The Overstretched Superpower
Does America Have More Rivals Than It Can Handle?
It scarcely requires congressional votes of no confidence or a change of administrations in London to signal that time has run out on the Rhodesian policy the American and British governments have pursued so doggedly for more than two years. There now sits in Salisbury a black Prime Minister, Methodist Bishop Abel Muzorewa, the resounding victor in April's election in which nearly two-thirds of his country's adult population-for the first time-cast ballots. The election was indeed far from perfect. It was conducted on the basis of a constitution which had been approved in a referendum excluding blacks. It excluded major claimants for power. But its results underline the fact that whatever the ideal political preferences of Rhodesia's people, most of them want peace most of all, and a majority of them are prepared to rest their hopes on Bishop Muzorewa as the best available means of bringing it about.
Western diplomacy must now adjust to this reality. Yet Washington and London should do so not by merely lifting the economic sanctions the United Nations imposed in 1966 on Ian Smith's breakaway Rhodesian regime. Rather, they should use the prospective removal of sanctions as a means of pushing the Muzorewa government toward an accommodation with its enemies. In addition, they should deflect Soviet involvement with Rhodesia's black neighbors through substantial economic and military assistance to these "front-line states" and work to keep South Africa out of the Rhodesian war.
Along with its new, predominantly black government, the former British colony of Southern Rhodesia now has the new name of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia. That awkward amalgam of quintessentially African and English syllables hints at the substance behind the facade. Protected by the "entrenched clauses" of the new constitution, the four-percent minority of whites still retains substantial control over the levers of power. And the civil war that Ian Smith hoped to stem when he worked out the so-called internal settlement of March 1978 with Muzorewa and two other black politicians continues unabated; it is as if Zimbabwe, the site of a long-vanished African empire whose archaeological remnants have come to symbolize genuine black rule, were warring with Rhodesia, the paradigm settler state.
End the war or not, the internal settlement and the general elections 13 months later crystallized opposition to existing Anglo-American policy both in the United States and the United Kingdom. Conservatives in both countries argue that the policy's emphasis on internationally supervised elections open to all contenders for power amounted to a tilt in favor of Joshua Nkomo and Robert Mugabe, the nationalist leaders who chose to continue the guerrilla war rather than accept the settlement offered by Ian Smith. Until May's British election, the Carter Administration could be sure of firm support from the Labour government in London. But Margaret Thatcher's Conservative Party was all but pledged to get rid of sanctions. Because the new Foreign Secretary, Lord Carrington, favors a more cautious approach than many of his colleagues, it is unlikely that the new government will take any drastic steps before August's biennial Commonwealth conference-this year in Lusaka, Zambia, of all potentially embarrassing places, with the Queen herself due to be present. However, given the strength of Conservative Party sentiments, delay beyond November, when Parliament must vote on its annual legislation renewing sanctions, is also unlikely, at least on that issue.
In fact, the issue of sanctions is now more symbolic than real, for sanctions have been only partially effective. Although foreign trade and investment have diminished, the shrewd white Rhodesians have managed to market their country's chrome and tobacco, and to get the foreign goods they have needed-including, especially, oil and weapons. Lifting sanctions now would make foreign sales and purchases easier, but alone would have no major impact upon Rhodesia's economy. Although that economy has been badly hurt in the past few years, it is the escalating war and not sanctions that has done the damage. Not only has the war been enormously costly to fight-over one million dollars per day recently, a vast sum for a small country-but it has frightened off foreign investors and, most harmful of all, has caused a continuing exodus of skilled white managers and technicians. Therefore, ending sanctions would make a real difference to Rhodesia's situation only if accompanied by substantial Western economic aid and a concerted Western campaign to gather diplomatic support for the Muzorewa government.
Yet the symbolism of lifting sanctions, even if other forms of Western support were lacking, would scarcely be unimportant politically: countries lifting sanctions would by that very gesture indicate that they are content with changes that give only the trappings of office to representatives of the 96-percent black majority while preserving white power through a constitution that gives unique protection to white economic interests, and security to white jobs in the police, judiciary, and civil and military services. For the United States and Great Britain, the mere act of removing sanctions would thus signify their departure from the basic principle that has been at the core of their Rhodesian policy: that the pressure should not be relaxed until there is genuine majority rule. Therefore, lifting sanctions under present circumstances would outrage nearly all other African governments. Far from wishing to relax the pressure on the Salisbury regime, most African states would like to strengthen it.
Meanwhile, as the Carter Administration attempts to salvage what remains of its Rhodesian policy, Bishop Muzorewa faces a policy choice perhaps even more important for the future of southern Africa: whether to enter into an intensified alliance between his country and South Africa. The Republic has, of course, been crucial to Rhodesia's survival ever since the beginning of sanctions. It has been a source of or an entrepôt for arms, oil and other vital goods. Until the internal settlement, however, Pretoria seemed undecided as to how much of a commitment to make to Rhodesia. But since then, there have been reports of South African military assistance-discreetly rendered but nevertheless extending even to limited combat engagements by South African aircraft and helicopters with their markings obscured. And since Muzorewa's election victory, South African leaders have openly implied that much more extensive help could be his for the asking-enough, perhaps, to turn the tide in the grim and bloody civil war away from the Patriotic Front guerrillas.
If Muzorewa accepts major overt South African aid-no matter what the terms-he may gain a respite from the formidable pressures of that war, but most of the world will rightly regard his country as a mere satellite of the only state whose entire political structure rests on explicitly racial barriers. That would irrevocably divide Zimbabwe-Rhodesia from nearly all the rest of black Africa. It would make more remote than ever a negotiated settlement to the civil war. And although it would forestall for the moment Rhodesia's day of violent reckoning, it is unlikely to put that day off forever.
If the South Africans have their way and create the "fortress southern Africa" that government spokesmen in Pretoria now admit is their objective, the Republic's defense perimeter would then move from the Limpopo to the Zambezi River. It would enclose not only Zimbabwe-Rhodesia but a soon-to-be formally independent, yet totally dependent Namibia, together with the three former British protectorates of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland that are now-because of geography-also dependent on South Africa. Rhodesia's white-led but largely black army would be buttressed with white South African technicians, advisers and perhaps also pilots. South Africa's powerful armed forces would share the logistical burden of ferrying commandos to assault Patriotic Front camps in Zambia and Mozambique, just as South Africa's forces themselves now routinely strike deep into Angola at the camps of the South West African People's Organization (SWAPO), the insurgent group seeking power in Namibia. Gone would be any but token efforts to find political solutions to either the Rhodesian or Namibian civil wars. Muzorewa's position within his own country and his standing abroad would be no better than that of the mixed-race coalition, dominated by whites, which is likely soon to govern Namibia by virtue of its victory in elections run by South Africa last fall.
For Western governments, and especially for the Carter Administration, the most serious consequence of large-scale South African entry into the Rhodesian war would be the effect on the "front-line" states: Zambia, Mozambique and Botswana-the countries immediately surrounding Rhodesia-plus Tanzania and Angola at somewhat greater distance. At various times, all have given support to the guerrilla leaders and their forces, and refuge to their civilian followers. Zambia and Mozambique have been most directly involved, as territorial bases for the armies of Joshua Nkomo and Robert Mugabe. These two countries have been the targets of punishing attacks by the Rhodesian air force and army over the last year or so, against which they have seemed almost defenseless. Rhodesian commandos have destroyed guerrilla camps, hospitals and schools-and killed local citizens as well-while Rhodesian jets overhead maintained total control of the air.
With South African assistance and perhaps even active participation, Rhodesia's cross-border operations would be still more punishing-unless the front-line governments themselves get outside military help. Their most urgent need is for modern, effective air defenses, smaller versions of the system the Soviet Union provided North Vietnam with which to counter American bombing attacks. That aid might come from the West. It is already beginning to come from the Soviet Union and from Moscow's allies, such as Cuba, and there is every likelihood that Soviet and Cuban assistance will increase dramatically. Given Congressional sensitivities in the United States, the Soviet leadership might well prefer to forestall any escalation of the Rhodesian conflict at least until the SALT II treaty is disposed of-one way or another-by the Senate. But a substantial increase in South African participation in the war, accompanied by appeals for help from the front-line governments, would make it difficult for Moscow to keep its efforts low key.
It should be recalled that it was only after large-scale South African intervention in Angola's civil war that the Soviet Union and Cuba vastly enlarged their own intervention on the side of the government of President Agostinho Neto. Especially if South African help to Rhodesia were accompanied by a lifting of sanctions by the United States and the United Kingdom, vastly stepped-up Soviet bloc support might seem to the front-line governments as the best of a set of bad alternatives. And Moscow, Havana and East Berlin (the East Germans have been more active in Africa than the other East Europeans) would probably be ready to provide it. In doing so, they would go far toward turning a conflict between South Africa and its black neighbors into a confrontation between East and West.
That confrontation is precisely what the Carter Administration has sought to avoid. The President and his advisers-particularly those most involved with African issues-have frequently deplored Soviet and Cuban military activities in Africa, but in their public assessments they have generally tried to relate those activities to specific circumstances in individual countries, and they have avoided portraying them as a frontal challenge to the West. They can, of course, continue to take this line even if the Soviet and Cuban military presence in the front-line states substantially increases. The facts of the situation would justify their doing so: Moscow and its allies, after all, would be coming to the aid of states indisputably under attack. But there will be politically powerful voices within the United States and other Western societies that will depict a stepped-up communist effort in southern Africa as a direct threat to Western interests. And they will call for an assertive Western response. Beyond the lifting of sanctions, this might extend to support for economic and eventually even military aid to Zimbabwe-Rhodesia.
Unless a sustained effort is made to prevent increased Soviet involvement, voices calling for assertiveness are likely to prevail. American and British policy on Rhodesia has not been popular even among some officials of the two governments, much less among their wider publics. It has been based on subtleties not easy to convey. Its constant theme has been a refusal to recognize any political settlement that did not have the support of all important Rhodesian black political figures-including, of course, Nkomo and Mugabe. Its premise was that such a partial settlement could not end the war. Nor would it have the support of most other African states. This is significant not only for bilateral U.S. relations with African nations, but also because at least tacit concurrence by Zambia and Mozambique in any Rhodesian outcome is basic to ending the war.
Domestic critics on both sides of the Atlantic, however, equated the British-American policy with support for the guerrillas, who were themselves tainted not only by their insistent espousal of a violent solution, but by the very fact of their reliance on communist sources for arms and training. To these critics, the settlement reached in March 1978 between Ian Smith and the three "internal" black leaders was more than sufficient ground for recognition and lifting sanctions. It provided for an election based on universal suffrage where in the past only a handful of blacks had been allowed to vote, and it virtually guaranteed that the new government of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia would be black-led. For many of these critics, the fact that the new constitutional order would leave effective power in the hands of the four-percent white minority for at least ten more years was scarcely a disadvantage. Had not virtually all African "independence constitutions" contained similar "entrenched" clauses? How else to assure stability and the continuation of a liberal economy?
Against these persistent voices, the arguments of American and British government spokesmen-that this is 1979, not 1964, and that the privileges retained by Rhodesia's whites are far more sweeping and more firmly entrenched than those of whites in other colonies when they reached independence under vastly more tranquil circumstances a generation ago-were easily lost in the clamor.
Now such reservations have been further smothered by the undeniably impressive nature of the April election results. The large turnout came despite guerrilla efforts to keep blacks from voting. And while a certain number undoubtedly went to the polls because their employers insisted on it, or as a result of pressure either from government police or the private security forces of the various black candidates, the landslide vote in favor of Muzorewa's party, the United African National Council, is widely seen both as a tacit endorsement of the internal settlement and as an expression of faith that the Bishop, once in office, can somehow end the war.
It should now become a primary objective of Western policy to help him do so and yet remain free of South Africa's embrace. That is no easy task, for the West or for Muzorewa. Of all the leading black politicians on either side of the Zimbabwe struggle, Muzorewa is probably the least impressive. He is said to be indecisive. He is not a forceful or articulate speaker. Over the past year he has allowed himself to be stampeded by Smith and others into actions that were plainly ill-advised. Yet it should be remembered that the Bishop was also the leader of the massive and successful campaign among Rhodesian blacks to discredit the white-supremacist constitution that Ian Smith negotiated with Edward Heath's British government in 1971. Now his party has 51 of the 72 black seats in Zimbabwe-Rhodesia's new assembly (28 seats are reserved for whites). That is sufficient to make it possible for him to exert effective leadership-if he wishes to.
During the 14 months between the internal settlement and his taking office as Prime Minister, Muzorewa said repeatedly that he should not be judged on his record as merely one of four members-with Ian Smith and the two other "internal" black leaders-of the transitional government's executive council. Rather, he said, critics who condemned his acquiescence in measures he disliked, such as the perpetuation of racial barriers, should wait until he held office on the basis of a popular mandate. Then he would show his strength.
That time has come. The West should now ask the Bishop to demonstrate that he is really in charge, and it should do so as a condition of recognizing and supporting his government. Specifically, the West should ask four things of him.
First, he should make clear that he will press the new constitution of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia to its limits-and perhaps beyond-to ensure that blacks make rapid progress in gaining access to education, government jobs, good housing, and the best agricultural lands. This, of course, is what many critics have been asking of Muzorewa. It is essential, but so are the next three measures.
Second, he should halt Rhodesian attacks against neighboring states. Of all the leadership tasks that lie before Muzorewa, none is more important than making it evident that he controls the armed forces. The new constitution makes it impossible for the government to tamper with the tenure of the nearly all-white officer corps, or to promote blacks on any grounds but merit-and merit will be judged by a white-controlled promotion panel whose members also have tenure. But the constitution does not prevent the Prime Minister from exercising broad direction over the ways the army and air force are used. During the year of transitional government, it was evident that Ian Smith did not permit his three black partners to take part in military planning, and Muzorewa was patently embarrassed by attacks on Zambia and Mozambique that took place without his prior knowledge or approval. The question now is whether he will have the courage to assert his personal authority over military affairs in the face of certain opposition from the armed services, and from the white members of the assembly and of his government.1 It is highly encouraging that, in forming his government, the Bishop retained for himself the Ministries of Combined Operations and of Defense and gave the Law and Order portfolio to a black colleague. Moreover, he apparently did so against the wishes of Smith, who wanted these posts that are so crucial to the war effort to remain in white hands. If the attacks now persist, the West can only conclude that Muzorewa is merely a facade for continuing white power, or else that he has committed himself to an ultimately unwinnable war rather than opening up avenues toward its negotiated end. Either way, the case even for lifting sanctions, much less for recognition and support, will be undercut.
The third condition that Muzorewa should be asked to meet is that he should demonstrate clearly, as he has often asserted, that he is still willing to reach a political compromise with the guerrilla leaders. That means being willing to agree to a new election, this time under British or U.N. supervision, in which Nkomo and Mugabe and their followers could take part. His recent strong electoral victory should give him the confidence to face another test. In the absence of a clear electoral result, Muzorewa should certainly not be expected to step aside in favor of either of the guerrilla leaders. But he should make clear that he stands ready to share power with them if that will end the war.
A fourth condition should be Muzorewa's rejection of South Africa's offer of an intensified alliance, whether overt or covert. Specifically that would mean refusing South African security forces permission to use the territory or air-space of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia, and accepting no more than current levels of military and economic assistance from Pretoria.
The conditions suggested here would scarcely be easy for Muzorewa to meet. Yet only if Zimbabwe-Rhodesia refuses close ties with South Africa and ceases to make war on its neighbors will it ever be accepted among other black African states, and induce them to cease their support of the guerrilla campaign. And these would surely be crucial first steps toward a political settlement of a civil war which otherwise will increasingly pit black against black. If the United States and other Western governments were not to insist on steps like these as conditions for lifting sanctions, they would in effect be acquiescing in South Africa's move to make Zimbabwe-Rhodesia a puppet state within its own defense perimeter.
The act of lifting sanctions by the United States will in any event damage the goodwill the Carter Administration has built up among African governments by its principled opposition to the racist white regimes of southern Africa. And even requiring specific actions from the new government of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia as conditions would not be sufficient to salvage all the loss. Nevertheless, there are other measures the Administration could take which, when added to a conditional lifting of sanctions, might ease the impact and, in fact, provide a basis for a coherent, more solidly founded American policy in southern Africa.
First among them would be a program of substantial American economic and military assistance to the front-line states. The costs of maintaining sanctions against Rhodesia, and of running camps for Rhodesian refugees, have severely harmed the economies of all the front-line states, but especially those of Zambia, Mozambique and Tanzania. American aid to Zambia and Tanzania was once considerable. In recent years Congress has reduced it to little more than a trickle. Aid to Mozambique, because of its Marxist-oriented (but in fact staunchly independent) government has been nearly nonexistent. If there is an American interest in maintaining (or restoring) the economic health of these nations and retaining their goodwill-as there surely is-there is an irrefutable case for providing them with economic assistance.
The case for military assistance to the front-line governments is perhaps even stronger. There is no reason to leave to the Soviet Union and Cuba the political benefits that will come from providing Zambia and Mozambique with air defenses capable of repelling Rhodesian attacks. Such defenses are no easy undertaking, however. The Rhodesian air force may not fly the latest aircraft, but its tactics are sophisticated. If it receives help from South Africa, it will be even more formidable. Countering its assaults will be very costly. And the expensive radar, computers, guns, and missiles required must necessarily be accompanied by a substantial program to train local personnel in their use. Western technicians might be needed at the outset to man the complicated equipment. Congress-and the British Parliament and other legislatures if the costs are shared-will surely gag at the magnitudes involved. But if Western countries fail to provide these defenses, their citizens can scarcely complain when the beleaguered governments in Lusaka and Maputo turn to the Soviet Union and its allies. For them it is not a matter of political preference; the survival of their regimes is at stake.
Aid to the most threatened front-line states should, indeed, be a major element of American policy in southern Africa regardless of events in Zimbabwe-Rhodesia. If there is an alliance between Salisbury and Pretoria, it will be more than ever necessary to help the states on their borders defend themselves against attacks. Building up the military capabilities of the front-line states will also give them the means to put pressure on the Patriotic Front. The guerrilla armies reportedly are as strong as or stronger than the forces of the countries in which they take refuge. They therefore can operate with relative impunity. If Bishop Muzorewa were to demonstrate that he is not simply a puppet of Ian Smith or of South Africa, and were to display real willingness to reach an accord with Joshua Nkomo and Robert Mugabe, Zambia and Mozambique might well wish to exert pressure on the guerrilla leaders and their forces to cooperate. Under present conditions they could not do so.
The West should help the front-line states build up their defenses even if the government of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia should agree to cease attacking them. Stronger Zambian and Mozambican defenses would help to ensure the longevity of the undertaking. If Rhodesian commanders know they will pay a substantial price for violating neighboring territory, they will be less likely to press their political leaders to authorize attacks. And-it cannot be emphasized too strongly-the front-line leaders would have less need to turn to the Soviet Union and its allies.
Similar logic dictates that a new American approach to southern Africa accompanying conditional support for Muzorewa should contain one further element: a stepping up of political and economic pressure against South Africa proportional to that country's increased military and economic assistance to Zimbabwe-Rhodesia. In the case of air defenses for the front-line states, the goal of U.S. policy should be to raise the costs the Rhodesian armed forces must pay for attacking their neighbors. In the case of pressure on South Africa, the goal should be to persuade Pretoria that the costs of making good on its offer to Salisbury of a military alliance will be too high. This is not the place to discuss particular levers available to the West for increasing the pressure on South Africa. Among many levers available, however, are trade, investment and financial penalties.2 The problem is choosing among them, and mustering the political will within Western societies to apply them.
American Senators and Congressmen periodically make much of their dislike of the white regime in South Africa, but few have shown enough concern about the important link between Pretoria and the course of events in Zimbabwe-Rhodesia. Indeed, the reason why sanctions were never more than partially effective in the first place is that the crucial funnel between Rhodesia and South Africa was never closed; the West was never willing to put sufficient pressure on South Africa-by curtailing oil shipments, for instance-to close it. Now that South Africa seems on the brink of much larger involvement in the war to its north, the case for persuasive countermeasures on the part of the West is even stronger.
The purpose of this discussion has been to suggest that there are ways in which the American and British governments can acknowledge the changes that have taken place both in Zimbabwe-Rhodesia and in their own domestic politics. Yet they can still move Zimbabwe toward the kind of society Muzorewa and his black colleagues in the new government say they would like to see, rather than the kind Ian Smith has induced them to settle for. Moreover, new approaches are now necessary in any case: the old Western policy is no longer useful. Merely maintaining sanctions while watching South Africa fight for Rhodesia and the Soviet Union and Cuba defend the front-line states can only bring an intensified civil war to Zimbabwe-Rhodesia and intensified cold war to the African continent. But merely lifting sanctions is equally shortsighted, for it would not be enough to induce the Salisbury government not to look toward Pretoria for help. And confronting the front-line states with South African-assisted Rhodesian forces which the West also seemed to support would make their governments even more likely to seek large-scale aid from Moscow and its allies.
As things have developed in southern Africa, the West has very few cards to play. One card is lifting sanctions and extending measured, conditional support to Bishop Muzorewa's government in Zimbabwe-Rhodesia. Another is effective support for the frontline states. A third is increased pressure on South Africa. Playing all three cards together certainly will not guarantee peaceful progress toward genuine majority rule in Zimbabwe-Rhodesia, nor will it ensure that Soviet influence in the region will not increase. But it is even more certain that playing the first card ineffectively by unconditionally lifting sanctions, as so many Senators and Congressmen have urged upon President Carter, will not do so.
1 Under an agreement made before the April election, each major party receives cabinet posts in proportion to its assembly seats; in the initial cabinet, this provided Ian Smith's white Rhodesian Front with five portfolios of 17.