Page 3, 2nd March 1979

2nd March 1979
Page 3
Page 3, 2nd March 1979 — Send in the troops
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Send in the troops

John Carey discusses an extreme measure to avoid anarchy in Rhodesia.

AT SOME POINT within the next year or 18 months, British troops will go into Rhodesia. They will do so on government orders and with the support of a public outraged by television and Press reports of white people

massacred and black children starving.

The action will be greeted with anger and scorn by the whole of black Africa and a majority in the United Nations, where Britain will be harangued for its latest demonstration of "racist imperialism".

In Rhodesia the conflict between at least three rival black groups will intensify as each steps up its bid for power in the new Zimbabwe. Whoever wins will take over a country and a people devastated by years of fighting and economic hardship, and bitter at Britain's failure to free them from white domination.

This is the most likely conclusion to 83 years of British involvement in Rhodesia. Everything points towards a deterioration into chaos in which any British government will feel compelled to stage some form of emergency airlift of white civilians.

In other words, British troops will be used. To use them at such a late stage would do next to nothing to help the people of Zimbabwe, and would be a political disaster for Britain.

There is therefore a strong argument for using them now. Not only could this achieve something positive by helping to end the war and creating the conditions for fair elections; it could also enable Britain to regain a little of its tarnished reputation among the nations of Africa.

The idea of military intervention has remained anathema to all British politicians since Harold Wilson rejected it just before Rhodesia's Unilateral Declaration of Independence in 1965. (Some say it was this rejection that finally opened the door to UDI.) It would therefore represent an almost unheard of reversal of previous policy.

To send in the Army would be an extreme measure. But nothing less is now going to count for very much.

The internal government, which will be one year old tomorrow, has failed in its objective of ending the war. Its leadership is divided and quarrelsome, its army hopelessly over-stretched and its white supporters increasingly restless with the lack of progress towards a settlement.

The shaky alliance between Joshua Nkomo and Robert Mugabe, the leaders of the Patriotic front, is at breaking point, with serious differences over tactics and ideology.

The involvement of the Communist Powers is increasing all

the time, while in Rhodesia itself the number of guns in circulation and the activities of the "private armies" are adding to the likelihood of killing on an even greater scale than has been witnessed so far.

Thus the scene is set for an eventual "victory" by the guerillas, followed by a further struggle for power, complicated by outside intervention.

Britain is now the only Power with sufficient authority to avoid the further suffering which such a struggle would entail. What are the principal objections to military intervention and how strong are they?

The present Rhodesian government would not agree to it and has the power to prevent it. Since shortly after UDI, the white population and the army have been solidly behind the rebellion. However, white morale has dipped sharply over the last six months and there is now an unprecedented amount of unease with Ian Smith's leadership.

Most significantly, there is unease among the senior officers of the security forces. General Peter Walls, the officer corn manding the Rhodesian Army, is known to be unhappy about the politicians' failure to take deteriorating security seriously enough, and the lack of adequate consultation.

He is thought to have been told of the internal settlement only a few days before it was publicly announced and he was prevented from seeing Mr Cledwyn Hughes when the latter visited Rhodesia as Mr Callaghan's personal representative in December.

There is growing dissatisfaction among top white civil servants. Many are now leaving the country. They are keen to see a return to legality as soon as possible before the country's administration falls apart altogether.

The Patriotic Front would oppose it. Certainly the Front's public statements give this impression. However, if it were made absolutely clear that Britain was intervening purely to remove Smith and create the conditions for proper elections, the Front leaders, and especially Mugabe, would probably accept it.

Mugabe is confident that he has majority support in Rhodesia. Neither he nor Nkomo is keen to inherit a country whose administration and economic structure have been destroyed. However, for them to accept intervention, a strict time limit of, say, 120 days would have to be imposed with a firm agreement that no attrempt was made to install the government of Britain's choosing.

Zambia, Tanzania, Mozambique, Botswana and Angola would kick up a fuss within the Organisation of African Unity and the UN. They would insist on strict conditions and they would also demand to be kept fully informed of Britain's plans. But they would not necessarily create serious problems.

Kenneth Kaunda in Zambia and Julius Nyerere in Tanzania have repeatedly urged Britain to take a more active. role since UDI. Until now they have been able to exert some influence over the guerilla forces, but that is becoming harder all the time.

Zambia in particular has suffered acute economic damage because of the war, while the presence of huge numbers of guerillas and refugees have also brought internal political problems.

Nyerere has invested considerable political prestige in the liberation of Rhodesia and was a strong supporter of the AngloAmerican proposals. He is reported to have told confidants that if Britain were to intervene militarily to depose Ian Smith he would use all his considerable influence internationally to minimise any criticism levelled at Britain.

Why must it be Britain? Why not a UN or Commonwealth force?' Britain is the one Power recognised as having the legal responsibility to intervene and as carrying some measure of acceptance from all sides in the conflict; Rhodesia is still technically a British colony, and in the past it has been Britain which has refused to let the UN settle the issue.

British public opinion would never allow its Government to send troops in. This is the nub of the problem, particularly with an election looking on the horizon. It is true at the moment. But if, as seems almost inevitable, British troops go in, surely it is the duty of all our politicians to start debating it in public now, especially as it affects the future not only of Zimbabwe but also of British interests in Africa.




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