From the breakup of the Central African Federation in 1963 until the departure of British officers and trainers in the early 1970s, Kenneth Kaunda led the Zambian government in negotiating arms purchases from British arms manufacturers, with the assistance of the British government. These transactions were intimately connected to security guarantees against Rhodesian aggression that Kaunda negotiated with the former colonial power, and British attempts to foster Zambian foreign policy and technological dependency. While this decade of negotiations had its origins in the contentious local distribution of military resources at the end of Federation, by the time it ended, it provided a stepping stone to a much broader global economic and security network, one which reflected the international-minded rhetoric associated with Kaunda in the arena of international affairs.

As the Zambian government’s negotiations with the British government and arms manufacturers came to involve sophisticated technology and weaponry, the politics of Britain’s own arms sales and the framing of national security in Zambia provoked considerable debate. Young Zambian officers believed the conditions and technology of the arms purchases limited Zambian sovereignty, while Kaunda and his government appear to have believed that those limitations came with substantial benefits because of the guarantees they implicitly drew from British authorities.

Correspondence around these transactions offers a window into Zambian calculations about national security in the context of a fraught regional context and concerns about British neocolonialism. Far from merely constituting bilateral negotiations, Kaunda undertook arms diplomacy with Britain amidst a growing diversity of potential global weapons and security suppliers, reflecting the weight of Zambia’s colonial history and its national-era global orientation.