Non-offensive Defence to the fore in post-apartheid South Africa – 1

The first listed aim of this website is to record the policies and practice of civilised countries which use their armed forces for defence, adopting policies which are called, variously, defensive defence, non-offensive defence, just defence or non-provocative defence.

Recently the writer came across a substantial treatment of these trends in post-apartheid South Africa in a paper by Evert Jordaan, academic assistant at the Military Strategy Department of the Faculty of Military Science, University of Stellenbosch, SA Military Academy and Abel Esterhuyse, lecturer at the Military Strategy Department of the Faculty of Military Science, University of Stellenbosch, SA Military Academy:  SOUTH AFRICAN DEFENCE SINCE 1994: The influence of non-offensive defence, published in African Security Review Vol 13 No 1, 2004

Resolving the ‘security dilemma’

Non-offensive Defence [NoD] aims to create an environment favouring defensive strategies and operations rather than offensive options and is preferred, they write, as a way to avoid an arms race and resolve the security dilemma which asserts that both strength and weakness in national security can be provocative to other nations. If a nation is too strong, this can be provocative since “most means of self-protection simultaneously menace others.” On the other hand, if a nation is too weak, “great dangers arise if an aggressor believes that the status quo powers are weak in capability or resolve.”

Earlier defensive thinking 

Jordaan and Esterhuyse refer to one of the first explicit defensive models, suggested in 1954 by a West German officer, Bogislaw von Bonin. He argued for the establishment of a defensive border protection force, consisting of light infantry deployed in a defensive network of minefields and anti-tank weapons. The predominantly static defence had to be supported by local militia forces and six mobile armoured divisions. Like others supporting NoD today he did not agree with the introduction of battlefield nuclear weapons. 

In 1982 the Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme promoted the idea of common security in his report ‘Common security: A blueprint for survival’. Palme chaired the Independent Commission on Disarmament and Security Issues which argued that nuclear weapons were militarily useless and that there could be no nuclear victory between the two superpowers. A central idea of common security was that The superpowers had to achieve security not against one another, but together, meeting the global threats which cannot be overcome by individual states. 

As Dr Steven Schofield notes in his 2002 paper: A Non-offensive Defence Stance for the UK: An Introductory Study on the Implications of the UK Adopting a Non-Offensive Defence Stance,  Mikhail Gorbachev, the former President of the USSR, in his speech to the United Nations Assembly in 1988 spoke of the “remarkable and unprecedented opportunity to build a new architecture of peace based on the principles of common security”. He offered his vision of a world “where nuclear weapons had been abolished by the year 2000, and deep cuts in conventional forces implemented”; those remaining were to be used only for territorial protection based on the concept of non-offensive defence, or as contributions to UN peacekeeping. 

Opposed to offensive concepts, which they thought aggravated the security dilemma, were too expensive and diverted resources away from domestic social programmes, the Peace Movement and some Western strategic analysts and academics wanted to reform the West’s military posture to NoD during the Cold War – see Dr Andy Butfoy, Common security and strategic reform; A critical analysis, St Martin’s Press, New York, 1997. 

They envisualised a security regime consistent with the UN’s principles, ensuring peace and security between states, within regions and internationally with restraint on the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity of another state.

Continued: Defensive defence thinking in South Africa – 2



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