Monday, March 26, 2007

The political asendance of South Africa

Daniel Drezner provides his take on Michael Wines' article on South African foreign policy development. This month marks the first time that a democratic South Africa has sat as president of the United Nations Security Council. Some would argue that this event could be viewed as a victory for morality in international affairs, given the strong pressure placed on apartheid South Africa during the 1980s. But as Wines points out, Pretoria's stewardship of the Council is off to a rocky start:

After just three months as one of the Security Council’s nonpermanent members, South Africa is mired in controversy over what could be its great strength: the moral weight it can bring to diplomatic deliberations. In January, South Africa surprised many, and outraged some, when it voted against allowing the Security Council to consider a relatively mild resolution on human rights issues in Myanmar, whose government is widely seen as one of the most repressive on earth. Last week the government again angered human rights advocates when it said it would oppose a request to brief the Security Council on the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe, where the government is pursuing a violent crackdown on its only political opposition. South Africa later changed its stance, but only after dismissing the briefing as a minor event that did not belong on the Council’s agenda. This week South Africa endangered a delicate compromise among nations often at odds — the United States, China, Russia, France, Britain and Germany — to rein in Iran’s nuclear program. The major powers agreed on an arms embargo, freezing of assets and other sanctions against Iran, but South Africa proposed dropping the arms and financial sanctions and placing a 90-day “timeout” on other punishments, which critics said would have rendered the sanctions toothless. “I’m not gutting the resolution,” Dumisani S. Kumalo, South Africa’s ambassador to the United Nations, told news agency reporters this week. “I’m improving it.”

As a result of these actions, South Africa has come under heavy criticism for not pursuing a course based on the same human rights and non-proliferation agendas which ultimately lead to the end of apartheid, greater equality and stability for South Africa itself.

Wines mentions several possible rationales: Pretoria's cozying up with Beijing, advocacy for UN reform which will make it a bigger player and splits within the ANC with regard to what role South Africa should play on the world stage. Drezner chooses a variant of the former:

Me, I buy a variant of the first hypothesis -- South Africa is becoming a normal country pursuing a realpolitik foreign policy. If this means coddling dictators in Harare and accomodating rising powers in East Asia, so be it. It should also be pointed out that they're not the only country in the Southern African region to be acting this way. From an IR theory perspective, however, post-1994 South African foreign policy might represent an ideal test of the power of ideas and norms to influence a middle power's foreign policy -- and the test suggests that ideas don't count for a lot. However, that's just my take based on a very surface-level scan of Pretoria's behavior.

Having spent some time in South Africa and having followed the nation's politics ever since, I would tend to agree with Dan's analysis plus the the third rationale advanced by Wines. Foreign policy is very often an outgrowth of a country's domestic politics. While I agree that South Africa is behaving as a normal country in pursuing its economic and political self-interests via realpolitik, I think it is also fair to say that there are divisions within the ANC that reflect a struggle between the party's revolutionary origins and that of true democrats faced with the realities of ruling. Let's not forget that the Mbeki government has questioned the link between HIV and AIDS and refuses to condemn the Mugabe government in Zimbabwe for fear that it will invite foreign solutions to 'African problems.' These leftover dependency concerns framed within a North-South context represent vestiges of the old ANC mentality, which are clearly in opposition with the more realistic, market-driven agenda which Mbeki also pursues. Nonetheless, an interesting question worthy of monitoring.


chin said...


Simian Logician said...

Thank you kindly, sir.

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