The recently released draft of the first South African Defence Review since 1998 is subtitled “Defence, security and development”. It thus recognises the need for both guns and butter in a society that plays a leading role in Africa but is also the most unequal in the world.
All militaries around the globe never think they have enough resources, as in the case of the ever-grasping American military demonstrates, despite the grotesque sums of money spent on defence – $680-billion, representing 43% of the world’s spending in 2009. Thus one must always balance the genuine need to have a South African military that can undertake useful peacekeeping tasks and the eternal desire of boys to have more toys.
South Africa has undertaken peacekeeping missions in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Burundi and Sudan’s Darfur region, and is currently a member of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) security troika, the African Union (AU) peace and security council, and the United Nations Security Council. It thus has an ideal vantage point from which to shape regional, continental and global security issues.
The review does not explain properly the division of labour between the UN and Africa’s regional organisations, and the AU and Africa’s subregional bodies, with tension evident in both of the relationships.
The powerful Security Council has sometimes tried to shirk its peacekeeping responsibilities in Africa (Somalia, Rwanda, Liberia and Darfur being the most glaring recent examples) and to shift its peacekeeping burden to Africa’s under-resourced regional organisations.
The review’s call for Africa’s regional organisations to take more peacekeeping responsibility thus risks falling into this trap, and could result in an apartheid system of peacekeeping in which the most able Western armies refuse to contribute to peacekeeping in Africa, and most missions continue to be staffed by African and Asian armies.
The Romano Prodi report on peacekeeping submitted to the UN in 2008, curiously omitted in this review, was blunt about these deficiencies and sensibly suggested that the UN fund and then take over regional peacekeeping missions in Africa after six months.
The defence review sensibly recognises South Africa’s role in creating an effective SADC brigade as part of an African standby force, but also needs to stress the need for operations to be under UN command based on lessons learned by South Africa during AU missions in Burundi and Darfur, which were eventually taken over by the UN in 2004 and 2007 respectively.
There also needs to be greater discussion of the controversial responsibility to protect concept under which Nato justified its intervention in Libya last year.
Countries such as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are the main contributors to UN peacekeeping and have often benefited from reimbursements from the world body to maintain their equipment. The review should thus engage with the potential benefits from peacekeeping rather than just its costs.
Broad definition of national interest
The impact of a 23% HIV/Aids infection rate in the South African military on its future capacity to deploy peacekeepers abroad must also be addressed squarely.
The report generally tends to be Eurocentric in its approach, lacking diverse sources and largely quoting South African government or Western sources, seemingly unaware of the vast literature produced by African institutions.
The review’s definition of national interest is also too broad and should be narrowed down to focus on ensuring the security and prosperity of South Africa and Africa, and to enhance the continent’s role and influence in global security, political and economic affairs. The document is too coy about identifying regional partners in Africa with which to undertake military collaboration. These should include Angola in Southern Africa, Nigeria in West Africa, Ethiopia in the Horn of Africa, Algeria in North Africa and, in the long term, a revitalised Congo in Central Africa.
Similar to the UN high-level panel report of 2004, which is also curiously omitted, the review calls for a recognition of the human security issues such as development, poverty and disease that are more critical for Africa than weapons of mass destruction and terrorism, which powerful western actors tend to prioritise. However, the report then appears to give more weight to the “hard” security issues, placing them ahead of the “soft” issues.
The document further lacks in-depth analysis, particularly in separating the root causes of conflicts from their manifestation.
Its contention that “global relations of culture and economic activity … will in future substantially shape all other major trends” is open to serious challenge.
Its insistence on an American-European partnership being central to the world’s security and prosperity does not seem properly to recognise the decline of the West and the rise of the rest. The Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) represent 42% of the world’s population and 20% of its economic might. These fast-changing global trends must surely be better reflected in a review planning 30 years ahead.
The review’s thesis of a new “scramble” for Africa’s resources leading to future armed conflicts is surely hyperbolic. Though Sudan and South Sudan are currently rattling sabres over oil revenues, most African conflicts will continue to be rooted in history and result in political marginalisation and socioeconomic, ethnic and religious cleavages.
The idea of foreign powers fighting wars in Africa over its resources is surely antediluvian. North and East Africa are identified as areas of terrorist threats, but West African countries such as Nigeria and Mali are also increasingly important in this regard.
The report’s efforts to legitimise private military companies (many of which are South African and have been involved in conflicts in Angola and Sierra Leone) could undermine more important efforts to strengthen Africa’s regional peacekeeping capacity. These companies should be regulated carefully by the South African government, just as its arms industry must be closely monitored to ensure that it is not fuelling conflicts or suppressing genuine dissent abroad.
The report’s statement that most conflicts in Africa over the past decade “have involved rebel and armed groups with no institutional right to exist” is grossly misleading, suggesting that the governments against which these rebellions are waged are themselves legitimate. The case of the rebellions that toppled Charles Taylor in Liberia in 2003 and that reversed Laurent Gbagbo’s efforts to steal elections in Côte d’Ivoire in 2011 are just two examples that contradict this argument.
The report should also focus much more attention on post-conflict peacebuilding. As more than a third of all conflict countries in the post-Cold War era have relapsed into war as a result of inadequate peacebuilding, this would also be an effective conflict prevention strategy. Many more resources are required to ensure that demobilised fighters have alternatives to conflict and can thus bid a final farewell to arms.
South Africa could also continue with its role in the trilateral co-operation (the UN, AU and European Union) over Africa’s Great Lakes region with external donors such as Sweden, the Netherlands and Belgium to leverage more resources.
The role of South Africa’s new development agency will be critical in promoting effective peacebuilding and should be fleshed out in the review. The need for both guns and butter will be crucial to stress in the final review document to be completed over the next three months.
Dr Adekeye Adebajo is executive director of the Centre for Conflict Resolution and the author of UN Peacekeeping in Africa (2011)