The days that are still to come are the wisest witnesses.
Pindar: Olympian Odes
The scrutiny to which South Africa is incessantly exposed is a search for answers to two sets of questions. The questions are complex. Therefore the answers are complex and controversial. Even the choice of answers is constantly influenced by the shifting interpretation of events inside and outside South Africa.
Are the racial policies of South Africa of such a nature that the international community cannot be neutral, or in different, or tolerant1 Has the issue of human rights acquired the character of the arms race, so that sooner or later a concerted effort to deal with it must be made? Can the voices of disapproval towards South Africa’s racial policies reach a point of effective diplomatic consolidation? Can there be a conjuncture of events so compelling that the demand for compliance by South Africa becomes imperative? In the search for forceful measures of diplomatic or economic compulsion can the critical instrument be found to break resistance?
The second set of questions is based upon a refutation of the first. Does South Africa not have the right, the means, and the will to continue to resist the pressures upon it? Does not the racial analysis obscure the more important economic analysis of its domestic condition? Are the answers to the questions so urgently raised by external critics not being fashioned inside South Africa by the forces of historical change, of economic transformation and intellectual discernment?
The two sets of questions are not independent of each other. Each bears intimately and constantly upon the other. There can be no prudent judgment without a careful examination of a long scale of answers. Whether events will move towards some spectacular conjuncture, or whether there can be progressive change and assuagement through the course of time, explanation or blame will be found inside and out side South Africa.
Historians of any of the great crises or catastrophes which human beings have brought upon themselves have not improved on the verdict of Virgil. Sins were committed inside and outside the walls of Troy.
The harshest opponents of the South African regime do, however, thrust these inseparable sets of questions apart in a spirit of confrontation and distrust. In their view, South African life is a condition produced by violence and maintained by violence. It can only be undone by violence. The moment for decisive results must be reached, as swiftly as possible. Time for the forces of historical change and economic development to do their work is a gift that South Africa has abused, and will continue to abuse. These changes, in their view, are a euphemism for maneuver and manipulation in support of the unchanging goal of white domination.
Of the boycotts proposed against South Africa none is more ardent, and none is more successful, than the boycott in radical intellectual circles, and in some of the international press, on a studious attention to the subleties and complexities of its domestic life, and to the very involved historical, economic, and political information that describes it. The success is seen in the progressive hardening of the international mood against South Africa. On this issue there is a tacit alliance between intellectuals on either side of the iron curtain. The Marxist indictment of class domination and the liberal indictment of racial supremacy find their agreement in South Africa. They both produce the same prescription for an early and forceful end to the “mania of racial fascism.” South Africa is a splinter of imperialism to be plucked out before it inflames the world. Both share the demand that a full equation be established between South Africa and the independent black states to the north. In any event, no compromise is adequate without the concession of equal political status and economic opportunity for all elements of the population.
It would be misleading to describe the radical wing of South Africa’s critics in isolation. It is more than a limited clique with a single focus. It is part of the cultural revolution in countries like the United States, and part of the greater movement that is seeking to change the diplomatic objectives of the modern world. Zbigniew Brzezinski uses the words “planetary humanists” to describe those who have the conviction that the major problems of the modern world are social and economic, and that they will respond only to action on a planetary scale. Their themes are the environment, overpopulation, malnutrition, social injustice, and racial inequality. They claim the right to focus attention on areas of crisis wherever they exist. Even as they range widely in their subjects of concern, they vary in level from grim impatience to the disquiet of informed scholarship and moral idealism.
The spokesmen whose voices are variously raised in critical comment come from high places in universities, foundations, the press, pulpits, legislatures, and cabinets. Not radicalism alone, but the very broad spectrum of uneasiness explains the movement of governments like those of Norway, Sweden, Holland, New Zealand, and Australia into the ranks of those who seek means of showing their displeasure. It is this full spectrum that explains the sympathy for the infliction of re buffs through expulsion from international bodies, and the tolerance of guerrilla activity. Both the concentration and the diffusion of hostile attitudes lead back to the question whether these forces can be marshaled or crystallized into a common cause.
After the annexation of the Cape by Great Britain in 1815 South Africa lived under an umbrella provided by British seapower, and assured by British commercial and strategic interest. In this sense the Boer War at the end of the century was the result of a British determination that the whole of South Africa must remain under that umbrella, and that its internal political structure must conform to that condition. In the united South Africa, created in 1910, the new political leadership, headed first by General Botha and then by General Smuts, accepted the shield of British power, and took South Africa into both world wars in order to sustain it. The reward was the freedom to conduct the internal policies of the country according to the best judgment and interests of those that governed it. In the conduct of its relations with South Africa, Great Britain accepted a regime based on the maintenance of white political supremacy.
When Dr. Verwoerd reversed the policies of his predecessors, and took South Africa out of the British Commonwealth, two assumptions seemed logical. The first was that the British strategic shield no longer existed, broken by the exhaustion of war, and dissipated by the passing of imperial control. The second was that South Africa no longer had need of a shield, being sufficiently protected by geography, industrial strength, and the bargaining power of its strategic location. A string of diplomatic successes seemed to support either assumption. The truth was that both assumptions were of doubtful validity. Throughout the fifties and the sixties South Africa remained under a protective umbrella. Its internal policies were still insulated against serious pressure. The protective umbrella was a by-product of the character and the main objectives of the foreign policy of the United States. One of the principal objectives of that policy was to prevent the world once held together by British power from itself collapsing into chaos, or becoming a vacuum, sucking into it the power and influence of Communism.
In one sense the decline of Great Britain as a world power had been gradual. It had begun at the turn of the century. In another sense it had been precipitate. Two world wars and their aftermath consumed wealth and absorbed attention. There was not a gradual adjustment over half a century in the colonial world, as central power slowly diminished. After 1945, there was a swift withdrawal of control, the sudden threat of a vacuum, the revelation of the most wide-ranging deficiencies of political experience, economic development, and education. At Utrecht in 1713, at Vienna in 1815, and at Versailles in 1918, the peace settlements had been marked by extensive transfers of colonial territory to the victors. In 1945, the one power that was in a position to apply the procedures of past wars was the United States. But America’s allies were the colonial powers. They could not be violently despoiled. Nor had American war aims envisioned an extension of empire. Thus it happened that the control held by the colonial powers could neither be continued nor transferred. For the United States, as the dominant world power, the inheritance was not empire, but a vast region of instability, backwardness, and strategic exposure. The challenge for the United States was to fill the vacuum, to prevent its collapse into chaos, and to protect it against forcible entry. Its area was extensive, from Japan to Africa, by way of South East Asia and the Indian Ocean.
The combined purpose of the Marshall Plan and the Truman Doctrine was first of all to reinforce Western Europe against the Russian threat. Then, for the clearly definable strategic position once held by Great Britain, there was elaborated a less clearly definable strategic system, confusedly made up of assistance programs, defense treaties, and occasional military demonstrations. In a great many respects the American association with France and Great Britain guaranteed the continuation of a colonial relationship in trade and cultural influence. It was an association that kept alive the accusation of imperialism in the political vocabulary of Russia and China. Upon the United States fell the principal responsibility of holding the strategic and military line. If it was imperialism, for the United States it was imperialism without possession, responsibility without the power of sovereign command, and investment without financial profit.
Of the comprehensive and diversified American policy of containment, South Africa was an important beneficiary. It had its existence behind the lines of containment. The efforts to promote stability, and to prevent chaos were implicitly exercised in its behalf as well. In spite of the rising tide of critical comment, the freedom to conduct its domestic affairs remained unchanged. South African success was based on the success of American foreign policy. In retrospect, it is clear that neither the unilateral Rhodesian declaration of independence from the United Kingdom nor the effort before the World Court to deprive South Africa of control over South West Africa was the crisis which it seemed to be at the time. When Mr. Smith used the language of the American Declaration of Independence in his break with the United Kingdom, instead of quotations richly available in British constitutional history, he was implicitly expressing his gratitude for the asylum provided by American foreign policy.
If in the development of world events the moment were to come when the policies led by America faltered or failed, the consequences for South Africa would be grave. Any weakening of the strategic system would be a reduction in the benefit to South Africa of such a system. America has indeed reached a position comparable with that reached less conspicuously by Great Britain as a result of the Boer War. It was the exposure of the limits of power, the rise of a more pronounced international distrust, the erosion of the morale and the pride to maintain power, the growing alienation of the liberal and intellectual community that made Vietnam a watershed for contemporary America.
The history of South Africa, like that of Australia and, to a considerable extent, Canada, has largely been written as the outgrowth of British history and British culture, flourishing and undergoing adaptation in a new environment. Observers tend to miss or underestimate the influence of American culture and history upon countries like South Africa and Australia. It is far more complex and pervasive than the obvious comparisons between countries formed by immigration and frontier expansion. Beneath the layer of British institutions, patterns, and ideas, there has been for a century both admiration and aspiration with the United States as focus and source. The nature of South African history guaranteed a certain measure of indifference to wards the receding presence and the falling power of the British. There rose to the surface a more open admiration of the United States. Whether there was agreement or dis agreement with the proposition that South Africa lived under a guarding shield, the American role in world affairs carried a real assurance. In the press, in informal debate, implicit in official pronouncements, there was the assumption that the world power of the United States was compatible with South African interests, and that American technology and finance contained the components out of which South Africa could fashion its own future.
For South Africa, as well as for most of the rest of the world, Vietnam was more than a military disaster and more than a major cause of the diplomatic revolution led by President Nixon. It was the disfigurement of the American historical image, the refutation of assumptions long held by Americans and their associates in peace and war. The American self-image is one of victory, of never sustaining defeat. It is based on the assumption that America can always be adequate to any major challenge. This in turn is based on the conviction, born of the two world wars, that American, wealth, like American industrial power and inventiveness, could bear the strain of any great national effort. Psychologically American culture is based upon achievement that is swiftly accomplished. It is a state of mind that can build skyscrapers, but not pyramids or cathedrals. The Vietnam war lasted too long, and corroded the will to continue. The moral repugnance against the war came late in the war. It was preceded, and caused, by disillusionment. Pride was affronted first, and then conscience rose in protest. Victory buries the atrocity of war. Defeat exposes it.
America is a country in search of a new foreign policy. The visits to Peking and Moscow are events of such magnitude that experts can still only examine them, piece by piece, and implication by implication. Out of the character of the Vietnamese settlement, the Russian and Chinese discussions, and the negotiation of the Israeli-Arab War, a most critical fact emerges for South Africa. It is the American retreat from the policy of containment. It is the dilution of confrontation by a greater measure of negotiation. It is an admission of the lessened ability to carry on the task of giving sufficient and dependable correction to the weaknesses and deficiencies within the former colonial system. It is the surrender of a major section of the frontier drawn round that system. For South Africa, these things mean either the disappearance or the serious weakening of the shield that was the consequence, if not the express intention, of American foreign policy for almost twenty-five years.
Still greater uncertainty for South Africa results from the logical and also the accidental consequences of the foreign policy of the Nixon administration. Japan and Western Europe were shocked, and felt humiliated, by the swiftness and abruptness of the new diplomacy. Underlying differences over export policies, currency, and the balance of payments helped to widen the rift. The narrow and self-centered definition by Western Europe of its association with the United States during and after the Israeli-Arab war sent back a shock of disappointment across the Atlantic, where NATO had been regarded as part of a much wider system of interdependence. The oil crisis dealt a heavy blow to American relationships with the European community. It enhanced and confirmed a pattern of divergence not easily altered. The oil embargo forced Great Britain and France to bend under Arab pressure, and to demonstrate that it was more important to obtain oil than to stand with the United States on the Middle East. The oil crisis was more than an exposure of diplomatic weakness and cynicism, or a display of national self-interest. Within it was concealed the comprehensive re-evaluation of the international and domestic performance of the United States, as a result of Vietnam, the dethronement of the dollar, the ravages and
the failures of the revolt of youth, and the turmoils of urban life. The oil crisis also threw light on the fragility of the bonds between the members of the European community themselves, and indicated how much of its vaunted solidarity was façade and rhetoric, and how limited had been the advance towards the pooling of diplomacy, resources, and physical power that would enable Western Europe to stand tall in the company of the United States, Russia, and China.
For South Africa, the sullen mood that reigns in the triangle of Japan, Western Europe, and the United States is a matter of serious concern and a source of weakness. Had President John Kennedy’s ambition succeeded to create an effective and dependable alliance between a well-organized Western European community and the two North Atlantic countries of Canada and the United States, the position of South Africa would have remained strong, or at least would have had a better buffer against some of the consequences of the American policy of withdrawal into detente and negotiation. The conditions for dependable co-operation between the United States, France, and the United Kingdom in other areas of high strategic interest or diplomatic danger have been greatly affected. Any proposal to build a fresh basis for co-operation on energy policies, on strategy, on commercial and currency matters, on developing new favor able relationships with the Third World, now widely opened to Russian and Chinese influence, would of course be of direct or indirect benefit to South Africa. But in the mean time South Africa has a new exposed flank, and a new diplomatic and strategic frontier. There can be no doubt whatever of a serious change in the issues of defense and vulnerability, of exposure to old and new forms of physical pressure, and to diplomatic innovations revealed and made possible by the transformation in American foreign policy. South Africa’s international position is deteriorating. To meet the pressures bearing upon it, less can be expected from either voluntary or involuntary assistance from with out. France provides a possible illustration. The independent mood of France has hitherto permitted the flow of armaments to South Africa, and softened the hostility of the Francophone African states. But French benevolence to South Africa is a calculated attitude. For a greater gain, in the Arab world, for example, France is altogether unlikely to make its policy towards South Africa a matter of good faith or principle. With the death of Pompidou and the election of Giscard d’Estaing, the French movement away from South Africa has in fact begun.
Greater responsibility must increasingly fall on South Africa’s own power and resources. It must rely more on geography and technology than on alliances and friendships. It must rely also on the brittleness or the tempered quality of the white population. Against external danger, it is true that the Afrikaner and the English populations have grown more closely together. Mr. Mulder, Minister of the Interior, spoke for the majority of the white population, when he declared: “Even if the whole world were to try to force South Africa to do something that would endanger the identity of the nation, we would resist. Whatever the world may say, this is one of the fundamentals on which we can’t give an inch.” Against internal danger, especially when faced by threats to its material circumstances, the urban core of South African society is, however, brittle.
The statement that South Africa lacks allies, when after all it has Rhodesia and Mozambique on its borders, was not an oversight. It is true that a broad buffer zone extends across the northern top of South Africa from Angola through Rhodesia to Mozambique. It is true also that, in their self interest, neither Botswana nor Malawi is eager to contemplate the irruption of serious violence into this zone. On the other hand, Rhodesia and the Portuguese colonies are even more seriously affected by world-wide diplomatic changes than South Africa. It is diplomatic table talk that they are the first targets of attack. If there is any design in the activities of the guerrillas and “freedom fighters,” if there is any purpose in those who provide them encouragement and support, it is the exploitation of Rhodesian and Portuguese weaknesses. And suddenly these weaknesses are pointing to major crisis.
For South Africa Rhodesia is both ally and incubus. From its beginnings Rhodesia has been an anomaly born out of irresolute British statesmanship and nineteenth-century South African divisiveness. When General Smuts, in 1923, offered to incorporate Rhodesia as the first item out of the geopolitical debris left strewn in South Africa, a spirit of spurious colonial Englishry caused the Rhodesian electorate to spurn his advances. For them as a white community it was a blunder based on the illusion of a special character that was neither African nor South African. There would be other blunders. A white population of a quarter of a million was incapable of developing more than a very few first-rate minds. In his unilateral declaration of independence Mr. Smith revealed himself as a figure from Cervantes, tearing his country loose from bonds too frayed to hold, needlessly compelling a juridical confrontation that placed restraints upon his regime, and giving an almost statutory force to international hostility. The quality of Rhodesia as a point of legalized physical and political attack is a serious cause of present weakness and constant danger.
The Portuguese domestic crisis is also a crisis of its empire. However it is finally resolved, the condition and the status of Guinea-Bissau, Angola, and Mozambique have become fluid. The issues which they represent have been spilled into international diplomacy. For South Africa’s critics and enemies there are new opportunities. Even the seasoned observer, made skeptical by the false predictions of the past, finds his imagination stirred. The situation for South Africa is most grave.
The balance of advantage has been reduced. The degree of vulnerability has been increased. The edge of initiative has been blunted. The separation and distinction between domestic policy and foreign policy have become much more difficult to maintain. A map of the buffer zone represented by Angola, Rhodesia, Botswana, Malawi, and Mozambique makes immediately plain the strategic and political possibilities if the new regimes in Angola and Mozambique establish a more favorable orientation towards the states of black Africa. Rhodesia’s vulnerability becomes dangerously greater. Its alternatives of action shrink to two. It can try to throw in its lot more completely with South Africa, or it can reach an accommodation with its black population that is internationally acceptable. Malawi must reconsider its neutral attitude to the diplomacy of black Africa. Botswana will be compelled to give its symbolic axis with black Africa a more substantial content by building an all-weather road connection with Zambia. As black Africa moves southward, the length of frontier on which defenses must be posted is greatly increased. The threat is real that South Africa’s sea frontier on the Indian Ocean may take a long step down the ocean from Dar es Salaam. The way for Chinese diplomacy is more widely open.
Within South Africa the grant of greater political responsibility to the so-called Homelands was a reply to the growth of political independence in black Africa. It took place, however, behind a thick layer of neutral, friendly, or satellite states. As platforms of African political spokesmanship, and centers of political self-awareness, they now acquire a new prominence, and a wider range of influence, for upon them converge the issues of foreign and domestic policy. The litany of possible affliction and menace could be lengthened. There may even be the makings of a lesser Mid-Eastern crisis. But at the moment it would be a misleading distortion not to present a countervailing account of the great economic power and influence which South Africa wields over all the states upon its borders. Without South Africa as a source of investment, a partner in trade, and a market for labor, each would endure severe deprivation. In the phenomenon of interlocking finances and economic interdependence there are real prospects of accommodation. In spite of the outcome of the elections in South Africa early this year, the white population is disposed to a flexibility not fully recognized abroad. Portugal stands guard no more. What turbulence may now assault the muted air? At this moment the wisest judgment seems to be to look upon the changes in the Portuguese territories, especially Mozambique, as an experiment in the problems that result from a rise in African influence in southern Africa. That there are white populations in Mozambique and Angola, as there are in Rhodesia, must provide a test of the forces of resentment and the powers of accommodation. Now is the moment to seek to know and understand a great deal more than is easily avail able about South African economics, black political leader ship, the imbalance between industrial growth and the labor supply, and the self-education of the South African white electorate and government.
To understand further what is meant by South Africa’s diplomatic and strategic exposure attention passes to Africa itself. Whatever has been the official evaluation of South Africa’s position in its own continent, it is a task that has urgently to be undertaken afresh. The dangers of a faulty evaluation are especially great in a country that has had great economic and great diplomatic successes in the past decade. It could be misled by the nature of its strength and by what it has to defend. In those who have a sense of defeat or frustration, there is a stimulus to imagination and initiative. They are pricked to a search for advantages, opportunities, and instruments. There is a creativity born of failure which South Africa may not possess and its opponents may. South Africans are fond of the analogy with Israel, seeing in themselves the same encirclement, the same challenge to the determination of a small nation to maintain itself against great odds. The danger of a mistaken evaluation of military, strategic, and diplomatic conditions was dramatically illustrated by the Yom Kippur offensive in 1973 by Egypt and Syria. Too late, Israel learned the lessons of Crecy and the Maginot line. Israeli confidence in its tactical ability and its internal morale led directly to an insensitivity to political and diplomatic factors. Israel was unprepared for new military ideas, and even less for a turn of events that would compel the intervention of Russia and the United States, with the consequence of a settlement imposed from without. In any time scale, short or long, South Africa must watch with the most intense care the conditions that may break the political and diplomatic pattern which now exists. Mozambique and Angola have made that scrutiny imperative.
For a decade and more, South Africa’s feelings of complacency and security have been sustained by the absence of any major threat from the states of black Africa. It recognized that there was no effective solidarity between them. Few had a real internal cohesiveness. Independence meant fragmentation. The confinement of real political power and economic privilege in an elite bureaucracy produced an internal colonialism, paralleled by an external satellitism that resulted from commercial and financial dependence. The establishment of effective national power and the creation of wealth that could be mobilized to further national objectives were achievements that continued to lie in a distant future. The intense preoccupation with internal economic and ethnic issues precluded any early development of a muscular foreign policy. Today it is still doubtful whether the African states can, by themselves, follow the path taken by the Arab states. Their great aggregate wealth in raw materials, including even the oil of Nigeria, cannot readily be turned into a weapon of diplomatic coercion, or compel their consumers to throw their diplomatic weight on their side against South Africa. What has been missing is the focus or the conjuncture that would compel significant out side involvement. For the African states an effective foreign policy against South Africa would have to be imported. The imports would be in ideas, resources, equipment, and management. Vengeance must be a gift from those who see profit and satisfaction in it for themselves. Today Mr. Kissinger’s quietness must not be misconstrued as inattentiveness.
The sponsorship by the West of the cause of black Africa has passed its crest. There is deep disillusionment with the political performance and economic progress of black Africa. An almost certain result of the international crises, from the fall of the dollar to the great new burdens placed on the economies of the Western powers, will be the freezing or even the reduction of grants for economic development. In 1970 black Africa, south of the Sahara, received only slightly over three per cent of worldwide American military assistance. Over the total life of economic and technical assistance black sub-Saharan Africa has received not much over two per cent of the world total provided by the American Congress. Properly analyzed, these figures indicate that the United States had no major stake in Africa itself, calling for constant and aggressive development and cultivation. Africa was not on the critical periphery on which stood the forces of containment, and where the great volume of expenditures took place.
In any new assessment, such as official South Africa must certainly make, of the danger from the discontent and the hostility of black Africa, it is easy to form an unbalanced judgment and to lose perspective. In the Arab oil embargo, the twentieth century has begun to take revenge for the nineteenth century. The Arabs have given concrete expression to the desire latent in much of the dependent world to expel the nineteenth century from its midst, to impose penalties upon its successors, and to advance to a. more powerful role in the management of its affairs. The failure to hold the colonial world within the economic and strategic system devised and controlled by the West after 1945 has destroyed the euphoric thesis that the gentle friendly passing of imperial control was a miracle of history and a triumph of Western culture. Colonialism has not quietly disappeared. A new perspective indicates that many of the relationships and conditions of colonial control persisted beyond the constitutional settlements. These were no more than modifications, and an incomplete first stage in the transformation of the colonial systems. A second stage has now opened up. Issues masked or under seeming control during twenty-five years have emerged in stark outline, clamant for attention. Any list is incomplete and arbitrary, for the list is as long as the colonial systems were extensive. In the list of modifications in the further process of colonial collapse are Taiwan, Israel, Hong Kong, seapower in the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean, the control, the price, and the marketing of raw materials, and much more. In that list is southern Africa. Mozambique and Angola have shot it to the top, immediately behind Israel.
Mr. McNamara of the World Bank is the best known advocate of the needs and demands of the world which is still moving from beneath colonial control. He stands at the head of those who argue that the sum of dependency, of frustration and inachievement is morally indefensible and politically explosive. Whatever explosiveness exists in black Africa, of course, can have an inward as well as an outward direction. Its charge is set against the inordinate privileges of an internal elite, against domestic conditions of unemployment, stagnation and even decline in the level of subsistence. The very poor and the educated have an equal grievance against the unequal distribution of jobs and income in their own countries. The new African intellectual has the capacity to place an interpretation on the conditions produced by in dependence. Over-production by the universities of graduates without a future is creating the possible leadership of revolt, whether this be directed against international economic dis parities and control, or against the quality of domestic life. Ethiopia is in process of proving this very point.
Africa is a continent of unsettled accounts against the past and the present. It is one of the contentions of the “planetary humanists” that there are no distinctions between internal disorder and external danger. What the London Times used to call Great Britain’s “little African wars” are now, in their view, packed with a more intense menace and contagiousness.
If the statement is correct that Africa must import the ideas and instruments to conduct a more vigorous and demanding foreign policy towards the metropolitan powers, or more specifically towards South Africa, it is also true that the entrances for the importation of these ideas and instruments are more widely open than they have been. The diplomacy and the strategic discoveries of the Middle East cast a long shadow southwards, just as the opening of the Suez Canal and the certain passage of Russian naval might into the Indian Ocean will give South Africa greater worries about both a land frontier and a sea frontier, or a crisis that compels international involvement.
With Africa and the Indian Ocean more widely open, what are the prospects for a greater Russian and Chinese involvement? Some answers are easier to suggest than others. The Indian Ocean, in the days of imperial control, was like the Mediterranean. The principal strategic points were in the hands of the West. It was a linkage between India, the Middle East, and Africa. Even in the two world wars, it had safer lines of communication than any other comparable body of water. Now it is about to experience, as the Mediterranean has already experienced, the irruption of Russian naval power. The routes between India, the oil-rich Middle East, and the entire East African coast will be more readily available to Russian vessels, with all which that means in the transportation of materials, in the awareness in the African mind of the greater proximity of Russian power. Some military and naval analysts have already begun to point out that further in the future, the same remarks will apply to China, which has a stake in Pakistan and in Africa, and is seeking to establish a position in the Arab world.
When Ethiopia, Kenya, Senegal, and Liberia led the procession of African states that broke diplomatic relations with Israel, they took a first exploratory step towards invoking the Arab interest in their cause. In a broader sense, their action was an invitation to the diplomacy and the maneuver that had brought issues in the Middle East to a head. It is a safe conclusion that the possibilities of using the Arab oil embargo as a means of pressure on South Africa have been seriously discussed. The doubts that arise about the ability or the willingness of the Arab world to turn its weapon against a new target leave it clear, nonetheless, that there is recognition of the fact that an important initiative is passing to the less developed world. The power equation is being altered. There exists an archive of ideas and techniques to which the Russians and the Chinese have keys and greatly improved means of engaging in the traffic in arms, ideas, and guiding minds.
To say that Africa has become more accessible to Russian and Chinese influence and offers more favorable targets for their diplomacy does not mean that Africa is open to comprehensive subversion. Neither China nor Russia has the resources that would permit them to undertake programs of economic and technical assistance of the scope, that maintained the influence of France and the United Kingdom. For Russian and Chinese economic or military investment there are far more important and profitable opportunities on their immediate periphery. Such investment may even have become more necessary because recent American foreign policy has both highlighted and placed greater strain on Russian-Chinese relations. Russia also has sustained some costly failures in Africa. The available literature strongly suggests that Russia has an unsentimental awareness of the economic condition and the social structure of the different African countries.
The presence of both Chinese and Russian representatives in the African countries will be co-operative and competitive at the same time. Together they will enhance and reinforce the radicalism that lies beneath the surface, especially in foreign affairs. In their competitiveness, they will increase the alternatives of thought and action. Their rivalry may add to the sum of dissension and discord. Yet towards the “unholy trinity” of Mozambique, Rhodesia, and South Africa, their words, recommendations, and actions are likely to show more concurrence than divergence.
The Chinese commitment to build the Tanzam railroad between Tanzania and Zambia is one of the very largest foreign aid projects to be undertaken in Africa. Its predictable consequences are impressive. Zambian copper will be freed of dependence upon Portuguese, Rhodesian, and South African railroad routes to the sea. It can only draw Zambia into a new orientation towards East and Central Africa. If, as South Africa fears, Chinese diplomacy remains after the engineers have gone home, this will be tangible evidence of the arrival of the new diplomacy on the frontiers of South Africa. The chances are certainly greater than before that Russia and China would claim a participant status in any issue that reaches the point of severe crisis, or where there is strife serious enough to be termed a menace to international peace. This may be the meaning of Mozambique. The unfavorable status of South Africa on both sides of the iron curtain makes it especially vulnerable to the argument that global interdependence makes it difficult for the great powers to remain as spectators. The willingness of even one major power to provide the instruments and strategic guidance for use against another state such as South Africa is already a step towards creating such tension that it could be termed a threat to the general peace. Russia has not merely gained strategic parity, increased tactical advantages, and new targets of opportunity. It is also in a better position to bring pressure to bear on the United States to act less as a rival and more as a colleague. South Africa has few of those assets of goodwill and sympathy that enabled Israel for five years to lash out violently and physically against its tormentors. Its hands are more tied in a diplomatic and military sense than ever were those of Israel. Its reaction to increased tension on its borders has to be weighed most soberly for its effect on opinion, on diplomatic response, and even on a more tangible confrontation.
These comments are solemn, but they are not predictions. There is a line of argument which cannot be overlooked, and which reduces the level of probability and even possibility. The policy of detente and improved relations may place limits on the freedom of action of Russia and China in Africa, precisely in order to avoid the danger of severe confrontation. As has been pointed out, the Russians cannot, any more than the United States, assume more than a selective burden in the undeveloped countries, with the result of a demotion or a postponement of the appeal of Africa south of the Sahara.
One mark of South Africa’s place in world opinion is the difficulty which it experiences in securing attention to views that are based on substantial fact and reality. These facts are mainly economic and strategic in character.
The strategic argument in favor of South Africa has been much too easily dismissed, or underestimated. For three centuries the value of the Cape as one of the great strategic points of the world was an unchallengeable fact. The closing of the Suez Canal brought fresh evidence in the fleets of tankers and commercial vessels that used the Cape route and South African ports. The opening of the Suez Canal will not stop the traffic of deep-draught supertankers.
In the most vigorous period of the American policy of containment it was most difficult to deny that South Africa stood in reserve as a tangible part of the mechanism of containment. Now that the introduction of Russian and Chinese influence into the Indian Ocean and Africa cannot be denied, it follows all the more strongly, in the South African view, that it is more than a naval base. It is an arsenal of industrial capacity. It is an ideological citadel impenetrable by Communist propaganda. It is the South African view that the shield under which it existed was never a mark of strategic benevolence or an unintended windfall. It is an instrument of defense which the Western powers can even less afford to relinquish after the demonstration of their vital dependence on oil. The newly expanded American base at Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean loses some of its value without Simonstown. Such reasoning has a wishful content, but it is not idle. In the context of conventional non-nuclear war fare provided by the SALT agreements, history and geography still lend some support to the South African view. If it is considered important to develop and maintain the capacity to place some restraints on an intrusive Russian presence in the Indian Ocean, the South African argument will not be lightly dismissed. Certainly, if the withdrawal of American foreign policy is to a position of negotiation on the basis of a balance of power, the South African argument retains some of its effectiveness.
So far the effort to fashion a lobby in the United States devoted to the proposition that South Africa is a threat to peace has met with very little success. The voice of American finance and business has successfully been raised against using trade and investment as a weapon in the cause of human rights. South Africa’s merits as a trading partner meet the tests of profitability so well that the tests of racial policies are much more difficult to apply. Yet it would be a mistake to dismiss entirely the chances of a lobby crystallizing in the United States out of Negro pressure and the constant presentation of South Africa as a moral issue. One consequence of Watergate may be the rout of the conservative spirit mobilized by President Nixon, and the return of a more liberal and even radical spirit in American political life. Before his death, Robert Kennedy showed signs of interest in South Africa as both a domestic and foreign policy issue. In the present condition of American political life, an organized and persistent lobby can deeply influence the conduct of foreign policy. The lobby pressing for the free emigration of Russian Jews has, for example, wedged itself deeply and uncomfortably into the program for Soviet American detente.
The question whether one government can apply critical pressure on another government to change its domestic policies has a juridical answer, but it does not have a consistent historical answer. Firmly and persistently South Africa has given the correct juridical response that intervention in its domestic affairs has no justification. In his day, Dean Acheson vigorously supported such a view when he scornfully dismissed the claim that the Rhodesian declaration of independence was a threat to peace, and poured ridicule on the call for sanctions as a maneuver not justifiable on legal grounds.
It is unusually difficult, and at the moment probably impossible, to reach any correct assessment of the forces that endeavor to throw up effective resistance against an increase in diplomatic severity against South Africa or the forces that have the grim purpose of securing decisive results. The tragic disaster of Vietnam has produced a resolve in the United States to follow no action that could lead to the use of military power, or the forceful use of economic suasion. But the bitter knowledge of the costs and hazards of intervention still does not establish a firm and consistent principle within the new American foreign policy on an issue like South Africa. One can only repeat a number of comments. The adverse criticism of South Africa has penetrated into so many areas, and onto so many levels, that the critical mass for its fusion into a peremptory diplomatic decision remains a possibility. For the historian and the economist the problems of South Africa are no different from those of foreign policy generally. They cannot be solved by a formula, or subjected to a fixed principle of conduct. To the accusation that South Africa is a suppuration to be ruthlessly cleansed, their response is that this would be seeking salvation through disaster and destruction. Such vengefulness would have no discrimination. It would afflict the non-white population as well as the white population. Essential to any prudent and statesmanlike judgment on South Africa is a knowledge that goes beyond the oppositeness of black and white, that understands the organic character of South African life, that has a compassionate awareness of the simultaneous presence of inequality with interdependence, and that has an informed focus on a dynamism to which all sections of the population are making a contribution. It is the black leadership in South Africa that has issued a warning against an imported salvation, against the catastrophic convergence upon their country of forces seeking to undo suddenly what has been wrought over the centuries. They would agree that it is in the highest interests of themselves, of the white community with whom they have opened a fresh dialogue, that the Western world have the fullest knowledge of the present nature, the inner workings, and the thrusts in economic life. A foreign policy based upon ignorance, or ideological rejection or emotional aversion contains the stuff of failure and tragedy. But Mr. Vorster must now make a clear choice between dialogue and discipline.