Last December 22, in New York, the chambers of the United Nations were witness to a most bizarre event. As a Soviet deputy foreign minister looked on approvingly, U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz presided over the signature by the foreign ministers of Angola, Cuba and South Africa of interlocking treaties accomplishing the removal of foreign forces from southwestern Africa. The three ministers made speeches. The Angolan managed a polite dig at South Africa and the United States. The Cuban was polemically sarcastic about both, and took a barely disguised swipe at the Soviets as well. The South African wound up with remarks that, inter alia, declared his country's solidarity with Third World resentment of Western domination of the global economy.

When this odd ceremony was over, the colonial era in Africa had finally drawn to a close. Both the 13-year presence of Cuban expeditionary forces in Angola and the three-quarter-century-long South African administration of Namibia, somewhat incredibly to all present, were set on the way to ending. Diplomats and generals from Angola, Cuba, South Africa, the Soviet Union, the South West African People's Organization (SWAPO) and the neighboring African states raised their glasses to the historic achievements of an American mediation effort that they had spent nearly a decade denigrating and obstructing.

How did the United States, which had no significant historical ties to southern Africa and few concrete interests there, come to play a central role in the resolution of that region's problems? How did the United States, which does not recognize Angola, has no diplomatic relations with Cuba and has severely strained relations with South Africa, come to be the indispensable mediator of a peace between them? How did southwestern Africa, which had become a focal point of East-West contention, emerge as a symbol of creative diplomatic cooperation between Washington and Moscow in the resolution of regional disputes?


Angola had been occupied by Portugal for nearly five centuries when it gained independence as a result of the Portuguese revolution of spring 1974. In January 1975 an agreement was reached at Alvor-a resort town on the Algarve-between Lisbon and the three liberation movements active in Angola. The Alvor Agreement envisaged a tripartite coalition government leading to an election and independence on November 11, 1975. The accord was doomed from the start.

Each of the three liberation movements in Angola had different domestic and international constituencies, including supporters in Portugal. The Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) drew its support from urban black, mulatto and white intellectuals and the Kimbundu living around the capital of Luanda, who make up just under a fourth of Angola's population. Led by the brilliant Marxist poet, Agostinho Neto, the MPLA had long been supported by Cuba and the Soviet Union, but it had only limited military capability.

The National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA) was drawn almost entirely from the Bakongo, who spill over the borders of Angola, Zaïre and the Congo, and who comprise about a sixth of Angola's population. Led by Holden Roberto, related by marriage to Zaïre's President Mobutu Sese Seko, the FNLA was backed by Zaïre and the United States, as well as North Korea and China, and had the largest armed force of the three contenders for power.

The National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) drew its support from the Ovimbundu, who make up nearly two-fifths of Angola's people, and the Balunda, another sixth of the population. Led by the charismatic polymath Jonas Savimbi, UNITA was allied with SWAPO against South Africa and backed by China, Tanzania and Zambia. Although it had the least well equipped army, UNITA had been the only one of the three Angolan liberation movements to mount a sustained rural insurgency against Portuguese rule.

Most informed observers, including a survey team from the Organization of African Unity, foresaw that UNITA would win at least a plurality, and possibly a majority, in the elections to be held under the Alvor Agreement. The election to power of a rural-based, pro-Chinese movement like UNITA was not acceptable to the pro-Soviet Portuguese flag officer then in charge in Luanda, Admiral Rosa Coutinho. Nor did the MPLA and the FNLA relish the prospect of such a test at the polls. By March 1975 Coutinho had arranged for Cuban soldiers to train a greatly expanded MPLA army at bases near Luanda, and Soviet equipment for it had begun to pour into the country. Chinese trainers expanded their efforts with the FNLA in Zaïre. Before the end of the summer, the FNLA and UNITA had reached out to South Africa and the United States as new sources of armament, and Cuban combat troops had arrived at Luanda. The Cubans held off an invasion by the FNLA and its Zaïrean supporters.

In the early fall South Africa joined UNITA in a drive on Luanda, which was fended off only by new Cuban reinforcements. The taint of de facto collusion with South Africa was too much for China, North Korea, Zambia and Tanzania; they withdrew their support from the FNLA and UNITA. As the U.S. Congress voted to withhold further support from the FNLA and UNITA, South Africa also withdrew, leaving the field to the Cubans, who installed the MPLA in power in Luanda and decimated the FNLA's and UNITA's remaining military forces.

In the ensuing years, much to everyone's surprise, the MPLA failed adequately to broaden its base of popular support in Angola; the Cuban military presence did not recede but grew steadily. UNITA's constituency proved loyal enough to allow the group to reconstitute itself. UNITA reemerged as a significant military threat to MPLA control of the country and as an effective resistance to the Cuban presence. A resurgent UNITA attracted resumed South African support, and the South African Defense Forces based in Namibia began to extend their periodic sweeps of Namibian guerrilla bases in southern Angola more broadly to frustrate MPLA/Cuban offensives against UNITA.

By the beginning of the 1980s Luanda faced not just an increasingly formidable opponent in the continuing Angolan civil war, but also a seemingly perpetual threat of direct intervention and invasion from the South African Defense Forces in Namibia. As the decade proceeded, the military and economic costs of meeting these challenges mounted steadily, and Luanda lost control of all areas near Namibia.

Namibia itself had been an imperial German colony until it was seized by South Africa in 1915, during World War I. After World War II the South Africans claimed that their League of Nations mandate over Namibia was still valid. A long series of legal and political battles ensued. SWAPO began a military campaign in Namibia against the South African occupation, but the South African forces dealt with it with almost contemptuous ease. The United Nations and the International Court of Justice declared South Africa to be in illegal occupation of Namibia and ordered its forces out. Pretoria showed no convincing sign of complying with these orders.

In the late 1970s South Africa gave lip service to the plan of U.N. Security Council Resolution 435 for Namibian independence, which was sponsored by the United States and other Western powers, but gave every indication of planning to stay there indefinitely. Its obstinacy was bolstered by the increasing Cuban military presence to Namibia's north in Angola. South Africa calculated that it was best to keep the Cubans, the only force capable of challenging South African military supremacy in Africa, as far away from its borders as possible. From Pretoria's perspective, UNITA's strength was a bonus; it constituted a screen to tie down the MPLA and Cubans, to keep them even further away from South African territory and-as the old alliance between SWAPO and UNITA was replaced by fighting between them-to push SWAPO even more off balance.


As people in the region and abroad looked at the mess in southwestern Africa, they saw different problems and priorities. For many, the ending of apartheid in South Africa had such transcendent importance that other objectives, including the release of Namibia from South Africa's grasp, seemed diversionary. For others, Cuban intervention in Angola and Soviet involvement there were the only issues worthy of concern. Still others saw the sole objective as insisting on South African compliance with U.N. Resolution 435 and achieving independence for Namibia. For some, support for Jonas Savimbi's UNITA against the Marxist regime in Luanda was the goal to be pursued; for others, UNITA was anathema.

Each of these viewpoints found its supporters on Capitol Hill as well as in Africa and Europe. The existence of so many conflicting idées fixes about a single region guaranteed that no American policy could correspond to the unidimensional priorities of a large number of countries and politicians, and that any policy would be met with more carping than applause. So it was no surprise when that was in fact the reaction to the approach of the Reagan Administration's assistant secretary of state for African affairs, Chester Crocker.

The U.S. approach was comprehensive rather than responsive to a single agenda. It began with the identification of possible common interests among Angola, Cuba and South Africa that these countries themselves did not recognize. It took into account the interests of the Frontline States of southern Africa, SWAPO and UNITA. It built on the fact that the United States shared some of these interests with each of the parties, even as we differed with them on others. Like Luanda, Havana, the Frontline States and SWAPO, Washington wanted independence for Namibia. Like Pretoria and UNITA, we sought the withdrawal of Cuban forces from Angola. Like UNITA, we were interested in a political settlement and peace between Angolans that would remove the proximate cause of East-West entanglement in Angolan politics by ending the civil war on a basis acceptable to both sides.

There are at least two basic approaches to an apparently intractable problem if a frontal assault seems unlikely to work: one can either disaggregate the problem and attack it piece by piece, or one can link the problem to issues that open the possibility of trade-offs between an expanded list of parties. Reality linked the problem of Namibian independence with that of Cuban troop withdrawal from Angola: the South Africans were unlikely to leave Namibia while Cuban troops remained in Angola. Crocker saw that acceptance of this "linkage" could promote a broader peace in the southwestern African region.

Luanda's desire for freedom from South Africa's direct intervention could be answered by the creation of a buffer state in the form of an independent Namibia between Angola and South Africa, from which the South African military had withdrawn. (There was no need to negotiate the terms of the South African withdrawal or Namibian independence; these had already been spelled out in 1978 in U.N. Security Council Resolution 435-a major achievement of American alliance diplomacy in the late 1970s.) Cuban troop withdrawal from Angola would constitute a gain for South Africa sufficient to justify its actually implementing Resolution 435. Angola and South Africa would gain the security from external threats that they sought; Cuba would be credited with having compelled South Africa to yield the independence it would otherwise not grant to Namibia. The Soviet Union would gain a reduction in East-West tensions, some easing of its relationship with the United States, and relief from the expense of financing a seemingly endless war in an area not of vital interest to it. UNITA would gain the withdrawal of the Cubans, and increased pressure on the MPLA to make peace, as Luanda lost its Cuban backing.

This diplomatic scheme was based on a realistic appraisal of the ultimate interests of the parties, but reaction to it was entirely predictable. Politicians derided it as immoral, because it meant dealing with South Africa and Cuba and taking their interests into account; lawyers declared it illegal, because it required Angola and Cuba to make concessions in the interest of having South Africa do what Resolution 435 already directed it to do; academics and pundits pronounced it inherently unworkable and doomed to failure in the face of presumed South African and Cuban intransigence and opposition from the Frontline States.

Objections from all quarters reached a peak as the United States resumed assistance to UNITA in early 1986, after a ten-year hiatus. The right wing found the U.S. objectives of blocking a military victory by the MPLA and its allies and forcing them to the negotiating table to be excessively modest (even though these were precisely UNITA's own long-standing objectives). The left declared aid to Angolan insurgents to be immoral, especially so because UNITA also accepted help from South Africa. Almost everyone predicted that the resumed U.S. relationship with UNITA would make Washington unacceptable as a mediator. But no one put forward an alternative to the concept of linkage as the basis for a possible settlement.

Right and left-including many politicians and academics from the United States-visited the area frequently during the eight-year-long negotiations, counseling their respective friends to ignore Crocker's mediation effort and to hang tough until it failed. As the talks proceeded, sanctions were advocated and actually imposed on South Africa, Namibia and Angola by the U.S. Congress without regard to what was happening in the negotiations. (As late as the fall of 1988, when the Angola/Namibia talks were at a particularly promising but delicate stage, the House and Senate were not interested in hearing about them as they considered escalating the U.S. economic warfare against South Africa.) When the U.S. presidential elections approached, the negotiations broke off as the Angolans, Cubans and South Africans waited to see whether Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis would be elected and American mediation efforts ended. (He had pledged to sever most U.S. relationships with South Africa, to end aid to UNITA and to abandon the linkage approach.)

The first stage of the negotiating process was devoted to convincing the parties to accept the concept of a trade-off between South African and Cuban withdrawal from the region. This stage was prolonged by the conflicting advice the parties received from their friends abroad and in the region. But by 1982 the South Africans had recognized the linkage between their own interests and those of Angola and Namibia. After two more years of diplomatic effort Angola put forward a proposal-the "Plataforma" of November 1984. While deriding the concept of linkage, the "Plataforma" corresponded to it. It proposed the partial withdrawal of Cuban forces-those in southern but not northern Angola-in return for South African implementation of Resolution 435. Meanwhile, proximity talks in Lusaka, Zambia, brokered by the United States, produced an agreement on mutual disengagement and South African withdrawal from southern Angola. But these arrangements broke down as South Africa raided the oil-rich Angolan province of Cabinda, and Luanda launched an offensive against UNITA's stronghold in southeastern Angola.

The second stage of the negotiations focused on persuading the MPLA and its allies that, while Cuban troops could prevent a South African-imposed military solution in Angola, there was no prospect that they could either remove the South African threat to southern Angola or achieve a military victory for the MPLA over UNITA. This was an unpalatable truth for the MPLA to accept. The resumption of U.S. aid to UNITA was designed to underscore it. This aid was a particularly bitter pill for Luanda to swallow, and the MPLA broke off contact with the U.S. mediator for a time.

But as the war continued in a stalemate, and as each move by one side was successfully countered by the others, the infeasibility of a military solution became increasingly difficult to overlook. As the human and economic costs of war escalated for all parties, they became convinced that there was no alternative to a negotiated settlement.

Angolan nationalists chafed under the tutelage of the growing Cuban expeditionary force and yearned for relief from the economic and social collapse brought about by the war and the failure of Soviet-inspired policies. Neither the objectives of nationalism nor economic development could be pursued while Cuban and South African forces prowled the Angolan countryside, defense expenditures (and debt to allies) spiraled out of control, and reliance on the Cubans locked Angola into an East-West context that precluded essential cooperation with Western economies and financial institutions. But only the removal of the Namibia-based South African threat and an end to South African aid to UNITA could justify to Luanda the risks inherent in the departure of its Cuban allies.

The South Africans found it increasingly difficult to justify heavy military expenditures on their intervention in Angola and defense of Namibia, the white casualties and the rising cost of subsidizing their ungrateful Namibian colony, especially as these actions diverted resources from efforts to calm their own domestic "revolutionary climate" through advances in black educational and living standards. But they needed a political and strategic victory to show that the benefits of letting Namibia go free and leaving Angola to its own fate outweighed the costs.

The Cubans, having invested their prestige and the blood of their youth in the inconclusive war in Angola, had come to see it as a quagmire. They needed a way to be able to declare their "internationalist" mission honorably fulfilled. A visible Cuban role in the achievement of Namibian independence and the consequent removal of the South African threat to Angola's sovereignty and territorial integrity could provide the political victory and security gains they needed to allow them to go home.

Finally, as the Soviets embraced perestroika and looked afresh at southwestern Africa, they came to see their escalating exposure as more expensive in both economic and political terms than their interests could justify. They sought to cut their losses, and to do so in a way that would gain them a reputation as responsible international actors with the United States and the West more generally.

The parties had no way to talk to each other; only the United States was in touch with all of them and willing to broker peace. The only available framework for a settlement was the concept of linkage and the only plausible mediator was Assistant Secretary Crocker.

By the spring of 1987, with the help of African countries increasingly disgusted with the spectacle of an escalating foreign troop presence and endless war in Angola, Crocker was back in touch with the MPLA. The first part of this last stage of the negotiations focused on the terms under which Cuba would be allowed to join the talks as a member of a joint Cuban/Angolan delegation. The issue was whether such a delegation would be empowered to discuss the withdrawal of all Cuban forces from Angola rather than, as the "Plataforma" had offered, only some of them. But, as it began to become clear that total withdrawal could be on the agenda, the negotiations were again derailed by a massive, Soviet-planned MPLA offensive against UNITA in the fall of 1987.

The results of this offensive, which the South African military helped UNITA to defeat decisively, were far-reaching. The South Africans were tempted into an ill-fated effort to score a knockout blow against the MPLA at Cuito Cuanavale. Faced with this, the Cubans decided to raise the cost of the war to South Africa and block an assault on Cuito Cuanavale by escalating the direct threat to Namibia. Some 15,000 Cuban regulars, massively equipped with armor and antiaircraft weaponry, were deployed from Cuba to areas in southwestern Angola near the Namibian border. Until then this area had been the unimpeded hunting preserve of South African forces going after SWAPO. It was also the site of dams on which northern Namibia depends for its water supply. During the spring and summer of 1988, as the negotiations moved into high gear, the Cubans achieved air superiority over the South Africans, underscoring that a large-scale South African mobilization and very heavy casualties would be necessary to dislodge them. Contemplating a choice between a negotiated settlement and bloody battles that would not alter the basic military balance between them, South Africa and Cuba were forced seriously to contemplate the compromises necessary to reach agreement.


In late January 1988 Cuba had joined the Angolan delegation at talks with the United States in Luanda. The Cubans confirmed that they were prepared to negotiate their total withdrawal in return for Namibian independence under U.N. Resolution 435. Talks in March between South African Foreign Minister R. F. "Pik" Botha and Assistant Secretary Crocker in Geneva confirmed South Africa's continuing willingness to settle on this basis. Parallel talks between Crocker and the Soviets for the first time suggested Moscow's interest in facilitating such a settlement. In May the United States as mediator assembled Angolan, Cuban and South African diplomats (and, equally or even more important, the chiefs of their respective military general staffs) in London, inviting the Soviets to be present outside the formal talks as counselors. South African dialogue with the Soviets helped to convince both of them that a settlement was indeed possible. With behind-the-scenes help from the Soviets (who talked to all parties and kept the U.S. delegation apprised of the results), the United States pushed the parties to hammer out an agreement in principle on a settlement based on the linkage concept that Crocker, who chaired the sessions and shuttled between delegations at all hours of the day and night, had formulated eight years before.

Over the summer of 1988, despite occasional lapses into polemics, this basic agreement was refined and committed to paper. It found expression in an agreed statement of principles issued after a meeting at Governor's Island in New York, and in a protocol establishing a de facto cease-fire and confidence-building measures among all parties, reached in Geneva. By the beginning of September all South African forces were out of Angola; Cuban forces along Namibia's northwestern borders with Angola had adopted a visibly less aggressive posture; and a joint military monitoring commission had been set up to maintain mutual disengagement and peace along the border. Cuba stood down from attacks on UNITA, while Angola and Cuba persuaded SWAPO to pull back from Namibia's borders and to declare its own cease-fire with South Africa. Cuba began a quiet dialogue with UNITA on prisoners and other issues, including-very likely-the shape of a possible internal political settlement in Angola.

A series of meetings in Brazzaville over the course of the fall produced agreement on the final elements of a trilateral treaty among South Africa, Angola and Cuba and the outlines of a related bilateral treaty between Angola and Cuba specifying a schedule for the phased total withdrawal of Cuban forces from Angola. The "Protocol of Brazzaville" committed Angola, Cuba and South Africa to sign these treaties and established a Joint Commission, in which the United States and the U.S.S.R. were invited to participate, to oversee the peace.

The treaties themselves were signed in New York on December 22, 1988. They traded South African withdrawal from Namibia and its independence under Resolution 435 for Cuban withdrawal from Angola. The Cubans agreed to leave southern Angola by stages in seven months, by which time half of their 50,000 troops in Angola would have returned home. Cuban forces would be out of all of Angola in 27 months. As a confidence-building measure, Cuba withdrew 3,000 combatants between January and March; implementation by both sides was set to begin in earnest on April 1, 1989.


This all sounded logical and straightforward, but it was not. These were governments of vastly different decision-making styles and capabilities, all of them isolated and with varying degrees of suspicion about the United States and Crocker.

Angola's president, José Eduardo dos Santos, faced a divided politburo in which it was difficult to get agreement. The pace of the negotiations reflected his difficulties in getting a consensus and his inability to force one. His chief of staff, General Ndalu, ably represented his decisions at the negotiating table as they emerged.

Cuba's President Fidel Castro, on the other hand, was the undisputed master of his government, intimately involved in the direction of Cuban forces in Angola and directly in charge of his negotiators. The Cuban decision to raise the ante to South Africa after the failure of the Soviet-instigated offensive against UNITA in the fall of 1987 was a bold gamble by Castro to force a South African choice between peace and war. By the summer of 1988 Castro had found a highly professional negotiator, Carlos Aldana Escalante, to translate his military moves into an agreement allowing Cuba's withdrawal without dishonor from Angola.

South Africa's State President P. W. Botha presided over a government divided between civilians and security personnel who often work at cross-purposes. Pretoria's schizophrenic policies toward the Frontline States, especially Mozambique, have long reflected these divisions. But in its chief negotiator, Neil van Heerden, Pretoria found a diplomat of world stature able to work effectively with the equally thoughtful and sophisticated South African Defense Forces chief of staff, General Jannie Geldenhuys. Together they managed to forge unity between both sides of the South African national security apparatus. President Botha's decision-making was eased by the existence of an almost unprecedented consensus between his chief military and diplomatic advisers.

This consensus began with agreement on the fruitlessness of continued engagement in southern Angola once the Cubans had positioned themselves to respond with attacks on northwestern Namibia. Dislodging this impressive new Cuban presence in the Angolan south would have required a politically unpopular mass mobilization of South African forces and a bloody counterescalation. The alternative, a negotiated Cuban withdrawal from southern Africa, thus became an even more important objective for South Africa than before. Heavily front-loaded Cuban withdrawal and rapid Cuban redeployment out of southern Angola came to be seen as likely to favor UNITA in its struggle for power-sharing with the MPLA. Implementation of Resolution 435 could also reduce friction between South Africa and the international community, including the Frontline States and other African nations, thus buying more time for Pretoria to address its internal problems and freeing resources for it to do so. Finally, a sober reevaluation of the probable stance of an independent Namibia suggested that its dependence on South Africa would indeed compel it to function as a nonthreatening buffer state between South Africa and an Angola from which both Cuban and African National Congress guerrillas had withdrawn.

The Soviets, who had done everything possible prior to 1988 to block the negotiations, were moved by Mikhail Gorbachev's "new thinking" (helped, one imagines, by the MPLA's military debacle) to throw their weight behind a settlement. By the summer of 1988 Deputy Foreign Minister Anatoly Adamishin and African Director Vladillen Vasev were Crocker's reliable behind-the-scenes partners as his marathon mediation effort moved toward the finish line.

A more improbable grouping of countries to gather under American auspices would be hard to imagine, yet all parties to the Angola/Namibia accords eventually perceived that they would be better off if the deals they made were implemented than if they were not. The accords got them off the treadmill to nowhere on which they had been marching for so long. Convincing them that military victory was impossible for any side, and that the costs of the fighting in human, budgetary and political terms would continue to escalate for all, was central to their decision to give peace a chance. As their response to events since April 1 shows, nothing is likely to happen to make it advantageous for any party to return to war. For Angolans, however, the agony of the civil war remains unalleviated. The accords were structured to create an ineluctable logic in favor of a political settlement of that war.

In implementation of the Governor's Island principles, the African National Congress has withdrawn its military bases from Angola, while the South Africans have halted their assistance to UNITA. Relieved of the burden of association with Pretoria but well-stocked with weapons and ammunition and confident of continuing U.S. assistance, UNITA faces the MPLA with refurbished nationalist credentials and high military confidence. The Cubans are already standing apart from MPLA firefights with UNITA; by August 1 they will be north of the 15th parallel and therefore removed from all but the northernmost borders of UNITA territory. By November 1 half of the Cuban troops will be gone and all of those remaining will be north of the 13th parallel, which cuts Angola approximately in half. As the Cubans withdraw, the MPLA's fighting ability will deteriorate, more than matching the impact on UNITA of the South Africans' parallel withdrawal from the fray.

Neither the MPLA nor UNITA can hope for military victory. Savimbi has always realized this, and has put forward a series of imaginative and realistic proposals for peace. The MPLA is coming to realize that military victory is not possible. The issue now is not whether the MPLA and UNITA will sit down at the negotiating table, but when and how they will do so.

There are many African leaders interested in helping Angolans to craft a solution that would end foreign entanglement in their internal struggles. The Soviets and Cubans share Washington's perception that an internal Angolan political settlement is urgent. The Joint Commission established by the accords provides a ready venue for informal discussions between the United States and the MPLA on how to achieve one, but the key remains direct discussions between the MPLA and UNITA. Despite the difficulties in the path of peace, there is reason for optimism that it will be achieved-because neither the parties to the civil war nor their foreign backers have any alternative.


While promoting peace among Angolans remains a very high priority for the United States in southern Africa, the days immediately ahead will be dominated in large measure by monitoring the withdrawal of Cuban forces from Angola and assisting the complex transition in Namibia.

The difficulty of this transition was amply illustrated on its very first day, when the 20th SWAPO Brigade and other insurgent forces crossed the Angolan-Namibian border in force in April. SWAPO's leadership seems to have ordered this move in part to lay the basis for a myth that armed struggle inside Namibia had made a decisive contribution to independence, when it had not. But the incursion was also clearly intended to prepare for a show of force during the independence process. The arms caches SWAPO infiltrators buried in northern Namibia contained large quantities of TNT, detonators and timers in addition to mines, heavy weapons, small arms and new uniforms. SWAPO timed its invasion to take advantage of the brief period in which South African forces had been confined to base and U.N. forces had not yet been fully deployed. Even had it been fully deployed, the U.N. Transition Assistance Group had no counterinsurgency capabilities and could not have dealt with over 1,600 heavily armed SWAPO infiltrators. South Africa was not about to allow SWAPO to gain the bases, military presence and "liberated zone" in Namibia it had failed to win in over two decades of war and diplomacy, still less to allow SWAPO to violate its obligations under Resolution 435 with impunity while holding South Africa to its own commitments.

Had this challenge occurred in the absence of the New York accords among Angola, Cuba and South Africa, the Namibian independence process would likely have been aborted in its first days and any possibility of implementing Resolution 435 permanently destroyed. But none of the parties to the linkage established in these accords was prepared to see what had been so painfully negotiated derailed by SWAPO's folly. With the acquiescence of the United Nations, South African forces were temporarily released from their bases to deal with the infiltrators.

The Angolan-Cuban-South African Joint Commission met several times with U.S. and Soviet observers (later joined by U.N. officials) to work out procedures to ensure the prompt removal of SWAPO forces from northern Namibia and their confinement to bases north of the 16th parallel in Angola, as had been agreed in the Geneva Protocol of August 5, 1988, and earlier accepted by SWAPO. These meetings were invaluable in restoring and sustaining mutual confidence. They went surprisingly smoothly, underscoring the commitment of all parties to full implementation of their agreements and their determination to deny SWAPO the ability to disrupt the deal they had made. The ferocity of the South African military reaction to SWAPO's incursion combined with firm Angolan and Cuban pressure on the SWAPO leadership to force it back into compliance with Resolution 435.

During the first six weeks of the Namibian independence process, the Joint Commission-the embodiment of the linkage between Angola and Namibia, which many at the United Nations continued reflexively to deride-proved its centrality to the settlement process, including the viability of the U.N. plan for Namibia. By mid-May the actions of the parties to the Joint Commission had restored the context for a resumption of the independence process. The crisis left behind it, however, grave questions about the capacity of the current leadership of SWAPO to participate wisely and effectively in governing the new nation to be born next year.

The stakes in Namibia are high. The Angola/Namibia negotiations may have taught the South African establishment that it is sometimes more effective to negotiate and accommodate than it is to bully and coerce. This is a lesson that could be applied at home, but it will be soon forgotten if Namibia turns out badly. The emergence of Namibia as a stable, decent society with a well-managed economy would inspire more rapid change away from apartheid in South Africa. But this outcome is far from certain. Should Namibia go the other way, the prospects for change in South Africa would be seriously set back.


As in the case of all negotiations and settlements, these accords did not resolve all issues of concern and even generated some new problems. But that does not detract from either their significance or the hopes they raise for resolution of other long-standing problems in the region, such as the anarchy and carnage in Mozambique. It may be too early to draw firm lessons from this unprecedented mediation effort by the United States in remote southwestern Africa. But I would like to suggest a few points for consideration drawn from the experience of the American team.

The only deal that will work is one that is good for all the parties to it and tolerable to those who have the capacity to wreck it; i.e., a peace without losers. A formula that has the logic of fundamental national interests behind it is worth sticking with; patience will reward such a formula.

Military force remains a persuasive tool of foreign and national security policy. Without South African intervention in Angola, there would have been no recognition in Luanda of an Angolan security interest in Namibia's independence and no Cuban consideration of withdrawal to realize it. Without Cuba's demonstration of its willingness to match South African escalation, there would have been no urgency to reach an agreement. Without U.S. aid to UNITA, there would have been no convincing stalemate to propel the parties to the negotiating table. Nor, absent a convincing U.S. commitment to help UNITA maintain its military balance with the MPLA, would the South African military have been willing to consider an end to its own aid to UNITA.

Finally, mediation is different from negotiation per se. It provides an opportunity to guide the parties to definitions of their national interests and toward outcomes compatible with the mediator's objectives, but in the end they-not the mediator-determine the results. At various stages in the Angola/Namibia negotiations, the parties gave in on points Crocker did not believe they needed to concede, and which the United States would rather they had not. Recognition of the limits of the mediator's role and of his power to compel a result is his first virtue; forbearance from pointing out the petty and grand stupidities of the parties to the negotiation is his second.

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  • Chas. W. Freeman, Jr., was principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs from April 1986 until May 1989. Copyright (c) 1989 by Chas. W. Freeman, Jr.
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