An overview of the problems concerning the modernisation of the SANDF for participation in multinational peace support operations in Africa

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An overview of the problems concerning the modernisation of the SANDF for participation in multinational peace support operations in Africa

The South African Constitution, the 1996 White Paper on Defence and the subsequent Defence Review 1998 are all unambiguous in defining the primary function of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) as that of defending and protecting the South African state, its territorial integrity and its people. Generally, this boils down to defence against external military aggression or threats. Although the above-mentioned policy stance seems to be logical and quite straightforward, its practical consequences have been severely questioned and criticised over many years, specifically when, in the mid-1990s, the South African government focused on the modernisation or upgrading of the SANDF and related defence spending on sophisticated conventional, high-tech military capabilities.

This article revisits the reasoning of authoritative defence analysts that a too heavy focus on the primary function of the SANDF has not facilitated or enabled the execution of the secondary or non-traditional tasks – tasks which the SANDF increasingly had to assume as a foreign-policy instrument after 1994. To this end, the study on which this article is based revisited criticism from top defence analysts that there was an obsession with the primary function in SANDF force planning, and that it was wrong to adopt a policy stance of focusing on the primary function and executing the secondary functions with the collateral utility derived from the primary force design. These arguments were raised from a point of view that the SANDF had neither the budget nor the equipment or the personnel to execute secondary functions on the basis of collateral utility. It was further maintained that it was primarily in the secondary functions arena that most militaries have been deployed in the post-Cold War period and that the South African military of the future would be increasingly configured around non-traditional roles or secondary functions.

Furthermore, since the mid-1990s, several authoritative defence analysts increasingly argued that the main security challenges or threats in Africa clearly relate to weak states and resource-driven agendas, energy sources and/or water, or severe stress factors, such as burgeoning population numbers and inadequate governance capacity. For such challenges or threats, conventional high-tech weaponry would not provide any solutions, because no expenditure on large quantities of weapons or powerful military equipment could adequately or even partly address the causes of such insecurities or their consequences.

Towards the end of the first decade of the 2000s, it was acknowledged in political circles that the distinction between primary and secondary functions in the South African defence policy framework needed to be reviewed to strike the right balance between these two functions and to give peacekeeping its rightful place in the force design of the SANDF. There was also an acknowledgement of the problem that the SANDF was in a critical state of decline and that it was in need of a greater budget allocation. In view of the above, the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans constituted a Defence Review Committee in 2011, and mandated the Committee to look critically at the South African defence policy and budgetary needs, given the rapid and fundamental changes that have occurred in the strategic environment since the 1990s.

This article provides an analysis and discussion of the new comprehensive guidelines for a more balanced defence force design embodied in what became known as Defence Review 2015 (Verdedigingsoorsigkomitee 2015), and further reflects on some of the most important policy implications for the SANDF in this regard – specifically given the demands placed on the SANDF in relation to peace support operations. In addition, the article also reports on an examination of and reflection on the suggestion in Defence Review 2015 that there must be either a greater budget allocation or a significantly scaled-down level of foreign policy ambition and commitment relating to the SANDF as a foreign-policy instrument.

From another angle, the article also addresses arguments from defence sceptics that defence spending in South Africa is still too high for a country where acute poverty and desperation are the order of the day for the vast majority of South Africans. Such criticism came from various role-players in civil society and has, of course, been fuelled by criticism that the country’s post-1994 force planning and defence acquisition projects were based on an inappropriate emphasis on high-tech military capabilities. Allegations that political elites were benefiting from corrupt defence acquisition packages also did not help to facilitate a sober analysis of South Africa’s defence needs and related future financial implications.

In the final analysis, on the basis of Defence Review 2015, the author contends that leading defence functionaries should now have a clear idea of or perspective on what the specific budgetary needs of the SANDF are, as well as what the future role, function(s) and force design of the South African military should be. However, the author also argues that the SANDF would probably find it very difficult to convince politicians and taxpayers that an increase in the defence budget is imperative and required for the SANDF to play a more meaningful role in South Africa’s foreign policy in the domain of international peace support operations. This reasoning is premised on three points of discussion. Firstly, research indicates that in South Africa, a high corruption risk is publicly associated with defence matters. Secondly, recent research also reveals that military issues are no longer a priority in South African political-societal matters and that there is a growing knowledge gap on military matters in South Africa, which has far-reaching implications for strong civil-military relations. Thirdly, domestic economic growth outlook remains extremely challenging following the contraction in the gross domestic product (GDP) of recent years. These three factors are likely to discourage taxpayers and politicians from being supportive of an increased budget allocation to the military – despite the SANDF’s being underfunded in the international comparative context and showing signs of erosion in key defence capabilities.

Keywords: defence budget; defence planning; Defence Review; force design; foreign policy; peace support operations; primary and secondary defence functions; SANDF

Lees die volledige artikel in Afrikaans: ’n Oorsig van die problematiek rakende die modernisering van die SANW vir deelname aan multinasionale vredesteunoperasies in Afrika

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