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Roger Southall writes on some key aspects of South Africa's foreign policy-making, part of our on-going effort to determine what's really new about the "new South Africa." Southall writes: "These are early days. But an urgent question is already being asked: Is it possible for the new South Africa to combine a human rights and peace-based policy in Southern Africa with a more dubious foreign policy thrust elsewhere?"

vol 10 no 5

Regional security: The "new security" in southern Africa
Roger Southall

Printable Version
Southern Africa Report

SAR, Vol 10, No 5, July 1995
Page 3
"South Africa"



Roger Southall is Professor of Politics at Rhodes University.

An era of regeneration and inter-state cooperation throughout the Southern African region seems possible with the fall of apartheid, the democratization process that has taken place throughout the region, and the winding down of the externally fuelled civil conflicts in Angola and Mozambique. Hopes for such a period of renewal have been symbolized and institutionalized by the transformation of the old Southern African Development Coordinating Conference (SADCC) into the new Southern African Development Community (SADC), launched in 1994 with the new, post- apartheid South Africa at its heart.

The background to this is well-known: how apartheid South Africa tried to dominate the region by drawing its most immediately dependent neighbours into a Constellation of Southern African States (CONSAS); how these same countries responded by forming SADCC in 1980 in the hopes of reducing their dependence on South Africa through mutual cooperation; and how South Africa replied with its policy of "total strategy" and a vicious military destabilization of those countries in the region that supported the ANC struggle.

The end of the Cold War was the precursor to the wider transition to democracy that has taken place throughout the region. Competitive elections since 1989 in Namibia (twice), Zambia, Lesotho, Malawi and Mozambique have contributed to enormously improved prospects for inter-state collaboration. Central to the new optimism that now defines the region has been the conviction that relations between South Africa and its neighbours will now be based on mutual trust in a shared project of regional peace and development.

The arrival of the new government in Pretoria headed by President Nelson Mandela has been viewed as synonymous not only with legitimate government but also with the birth of a new moral order. This perspective has drawn conviction from a series of ANC policy statements made both before and after the election. The most programmatic of these was the ANC's commitment, elaborated in October 1993, to a foreign policy future that would make central a preoccupation with human rights, the promotion of democracy worldwide, respect for international law, a striving for international peace, and commitment to the best interests of Africa generally and of the Southern African region in particular. Influential, too, was the view expressed by Kadar Asmal that post-apartheid South Africa would owe its regional neighbours compensation (via the forging of special relationships if not financial restitution) for the devastation it had wreaked upon them in the past. And more recently, the region took heart from the formal apology offered to Mozambique by new Speaker of the National Assembly, Frene Ginwala, upon the occasion of President Chissano's visit to the South African Parliament. Domestically, too, encouragement was drawn from the apparent meeting of minds around a new foreign policy orientation that seemed to emerge from meetings that drew the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and ANC personnel together with representatives of other parties, foreign embassies and academia.

Inevitably, however, the restructuring of regional relations is not problem free. SADC is having to redefine its SADCC-inherited mission: whilst regional countries are looking to South Africa's industrial economy to jump-start the regional economy, they are no more keen today to become dependent upon a regional hegemon than they were before. This poses problems in formulating a policy for manufacturing that will both attract foreign investment (which will flow mostly to South Africa) and narrow regional disparities. Yet some of the most dramatic developments are occurring in the security sphere - important above all for guaranteeing human rights - where there is a quite remarkable willingness of former enemies within regional military and intelligence networks to work together towards a shared conception of a common, regional good.

The emergent structures and the potential of these new regional security arrangements are important for the promotion of a more humanistic, less state-centred conception of security . However, the possibility exists that the new South Africa's aspiration towards a human-rights based foreign policy could yet be derailed.

Towards a new security?

Peace in Southern Africa is forcing a dramatic re-thinking of the definition of security. During the apartheid era, South Africa looked to its borders as a defence against its enemies; its neighbours stared back in fearful anticipation of destabilizing military raids by the South African Defence Force. Today, with hostilities replaced by friendship, the major threats to states' stability are increasingly viewed as coming not from any military quarter, but from the common enemies of poverty and lack of hope, unemployment and massive economic migration southwards, environmental degradation, AIDS, drug-running and organized crime, the alarming availability of a massive supply of small arms in the wake of numerous wars, and so on.

These are as much developmental as they are security challenges. Just as South Africa is seeking to tackle them through its Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP), so other governments in the region are pursuing their own agendas. Importantly, however, the recognition that these are shared difficulties is providing some basis for regional cooperation. Hence, SADC is working towards promulgation of a protocol on the free movement of persons between states, and another on industry and trade. None the less, in so far as they may easily impact upon the stability of any or all the regional states, these problems retain an important security aspect. Indeed, defence establishments remain very much alive to the potential the "new" security challenges have for transforming themselves into more conventional threats to peace and democracy.

Out of this concern has come the commitment by SADC at its founding to set up "a framework and mechanisms to strengthen regional solidarity and provide for mutual peace and security . . . " Consequently, following South Africa's accession to SADC in June 1994, the Frontline States (FLS) organization - the entente that served as the effective political arm of SADCC in the struggle against apartheid - dissolved and was replaced with a new framework for political and security cooperation.

The SADC secretariat is known to have favoured incorporation of this new structure within SADC but the meeting of SADC Foreign Ministers in Harare in March 1995 proposed instead the establishment of a separate, but parallel, Association of Southern African States (ASAS). Should this be ratified at the SADC Heads of Government Summit scheduled for August, ASAS will become the primary mechanism for dealing with conflict prevention, management and resolution in Southern Africa.

ASAS, which is meant to complement and not replace OAU mechanisms, will operate independently of the SADC secretariat, but will report directly to the SADC summit. Bureaucracy will be kept to a minimum, its Chair will rotate amongst member states every two years, heads of government will be its decision-making authority, and all its decisions will be implemented by two Committees serviced by the Foreign Ministry of the Chairing state - one committee for political matters and one for defence and security matters.

If these arrangements are approved, it seems likely that the Inter-State Defence and Security Committee (ISDSC), established by SADC states at Arusha in November 1994, will provide the basis for the ASAS defence and security committees. As established at present, this provides for a series of sub-committees for operations, intelligence, personnel and logistics under a Committee of Ministers, and is intended to focus on training and cooperation rather than on the creation of either a regional peace- keeping force or any form of regional command. Nonetheless, it is already recognized as important that such a multilateral organization be able to provide intelligence support for preventive diplomacy initiatives in the case of pending or actual conflicts within the region, as well as be able to plan combined operations and establish security arrangements between states on specific issues such as countering weapons smuggling.

One of the most encouraging aspects of these developments has been the leading role played by South Africa, in particular the commitment displayed by senior figures in the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), most of whom have been retained from the former SADF. Whatever their past involvements in fighting apartheid's battles, they are now ostensibly committed to serving under Defence Minister Joe Modise and Deputy Minister Ronnie Kasrils. That means subscribing to key tenets of the new defence strategy, notably: that any South African military engagement outside the country will always be conducted within the framework of international law; that any participation in peace support, peace keeping or peace making operations will be driven by the DFA, and not by the Department of Defence; that military force is not an acceptable instrument for conducting foreign policy and settling disputes; and that the long term objective of South African defence policy within the region should be the prevention of conflict in the first place.

The SANDF - which is still being forged in the integration of SADF, homeland and liberation armies - argues that its commitment to the new agenda could be exemplified by its engagement in such major operations as mine-clearing in Angola and Mozambique, demobilization and disarmament of paramilitary and irregular forces, and monitoring of peace agreements. It has also been made aware of the enormous sensitivity to the South African defence presence within the region, and the need to avoid any suggestion of attempts to impose a new, even if benevolent, military hegemony.

Against this, whilst there are these encouraging indications that the SANDF is learning fast how to behave within the region, there are disconcerting signs that its better efforts are being undermined by other elements within the Defence and Foreign Affairs establishments.

Remaking South African foreign policy

The replacement of Pik Botha as Foreign Minister by the ANC's Alfred Nzo, and the appointment of Aziz Pahad as Deputy Minister, were widely deemed as providing a progressive shift in South African foreign policy and policy-making structures. However, some fifteen months later, criticism of what the Mail and Guardian has now dubbed the "Department of Floundering Affairs" is now reaching a crescendo. The concerns voiced by critics are numerous, but they centre around the failure of Mandela's South Africa to provide moral leadership in international affairs, together with the DFA's apparent reluctance to restructure.

In recent months, disturbing reports have surfaced in the press about how post-1990 covert supply of arms by Armscor, the South African arms manufacturing parastatal, have helped to fuel the civil conflicts in Yemen, Rwanda, Croatia and Angola in defiance of various UN embargoes. Although Defence Minister Joe Modise responded to early signals by appointing an investigatory commission under Judge Edward Camerron in September 1994, and although responsibility for such illicit trading lies with the former regime, there is widespread concern that - between them - the DFA and the Defence Ministry have not yet subjected Armscor to anything like adequate accountability. Indeed, the major worry is that in its concern to promote exports, boost employment and fund the RDP, the government is failing miserably to address the key issue of how participation in the international arms trade may undermine any serious commitment to a human rights-based foreign policy.

Controversy has also erupted around the possible purchase by South Africa of four corvettes for the Navy from Yarrow, a subsidiary of GEC, Britain's largest electronics and defence contractor, which has a long record of supplying weapons to non- democratic countries (such as Brazil, Nigeria and Indonesia) that violate human rights. Indeed, counter-trade proposals put by Yarrow suggest that GEC wants to coopt South Africa into manufacturing British weapons under licence for export to politically sensitive regions such as the Middle East.

Concerns such as these are supported by the controversial decisions to establish diplomatic relations with Sudan and Indonesia, whose regimes have come under widespread international criticism for their gross abuse of human rights. Worse, accusations - which have not been convincingly rebutted - have been made that the connection with Indonesia has been forged because President Suharto made financial donations to the ANC before the election. Combined with further allegations that the government's support for the US stand on the renewal of the Nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty was connected to subsequent approval of an IMF loan, the broader worry is that some aspects of South Africa's foreign policy are coming up for sale. The apparent clash between the ANC's foreign policy aspirations and real policies are linked by critics to the continued domination of the DFA by old-guard bureaucrats. Led by Director-General Rusty Evans, retained to lead the Department by Nzo, these bureaucrats have been accused of resisting recruitment of ANC and other potential diplomatic recruits trained abroad before the election in favour of so-called "foreign policy" personnel previously employed by the "Foreign Affairs" departments of the formerly "independent" homelands.

Finally, and importantly, severe criticism has been directed at the DFA by the all-party National Assembly Committee on Foreign Affairs under the chairmanship of the ANC's Raymond Suttner. Apart from adding to the concerns already mentioned, the Committee has also sharply criticized the DFA's proposed budget allocation of only R105 million of its allocated R645 million on the servicing and extension of South Africa's diplomatic missions on its own continent of Africa. Suttner has been quoted as calling for a "rupture" with the past in the DFA, especially with regard to its policy process, and has demanded that foreign policy be rendered more accountable to the people of South Africa.

Regional implications

The major role that South Africa has played in re-thinking the nature of security and in devising more appropriate structures to re-orient the military towards peace support operations testifies to the new government's desire to place human rights and development at the centre of its regional foreign policy. Its high profile diplomatic role, with Botswana and Zimbabwe, in resolving the constitutional crisis in Lesotho in August-September 1994 indicates its commitment to the maintenance of democracy throughout the region. However, while the new government's moves within the sub-continent can yet scarcely be faulted, the wider context of its foreign policy poses questions that cannot but have eventual implications for Southern Africa:

Can South Africa speak authoritatively on human rights within the region and Africa if in its wider foreign policy it has friendly links with regimes like those of Sudan, Nigeria and Indonesia?

Is the ANC in sufficient control of the DFA to shift foreign policy towards a more Africa-centred focus?

Is the new government prepared to back its commitment to a peaceful world order by imposing a firm grip on Armscor, and by seriously questioning how much the moral basis of its whole foreign policy may be undermined by its engagement in the international arms trade?

These are early days. But an urgent question is already being asked: Is it possible for the new South Africa to combine a human rights and peace-based policy in Southern Africa with a more dubious foreign policy thrust elsewhere?

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