302. Memorandum of a Conversation, Department of State, Washington, November 10, 19551


  • Defense of Africa and Middle East


  • Mr. F.C. Erasmus, South African Defense Minister
  • General du Toit, Chief of Staff, South African Armed Forces
  • Mr. J.P. de Villiers, Secretary, South African Defense Department
  • Ambassador Holloway, South African Embassy
  • Mr. Anthony A.M. Hamilton, Counselor, South African Embassy
  • Mr. Elbrick, EUR
  • Mr. Miner, BNA

The South African Minister of Defense, Mr. F.C. Erasmus, called on Mr. Elbrick, November 10, by previous appointment. As this was his last official conversation during his current visit to the US, he thought it would be useful to review the subjects he had discussed [Page 780] with the Defense Department2 and with Asst. Secretary Allen.3 In these discussions he had put forward five principal points: 1) South African access to US radar information; 2) South African purchase of US military aircraft in the event of hostilities; 3) the convening of a Middle East-African defense conference; 4) the key position of Ethiopia; and 5) the possible establishment of a radar screen for South Africa.

The Defense Minister discussed each of these points in some detail. In discussing points 1 and 2, he followed the same line as in his conversation with Mr. Allen on November 9. Concerning Middle East-African defense, Mr. Erasmus particularly stressed that South Africa was an independent country and wished to be included at the outset in any planning that would involve use of South African forces in the event of war. He made clear, however, that South Africa did not wish at present to become a member of the Baghdad Pact.4 As in his conversation with Mr. Allen, the South African Defense Minister stressed his belief that the USSR had by-passed the Northern Tier by virtue of the Soviet Bloc’s armament arrangements with Egypt.5 South Africa felt, he said, that a Southern Tier defense system should be established. This consideration led him to his fourth point: the importance of Ethiopia. With Egypt, and possibly the Sudan and the Arabian Peninsula, open to Soviet penetration, South Africa believed that Ethiopia had become of great strategic importance in the defense of eastern and southern Africa. He had been encouraged by learning during his present visit of indications of increased US interest in Ethiopia, specifically in the development of an airline and a port. He hoped that the US would activate its right to construct and maintain bases in that country. His fifth point was related to this consideration. South Africa was most interested in developing a radar screen to provide early warning for southern and eastern Africa. The Defense Minister hoped that the [Page 781] US might establish an air base in Ethiopia and the accompanying radar facilities. These facilities, he further hoped, could be tied in with a general early warning system for the area.

Mr. Elbrick explained that no definite replies to any of Mr. Erasmus’ requests could be made at this time. The question of South African access to US radar information required study by various agencies of the US Government. He suggested that the most efficient and expeditious manner of dealing with this question would be for the South African Embassy to address a note to the Department containing the specific details of the South African request.6 As for a US commitment to make available in wartime aircraft for purchase by South Africa, the South African Minister must be aware that such commitment was most difficult to undertake in view of the great uncertainties as to the circumstances that might prevail at the time. The South Africans could be assured that if they had on hand a considerable reserve of skilled and trained pilots in the event of war, their requests for aircraft would receive every consideration. No determination could be made now, however, as to the allocation of priorities if war should come. The South Africans might wish, however, to send us a note containing the specific details of their request on this matter.

The Department well understood Mr. Erasmus’ argument that South Africa would wish to be consulted with regard to any Middle East defense plan involving the use of their forces in the event of war. As Mr. Allen had explained, the present was not a propitious occasion for any general Middle East defense conference. We would, of course, keep in mind the South Africans’ views on the matter. We also understood and would give consideration to the views Mr. Erasmus had expressed concerning Ethiopia. So far as Mr. Elbrick was aware, there were no present plans for the construction of US bases or radar installations in that country. Mr. Elbrick emphasized that the Soviet Bloc’s armaments arrangement with Egypt was indeed viewed seriously by the Department, but that we were not at all ready to concede that the Northern Tier had been by-passed.

Mr. Erasmus then brought forward a draft communiqué which he proposed to issue unilaterally upon his departure from Washington, November 13. He wished to know if we had any objections to it. Mr. Elbrick suggested some minor changes, stating that we appreciated the South African Minister’s courtesy in showing his statement to us prior to its publication.

[Page 782]

In departing, Mr. Erasmus expressed his appreciation for the friendly reception he had received in the United States.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 745A.5/11–1055. Secret. Drafted by Miner.
  2. The South African Government had originally sought U.S. approval for Erasmus to come to Washington between June 15 and 18. (Ibid., 033.45a11/4–2955) The visit was delayed until the period between November 6 and 16. In a memorandum to Elbrick dated November 10, Miner reported that the South African party had requested radar information and aircraft in their initial meeting with E. Perkins McGuire on November 8, after which they had a luncheon appointment with Secretary of Defense Wilson. (Ibid., AF/AFE Files: Lot 62 D 417, U.S.–S.A. Defense Relations)
  3. The memorandum of conversation by Miner, November 9, is not printed. (Ibid., Central Files, 745A.5/11–955)
  4. The Baghdad Pact was a treaty of mutual cooperation between Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom. It was agreed to by the initial signatories on February 24, 1955. The first meeting of the members was not until the following November. For text of the pact, see United Nations Treaty Series, vol. 233, p. 199.
  5. Egypt announced the arms agreement with Czechoslovakia on September 27, 1955.
  6. On January 17, 1956, the South African Ambassador presented a note (No. TS/AIR/3/1) addressed to the Secretary of State requesting a five-man team of experts to survey and offer advice in regard to the early-warning radar and air defense system. (Department of State, Central Files, 745a.5/1–1756)