Why South Africa needs a capable and properly equipped defence force


A pertinent illustration of why South Africa needs a capable and well-equipped defence force comes from a discussion by the chairman and three members of the Defence Review committee.

Taking the example of South African losses suffered in the Battle for Bangui last year, Roelf Meyer, Nick Sendall, John Gibbs and Tefo Koketsi said the country needs to stand aside from the emotions generated by events in the Central African Republic (CAR) and clearly assess the strategic purpose of its military commitments.
“Such commitments, with the potential to put South African soldiers in harm’s way, must always be measured against a clear understanding of both the role which South Africa wishes to play on the continent, as well as its own national interest. The national interest must be determined amidst the collective aggregate of those indispensable political, economic, social and often intangible factors that advance South Africa’s democracy, freedom, security, well-being, prosperity and continuance.
“From a domestic perspective, the South African national interest focuses on the inter-related priorities of sovereignty, constitutional order, the security of its institutions, the upliftment of its people and the growth of the economy. Significant growth of the economy requires accelerated inbound and outbound trade (in particular higher-value products) as well as attracting significant volumes of foreign direct investments. Sustained value and volume of exports to traditional markets must be sustained and other high growth emergent markets must be accessed in Africa and beyond.
“The IMF projects that between 2013 and 2017, Africa will have 10 out of 20 fastest growing economies in the world. South Africa must penetrate these markets and enhance its share of intra-African trade by negotiated market access for South African exports through the conclusion of bilateral and multilateral trade agreements. The growth of the South African economy is thus intrinsically dependant on enduring peace, stability, economic development and deepened democracy on the continent. Security and development go hand in hand; the two are inter-linked and intertwined; and both are the continent’s biggest challenges.
“From a regional perspective, the South African national interest hinges on the recognition its own future is inextricably linked to the stability, unity and prosperity of the African continent. The African Agenda is rightly at the centre of South African policy. Africa however faces the enormous challenge of ‘rooting’ democracy. Of the 15 countries where leaders remain in power after coups d’états; 12 are in Africa, including the CAR with its own unique history of successive coups. History demonstrates stability is seldom achieved through dialogue and negotiation alone. Sometimes robust action, or at least the threat thereof, must be applied to resist threats to democracy and constitutional order.
“Africa cannot continue to expect the rest of the world to solve its problems; it has to become the architect of its own destiny. South Africa is undeniably a major power in Africa, with the leading economy accounting for 24% of African GDP before it was overtaken by Nigeria earlier this year and as such, has a vested interest in contributing to the rooting of democracy, the promotion of economic advancement and the pursuit of peace, stability and development on the African continent.
“South Africa must further, both in terms of its continental leadership role and its own national interest and in partnership with other like-minded African states, play a leading role in conflict prevention, conflict resolution, post-conflict reconstruction and security sector reform.
“This will manifest in contributions to UN, AU and SADC security, democracy and good governance initiatives, as well as the conclusion of specific bilateral partnerships with other African states in the political, economic, social and security realms.
“Consequently South Africa’s future military capability must be commensurate with South Africa’s international status, its strategic posture and its inescapable continental leadership responsibilities. South Africa’s military capability must ultimately be able to support and enable this leadership role, as well as the pursuit of its own national interest.
“As South Africa increasingly assumes this leadership role, it will similarly increasingly assume the obligation to provide experienced military leaders and proficient and well-led military forces for peace missions and other military operations on the African continent.
“These may range from non-combat operations (where the use of force will be absent or restricted to self-defence) to major combat operations potentially utilising extreme and deadly force. All deployments will require appropriate command and control, intelligence, firepower, protection, manoeuvre and sustainment. Notably, an operation in a complex post-conflict environment may be just as dangerous as any major combat mission.
“The future South African National Defence Force (SANDF) design, although informed by the primary object of the defence force as prescribed in the Constitution, must also be sufficiently robust and flexible to project and sustain special, land, air and naval forces over long distances and for protracted periods on the African continent.
“The focus of its future force generation must extend to: enhanced early-warning, intelligence and domain awareness; increased capacitation of Special Forces and Special Operating Forces; projectable medium landward forces with enhanced fire power, manoeuvre and protection for a range of complex contingencies; versatile littoral maritime forces with credible deep water abilities; comprehensive close air support, air combat and air mobility abilities; multi-role lighter forces for border safeguarding and other protection tasks; a core of mechanised forces which can be expanded as required; layered and deployable military health support and the support of a viable and responsive defence industry.
“But the persistent disconnect between the defence mandate, South Africa’s growing defence commitments and the defence allocation has eroded its defence capabilities to the point where the defence force is unable to fully fulfil its constitutional responsibility to defend and protect South Africa and its people, and is hard pressed even to maintain its current modest level of domestic and international commitments.
“The current balance of expenditure between personnel, operating and capital is both severely disjointed and institutionally crippling.
“There must be either a greater budget allocation or, a significantly scaled-down level of ambition and commitment aligned to the current budget allocation.
“In short, there are two strategic options available for government: budget must be determined by policy or, budget must drive policy. The reality will most probably lie somewhere in between the two. Nonetheless, the fundamental principle remains that force design must match the level of commitment and a balanced expenditure ratio must be achieved.
“South Africa is a developmental state with competing economic and developmental priorities that have seriously limited the resources available to maintain the defence force as a balanced and combat capable force capable of supporting South Africa’s strategic posture and its inescapable continental leadership responsibilities.
“However, the key question is not whether South Africa can afford to play a significant leadership role in Africa, but rather, can it afford not to? ”