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
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