311. Letter From the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern, South Asian, and African Affairs (Rountree) to the Ambassador in South Africa (Byroade)1

Dear Hank: I can well appreciate the interest expressed in your letter of November 15 in the Middle East situation.2 In both Ankara and Tehran, I recall my own difficulties in following a rapidly shifting negotiation when the center of discussion was elsewhere.3 As you know, there are a great many details in daily operations which are difficult to set down in communications. I have had all general “infotels” on the subject sent to you, in addition to the usual pouch material, and I hope this has given you the broad background.

We have been giving considerable thought to that part of your letter commenting on Bill Maddox’ thoughtful and provocative review of U.S. positions on the South African UN items. Our feeling is that our attitude in this particular matter really points—and cannot help but point—to our whole policy toward South Africa. As Bill very accurately put it, our present policy has among its objectives the persuasion of White South Africans to moderate their racial attitudes and policies. And certainly harsh UN resolutions condemnatory of South Africa only make this objective more difficult of attainment. Mr. Louw’s near withdrawal of South Africa from the UN is good evidence of the reaction which can be expected.

At the same time, we have to ask ourselves whether the White South Africans can modify their present racial views before the combination of world public opinion (including United States public opinion) and political forces in Africa produce a radical eruption in the Union and make it impossible for us to pursue our present course of patient persuasion. We are starting preparation of a new policy paper on South Africa, as suggested by Bill to the Inspectors last May, which will attempt to assess as accurately as possible the net value of the South African nation to the United States and the West. It will try to take a look at all possible courses of action, from supporting the Afrikaner point of view to adopting a critical attitude toward the Union.

So far as developments and forces within South Africa are concerned, I think we all agree with the statement Bill Maddox [Page 803] made in his letter of November 13 to Joe Palmer4 that “the present trend of events in South Africa, and particularly the policies and actions of the present government on racial and other controversial matters, are likely, if continued, to lead eventually to serious and possibly violent conflict in this country.” The possibility of persuading White South Africans to see and act upon this possibility in time is not one of the strongest, unfortunately, although there are a few tender spots here and there in that tough South African hide.

But, on the other hand, can anything else be done? Is it possible to start building bridges to the non-White peoples on the hypothesis that they are inevitably destined to assume, or at least to share, the leadership of the country? What response, recognizable in practical terms, would there be from them now or in the next few years, even from the Xumas5 and Morokas6 among them? We shy from jeopardizing the real friendliness of the South African Whites by impolitic approaches to the non-Whites, and yet we don’t want to lose the good will which non-Whites have at present for America.

I do not mean to imply that we are ready to shift from our present policy of trying to urge a modification of apartheid upon the White South Africans, which is just about the only feasible one at the moment, particularly since we need the cooperation of the South African Government on several well-understood counts. That the policy also has some hope of bearing fruit, however slight, makes it doubly attractive. But we will have to re-examine this approach periodically, in 1957 and 1958 and so on.

This thought quickly leads one to what attitude we might best take in the United Nations on the three South African items. It is at the United Nations, of course, that South Africa appears most clearly as a propaganda liability to the West. Even after South Africa’s near withdrawal from the United Nations on November 27, the Indian delegation stated that it had no intention of easing its position on the South African items. Thus it is likely that whatever the United States does, the votes will probably continue to go against South Africa. It is also true that South Africa will continue to watch our positions on these issues carefully and that its attitude to the United States will reflect, at least partially, its reactions.

To begin with, it has long been the Department’s policy to vote for inscription of almost any item on the United Nations agenda, so there has been little that could be done for South Africa on this [Page 804] count till now. At present, however, the Department is undertaking a general survey of recurrent United Nations agenda items to see what might be done about dropping or placing a moratorium on some of the less fruitful ones. It may be possible to include some South African questions in this group.

In our UN activities, we have reflected certain of our doubts about the legality of items such as the one on apartheid, because it is so largely a domestic affair, and this doubt has been shown in our opposition recently to the continuation of the Apartheid Commission. For this stand, we have had some informal expressions of appreciation from South African officials. Also, we have had the same reaction to our opposition on the Indian minority resolution to the so-called “mediator” and “guillotine” clauses. I think it would be inaccurate to say that our recent policy on these items has been tougher than formerly. In fact, our behind-the-scenes role at the United Nations has constantly been to urge moderation of the resolutions on the South African items.

Bill’s memorandum mentioned the South Africans’ disappointment over our having submitted a written brief to the ICJ on the question of hearing oral petitioners. Here again, we have a general Departmental policy. Briefs are normally submitted whenever solicited by the ICJ, on any subject. Similarly, the matter of our serving on the South West Africa Committee is dictated by the general policy that we never decline to serve if asked. But in this latter regard, we have been making motions to leave the Committee on the ground we have now served our stint.

Finally, the question of a compromise or a bargain with South Africa on these items is raised. The question is a different one now that South Africa will not actively participate in New York, but it seems to me that the proposal, though perhaps worth a try, would probably be unproductive anyway. Even if we were to vote against inscription of, say, the apartheid item on the ground of its being a domestic issue, the chances are only too good it would still be voted on the agenda by the growing Arab-Asian bloc. And the possibility of South Africa’s agreeing to submit reports on South West Africa to the United Nations, where they would be put under a very strong light, seems a debatable one.

It seems to me that there are considerations involved in the South African problem in terms of United States policy which are similar to those that have assumed such importance in the recent Middle East crisis. The President put the problem very concisely when he said in his address to the Nation October 31 that we cannot have one set of principles governing our attitudes toward those who would be our enemies and another set of principles for our friends. To quote the President directly, “There can be no peace [Page 805] without law. And there can be no law if we were to invoke one code of international conduct for those who oppose us and another for our friends.”7 It is deep in our national heritage that we believe that the South Africans are morally wrong in their present racial policies and we should be stepping out of character if we were to act otherwise.

To get South Africa to resume full participation in United Nations activities is a big job, and I confess it doesn’t look as though the United States alone can offer sufficient inducement.

As indicated earlier, the Bureau will be taking a more extensive look at South Africa during the coming year. Any further thoughts which you may have on these general problems will be most welcome.

Sincerely yours,

William M. Rountree8
  1. Source: Department of State, AF/AFE Files: Lot 64 D 358; United Nations-General—Union of South Africa. Confidential; Official-Informal. Drafted by William M. Johnson.
  2. See footnote 4, Supra.
  3. Rountree had been Counselor of the Embassy in Ankara, 1952–1953, and Minister-Counselor of the Embassy in Tehran, 1953–1955.
  4. Not found in Department of State files.
  5. Dr. A. B. Xuma was a physician and former President-General of the African National Congress.
  6. Dr. James S. Moroka was a surgeon who defeated Xuma in 1949, thereby succeeding him as President-General of the ANC, in which position he remained until 1952. Chief Albert J. Luthuli replaced Moroka.
  7. For text of this speech, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1956, pp. 1060–1066.
  8. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.