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A Bad Commitment

President-elect George Bush has promised a continued flow of American arms to the guerrillas at war with the government of Angola, a most regrettable commitment.

We have been told that he promised the guns to facilitate national reconciliation talks and because he is convinced that the resumption of clandestine arms shipments by the United States in 1986 was a key factor in winning the Southern Africa peace agreement now in place. We think him mistaken on both counts. Reconciliation in Angola can best be spurred by leaving the conciliation to African states while cutting off the flow of arms that have devastated the land, killing thousands and leaving a terrible legacy of maimed civilians--many of them the deliberate targets of guerrilla land mines. We are convinced that the peace agreement that has emerged is the result of South Africa’s decision, after eight years of costly delay, to end its war against Angola and to grant independence to Namibia. The flow of American arms served essentially to prolong the violence and encourage South Africa to prolong its illegal hold on Namibia.

We regret also the timing of Bush’s initiative, coming just as the first Cuban troops were being withdrawn from Angola in conformity with the peace agreement that was negotiated by the United States. The principal function of the Cuban troops has been to defend the Angolan government, and the American petroleum installations in Angola, from attacks by South African troops and by the UNITA rebels armed by South Africa and the United States.

There is an ominous suggestion in this Bush initiative that the new Administration will pursue the failed policy of the old in terms of unleashing military power, instead of diplomatic power and economic reform, to address isolated crises in the developing world--including Nicaragua. Peace prospects have been improved in Southern Africa because South Africa has decided to tame its bellicose policies against its neighbors, not because of the flow of U.S. arms to UNITA rebels. Peace prospects have improved in Central America not because American arms have raised the level of hostilities but because the leaders of the nations in the region have begun to take responsibility for ending the hostilities.

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