Happy 2011


Happy New Year! May it be a good one for you as well as the defence and security community! To me, in South Africa, the big issue this year is policy, on which so much depends. Herewith some rambling thoughts on the matter:

A raft of these may be headed our way, starting with a White Paper on South Africa’s Foreign Policy, approved by Cabinet in November for submission to Parliament. The post-Cabinet meeting briefing on November 24 added the Cabinet had “agreed that the White Paper should reflect South Africa’s interests as they relate to South Africa’s role in the global geopolitics.” The importance of this of course lie in the fact that, whether in war or peace, national defence is a continuation of foreign policy by other means, to twist Major General Carl von Clausewitz’s original dictum, literally diplomacy with a gun.

Defence policy therefore needs to follow foreign policy and it will be interesting to see what the Department of International Relations and Development as the executive agency has to say on the matter. With any luck, the document will also update the 1999 White Paper on South Africa’s Participation in International Peace Missions. An update on this is some two years overdue, having been scheduled for 2009.

Turning to defence policy, per se, we await, with an-ti-cip-a-tion, the update of the Defence White Paper of 1996 and the Defence Review of 1998. Various ministers of defence have promised an update since 2004 but none have reached Parliament. Helmoed-Römer Heitman, the dean of South African defence writers has said that various efforts have been made over the years, with the latest produced just before Sisulu’s appointment. But this, he says, “blithely skipped over core strategic issues, ignored already approved army and navy force designs and contained errors of fact.” Heitman wrote in Janes’ Defence Weekly in April last year that the draft had been written “by advisers with naïve notions of international politics and little understanding of defence and who focused on peripheral issues.”

Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu in her second annual budget in May last year noted major changes, “both dramatic and evolutionary, have taken place in the defence environment over the past 15 years. The policy review and strategy would of necessity take this into consideration and will be informed by a clear-eyed assessment of what we want our foreign policy to achieve, the potential threats facing us, and socio-economic interests in what is a very uncertain era of growing competition among new major powers.
“The new environment requires new thinking and new approaches,” Sisulu said.
“We had a Defence Workshop [in] March 2010 to review the work done in this respect and are of the view that we need to give this added impetus. I can confirm that the Review Team will deliver the final product by December 2010. The onerous assignment of leading our Review Process has fallen on retired Lieutenant-General Motau,” she added. “None could be better placed to drive this process. It will enable to do long term planning in terms of force levels, force structure and equipment needs.
“For the SANDF (SA National Defence Force) and particular the SA Army to remain successful, it will have to take into account the complexities of African politics. The size of the continent, its geographic and climate complexity, as well as the lack of transport infrastructure, problems engendered by economic under-development and the diverse military challenges it may encounter, will necessitate the SANDF to be well and appropriately equipped and trained for both its external and internal roles as prescribed by the Constitution.”

We look forward to this because it may give insight into the posture and missions of the defence force, including peacekeeping and border patrol. If both become prime missions this may influence equipment acquisition. This really is the crux: Look at South Africa’s recent exports (the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms or the National Conventinal Arms Control Committee data). Frankly not that impressive. But spectacular compared to the dribbles in the Armscor Bulletin System. There has not been a major acquisition contract since the announcement of the development order for the Badger infantry fighting vehicle, Project Hoefyster, in May 2007. Indeed as recently as last month the Ministry of Public Enterprises, owner of state arsenal Denel, the prime contractor, said the military “will make the decision on whether or not to proceed with the Industrialisation and Production Phase before the end of 2010/11.” Not encouraging!

Here’s to hoping the defence policy update also revisting the White Paper on the South African Defence Related Industries of December 1999 and giving new guidance as to acquisition priorities, schedules and key technologies.