Chester Crocker

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Chester Arthur Crocker (born October 29, 1941) is an American diplomat who served as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs from 1981 to 1989 in the Reagan administration. Crocker, architect of the U.S. policy of "constructive engagement" towards apartheid South Africa, is credited with setting the terms of Namibian independence.


Crocker was born in New York City in 1941. He attended Ohio State University and graduated with distinction in History in 1963. He obtained a master's degree at Johns Hopkins University in 1965, followed by a Ph.D at the School of Advanced International Studies. From 1969-1970, Crocker was a lecturer in African government and politics at the American University in Washington DC. He was recruited to join the National Security Council by Alexander Haig in 1970, but returned to academia in 1972 as director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service program at Georgetown University, where he lectured in African politics and international relations. Over the course of the next nine years, Crocker advanced to assistant professor, and finally became associate professor at Georgetown University.[1]

Constructive engagement[edit]

As chairman of Ronald Reagan's 1980 presidential election campaign's "Africa working group", Crocker sought to change US policy on apartheid South Africa away from what he saw as the confrontational approach adopted by the Carter presidency and towards a new policy which he termed "constructive engagement." Shortly after the election, Crocker attracted the attention of the Reagan transition team with an article he wrote in the winter 1980/81 edition of the Foreign Affairs journal. In the article, Crocker was highly critical of the outgoing Carter administration for its apparent hostility to the white minority government in South Africa, by acquiescing in the United Nations Security Council's imposition of a mandatory arms embargo (UNSCR 418/77) and the UN's demand for the end of South Africa's illegal occupation of Namibia (UNSCR 435/78). Instead Crocker argued that the U.S. should continue investing in an oppressive minority regime to justify the U.S.'s Cold War policy in Angola rather than fight the apartheid regime head on.

On February 7, 1981, Crocker formally proposed that the United States should link Namibian independence to the withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola, where they had formed a 700 km defensive line to prevent South African assaults similar to the 'Zulu' invasion of 1975. In April 1981, Assistant Secretary of State Crocker was dispatched to Africa on a two-week, eleven-nation tour to lay the groundwork for the new policy. However, Crocker was met with distrust on one side – the black leaders wary of the Reagan administration's friendly approach towards the white-minority government in South Africa – and hostility from the other, with prime minister P. W. Botha refusing to meet with him. Undeterred, Crocker continued to insist that a comprehensive solution was the only way to allay the fears on both sides. In his testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on February 15, 1983 he argued:

"Security, of which the Cuban troop issue is an integral part, has always been a prerequisite for agreement on Namibian independence. As a practical diplomatic matter, it will not be possible to obtain a Namibian independence agreement without satisfactory regional security assurances."

Constructive engagement and "the fearlessly soft attitude displayed by Chester Crocker towards apartheid" were blamed by author/journalist Christopher Hitchens for the ten-year delay in implementing United Nations Security Council Resolution 435 and securing Namibia's independence.[2]

In spite of such criticisms and the initial distrust among black African leaders, Crocker persevered in his pursuit of a negotiated settlement for the related conflicts in Angola and Namibia. With help from skilled subordinates such as Frank G. Wisner and Vernon Walters, he managed to gain the trust of Kenneth Kaunda, the Zambian president. Kaunda visited the White House for talks with Ronald Reagan in March 1983, and agreed to host an international conference in February 1984 which resulted in the Lusaka Accords, a small but significant step forward in the search for peace in southern Africa.[3]

Relaxing the arms embargo[edit]

On April 3, 1984 Richard Knight of the American Committee on Africa reported to the United Nations Special Committee against Apartheid on the effects the new policy was having:

"The Reagan administration's policy of constructive engagement has already led to a significant relaxation of the arms embargo. Stressing the goal of regional stability, the American government has now adopted a policy which they see as an 'even-handed' approach to all countries in the region. Thus the Reagan administration seeks to blame all sides equally for the violence in the region, ignoring the fact that the violence stems from apartheid. In reality there is no even-handedness in the US's engagement in southern Africa: a policy which in the last three years has resulted in an increased South African ability to harass and dominate regionally. A study of the easing of the arms embargo reveals that more than $28.3 million worth of military equipment was authorised for sale to South Africa for fiscal years 1981-1984, as compared to $25,000 for 1979."[4]

Namibian independence[edit]

Crocker intensified his mediation efforts in successive years. In May 1988 he headed a U.S. mediation team which brought negotiators from Angola, Cuba and South Africa, and observers from the Soviet Union together in London. Intense diplomatic maneuvering characterized the next seven months so as to implement United Nations Security Council Resolution 435 and secure Namibian independence. At the Reagan/Gorbachev summit in Moscow (May 29-June 1, 1988) it was decided that Cuban troops would be withdrawn from Angola, and Soviet military aid would cease, as soon as South Africa withdrew from Namibia. The Tripartite Accord, which gave effect to these decisions, were signed at UN headquarters in New York on December 22, 1988.[5] Crocker attended the signing ceremony but UN Commissioner for Namibia, Bernt Carlsson, who would have assumed control of the country until Namibia's first universal franchise elections had been held, was one of 259 passengers and crew killed when Pan Am Flight 103 crashed at Lockerbie on December 21, 1988.[6]

In May 1989 Crocker stepped down as Assistant Secretary of State and returned to academia at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service.

Namibia finally achieved independence from South Africa on 21 March 1990.[7]


On September 18, 2008, Crocker was appointed to the World Bank’s new Independent Advisory Board, (IAB), which will provide advice on anti-corruption measures.[8]


See also[edit]


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