122. Memorandum From the Under Secretary of State for Economic Affairs (Ball) to President Kennedy 1


  • US Policy Toward the Congo-Katanga Problem

We have been carefully rethinking the policy which the US should pursue with regard to the Congo. Our analysis and conclusions are as follows:

1. A UN Capitulation, Giving Katanga Independence or Effective Autonomy, Would Be a Serious Setback for US Policy.

A. Adoula cannot accept an independent Katanga.

Adoula’s government stands for reunification of the country. All Congolese leaders outside the Tshombe group are agreed on this policy. They feel it is a necessary precondition to the political and economic viability of the Congo.

Adoula recognizes the need for moderation. He would like to end Katangan secession with UN help and through negotiations. The Gizengists, who call themselves the nationalists, have sought to pre-empt the popular position of being the champions of national unity. As extremists they would prefer to crush the Katanga in a civil war.

If the UN fails to end the Katanga secession, it will mean the failure of Adoula’s policy of moderation. In order to survive, he will be forced to precipitate a civil war.

B. In the long run an independent Katanga cannot maintain itself as an effective political unit.

It can perhaps maintain itself for a while but only as a kind of enclave of colonialism, dominated and financed by white elements and particularly by big Belgian banking and mining interests.

Nor can the Congo remain non-Communist unless Katanga becomes again an integrated part. In the short run the necessities of a civil war with Gizenga would force out the moderate elements and provide the opportunity for Soviet and other Bloc interference leading to an effective Gizenga takeover. In the longer run a Congo deprived of the economic resources of Katanga would be doomed to permanent poverty.

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C. UN capitulation would shatter Afro-Asian faith in the UN.

The Bloc is already adroitly exploiting the contention that the UN is not effective in dealing with white colonial interests, such as those which dominate Tshombe. It is using British, French and Belgian criticism of the UN Katangan venture as demonstrating the hypocritical nature of the Western position. With our support the UN can and must show that we mean what we say where colonial interests are involved.

2. If We Take the Necessary Measures There Is Strong Reason To Hope That Adoula and Tshombe Can Be Persuaded To Reach a Satisfactory Solution for the Integration of Katanga.

Before the September 13 fighting, progress was being made toward an AdoulaTshombe deal. Tshombe had acquiesced in the UN’s intensified drive, started August 28, to remove foreign military officers and political advisers. His deputies and senators were participating in the Léopoldville parliament meeting on a new constitution. Tshombe had several times appeared on the verge of meeting with Adoula for a practical discussion of their differences.

The failure of the inadequately prepared UN military move has set back the progress toward negotiations. We must now take prompt measures to restore and improve the conditions in which negotiation becomes not only possible but inevitable.

3. What Are the Conditions Essential To Bring About Negotiations Between Adoula and Tshombe?

A. Tshombe is the basic problem.

So long as he feels in control of the military situation in the Katanga, and so long as he remains under the effective direction of his Belgian backers and advisers, Tshombe will be unwilling to negotiate for anything but the partition of the Congo. Our policy must therefore be directed most immediately to destroying Tshombe’s assurance in his own military supremacy, and to removing, or at least greatly weakening, the influence of his Belgian advisers and the support he receives from foreign sources.

We must immediately build up UN fighting power to the point where Tshombe will realize he cannot win. Tshombe and his officers and advisers believe they have won a victory over UN forces. By concentrating substantial elements of military strength (including primarily air striking power and transport) in Léopoldville and elsewhere in the Congo outside Katanga, we can impress Tshombe with the futility of attempting to hold out militarily. If the UN makes a sufficient show of strength, it should not find it necessary to employ it.

At the same time we must strike at those essential elements of Tshombe’s strength which derive from foreign money and influence. [Page 236] While Tshombe’s policy has some popular support among his own Lunda tribe in the southern Katanga (the only area he controls), his essential strength is founded on the fact that his movement is organized, financed and exploited by the white population and Belgian mining interests which wish to maintain an essentially colonial control in the Katanga. In addition he has received significant support—material and diplomatic—from Rhodesian interests, and particularly from Sir Roy Welensky, the white supremacy Prime Minister of the Rhodesian Federation.

We can reduce these external sources of support by intensified diplomatic efforts. We must in particular make clear to the Belgian Government that peaceful reintegration of Katanga is in its own best interests, and we must seek to enlist Belgian Government support in persuading Tshombe to get rid of his white officers and advisers and to negotiate on a reasonable basis. Before the recent UN miscalculation, Belgian Prime Minister Lefevre and Foreign Minister Spaak had recognized the importance of disengaging Belgium from shortsighted colonial nostalgia in the Katanga as the only way to maintain Belgium’s long-range interests in the whole Congo.

Sir Roy Welensky has his own difficulties in the Rhodesian Federation and there is recent evidence that he is worried about our reaction to his activities there. We may therefore be able to deflect his interest from Katanga or at least moderate his support for Katanga separatism.

The British Government has always believed in the desirability of integrating Katanga in an independent Congo. British popular reaction to the recent UN military move was almost violently adverse. However, with the fighting stopped, the Macmillan Government should be able to free itself from the pressures of City and Conservative groups in the UK and the Rhodesias and join with us in trying to bring about a peaceful reunification of the Congo.

B. Adoula is basically prepared to negotiate.

Adoula favors a practical solution provided it does not mean a recognition of Katangan independence. Furthermore he is friendly to the United States, respects our judgment, and has depended on our support.

By marshaling an adequate show of UN military strength, we should be able to demonstrate to Adoula that he is receiving the support necessary to enable him to take a moderate line. This means that he should be prepared to offer Tshombe some measure of autonomy within the framework of a central government structure in which Katangan interests are adequately represented.

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4. The United States Should Not Try To Dictate the Terms of a Settlement.

In seeking to establish the conditions essential to a negotiation between Adoula and Tshombe, we must be careful to avoid any effort to dictate the precise form of a Congo-Katanga constitutional deal. What is wrong with the present constitution of the Congo is that it was written by white men and not negotiated among the Congolese themselves to reflect their own conception of their interests. Once we create the conditions for negotiation we must then rely upon the process of “Bantu palaver” to settle the constitutional details.

Almost all the Congolese leaders, including most of those who closely supported Gizenga, favor modifying the unitary form of government inherited from the Belgians. All wish to accord a considerable measure of local autonomy to the main tribal areas. Accordingly, a consensus which would include Tshombe has from the beginning been feasible.

Given the frame of mind now prevailing in both Congolese groupings, the US could not advocate any particular solution of the constitutional issue without antagonizing one or both sides and depriving us of the possibility of influencing them. The constructive approach would seem to be the pragmatic one: to bring about discussions between Congo and Katanga on specific questions, such as trade, revenue and expenditure sharing, currency, political cooperation, military cooperation and finally organizational questions.

5. The Extent of the Needed UN Military Commitment.

The recent UN intervention failed because it was inadequately prepared. The United Nations had at its command insufficient forces. It could not even deal with the single fighter plane which played a decisive role in immobilizing UN ground forces.

The basic assumption of this paper is that, if the UN with our help concentrates adequate elements of military strength in Léopoldville and in the Congo outside Katanga, it can make such a show of overwhelming strength as to persuade Tshombe without the need to employ that strength for anything other than brief local actions.

Although the evidence suggests otherwise, there is always the possibility that this assumption may be disproved. If this should occur we would face a new set of facts. We are not now recommending that the UN undertake protracted military operations in the Katanga. We can only decide what we should do when we are able to appraise the situation in the light of the facts that then appear. This includes not only the situation in the UN but the situation in Léopoldville.

Our inability to predict future developments precisely should not, however, keep us from doing what needs to be done now.

George W. Ball
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Congo. Secret. The Department of State copy of this memorandum indicates Ball was the drafter. (Department of State, Central Files, 770G.00/9–2361) A covering memorandum of the same date from Ball to the President states that this memorandum represented the Department of State view of the proper U.S. position in the Katanga crisis. For Ball’s recollection of the Congo problem, see The Past Has Another Pattern: Memoirs, pp. 222–259.