38. Telegram From the Department of State to All African Diplomatic Posts Except Cape Town and Pretoria 1

118846. Subject: Arms Sales to South Africa and the Security Council. Ref: State 116834 and 117924.2

Action addressees are requested to seek early appointment with Fonoff to explain reasons for US abstention on July 23 SC resolution on [Page 112] arms sales to South Africa.3 Resolution carried by 12 votes to 0 with 3 abstentions (US, UK, France). Text by septel.4
In their démarches, addressees should emphasize to host governments the positive aspects of US policy and stance re South Africa. USG wholeheartedly condemns apartheid and would have wished to join majority in voting for resolution had it not contained special problems described below. Addressees should make clear US abstention in no way implies change in US position with respect to apartheid or connotes any weakening in our support of existing UN resolutions on arms sales to South Africa. US regrets that it placed in a position where we had to abstain. We have carried out provisions of the existing resolutions strictly and conscientiously and would not wish the distinction between our embargo policies and those of others to be obscured.
As US statement in Security Council (sent wireless file) indicated, our own embargo was reaffirmed by the Administration in March this year and Secretary Rogers noted this reaffirmation as late as July 11 during his London visit. Quotation from US statement apropos here. Quote And an official spokesman of Department of State only yesterday reaffirmed that the US supports the Council’s resolution on the sale of arms to South Africa and indicated that our government would not be able to associate itself with any measures which might result in an increase in the flow of arms to South Africa. Unquote.
Referring to statements by preceding speakers about military equipment we have supplied to South Africa over past few years, US representative said deliveries currently being made consist entirely of spare parts and stem from contracts entered into prior to effective date of US embargo, i.e., December 31, 1963. Deliveries of major items of military equipment under these contracts have long since been completed. However, it is basic tenet of US trade policy that valid contracts, such as those for supply of spare parts, should be honored.
US would not go so far as to characterize situation in South Africa as potential threat to international peace and security. In our view, such characterization goes beyond facts of situation and, therefore, would be inappropriate. In particular, proposals contained in operative [Page 113] paragraph 4 of resolution would divide the Council, fail to fulfill their intended purpose and thus operate to detriment both of people of South Africa and of UN. Would have been better to concentrate on reaffirmation of SC’s past resolutions on arms to South Africa and to seek more effective implementation of these.
Dept is eager to ensure that there is no misunderstanding of our abstention on this resolution. Addressees should express US hope that host governments will appreciate reasons for abstention and of importance we attach to a continuing dialogue with host government, in the capital and in New York, on ways in which our countries can cooperate to advance the objectives of UN Charter with respect to South Africa.


  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, DEF 12–5 S AFR. Confidential; Priority. Drafted on July 23 by Jacobs, cleared in substance in IO, cleared in AF/S and IO/UNP, and approved by Moore. Repeated to Cape Town, Pretoria, London, Paris, Lisbon, Algiers, and Khartoum.
  2. For telegram 116834, see footnote 2, Document 36. Telegram 117924 is printed as Document 36.
  3. For Buffum’s statement and the text of Resolution 282, see Department of State Bulletin, August 17, 1970, pp. 203–205. Telegram 127112 to Dar es Salaam, Gaborone, and Bujumbura, August 6, provided specific reasons for the U.S. abstention on the arms embargo resolution. One cause for concern was that the resolution went well beyond the sale of military equipment to a general embargo on sales to the South African Defense Forces, hampering the U.S. Government’s ability to honor pre-embargo contracts to supply non-lethal spare parts. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, DEF 12–5 S AFR) See also Yearbook of the United Nations, 1970, pp. 120–124.
  4. Telegram 1548 from USUN, July 23, transmitted the text of Resolution 282. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, DEF 12–5 S AFR)