34. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • UK Arms for South Africa


  • Guy E. Millard, Minister, British Embassy
  • C. Robert Moore, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs
  • Edward J. Alexander, Staff Assistant

Mr. Millard stated that he had been instructed to inform the Department of the new Government’s decision with respect to arms for South Africa. Knowing that this decision could create problems for the US and having in mind Secretary Rogers’ visit to London this weekend HMG wished to give us as much notice as possible.

Conservative spokesmen, Mr. Millard continued, had made clear before and during the recent British election campaign that a Conservative government would resume the sale of arms to South Africa. The decision it has now taken represents a “minimum” move in this direction. It provides that the UK will consider arms requests from South Africa for maritime defense related to the protection of sea lanes and in keeping with Simonstown Agreement of 1955. The latter, Mr. Millard said, requires the UK to provide South Africa with equipment needed for maritime defense. Public announcement of this new policy will be made in the next fortnight or so, but not before the Secretary’s visit.

Mr. Millard reiterated the reasoning behind the new Conservative policy and added that the Soviet naval presence in the Indian ocean and the threat of its increase if the Suez Canal were reopened were also factors in the decision. He said the policy decision was made in full cognizance of the interest of Commonwealth and African countries in the question. He added that Commonwealth Governments including African members, he assumed, and some other friendly governments were being informed of the decision.

Mr. Millard emphasized that the decision in no way diminished his Government’s opposition to apartheid and that there was no question of arms being supplied for the enforcement of apartheid. Whether the public announcement would reiterate this opposition he could not say.

[Page 102]

Noting that the US Government had recently reaffirmed its arms embargo on South Africa, Mr. Moore asked what items were embraced by the term “maritime defense”. The press, he added had made reference to frigates, reconnaissance aircraft and equipment for anti-submarine warfare as likely items. Mr. Millard replied that he had no specifics and doubted that the public announcement would contain any. The UK, he stressed, is not offering armament or equipment but is only stating its willingness to consider well-defined requests. He observed that when the UN voted its resolution on the South African arms embargo in 1963, the UK had made note of the right of South Africa to self-defense. The new position is more narrowly defined, the criterion being “maritime defense related to the protection of sea lanes.” It was in fact the minimum UK reaction under the circumstances.

Mr. Millard said his government would be interested in any USG reaction to the new UK decision. Mr. Moore said that the subject of arms for South Africa is on the agenda for the Secretary’s talks in London so it will undoubtedly be discussed there. However, he would be in touch with Mr. Millard if we had any earlier comments to make. He observed that certain African countries, particularly Zambia and Tanzania, would probably have strong feelings on this subject, but the British Government, he assumed, had taken their views into consideration.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, DEF 12 S AFR. Confidential. Drafted by Moore.