384. Memorandum From Robert W. Komer of the National Security Council Staff to the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Harriman)1
I very much fear that we’re in the eye of the storm over the Congo. The present deceptive lull strikes me as most likely a buildup period, during which those aiding the rebels are preparing a major counter-offensive to retake Congo Orientale. Given the thin screen of mercenaries and peanut airforce which is all that’s really between the rebels and Stanleyville, the rebels could probably retake it with “volunteer” support.
Such a counter-thrust would present us with a cruel dilemma. We probably couldn’t stop it without a much larger Belgian/US or other military commitment than at present. Equally bad, it would split Africa, forcing us to put great pressure on the radical supporters of the rebels, unless we were willing to see the GDRC lose. So we would face either a major setback to our Congo policy (and our prestige as well) or greater involvement in the Congo with all the costs involved.
These alternatives are both so unpalatable as to justify an all-out effort to forestall a new Congo flareup by promoting some kind of political [Page 556] settlement. From our standpoint a political track, tricky as it might be, is infinitely preferable to a military one. Since we don’t want to get more entangled in the Congo, we want if possible an African political solution (which means the OAU), with the US disengaging to the extent feasible without sacrificing the GDRC. What are the key elements?
1. First, we want to erect as many political barriers as possible to rebel counterattack. At the moment the GDRC hold most key centers in the Northeast Congo. For this reason we saw a UNSC cease-fire resolution as putting the onus on the rebels if they started to attack again. Building on the SC resolution, and its 10 September 1964 OAU precursor, we must try to isolate the rebels and their supporters politically, and lay the ground-work for charges of violation and “aggression” against a rebel counterattack.
2. Second, we need to get some kind of conciliation or mediatory effort going, so that if the rebels attack again, they are undermining this. If we can get an OAU majority moving in this direction, it’s worth the risk.
3. Third, we want to reinforce the political legitimacy of the GDRC by getting it to improve its acceptability in Africa. This involves a whole series of action we’d like the GDRC to undertake—de-emphasis of South African mercenaries, broadening the cabinet, elections, etc.
Our problem on all three counts is the reluctance of Tshombe and Kasavubu to take actions which seem to them to show weakness. They also suspect that these moves mask a US/Belgian disengagement. We must first try to get their confidence and overcome these suspicions. If this fails, then pressures are essential, since without them we’ll be in the soup again.
Shouldn’t we develop a more systematic plan of action to carry out all these aims? I know that we’re doing many of them ad hoc already, but we need a more systematic and coordinated approach. Moreover, desirable as it is to hide behind the Africans, I doubt that they will be self-starters. We’ll have to cajole and prod them even at risk of showing our hand.
In sum, my real fear is that unless we can draw some political umbrella over the Congo soon, we’re either going to be sucked into another war, or have to retreat ignominiously. I realize that I’m only illuminating the problem, not offering concrete solutions. But I have a number of further suggestions on a political track, which I’ll come discuss with you.
- Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Congo, Vol. X, Memos & Miscellaneous, 12/64. Secret. A handwritten notation at the top of the memorandum reads: “Mac—I may be too Cassandra-like again but I’m worried. Trying to get Africans to move is like molding mush. RWK.”↩
- Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.↩