386. Letter From the Under Secretary of State (Bowles) to the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)0

Dear Mac: We are now facing a difficult situation in regard to the Republic of South Africa on which I would appreciate your assistance. As you know, the Republic’s apartheid policy has made it a primary target of the Asian and African bloc; indeed, of a large segment of opinion in the United States and Western Europe.

If we were free agents, our voting position in the United Nations on the Republic and our policies in regard to this government would be designed to encourage a change in the basic attitudes, and in the interval to express our strong disapproval.

However, a year ago we agreed with the Pentagon to negotiate for the establishment of the tracking station in South Africa for which an initial agreement runs out on December 31st; as a result we are under direct and indirect pressure to make concessions to this government which are bound to be costly to us in the United Nations and in our relations with the world generally.

At present, I can think of five points which bear upon this problem.


Naval maneuvers involving a few American warships with additional vessels from the South African and British navies, and with Portuguese observers, are scheduled for late October and early November. This is a continuation of maneuvers held in 1959 and 1960.

If it were not for the leverage provided to the South African government by the tracking station, I do not think we would consider participating in these maneuvers. Their military importance can be no more than marginal to us. However, for South Africa the advantage is very real in that this can be used to indicate that this Republic is an “ally” of the United States. The impact in the United Nations when reports of these maneuvers appear in late October should be carefully weighed.


South Africa is considering the purchase of $100 million worth of airplanes from a U.S. corporation. Although the transaction would be for dollars, it requires licenses from us.

If it were not for the tracking station, our reaction would certainly be negative in view of the fact that public opinion generally would assume that the primary use of these planes would be to suppress internal disorder.

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There is now a fair possibility that South Africa may decide to buy the planes in France so our present position is to stall.

South Africa has requested $75 million from the International Monetary Fund. Although we have no veto power over such a transaction, our position as a principal contributor is of great importance. We have agreed to the sum of $37.5 million because to refuse to do so would be to break all kinds of precedents. Once again, however, if it were not for the tracking station we would under no circumstances agree to the additional $37.5 million which in the eyes of the world will be connected with the purchase of the airplanes.
The Republic of South Africa is urgently calling on us for support for its membership on the United Nations Outer Space Committee. Although they do not have a chance of being elected even with all the influence we can bring to bear, it would be difficult for us under present circumstances to refuse to make this effort. Yet if we do so we will be taking one more step toward allying ourselves with what is perhaps the most unpopular nation outside the Communist world.
When Ambassador Satterthwaite went to Africa, we instructed him to invite black Africans to private and public receptions at his home. We did this knowing that such action would undoubtedly be subjected to criticism by the local government, criticism which we were fully prepared to meet, if necessary leaving our Embassy under the supervision of a Charge.

Ambassador Satterthwaite has had black Africans to his home privately. But because of our desire not to upset the government in view of pending negotiations for the tracking station, he has not invited black Africans to his public receptions.

If we are forced to take these actions, most of which will become known to the public in the midst of a highly explosive United Nations session in which the attitudes of the Asians and Africans will be of decisive importance, we will probably have to pay a heavy political price.

I have great sympathy with the Pentagon’s problem and I have no desire to make this situation more difficult. However, when the agreement was reached a year ago in an exchange of letters between State and Defense in August and September of 1960, it was agreed that “the (tracking) station would be removed if, due to later political developments in the African area, it should become a net disadvantage to United States interests.”

The Pentagon now apparently feels that the tracking station is of such great military importance that we have no alternative but to bargain out the situation as best we can.

Because of the basic importance of this question to our political position not only in the Republic of South Africa but in Africa as a whole, I would be grateful if Jerry Wiesner or some other outside authority in the [Page 605] scientific field could examine the possible alternatives and perhaps bring a fresh mind to bear on the problem.

If such a study accepts the view that this tracking station is of primary vital importance to our defense effort and if no other alternative is available, then I suppose we shall have to do the best we can.

I have discussed this matter with Ros Gilpatric, and he has agreed that we should hold up decisions on the question of maneuvers for a few days. He also agrees that it would be a good idea if Jerry Wiesner, or some other competent outside scientific authority, reviewed the entire matter of our tracking stations.1

This is a difficult situation with foreseeable political consequences, and I hate to see us take the final plunge without making every effort to try to find a way out of the dilemma.

With my warmest regards,


Chet Bowles
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Africa, Vol. II, General. Secret. No drafting information appears on the source text.
  2. See Document 389.