411. Memorandum of Meeting1


Chairman’s Summary of Discussion and Decisions at the 47th SIG Meeting on December 3, 1968


  • The Under Secretary of State, Chairman
  • The Deputy Secretary of Defense
  • General McPherson for the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff
  • Admiral Taylor for the Director, Central Intelligence Agency
  • Mr. Poats for the Administrator, Agency for International Development
  • Mr. Akers for the Director, United States Information Agency
  • Mr. Saunders for the Special Assistant to the President
  • Mr. Hirschtritt for the Under Secretary of Treasury
  • The Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs
  • The Deputy Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs
  • SIG Staff Director
  • DOD—Mr. Lang
  • DOD—General Doyle
  • Commerce—Mr. McQuade
  • State—Mr. Owen
  • State—Mr. Palmer
  • State—Mr. Sisco
  • State—Mr. Witman
  • State—Mr. Ruser

A. Objectives

The Chairman commended Mr. Witman and the agencies participating in the preparation of the paper.2 We had a much better understanding of the nature of our problem in South Africa as a result of this work.

Mr. Katzenbach said his purpose at this meeting was to seek agreement on a common definition of the problem. He did not propose to approve the paper at this time. Agencies had been requested for final clearance in accordance with NPP procedure. If agencies had further difficulty, he assumed they would reflect these in their final written comments.

Mr. Katzenbach said he would like to leave open whether the SIG should submit a formal comment on the NPP to Secretary Rusk. This could be examined further in light of the written comments by the various agencies.

B. Mr. Owen’s Remarks

Mr. Owen introduced the paper.

The issue, Mr. Owen said, was what official posture we should take toward South Africa in light of our inability to exert meaningful influence on events.

The authors had looked at three possibilities, each of which had its advocates:

  • —Greater pressure on South Africa and Portugal;
  • —A policy of closer relations; and,
  • —The present course combining moderate pressure and a posture of official aloofness.

The authors had concluded that we could not hope to moderate South Africa’s racial policies by either greater pressures or closer, more friendly, relations; but that either course would be costly to our interests. The recommended course was essentially a damage-limiting strategy as between unsatisfactory alternatives.

Mr. Owen underlined that, with minor variations, the recommended course of action continued present policy: [Page 706]

  • —For South Africa and the Portuguese territories, the paper essentially maintained our present policy;
  • —For Rhodesia, with one exception, the paper proposed that we follow the lead of the United Kingdom;
  • —For the black African states in the area, the recommendation was for increased United States support, including bilateral aid relations.

C. Mr. Witman’s Presentation

Mr. Witman said that a key issue was the prospect for peaceful change.

On this point, the paper said that there was no way of reliably predicting the course of events. We should remain as flexible as possible to deal with circumstances.

The paper discerned elements both of peaceful evolution and of growing tension in South Africa. On the one hand, rapid economic growth was producing rising African living standards, increasing urbanization and association with the modern sector. On the other hand, there was rising dissatisfaction in the African community with the status quo, and an accelerated hardening of white racial attitudes. It was impossible to say conclusively at this time which of these tendencies would win out. One could say, however, that widespread violence ultimately was likely, even probable.

The paper had discarded the two extremes as too costly to United States interests. The problem was how to chart a middle course.

For this, the paper was proposing six basic criteria:

  • —Strong opposition to South Africa’s racial policies;
  • —Insistence on fully non-discriminatory treatment of United States official personnel;
  • —Low visibility of United States official relations with, and activities in, white-controlled areas (to ensure that our activities would not be misinterpreted in black Africa);
  • —Disapproval of violence by either side as a means of either effecting change or maintaining the status quo (while recognizing that violence might break out at any time);
  • —An effort to build up the African states in the area to help them acquire a measure of independence from South Africa, but without creating obstacles to constructive relations between these states and the white-controlled countries;
  • —An effort to minimize costs to our tangible interests.

Mr. Witman said the principal policy innovations proposed in the paper could be summarized:

  • —Increased emphasis on the African states in the area;
  • —Limitation of United States naval activities at South African ports to austere routine calls—provided United States personnel was not subject to discrimination;
  • —Political review of short- and medium-term Ex-Im guarantee applications for South Africa;
  • —An interdepartmental study of South Africa’s sugar quota;
  • —Disassociation of the United States from activities in the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration (ICEM) aimed at promoting European immigration to South Africa;
  • —Further support of United Nations responsibility for Southwest Africa;
  • —Recognition of the possible need for the United States to disassociate itself from a United Kingdom-Rhodesia settlement;
  • —Denial of direct Ex-Im financing for United States participation in large infrastructure projects sponsored by the Portuguese colonial authorities;
  • —Some tightening of our arms supply policy with respect to the Portuguese territories;
  • —Priority, in the allocation of USIA resources, to the independent black African states.

Mr. Witman said that preparation of the paper had been an interagency effort and that he had tried to take into account as fully as possible the interests and points of view of the other agencies.

The paper had the strong and unanimous endorsement of all our ambassadors in the area. While some would have preferred somewhat different recommendations, they recognized that the paper had to reconcile conflicting policy views and interests.

D. Discussion

The Chairman said that our problem in South Africa was the classical one of a choice between several undesirable alternatives. The proposed policy was not a very satisfactory one in terms of any single United States interest. But there were two points to make in its favor:

  • —The alternatives offered no major gains but each involved major costs;
  • —Even a minor modification of the present policy would be interpreted as a signal of a major change in policy and have consequences going well beyond the intrinsic technical significance of the change itself.

Costs of Present Policy

Mr. Nitze wondered whether the proposed course was giving sufficient attention to our “hard” interests. The present policy, it seemed, had to be justified by our interests outside the region, viz.:

  • —United States domestic considerations;
  • —Our problem in the United Nations; and,
  • —The effect of a change in policy on our interests in black Africa and, more generally, the non-white countries.

Nevertheless, it was not very clear what precisely the United States was “buying” by continuing its present policy.

Also, it seemed to him the paper lacked clarity with respect to our objectives. Essentially, these were of two kinds: [Page 708]

  • —A “declaratory policy” on human rights (including our posture in the United Nations); and,
  • —Our tangible “action” interests in the area itself.

For example, the objective of majority rule was declaratory. Conversely, our “hard” interests were very precise and well defined. We were paying a direct and immediate cost for our declaratory objectives without a reasonable hope of actually promoting them through the policy.

Mr. Nitze noted that increased Soviet naval activity in the South Atlantic and Indian Ocean area had increased the importance of South African port facilities. Our present policy ignored this development.

Some Questions About Costs

A discussion followed about our tangible interests. Points made included:

  • —Over the long run, the future of black Africa was better than that of the white-controlled areas;
  • —The prospect of eventual widespread violence called into question the wisdom of a policy of closer economic and political relations with the white-controlled areas, whatever might be its merits in the short run;
  • —The confrontation between white and black in Southern Africa presented the Communist countries with excellent political opportunities at minimal risk and low cost—through support of the African cause, including financing of insurgents and assistance to the black-controlled countries (e.g., Tam-Zam railroad project);
  • —It was questionable how much significance we should attach to the Soviet naval activities in the South Atlantic/Indian Ocean area. Soviet capabilities for naval operations in the area remained extremely limited;
  • —Pressures from black Africa for a harder United States line were increasing. There was danger that the situation in the United Nations would get out of hand and that we would have to apply our veto on one or two United Nations resolutions.

Comparison of French and United States Position

Mr. Bohlen wondered about French success in maintaining a quite different policy. For example, the French were not complying with the United Nations resolution on the critical matter of arms supply. Our policy should take into account that South Africa was a long-term problem. Nothing we were able and willing to do would satisfy the black Africans. We might be better off making the minimal terms of our position explicit. In effect, our present policy was inviting black Africa to apply pressure for a harder United States policy. This pressure would not cease until we firmly said what we were prepared to do and what not.

Mr. Palmer said that we, in fact, were on record with the minimal terms of our position. These were: [Page 709]

  • —No sanctions against South Africa;
  • —Disapproval of violence as a means to bring about change;
  • —Continued membership by South Africa and Portugal in the United Nations and other international organizations.

We should also recognize:

  • —DeGaulle was paying a high price in economic assistance to black African countries. We had no way of matching the French effort under present funding limitations;
  • —On the other hand, the French presence in Africa was dwindling rapidly; it would be substantially smaller in three to five years.

Our problem, therefore, was quite a different one from the French. Our long-term position in black Africa was an important element to consider.

Mr. Owen agreed that the paper did set forth a clear set of criteria. In essence, the paper said:

Have dealings with the white-controlled regimes to the extent you can without becoming an accomplice.

Mr. Bohlen cited language in the paper requiring us to exert pressures for “majority rule.” Mr. Owen said his point referred to the specific recommendations in the paper rather than the rhetoric.

Mr. Bohlen reverted to his point: Since there was no possibility of exerting meaningful influence, the only course was to establish a position of firmness—even intransigence. Under the present policy, the United States was giving up its right to deal with its interests realistically.

Mr. Palmer responded that our policy in Africa could not ignore our own position, which was quite different from that of the French. Our position was different in the United Nations. And black Africa looked to the United States with different expectations.

The Possibilities of Influence

Mr. Eugene Rostow said that he had considerable reservations about our course in Africa—which was, in essence, a policy of withdrawal. His own view was that:

  • —We should be much more active in providing assistance to the black African states;
  • —We should clearly oppose the black liberation movements;
  • —We should build up and use our influence in South Africa affirmatively and constructively.

Admittedly, there was no quick solution. But, cumulatively and over the long term, we should not discount our influence. Conversely, a policy of total abstention did not help matters.

Mr. Rostow noted that he had urged confidential talks with the SAG about Southwest Africa since the spring of 1967. Such discussions were [Page 710] possible and, as the record showed, could be useful. For example, we had been dealing with South Africa on gold policy. But, quite clearly, it was very difficult for South Africa to engage in meaningful talks with us under the present policy. As the South African Finance Minister had put it, for South Africa to talk to the United States was “like talking to God.”

As for the Southwest Africa problem, Mr. Rostow said, he believed we should work toward a formula under which South Africa would acknowledge the residual rights of the United Nations in exchange for continued administrative and supervisory responsibilities of the territory.

In sum, in formulating our policy toward this area, we had to consider all the lessons of the Holmes Report, the strategic importance of the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea, and our strategic interests in the Horn of Africa. We should use more aid more effectively in black Africa and we should move in on both sides of the problem—both with the black and the white-controlled states of the area.

Mr. Owen, in his response, noted that the report:

  • —urges higher aid levels;
  • —condemns violence by the African liberation movements;
  • —proposes a more active United States role in discussion with South Africa on its racial policies.

In one sense, therefore, there was no disagreement. But the paper contained a different estimate of the likelihood that the United States could bring about meaningful change in South Africa’s domestic policies even through an active and intense dialogue. It was not plausible that a country like South Africa would be persuaded to change its domestic policies in response to external representations.

Mr. Katzenbach said he thought the possibility of a reversal in South Africa’s racial attitudes quite remote. These attitudes were, ultimately, grounded in fear—the quite understandable fears of the white minority.

On balance, while not hopeful, he saw a marginally better prospect of resolution of the problem of the Portuguese territories.

Cumulative Effect of Decisions

The Chairman then commented on the cumulative effect of decisions.

He was sympathetic to the technical arguments for liberalization of our trade and investment rules. It was necessary to remember that reasons for a particular decision often seem persuasive. The cumulative effect of these decisions, however, may be a policy which is very costly. This consideration was pertinent to the South Africa problem. In his view, this was perhaps the strongest argument for leaving things as they are.

[Page 711]

Economic Policy Guidance

A discussion ensued on whether it was possible to change our economic policy without conveying a political signal.

Mr. Hirschtritt said the Treasury position was that we should keep the same course but try to pay a lower price in terms of our “tangible” interests. In Treasury’s view, the proposed policy was overly subtle. For example, for the Portuguese territories, Ex-Im would be allowed to make long term guarantees but not long term credits. For South Africa, the policy would allow short- and medium-term Ex-Im guarantees but not direct Ex-Im loans.

Mr. McQuade said the changes in Ex-Im lending policy which Commerce was advocating could be explained as minor technical revisions without political significance. For example, there was little difference between five-year guarantees and five-year loans. A change in policy that allowed direct loan financing of exports to South Africa (for up to five years) would be hardly noticed.

In this connection, Mr. McQuade noted that United States exports to South Africa would be some $70 million higher if we had maintained our share of the South African market.

Mr. Sisco said that black Africa’s attention in fact was beginning to focus more and more on commercial relations. He thought that commercial policy would become an increasingly difficult subject.

Mr. Katzenbach said he did not disagree with the rationale for eliminating the distinction between guarantees and loans. He did feel, however, that such a change would be interpreted as politically significant in both black and white-controlled Africa. His question was: Was such a change worth making for what was involved.

He recalled that the routine visit of an aircraft carrier in 1967 developed into a major international incident.

The Treasury and Commerce representatives suggested that there were a great many possibilities of making a change less conspicuous. For example, a change could be made as part of a series of other technical changes.

In response to this view, the Chairman said:

If the change did not become known, it would be ineffective; i.e., United States business would not avail itself of the opportunities.
If it became known and the Government tried to explain it away, the result would be a credibility gap.
There was a good possibility that the Executive Branch could not hold to such a change in policy; to reverse the decision not only would damage the Administration’s position at home and abroad but also aggravate our relations with the white-controlled countries.
A reversal would stimulate further pressure by the black African countries for new and harder measures.
Even if the first adjustment, because small and innocuous, could be carried out successfully, each succeeding adjustment to improve our competitive position in the South African market would be more difficult.

Mr. Katzenbach felt that even if the loss were double or triple the amount suggested by the Commerce representative, he did not feel that it would be worth incurring the political costs of such a change in our economic policy.

Mr. Sisco said that in his view any change in our policy would only stimulate those forces which want us to terminate all economic relations with the white-controlled countries.

United States Domestic Considerations

Mr. Palmer and Mr. Witman reported that academic circles and students seemed to be widely in favor of a considerably harder policy. Mr. Owen said that in his contacts, on the other hand, he had encountered misgivings about the present policy and a disposition toward closer relations with South Africa.

Mr. Katzenbach said that the new Administration would find it difficult to make any change in our relations with South Africa. Any action by the new Administration would be interpreted as a signal that the new Administration was planning to move towards a different policy.

E. Disposition and Follow-up

Mr. Owen noted that other agencies were being requested to give their final concurrence on the paper by December 12, in accordance with the interdepartmentally agreed NPP procedure.

Mr. Katzenbach suggested that additionally—without interfering with the NPP process—we should commence an effort to determine precisely the tangible costs of our present policy and, conversely, the likely costs of any change in policy (e.g., the loss in United States exports sustained under the present Ex-Im policy; the effects on United States investment both in the ten countries of the region and in other black African countries; the incremental costs of United States naval operations resulting from the non-availability of South African port facilities).

A.A. Hartman
Staff Director
  1. Source: Department of State, S/S Files: Lot 70 D 263, SIG/RA: #49—12/9/68—Chairman’s Summary of Discussion and Decisions at 47th Meeting, 12/3/68. Secret. Prepared by Arthur A. Hartman.
  2. Reference is presumably to Document 409.