Courtesy Reuters

Lessons of Angola

It was an improbable locus for a superpower collision. But the shape and location, if not the history and social reality, of Angola were being firmly impressed upon the minds of millions of American television viewers. At issue, they learned from the Secretary of State, testifying before a Senate subcommittee on African affairs, was this basic principle: "The Soviet Union must not be given any opportunity to use military forces for aggressive purposes without running the risk of conflict with us."1 Angola was to be the post-Vietnam testing ground of American will and power in the face of the global expansion of a bullish rival whose recently realized military outreach was seen to be leading it toward dangerous adventures.

But why Angola? When Secretary Kissinger attacked Soviet and Cuban intervention on the ground that they had "never had any historic interests" there, many Americans probably wondered, conversely, what their own historic interests in Angola might be.

Outside of the work of a few dozen Protestant missionaries and teachers who offered an heretical world and extra-world view and some basic skills to several hundred Africans in an otherwise rigidly repressed colonial society, there had been little American interest in Angola until very recently.

American coffee drinkers have for the past few years consumed some $100 million of Angola robusta beans each year. And the Gulf Oil Corporation developed a moderately important petroleum find in the Delaware-sized enclave of Cabinda, where it was pumping some 150,000 barrels a day by 1975. The United States, as a rule, subordinated African concerns to larger issues-in Angola's case, the pressure from its NATO ally and the host to U.S. strategic air and naval facilities in the Azores Islands, Portugal. While voicing support for the principle of self-determination, Washington carefully eschewed taking actions that might have sped its achievement in Angola, Mozambique or Guinea-Bissau, for fear of incurring the wrath of the Salazar regime, which maintained doggedly that Portuguese Africa had been indissolubly fused into the Portuguese body politic.

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