United Nations: Sanctions Against Rhodesia

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The United Nations Security Council last week took a historic step, of sorts. For the first time in its 21 years of existence, it resorted to mandatory economic sanctions to try to bring down a government.

Object of the sanctions was Ian Smith's white-supremacist regime in Rhodesia, which has been deplored as an international renegade ever since it broke away from British rule 13 months ago. By a vote of 11 to 0—with four abstentions—the council declared an international embargo on 90% of Rhodesia's exports, forbade the U.N.'s 122-member nations to sell oil, arms, motor vehicles or airplanes to the rebel territory or to provide it with any form of "financial or other economic aid."

For all its apparent toughness, the resolution calling for sanctions lacks the teeth necessary to enforce them. Voted down was an amendment to penalize nations that ignore the boycott. The Security Council, in fact, left it up to each member nation to police its own trade with Rhodesia. Shortly after last week's vote, South Africa, which supplies most of Rhodesia's oil and is its principal trading partner, announced that it had no intention of obeying the resolution. Without South African cooperation, the sanctions seemed doomed to fail.

The U.N.'s black African states, which had argued for a week for stronger stuff, were predictably unhappy. "The resolution is defective," said Nigeria's moderate Ambassador Chief S. O. Adebo. Leading the chorus of complaint was Russia's Nikolai Fedorenko. who picked up some political change in Africa by abstaining—along with Bulgaria and Mali—on the ground that the sanctions did not go far enough. France also abstained from voting, but for a different reason: in the opinion of General de Gaulle, Rhodesia is strictly a British problem and outside U.N. jurisdiction.

The British, who sponsored the resolution in the first place, had no such qualms. Having displayed their outraged morality by calling for sanctions, their main concern was to steer the Security Council away from any action that would lead to an economic confrontation with South Africa, Britain's fourth largest customer and main supplier of gold. The U.S. went along with Britain. Hoping that even a leaky embargo might somehow bring Rhodesia to its senses, it voted with the majority to approve the resolution.