G. Hayden Raynor, United States Delegation3

I received South African Defense Minister Erasmus this morning4 at the request of the South African Ambassador. He was accompanied by the Ambassador and by the Secretary of the South African Ministry of External Affairs Forsyth.

The South African Defense Minister opened the conversation by expressing appreciation of my receiving him. I returned this amenity, and then expressed the warm appreciation of the United States Government for the South African action in sending combat air assistance for the united effort in Korea.

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Erasmus then said he would see Secretary of Defense Marshall tomorrow5 and go into certain problems in more detail but that he wished to inform me of recent developments in South African defense policy and to let me know in a general way of certain problems facing the Union in this regard. I said that I would be very glad to have this general information. He elaborated the general theme by stating that South Africa had made a decision to assist in resisting aggression by communism in any part of Africa, by which term the Middle East was also included. He did not define their concept of the latter term. He said South Africa now regarded an attack by communism anywhere in this area as an attack on South Africa.

He then said that they were planning how to implement this policy if the necessity arose. He had just been reviewing this with defense officials in the United Kingdom. He said he had told United Kingdom officials and also wished to tell us that the Union had decided to make available for service outside of the Union, in the event of this kind of emergency, one armored division and one combat air squadron. The problem then facing the Union was how to handle the financial burden of equipping the armored division which he said would be a very heavy one for a small state such as South Africa. He had discussed this in the UK and had been given assurance of assistance in procurement on a cash basis. They would also need procurement assistance here on certain items. He indicated that the Union would have the greatest difficulty in carrying out the program if they have to pay this heavy cost themselves.

I explained the revision in the Military Defense Assistance Act which has been made which, under certain circumstances, would permit us, if a determination was made that South Africa was eligible, to assist in procurement on a reimbursable basis. I stated, however, that we had no existing legislative authority which would permit us to extend this kind of assistance on a grant basis. I also took occasion to point out the heavy demands now pressing upon us from all sides for military equipment outlining the needs in Korea, the program for rearming the Atlantic Pact countries, assistance to Latin American countries, and finally for our own increased rearmament here at home. I also pointed out the heavy increased financial burden this was placing on our own people.

Mr. Forsyth interjected at this point that, in addition to the commitments outlined by Erasmus, South Africa was also undertaking the defense of the coasts of South Africa and also would undertake the protection of convoys farther north. This meant some increase in naval tonnage on their part.

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Mr. Erasmus then turned to another matter and said that the Union felt there should be consultations among the African states and the powers responsible for administering African territories on the subject of defense. He said specifically that the Union felt Egypt should either be included or consulted in some way on this matter. This was also raised in his visit to the United Kingdom. He said that when such a meeting was arranged, and they hoped to hold it shortly after the beginning of the next year somewhere in Africa, he hoped the United States would be able to have an observer attend the meeting. I replied that we would give consideration to this request. I indicated that we were greatly interested in the defense of Africa and that I had listened to the South African decision to play an active role therein with the greatest interest. On leaving, Ambassador Jooste said he would like to attempt to summarize in one sentence the point which his Government wants us to appreciate which is that they are prepared to undertake very serious responsibilities of importance with respect to the defense of Africa, but that they have very limited resources of their own with which to do this.

  1. Ambassador Jooste served as Vice Chairman of the South African Delegation, to the 5th Session of the United Nations General Assembly which opened on September 19.
  2. Secretary Acheson was head of the U.S. Delegation to the 5th Session of the United Nations General Assembly.
  3. Ray nor was United Nations Adviser in the Bureau of European Affairs of the Department of State.
  4. Evidence in the files of the Department of State indicates that this conversation, which was apparently held at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, took place on October 4.
  5. See Gen. Lemnitzer’s record of that conversation, infra.