31. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1


  • South West Africa (Namibia): Response to NSSM 89

Our earlier review of southern Africa touched briefly on South West Africa: NSDM 382 announced your decision that the issue be “downplayed” at the UN. The response to NSSM 89 (at Tab A) addresses the issue in more detail, in preparation for the forthcoming discussions in the UN.

The Problem

In 1966, by a resolution we supported, the UN General Assembly terminated South Africa’s League of Nations mandate for South West Africa, and declared the Territory to be under UN responsibility. In January, 1970, the Security Council created a subcommittee (of the whole) to study ways of implementing UN authority. This subcommittee is to report out recommendations by April 30, and these will be debated in the Council in May or June.

Ambassador Yost needs guidance on positions to take (1) in the drafting of the subcommittee’s recommendations, and (2) in the formal debate.

The Issue

The Africans will press for stronger measures, (e.g., mandatory sanctions), to assert UN responsibility for South West Africa. The US needs a posture which limits political damage while we essentially oppose this pressure. The response to NSSM 89 presents three alternative postures, which range from present policy (Option 1) to two levels of new operational steps dissociating us from South African policy in South West Africa and asserting UN responsibility (Options 2 and 3).

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  • —Our present policy (Option 1) recognizes UN responsibility. We abstained in 1967, however, when the General Assembly created a Council on South West Africa to “administer” it, because we considered the terms of reference (to promulgate laws, etc.) unrealistic. We restrict US diplomatic and attaché visits, port calls and overflights in the Territory. We neither encourage nor discourage US investment there; we allow trade. We do not withhold diplomatic assistance or Export-Import Bank credit guarantees. We support some UN and some private US humanitarian programs for South West African refugees, but have not recently contributed to the UN Education and Training Fund for these refugees.
  • Option 2 would (in addition to the above restrictions) limit US investment in South West Africa by verbally discouraging it, by terminating EXIM guarantees, and by withholding diplomatic assistance. It would encourage other countries to act similarly, and it would support referral of appropriate legal questions to the ICJ.
  • Option 3 would (in addition to the steps in Options 1 and 2) consider much stronger measures against US investment and take more conspicuous initiatives in the UN to strengthen the arms embargo and refugee programs, and to revise the mandate of the General Assembly’s Council on South West Africa (now the Council on Namibia).

    Our problem in the UN is tactical, but there is a basic issue of strategy: Do we gain anything with the Africans by making concessions?

  • —The argument for new measures is that South Africa’s occupation of the Territory is clearly illegal, and its extension of racial repression there is morally objectionable. Gestures of economic sacrifice would confirm our moral and legal stand against these policies and demonstrate our good faith to the Africans, who might then be more receptive to our counsels of moderation. Since we are prepared to veto any extreme proposals that may arise (e.g., mandatory sanctions), we have no reason to fear escalation of African pressures; demonstrations of our good faith will make it politically easier to veto if we have to.
  • —The argument against new steps is that there is no reliable bloc of African moderates, and the radicals are unappeasable. The Portuguese Territories, and apartheid in South Africa proper, will be raised in the UN very soon, too; US concessions on South West Africa will not dampen, and may even stimulate, pressures to do more on all these issues. Our sacrifices will gain us little or nothing; we may even be accused of hypocrisy if the sacrifices seem too modest.

Individual Agency Views

Agency views are at Tab B. Defense, JCS, OEP, Commerce, Treasury and USIA recommend sticking to present policy (Option 1); Defense and JCS believe that new measures will only raise African expectations [Page 93] that cannot be met and will stimulate pressures for sanctions; they see a firm stand as the best hope of dampening pressures. OEP and Treasury prefer present policy but do not object strongly to Option 2, provided it is made clear that the US opposes mandatory sanctions. Commerce believes that any restrictions we impose will simply allow other nations’investors to step in, and it fears setting a precedent which could lead to new restrictions against South Africa.

State recommends Option 2. It sees the economic sacrifice involved as slight, but believes these measures will demonstrate more clearly that US policy is not prejudiced by economic interests and will establish a more easily defensible posture from which to oppose extreme demands.

My own view is that we should have no illusions that limited measures will stop African pressures. Nevertheless, the steps in Option 2 involve only modest sacrifice but will strengthen our position in the (probable) event that we are forced to veto proposals for stronger measures. They would be tokens of our good faith. In the heated UN debate, remaining rigid would not successfully “downplay” the issue.

I suggest that you focus on the proposed new operational steps individually, rather than on the options. My specific recommendation accompanies each operational step.

Specific Operational Steps

Option 2 includes the first five steps:

Discourage US investment in South West Africa.
Deny EXIM credit guarantees for trade with South West Africa.

Deny diplomatic protection against claims of a future lawful government of South West Africa to US nationals who invest there on the basis of rights acquired since the 1966 General Assembly resolution.

The argument for these steps is that most agencies believe they will have only slight economic impact, since US investment is high-return and low-risk anyway, and EXIM facilities are hardly used. Any economic effect these steps did have would give substance to our moral and legal position. By limiting our stake there, they would keep us from becoming more “locked in” and would thus preserve our freedom of action in the future. The argument against them is that we could be accused of hypocrisy for taking ineffectual steps. (Commerce, on the other hand, sees significant new export possibilities emerging and urges that EXIM facilities not be foreclosed.) Any economic impact they did have would be a sacrifice for which we will not necessarily receive any political benefit. They might be taken as a precedent and stimulate pressures to do the same or more against South Africa and the Portuguese Territories (though the legal issues in South West Africa are unique).

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I recommend that you approve these steps. The economic sacrifice will not be great, and these will strengthen our position in the event we have to veto.

Approve 1–3 _____.3 Disapprove 1–3 _____. Approve only _____:_____ .


Encourage (but do not pressure) other countries to take actions similar to the above.

The argument for this is that if it succeeds, others will not capitalize on our self-denial; if it fails, it might deflect African pressures on to others. The argument against it is that others will probably not emulate us, and, even so, African pressures on us will probably not subside. This measure might antagonize our allies.

I recommend that you approve this step. Pressure on our allies is ruled out. There is no assurance that it will have any effect, but we are entitled to hope that others will not take advantage of our self-denial.

Approve 4 _____.4 Disapprove _____.


Support (but do not propose) referral to ICJ for advisory opinion on legality of certain aspects of South Africa’s administration of South West Africa.

The argument for this is that if others propose referral to the ICJ, the US has no basis for opposing it; the ICJ would probably only confirm the legal position the US has already taken. The argument against it is that an ICJ ruling condemning South Africa could not be given practical effect, but would accelerate pressures for sanctions.

I recommend that you approve this step. An ICJ ruling might well stimulate African pressures, but US opposition or abstention on the question of referral would raise doubts about our legal position.

Approve 5 _____.5 Disapprove 5 _____.

Option 3 includes the above five steps plus the five following:


Seek recommendation to General Assembly of revision of terms of reference of Council on Namibia or creation of new continuing body. Be willing to join if terms of reference are practical.

Some argue that this would allow us to take a constructive initiative. If successful, it might channel off African pressures and might improve our chances of guiding UN discussion and action. Others point out, however, that there is no guarantee of US influence over the new bargaining on the terms of reference, and there is no veto in the Assembly.

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I recommend that you disapprove this measure. There is too much risk of an undesirable result.

Approve _____. Disapprove _____.6


Contribute to a UN training fund for South West African refugees.

The argument for this is that it would cost little and would give substance to UN responsibility for the Territory. It would consist mainly of scholarship aid. (We used to contribute.) The argument against it is that Congress has specifically disapproved of funds for this in recent years. It could conceivably put the UN and USG in the position of educating the leaders of a liberation movement.

I recommend that you disapprove this measure. Even if Congress is amenable to persuasion, we could not revive this in time for it to be useful in the upcoming UN debates.

Approve _____. Disapprove _____.7

I recommend also that we continue present forms of US support for refugee assistance (private US, and other UN programs).

Continue present aid _____.8 Disapprove _____.


Support (but do not propose) a Security Council resolution calling on states and the Secretary General to report periodically on their application of the arms embargo against South Africa.

Some argue that this would dramatize the fact that we interpret the embargo strictly. It might deflect African pressures on to others (e.g., UK, France, Italy) who are less strict. On the other hand, this step would probably antagonize these allies on an occasion when cooperation among the Western powers is desirable. In any case, it would not significantly reduce African pressure on the US.

I recommend that you approve this measure with the following qualifications: The US need not oppose such a resolution if others propose it. We should vote for it only if our allies do not object; otherwise, we should abstain. In no case should we actively support such a resolution, or introduce it ourselves.

Approve 8 as is _____. Approve 8 with qualification _____.9 Disapprove 8 ______.

Support UN action by which members would end avoidance-of-double-taxation privilege for investors in South West Africa.

Support measures to divert corporate tax revenues generated in South West Africa to the UN.

Measures 9–10 are noted here for your information. These would have a significant economic “bite”. No agency favors them at this time; all agree that these require further study because of legal complexities. No Presidential decision is being asked for.

Review applicability to the Territory of US treaties with South Africa.
Consider suspension of South Africa’s sugar quota.

Measures 11–12 were suggested by State in its written submission of its views (at Tab B). They were not raised in the paper or considered by the Review Group. They, too, would require further study. You do not need to take a position on them now, and I recommend you not do so.

At Tab C is a draft NSDM embodying my own recommendations. Approve as is ______. Modify according to above decisions ______.10

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–043, Senior Review Group Meetings, Review Group South West Africa 4/10/70. Secret. Sent for action. Tab A is printed as Document 29, Tab D is printed as Document 24; and Tabs B, C, andE are attached but not printed.
  2. Document 23.
  3. Nixon initialed his approval.
  4. Nixon initialed his approval.
  5. Nixon initialed his approval.
  6. Nixon initialed his approval, crossed it out, and initialed his disapproval.
  7. Nixon initialed his approval, crossed it out, and initialed his disapproval.
  8. Nixon initialed this option.
  9. Nixon initialed “Approve 8 as is.” Kissinger initialed “Approve 8 with qualification” for Nixon. According to an April 16 covering memorandum from Lord to Kissinger, Nixon mistakenly initialed “Approve 8 as is.” Lord asked Kissinger to initial “Approve 8 with qualification.”
  10. Nixon initialed “Approve as is” but crossed it out. He circled “At Tab C is a draft NSDM embodying my own recommendations” and wrote “OK.” A stamped notation indicates that he did so on April 16.