Opposition to NoD in South Africa – 3

 Reasons for opposing NoD for South Africa included:

  •  a view of NoD as a Eurocentric Cold War idea conceived to ease strategies of escalation and restructure the defence of West Germany within the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO); 
  • as developing countries generally face intra-state, rather than inter-state conflict, NoD is seen as inappropriate; 
  • a rejection of the assumption that defence is the stronger form of war and that technology favours defence, following ‘successful’ offensives such as the Six Day War in 1967 and the Gulf War of 1991. 

The relevance of NOD for South Africa 

The late Col [Dr] Rocklyn Williams, a former Commander of the African National Congress (ANC) guerrilla unit was the Head of African Defence Sector Programme at the Institute of Security Studies in Pretoria, South Africa. According to him, NoD has relevance for the Southern African context, see his Confidence-building defence and Southern Africa: The implications of non-offensive defence for South Africa’s defence posture, Strategic Review for Southern Africa, 1997.

He believed that full implementation of NoD in would not be possible for political, geo-strategic, operational and financial reasons. The protection of South Africa’s extensive borders, coastline and Economic Exclusion Zone requires mobile and some power projection capabilities. On the financial side NoD would be cheaper only if a military structure already consists of NoD-type systems, as opposed to dual-purpose armed forces capable of both offence and defence roles.

The South African National Defence Force 

While policy makers supported principles of NoD, the South African National Defence Force [SANDF] supported a realist view of security. SANDF Chief at the time, Genl Georg Meiring acknowledged the non-military security problems in Southern Africa such as poverty, illiteracy, disease, overpopulation and drought, but still argued for the maintenance of a strong military. He argued that as South Africa entered into a new phase of relations with neighbouring states, new security challenges could only be addressed by establishing a strong military balance of power.

Non-offensive defence posed a major challenge to its force structures and operational doctrine and the SANDF listed threats that would require military preparedness. The most likely scenario was the overflow of regional conflict: the SANDF argued that South Africa could be pulled into a regional conflict as a result of refugees and illegal immigrants fleeing to the Republic.

Direct reference to non-offensive defence was deliberately avoided during the Defence Review process due to its unpopularity among the more senior generals on the Defence Command Council. The principles of NoD were, however, incorporated into defence policy within the concepts of ‘confidence-building defence’ and ‘a primarily defensive posture’.

NoD principles accepted in SA defence policy 

South Africa has accepted several principles of NoD in its defence policy: the adoption of civil control over the military, acceptance of a defensive posture and predominantly defensive military structures. Its defensive orientation is reinforced through executive and parliamentary control over the employment of the SANDF. Significant elements of NoD appear in the The Defence Review document, namely:

  • being strategically defensive;
  • having no weapons of mass destruction (WMD);
  • having no manifestly offensive weapon systems;
  • a commitment to use force only within the context of international law;
  • having limited power projection capabilities;
  • support for the principle of territorial defence; and
  • having a small professional force and a large reserve that will take long to mobilise. 

South Africa has stated that strategically it will have a defensive posture and that its military structures will only be sufficient to protect “… military and economic assets against offensive actions by an aggressor”. This also suggests that South Africa is not interested in power projection capabilities for offensive strategic action. Other NOD principles accepted in South African defence policy entail transparency and confidence-building measures. South Africa has openly stated in its published defence policy that it does not have aggressive intentions towards other states. This policy also states that South Africa will pursue a “…common security regime, regional defence co-operation and confidence- and security-building measures in Southern Africa”.

South Africa has accepted the principle of deterrence through a ‘credible defence capability’ to prevent future conflict. It is argued that conventional deterrence can prevent armed conflict and will deter potential aggressors. This is similar to the NoD principle of deterrence through denial of territory. The Defence Review [1998] stated that the defence capabilities of the SANDF should be strong enough to reverse the effects of foreign offensive action and to be able to drive an opponent from South African territory.

Jordaan and Esterhuyse conclude:

NoD principles were influential in creating the basic policy framework of South African defence policy in the mid 1990s which corresponded with the South African Constitution. ‘NoD-type restructuring’ has played an important role in enabling South Africa to take a leading political role in the region, without posing a threat to other states.#

Note:  April 15th 2011 

South Africa’s defenceWeb reports that an update of South Africa’s 1996 White Paper on Defence and 1998 Defence Review has been completed and is now ready for Parliamentary and public discussion.

Helmoed-Römer Heitman, the dean of South African defence writers is said to have written  in Janes’ Defence Weekly in April last year that the draft had been written “by advisers with naïve notions of international politics and little understanding of defence and who focused on peripheral issues.” 

That sounds promising!


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