14. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • First Tripartite Talks on Africa


  • U.S.
    • Mr. Robert Murphy
    • Mr. Joseph Satterthwaite, AF
    • Major General D. V. Johnson
  • British
    • Sir Harold Caccia
    • Lord Hood
    • Admiral Sir Michael Denny
  • France
    • M. Louis Joxe
    • M. Hervé Alphand
    • General Gelée

At Mr. Murphy’s suggestion the meeting first discussed the question of informing other interested Governments about the talks.

It was agreed that every effort should be made to avoid publicity. If, but only if, there were press enquiries we should say that we were taking advantage of M. Joxe’s regular visits to Washington to hold [Page 46] routine consultations. If further pressed we would refer correspondents to the original communiqué announcing the inauguration of the tripartite talks.1 We would not identify Africa as the subject.

It was also agreed that we should consider at the end of the series of meetings what to tell NATO and other interested Governments.

Mr. Murphy opened with a general statement.2 He referred to the vital political, economic and strategic importance of Africa to the free world. The loss of North Africa to the Soviet control would outflank Europe and it was doubtful whether the free world would survive such a disaster. This area contained Algeria and many of the newly independent countries of Africa. So long as the area remained politically stable and Western-oriented and so long as its economy could be developed on sound lines the Soviet task would be much more difficult. He also referred to the strategic importance of the area, mentioning the French and British bases there and the United States’ own Strategic Air Force bases in Libya and Morocco. If we could secure the friendship and cooperation of the inhabitants of North Africa this would also have a favorable influence on the political position of the West in the Middle East and in Africa South of the Sahara. But, if existing tensions and disagreements became worse our whole position in Africa and the Middle East would correspondingly be threatened.

Africa South of the Sahara was of less immediate strategic importance but its vast resources could make a major contribution to the free world and its political alignment would have a definite bearing on the global balance of power. In fact, its influence was already felt in the United Nations where the Afro-Asian bloc often acted most irresponsibly. Ever-increasing pressure was building up from those forces which wished to disrupt the traditional links of Africa with the West.

There was also ever-increasing pressure for self-determination which unhappily sometimes led to violence. Self-determination had loomed large in all recent “Pan-African” conferences, e.g., at the African Peoples’ Conference in Accra. Although it could not be said that the whole of Africa had been represented at Accra, the Conference undoubtedly reflected articulate African opinion in the continent.3 This drive towards self-rule presented the free world with a challenge to accommodate themselves to it and to ensure a continuing fruitful association between Africa and the West.

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The Soviet Union is well aware of this and has already gained a foothold. For example, there was the Afro-Asian Peoples’ Solidarity Committee Secretariat in Cairo. This was a kind of African Cominform. The Soviet Union is also engaged in an orthodox diplomatic and economic offensive in Africa. The Soviets seek to establish relations with all independent states and have launched a program of economic and technical assistance. They had already concluded trade agreements with Ethiopia, Morocco and Guinea. They were paying particular attention to nationalism and “Pan-Africanism”. Against this background, the efforts of the Western Powers to help the new developed areas to find themselves assumed a crucial urgency. Some great and imaginative steps forward had already been taken for example in the French community, Nigeria and the Belgian Congo.

Change was inevitable and it was essential that it should take place in an orderly manner and in the closest cooperation with the Western powers. Europe and Africa were complementary, and the closest ties must be preserved after the colonial period had passed. Above all, the United States wished to avoid African nationalism turning into a massive anti-European movement which the Communists could exploit. The Africans were on the whole immature and unsophisticated and were subject to many pressures—Communist, Pan-African, Islamic—all of which made it difficult for those African leaders who were Western-minded to keep their followers on the right path. In the long run the native Africans would take their decisions in the light of what they considered to be their own best interests and the prospect of achieving equality with the white race. The United States policy was to assist the native African race to attain their goals without attempting to attach political or military strings to their assistance. Western policies should be designed to convince the African that we want to help him without involving him in the East-West power struggle. The U.S. regards the European Powers as best equipped for the leading role, and is concentrating primarily on economic and technical assistance plus a modest amount of military assistance. We are most anxious to work in the closest cooperation with the former administering powers of the newly independent areas. As regards self-determination we support the process of orderly evolution. We do not wish to supplant the metropolitan powers and we do not approve of the headlong rush to independence. But this did not mean that we would necessarily refuse support or assistance to a newly independent territory especially when direct United States’ interests were involved. We would like the metropolitan powers to play the primary role in those territories for which they had previously been responsible. This was unfortunately not always possible, and the U.S. is sometimes forced to play a larger part than it would wish to.

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Mr. Murphy concluded with a reference to the importance of aid for Africa both bilateral and multilateral and said that he would explain United States policies in more detail at a later meeting. Service representatives would continue to attend the meetings when required. He hoped the exchanges would be free and frank.

M. Joxe then made a general statement. The tripartite talks had two main advantages. First they provided a forum for the exchange of information. In many cases the detailed exchanges could be left to the experts. Secondly, the talks provided a forum in which to define, insofar as possible, a joint political and strategic policy. Africa was of vital importance to France.

In the world-wide political and strategic contest, Africa was both a prize and a battlefield. We were not yet faced with a clear-cut plan of action on the part of the Russians and their allies but there were phenomena which must be studied now. The value of Africa as a prize was clear. If the Communists occupied or infiltrated into too many countries we would lose the Battle of the Atlantic, Europe would be in danger, our communications in the Far East would be cut, and we should lose a tremendous source of raw materials.

Africa was also a battlefield. We had all seen the recent NATO report on Soviet penetration into Africa and he did not propose to discuss the subject in detail.4 But there was no doubt that the drive for independence in Africa posed very dangerous problems. In 1950 there had been four independent countries in Africa. Soon there would be 11. The French authorities were in the throes of a revolution precipitated by the French Government itself. There was a continuing nationalist pressure attended by “phenomena” perhaps inevitable, which could easily mean that we were going to have serious trouble with the Communists. If Liberia was well-established and the transition in Nigeria was proving orderly, there were other countries where the omens were less favorable. Nkrumah’s nationalist and Pan-African propaganda seemed to be aiming at Nigeria and Togoland. Even if Nkrumah could be contained, Guinea posed a formidable problem. Guinea had rushed headlong into independence. Politically, economically and intellectually it afforded a classic example of a country emerging from colonialism into an acute crisis of institutional growth. All the symptoms were there of a State which, if not actually Communist, was drifting towards Communism. There is, first, the trend towards [Page 49] authoritarianism. The African revolution contained a natural element of susceptibility to authoritarian regimes: democracy cannot be created overnight. Second, there is the tendency to internecine struggle between members of the ruling elite, once independence was won. Third, there is the concept of the “monolithic” state, of which Guinea afforded a crude example and Tunisia a subtle one. Fourth, there is the economic and social transformation which overtook these countries. Their idea invariably was to pass as rapidly as possible from an agricultural to an industrial economy. To this end they must appeal for foreign capital and technical assistance and they tended to turn to countries other than their “parent” for this. Equally they had a strong tendency to break what they regarded as monopolistic trade links with the former administering power. This made them vulnerable to the offers which the Russians, with the advantages of totalitarianism, were able to make while the Western Powers were still discussing among themselves.

The youth of Africa was easily tempted by “simple” ideologies. The vocabulary of African youth was becoming increasingly “Neo-Marxist” throughout Africa. He himself had recently been struck by this in Morocco. The vocabulary was not yet Commmunist but it contained Marxist injection. A study of the press and radio suggested that this vocabulary started in the Soviet Union and was relayed through Cairo and through the Indian Communist Party. In many areas, and especially in the Maghreb and in new countries such as Guinea, China was a subject of great interest at present.

The Communists and their associates were exploiting the atmosphere of Sturm und Drang throughout the Continent, as they were exploiting the economic and social aspirations of the Africans, the neutralist urge and the wish for independence.

Until 1953 the Russians did not appear to have attached more than a secondary importance to Africa, but even then Khrushchev had been conscious of the potential importance of “young countries”. And in 1958 Khrushchev had publicly given an importance to Africa which we could not afford to ignore. All sorts of “African” institutions were now springing up in the Soviet Union and elsewhere in the Communist bloc. And during the Youth Festival in Moscow5 particular attention had been paid to the Africans, both those who came from the continent and those who attended from European universities.

The African need for economic aid presented the Communists with a growing opportunity. In competing with the Communists in this field Western powers were handicapped by their “liberal” economic policies. Egyptian and Sudanese cotton was a case in point and now there was Guinea.

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Then there was the problem of Communist arms deliveries, first in the Middle East and now in West Africa, not to mention the smuggling of arms into Algeria, which was really a separate problem. Guinea had accepted massive gifts of arms from the Czechs. This is sinister because Guinea would need “instructors” in the use of these new arms. Morocco was another case in point. But the technique of subversion was not yet fully developed: it was still in the stage of exploration and exploitation.

For France, Africa was Europe in the sense that the defense of one was the defense of the other and that if we allowed this exploitation to continue Europe might ultimately have its flank turned and go under. NATO was perfectly and militarily effective insofar as it went. But it was limited and it was essential that we should seek to arrive at a common military, political and economic doctrine for Africa.

At M. Joxe’s request, General Gelée (the French Representative on the Standing Group) then read a prepared statement of the French strategic interests in Africa. This is attached.6

Sir Harold Caccia said that he was in general agreement with the views expressed by Mr. Murphy and M. Joxe but the Communist threat was global, and in a sense it was pointless to speculate whether one area was more important than another. The real point was how were we to stop Russian expansion. He thought we were all agreed on this. The NATO paper on Soviet penetration, to which M. Joxe had referred, was an excellent document with which the U.K. is broadly in agreement. [4 lines of source text not declassified] Sir Harold Caccia then suggested we should be careful in the tripartite talks not to cut across other consultations. This might lead to confusion. Africa was being discussed constantly in many forums. In addition to NATO, for example, it had been discussed by Mr. Macmillan and M. Debré during the latter’s recent visit to London. Sir Harold Caccia then gave a short account of this discussion.7 The UK is in favor of the coordination of African policies but when it came to coordination one had to take account of what other organizations and countries were involved. In addition to NATO there is the United Nations; there are the other powers with Colonial responsibilities in Africa, such as the Portuguese and Belgians; and in the field of aid there are the other possible donor countries. We would not be successful in coordinating unless we were able to carry our allies and friends with us.

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Sir Harold Caccia suggested that before the meeting closed it should discuss its future program of work and what could be done in the tripartite forum to carry the work forward without risk of duplication. He added that Admiral Denny would be explaining the United Kingdom’s strategic interests in Africa at a subsequent meeting.8

M. Alphand repeated the French thesis that tripartite discussions should not cause complications elsewhere. On the contrary he argued, prior tripartite agreement in advance should facilitate general agreement later. As regards a program of work he suggested that there should first be a general discussion followed by a discussion of individual topics of interest, including strategy.

M. Joxe endorsed M. Alphand’s view and suggested that each participant should first expound on their particular problems and responsibilities in Africa. For his part he proposed to speak on:

The Sahara
The French Community

Mr. Murphy said that this should prove most helpful to the United States as we are comparatively new in the field and do not have the same historic responsibilities in the area as the United Kingdom and France though our objectives were the same. He would welcome an expose of French views and policies, especially on Algeria. This might make it easier for us to gear our policies more closely to those of the French. Quite frankly this had not always proved easy in the past as we have not always been clear as to what the French policy was.

Sir Harold Caccia agreed and suggested that the problem of education was one of the individual topics which might be considered later in addition to strategy. For example, it seemed important to clear our minds on whether our efforts should concentrate on education abroad or education on the spot. The economic problems of Africa should also be examined. There was already a multiplicity of organizations and it was doubtful whether more were needed. The real problem was whether the available resources were adequate to the task.

M. Alphand suggested that examination of economic problems in detail should be done by experts.9

Sir Harold Caccia suggested that the experts should also examine the NATO paper on Soviet penetration to consider whether there were any significant points in it on which any of us were likely to disagree.

  1. Source: Department of State, Secretary’s Memoranda of Conversation: Lot 64 D 199. Secret. Drafted by L. Dean Brown.
  2. See Document 13.
  3. Satterthwaite transmitted a talking paper to Murphy containing remarks prepared for his use in opening the proceedings. (Department of State, AF/AFI Files: Lot 62 D 406, Tripartite)
  4. This non-governmental assembly was attended by political and trade union leaders from 28 African countries and overseas observers.
  5. Reference is to a Report by the Committee on Africa dated March 20, 1959, entitled “Communist Penetration in Africa.” (NATO doc. C–M(59)32; enclosure to a memorandum from Nes to Satterthwaite, May 19; Department of State, Central Files, 770.001/5–1959) [2 lines of text not declassified] The U.S. position had been to favor NAC consideration of the subject, but to resist any effort “to work toward any “joint policy” approach.” [1 line of text not declassified] (Paper prepared in the Department of State for the NATO Ministerial Meeting, December 16–18, 1958; ibid., Conference Files: Lot 64 D 560, Tab S)
  6. Held July 29–August 12, 1957.
  7. Not printed.
  8. Telegram 5385 from London, April 16, reported appraisal of the talks given the Embassy by the Head of the African Department at the British Foreign Office, John Hugh Adam Watson. (Department of State, Central Files, 770.00/4–1659) The British Embassy in Washington also gave the Department an account of the talks on April 15. (Ibid., 770.00/4–1559)
  9. He did so at the fourth session.
  10. Agreement was reached to establish experts groups to study Guinea, Western arms deliveries to Morocco and Tunisia, and economic assistance to Africa. (Telegram 4052 to Paris, April 25; Department of State, Central Files, 770.00/4-2359)