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date: 09 May 2021

United States Relations with Southern Rhodesia during the UDI Eralocked

  • Eddie MichelEddie MichelDepartment of Historical and Heritage Studies, University of Pretoria

Summary

The Rhodesian Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) era, a 14-year period from 1965 to 1979, posed an exceptional and challenging policy dilemma for four separate US presidential administrations. Presidents’ Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, Gerald R. Ford, and Jimmy Carter were all confronted by the presence of the internationally unrecognized pariah state in southern Africa.

The shifting patterns in the US approach toward Salisbury ranging from empathy to open hostility were reflective not only of the individual viewpoints of the occupants of the Oval Office but represented the larger diverse pressures, global and domestic, shaping foreign policy during the 1960s and 1970s. The Cold War, economic interest, the need for strategic minerals, race relations, and human rights all guided White House decision making regarding Salisbury.

Across the presidential administrations, the case of Rhodesia, further exposes the tension and interaction between pragmatism and morality in US foreign relations during the 1960s and 1970s. The US approach toward the UDI state not only reveals broad patterns of conflict between realpolitik and moral justice but also depicts times when pragmatism and ethical considerations aligned together to achieve mutually compatible goals. The differing polices adopted by the occupants of the Oval Office demonstrated the competing visions within Washington itself of what constituted pragmatism or morality during the decolonization era.

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