Defensive defence thinking in South Africa – 2

South Africa’s defence policy conforms with the UN Charter, which states that members shall refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state. 

Jordaan and Esterhuyse record that during the early 1990s South Africa’s security and defence policy underwent fundamental changes affecting security policy and resulting in strategic defensiveness. Even before the 1994 democratic elections, support for ‘non-offensive defence’ (NOD) was expressed from within the African National Congress (ANC).   

Its defensive thinking was said to be inspired by strong anti-militarist sentiments from influential political and social sectors, domestic ‘political sensibilities’ and post-conflict fatigue amongst the public in general after 1990. 

The 1993 interim constitution of the Republic of South Africa stated that the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) would be “… primarily defensive in the exercise or performance of its power and functions” and the ANC’s guidelines as the ruling party contained in Ready to Govern [1992], had called for a defensive orientation, posture and strategy. The Joint Military Co-ordinating Council (JMCC) agreement stated that South Africa would promote common and mutual security in the region through mutual confidence and trust. It also stated that South Africa would adopt a ‘non-threatening’ force structure in relationship to the region and that arms races would be discouraged. 

Ways and means 

NoD can use political constraints, constitutional prohibition (as in Japan), have civil control over the military and limited military capabilities, focus on confidence-building measures (CBMs) and restructure defence forces. 

Proponents [including Clausewitz:’On War’] assume that defence is the stronger form of war and that technology favours the defender. Defensive structures emphasise firepower of limited mobility and range, small and dispersed military units that rely on the advantages of local knowledge, defence in depth and concealment, denying territory to an attacker and involving territorial defence. 

Jordaan and Esterhuyse include as defensive weapons anti-tank missiles, anti-aircraft systems and anti-ship missiles and the use of precision-guided munitions (PGMs) in countering air and armoured attack. The authors note: “the successful use of AT-3 Sagger anti-tank missiles against Israeli armour during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, created some optimism for the strength of the defensive and the role of PGMs to improve the deterrent potential of NOD models”.  

In his paper Schofield reproduces an interesting table from Möller: Non-Offensive Defence – A Brief Introduction,  comparing the equipment needed for conventional military deployment and that for NoD. As briefly indicated in the book he co-authored with Dr Lewer [ZED 1997], non-lethal equipment and strategies intended to halt low-level intensity conflict in its earliest stages could be added to the list. 

Various groups interacted with policy makers 

A major contribution came from the ANC-aligned think-tank on defence policy, the Military Research Group (MRG), which had played a prominent role in defence policy process since the early 1990s. The principal drafter of the White Paper on Defence, Laurie Nathan, was a member of the MRG and also the director of the non-governmental organisation (NGO), the Centre for Conflict Resolution (CCR).

His views on defence policy in his book The Changing of the Guard (1994) had a significant impact on South African defence policy and the White Paper on Defence (1996). Nathan’s suggestions in this book were largely based on the views shared by ANC members of Parliament.  

Nathan spoke in favour of common security and NoD as alternatives to the ‘offensive defence approach of the SANDF (South African Defence Force) during the Cold War. He argued for the acceptance of NoD in South African defence policy saying that: “… South Africa will undermine its own security if its doctrine and posture invoke insecurity in the states around it”. He added that “… non-offensive defence in South Africa need not be as complex as that suggested for countries in heavily armed regions”. In the absence of a clear military threat in Southern Africa, Nathan argued for the downscaling of South Africa ‘s offensive capabilities and made the following suggestions based on NOD: 

  • the reduction of armed forces to levels commensurate with those of neighbouring states;
  • establishing a volunteer reserve to form the bulk of the fighting force, which could only be mobilised over a long period, ruling out its use for surprise attack;
  • limitation of the number of predominantly offensive weapons such as tanks, heavy and medium infantry fighting vehicles, long range bombers, ground-attack aircraft and ballistic missiles.
  • neighbouring states to be given adequate notice of major training manoeuvres and – as approporiate –  invited to send observers to these exercises;
  • undertaking confidence- and security-building measures, which provide for greater transparency. 

These principles were later accepted in the White Paper on Defence, although suggestions for disarmament in the legislation did not make specific reference to downscaling certain weapon systems. 

Continued: Opposition to NoD in South Africa – 3

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