There are some lessons to be learned from the U.S. dilemma over Zimbabwe Rhodesia. They apply to the conduct of U.S. foreign policy generally.
The first relates to the sanctions. And it is this: No American administration should submit to mandatory, internationally dictated sanctions placed by the United Nations Security Council without prior consultation with the Congress .
The use of economic sanctions is viewed by most countries, especially in the Third World, as an important instrument of international pressure. The U.N. charter, however, concerned about giving authority for such a punitive act to the General Assembly where a majority could be swayed by moods of the moment, reserved the responsibility for the Security Council where major powers hold a veto.
In a period such as this, when consensus has disappeared from behind American foreign policy, there may be no issue that would justify such sanctions. So U.S. diplomats should work to keep votes on mandatory sanctions from appearing before the Security Council. When they fail, the executive branch should neither vote for them, nor abstain, without gaining congressional assurance that U.S. participation in such sanctions would be ensured. Thus continuing U.S. vetoes of sanctions resolutions would be a wise course of action at this time.
It is better to suffer the short-term criticism after a veto than the longer-term criticism that would come from not abiding by an international sanctions commitment. Look at Rhodesia: From 1966 to 1971, we enforced sanctions; under the Byrd Amendment, from 1971 to 1977, we did not; from 1977 to now, we did; sometime this summer, given the mood in Congress, we may not. This behavior reflects domestic moods and lack of consensus rather than realities in Zimbabwe Rhodesia.
The second lesson is that when problems excite strong, conflicting emotional extremes of support, especially when they raise racial questions, and they are not of much strategic importance, then the United States should not be in the forefront of international activity trying to solve the problem.
Two points are of interest here. One is that few international issues will claim sufficient domestic interest to excite conflicting strong emotions. At the moment, perhaps only southern Africa with its tangle of race, Christianity, freedom and anti-Communism questions is such an issue.
The other is that there must be some means available for skillful diplomacy. Military and development assistance, and covert assistance are important tools that the United States can only use under a combination of favorable circumstances, given our constitutional processes and the evolution of the relationship between the president and Congress over foreign policy.
The only place where a national consensus has made this possible is the Middle East. No other area seems to lend itself to such treatment at this time.
One of the best arenas in which to apply these lessons is Southern Africa.If ever there were justification for an "American" (or Anglo-American) plan to solve that complex of problems now called Zimbabwe Rhodesia, which I doubt, that time has ended. Let there be an Anglo plan, or an African plan, or a Zimbabwe plan. American diplomacy might try to urge others into the breach, especially those Africans, such as the "front-line" states, the Nigerians, or some leading moderates, who have had us carrying their water for the last few years. There are, after all, some problems for others to resolve. Let's encourage them to do so.