NATO and South Africa by Enuga S. Reddy

NATO and South Africa

In drafting resolutions on apartheid, I used to avoid any reference to NATO – though there were condemnations of Western governments for increasing collaboration with South Africa – in order to avoid cold war debates and because of respect for countries like Norway and Denmark which favoured sanctions in principle, provided assistance to opponents of apartheid, and cooperated with the Special Committee against Apartheid.

Meanwhile, South Africa had succeeded in convincing a number of politicians and military officers that Western countries had a vital interest in cooperating with South Africa to defend the “Cape route,” especially as most of the oil to Western Europe was transported on this route. They advocated that NATO should extend its scope beyond the tropic of cancer to cover southern Africa and cooperate with South Africa.

Conservatives in the NATO Assembly, led by Patrick Wall of Britain, were able to obtain a recommendation by the Assembly in November 1972 that NATO give the United States Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic (SACLANT) authority to plan for the protection of shipping lines in the Indian Ocean and the South Atlantic, including surveillance and communications.[1] In June 1973, the Defense Planning Committee of NATO decided to give SACLANT authority to prepare a plan for contingencies outside the NATO area. It apparently did not mention cooperation with South Africa. The delegations of Norway and Denmark at the United Nations assured me that their countries were not involved in any cooperation with South Africa and that any cooperation was bilateral.

At my suggestion, the Chairman of the Special Committee, Ambassador Edwin Ogebe Ogbu, wrote to the Secretary-General of NATO, Josef Luns, on 16 December 1974, suggesting a meeting to obtain clarifications with regard to NATO’s relations with South Africa.

Ogbu and I went to Brussels and met Luns on 14 February 1975. After the initial pleasantries, Luns began telling us jokes which seemed endless and Ogbu had to remind him of the purpose of the meeting. Then Ogbu made a statement on behalf of the Special Committee and Luns made a statement in reply. With the approval of Luns, I recorded the statements and later transcribed them. (Please see annex).

Luns assured us that there were no political, military or technical contacts between NATO and South Afruica – and that the contingency planning by SACLANT was only on protecting sea lanes around the Cape in time of war and that there was no contact with the South African government. He went on to make  remarks about the situation in the area, referring, for instance, to  the menace of Soviet submarines.

On return to New York, Ogbu reported the assurance of Luns to the Special Committee. We did not circulate or publish the full statement of Luns in order to avoid controversy on his other remarks.

On 15 and 16 November 1980, the South African radio (SABC) reported that the South African Foreign Minister, Pik Botha, had met Josef Luns on Friday, 14 November. I informed Abdul Minty and we discussed possible action.[2],  He wrote to Joseph Luns on 17 November asking for an explanation and contacted the Norwegian government. Abdul had written to Luns in May 1976, during a NATO Ministerial Council meeting in Oslo, and had received a reply on 9 June 1976 in which Luns assured him categorically that “there are no contacts between members of the international staff of the Alliance with the Republic of South Africa” and that “there is no co-operation in any way or manner between the Alliance and South Africa.”

Also on 17 November, the Chairman of the Special Committee, B.A. Clark, sent a cable to Luns recalling the assurance given to the Committee in 1975 and expressing “profound disquiet regarding circumstances of the reported meeting”¦” Luns replied on 19 November:

“”¦ Foreign Minister Botha during trip to number of European capitals was received in Brussels at EEC and by Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs. Botha asked me if visit to NATO was possible. This I refused but agreed to receive him in private capacity for purely personal talk at my residence. Be assured that nothing whatsoever discussed at variance with long-standing NATO policy. Any reports concerning allied NATO South African cooperation totally false.”

He sent a similar reply to Abdul Minty.

The EEC denied that it had received Botha. There was also a report in the press that the meeting between Luns and Botha had lasted several hours. Luns was reported to have said, stressing the informal nature of the meeting,that they spoke in Dutch, not English!

The Norwegian delegation informed Ambassador Clark that Norway had sent a strong protest to Luns about the meeting with Botha. Denmark also asked Luns for an explanation.

Why the meeting of Luns and Botha in November 1980? Ronald Reagan, a friend of the South African regime, was elected President of the United States early in November. It may be that South Africa hoped to try to develop some military cooperation with the West as the arms embargo was having an effect, and break out of its isolation.

Josef Luns was misleading the Special Committee and the world.  Joop den Uyl, leader of Dutch Labour Party, said at a private meeting at Arusha in September 1984 that he had followed discussions on South Africa in NATO. There had been informal discussions on South Africa in NATO for two decades. They were usually led by USA and by Secretariat officials, like Josef Luns. The argument used was that while apartheid was abominable and criminal, they could not take the risk of South Africa becoming a puppet state of the Soviet Union.[3]


[1]South Africa was developing a naval communications centre in Silvermine, with equipment from West Germany, to monitor the movement of Soviet ships. It was in contact with the British Navy and with the United States through Puerto Rico.


[2]Abdul Minty was Director of the World Campaign against Military and Nuclear Collaboration with South Africa in Oslo, which had been established by anti-apartheid movements with the support of the Special Committee.

[3]This is from my notes on the private meeting.

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