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Reinventing a Regional Superpower? Theoretical Issues in the Analysis of South African Foreign Policy After Apartheid

Dan O’Meara

International Studies Association
41st Annual Convention
Los Angeles, CA
March 14-18, 2000

In the of the issues we must discuss, which President Museveni has been raising in a gentle way, which is untypical of him, is: How do we handle the question of national sovereignty in a global world? How does each of us, as individual African countries with small markets, battle to deal with this difficult situation in the world?

Can we succeed without saying we surrender some of that sovereignty to larger entities, which must be democratic, with everyone equal, with no big brothers, and no small brothers, and no big sisters and no small sisters? To achieve an African remewal in politics, in economics, in social life and in culture, we have to act together as Africans. Of this I think none can be in doubt.

The question that remains is: How do we do it? And what arises from this? Are we willing to to it? But clearly, if we are not willing to do it, the citizens of Dead Man’s Creak in Mississippi will continue to laugh at these Africans who talk of a vision but who do not have the will to translate that vision into reality.
       –Thabo Mbeki (1998: 294-295)

Throughout the final 20 years of apartheid, the overall objectives and individual thrust of South African foreign policy were clear to friend and foe alike. Trapped in the most dogmatic and ideological forms of Cold War real politik, the South African government laboured to reduce South Africa’s international isolation, and to oblige the major western powers to defend the apartheid state’s definition of its own interests. Moreover the apartheid state vigorously exercised its vast military and economic preponderance throughout the southern African sub-system. For the peoples, governments, and economies of the region, the results were catastrophic.

Since 1994, South Africa’s new democratic government has confronted the dual political imperative of undoing the domestic consequences of apartheid and transforming all elements of South African defence and foreign policies. Post-apartheid foreign policy is attracting growing attention. Thus far, academics, journalists and even some ANC politicians seem to be in broad agreement ‹ while the new government has succeeded in changing the overall orientation and diplomatic practices of South African foreign policy, its concrete achievements can most charitably be described as limited and controversial.

Virtually all observers use similar language to characterise Pretoria’s post-apartheid foreign policy ‹ particularly towards other regions of Africa. Terms such as "inept", "ad hoc", "contradictory", "ineffective", even "failure", abound. Many also note that a once in government, the ANC abandoned all but a few rhetorical vestiges of its bold vision for a radically new South African foreign policy (ANC 1993).

What the literature is less clear on, however, are the reasons both for such failures and for the ANC’s surprisingly easy abandonment of much of what it had previously stood for. To the extent that this literature has focused on explaining post-apartheid foreign policy, four different sets of factors seem to be emphasised.

Firstly, many have placed much of the blame of the shoulders of the first post-apartheid foreign minister, the old ANC workhorse, the late Alfred Nzo. Nzo was regularly labelled the least effective member of Mandela’s Cabinet, one who lacked both the vision and the political clout to impose a fresh approach on the old apartheid bureaucrats who dominated the Department of Foreign Affairs after 1994 (Southall 1995, Vale 1995).

Secondly, much of South Africa’s academic foreign policy establishments has focussed on attempts to transform the Department of Foreign Affairs its since 1994 (Muller 1997 & nd.; Mills nd). Almost entirely descriptive, this work seems blind to its own theoretical underpinnings. Little attempt appears to have been made to use recent theoretical work which might reinforce some of the arguments being made ‹ such as Ayoob’s "subaltern realism" and its stress on state formation as the key determinant of Third World foreign policies (1995 & 1997).

A third strand shares the essentially realist and rationalist assumptions of the second, but at least renders them somewhat more explicit. What Vale & Taylor (1999: 630) caustically (though note entirely accurately) dismiss as "the British School of South Africa foreign policy", essentially posits that South Africa has become a country just like any other, and that its foreign policy has inevitably had to adapt to the inescapable structural constraints of anarchy and real politik (Spence 1998; Toase & Yorke 1998). Much of this type of literature seems to gloat that the ANC’s naive revolutionaries have been obliged to shed their innocence in their move "from idealism to pragmatism" (Olivier & Geldenhuys 1997).

Despite the rare effort to render theoretical assumptions explicit, nor matter how conventional or dated (Milazi 1997), much of the literature on post-apartheid foreign policy displays a remarkable theoretical unselfconsciousness. Traditional rational actor models of analysis abound without an apparent awareness that this is, in fact, merely one theoretical model among others, and a highly problematic and controversial one at that. Virtually no effort has been expended to demonstrate the validity of the model. Analysis rarely transcends the "neo-neo consensus" in IR theory:

...neo-neo thinkers...effectively control what (little) thinking there is regarding the nation’s foreign policy. Indeed, securocrats and free-marketeers dominate South Africa’s foreign policy debates ‹ exactly why descriptions (and ‘descriptions’ not ‘reflections’ is the right adjective) are so pedestrian and non-informative...[M]uch is made, of embassies opening in Pretoria, of sojourns abroad by South African ministers, of receiving kings and queens on state visits, even of the bureaucratic politics inherent in the ongoing transformative process in the Department of Foreign Affairs. Yet little attention is directed to the overall thrust of South African foreign policy: the normative principles that underlie Pretoria’s interaction with the international community. Even less attention or effort is aimed at explaining or analysing why South Africa has ‘bought into the programme’. It is as if South Africa’s essential at oneness with the dominant discourse of neo-liberalism and neo realism in teleological, with no material or ideological basis (Vale & Taylor 1999: 2-3).

Beyond the rampant empiricism and theoretical unselfconsciousness, a great deal of this literature is seemingly blissfully unaware of existence, let alone the implications, of the raging debates in IR theory over the past two decades. Some attempt has been made to incorporate (varying) notions of "middle power" theory, and regime theory has also made an occasional appearance (Bischoff 1997). But these are hardly the cutting areas of IR and foreign policy theory debate..

There are honourable exceptions to this rule. Most obviously, the more recent work of Peter Vale, both in his own and co-authored articles, has argued explicitly and forcefully argued the significance of various of the reflexive approaches (see bibliography), including critical security studies (Booth & Vale 1995). Pat McGowan has tried to inject world system political economy into the debate (1993, 1995). Coxian analysis (van der Westhuizen 1998) and critical geopolitics have also made an appearance (du Plessis 1997).

While much of this newer theoretical work is still in its infancy, it has sought to probematise both the analysis and implications of post-apartheid foreign policy. This paper attempts too open up other elements in this discussion over the need for a reflexivist approach to post apartheid foreign policy. My long term goal is to elaborate a new analytical model to grasp the complex dilemmas confronting Pretoria’s foreign policy-makers. In this very schematic first attempt, I focus on what seem to me to be eight key determinants in the construction of such a model. My goal in this paper is to spell out the terms in which such determinants could fruitfully be studied, rather than to undertake a detailed analysis of their operation.


1. Ousting Occam, or post-parsimony

My approach begins with a point seldom raised in the ongoing rationalist vs reflexivist brouhaha of the 1980s and 1990s. As I read the various interventions in the "metatheoretical" debates, it strikes me that, whatever their particular allegiances or standpoints, few participants have yet explicitly questioned one of the key assumptions underlying virtually all forms of western epistemology ‹ Occam’s razor, or the primacy of parsimony.

Of course, most reflexivists would probably argue that all versions of the principle of Occam’s razor are simple restatements of empicirism and even positivism. Yet in so far as the principle of parsimony has been judged to be Occam’s main contribution to the philosphy of science, I do not believe it unfair to argue that, with the exception of the various neo-Gramscian strands, very few of the numerous forms of reflexivism explicitly reject parsimony.

Many rationalists would themselves likely react in astonishment to such a statement. Who could ever accuse post-modernists, or feminists, of seeking parsimony? Does not the convoluted terminology of much of the "linguistic turn", let alone the explicit rejection of both "reality" and causality, render absurd any notion that such approaches themselves strive for parsimony?

At one level, it is difficult to quibble with such objections. However, at another, less immediately evident level, I believe it is possible to argue that much of reflexism has implictly advanced an alternative model of parsimony. Be it the pervasive presence and role of "discourse" in postmodernism and poststructuralism; the contructivist concern with intersubjectivity in the construction of of all "reality"; or the feminist preoccupation with "patriachy", to cite just three examples ‹ most reflexivist approaches assign both ontological and heuristic primacy to one or other core concept. Or to put this another way: while gestural references are made to the complexity of social life, most reflexivist approaches do not set out to develop complex models capable of capturing exactly this complexity of social action. It is in this sense that I believe it not injust to characterise the various forms of reflexivism as still partial prisoners of the parsimony principle. Only the neo-Gramscians (Cox 1983, Gill 1993) and most particularly the neo structuralists (Palan & Gills 1994; Mason (994), can be exempted categorically from such a charge.

This paper seek to open a debate about the need go beyond the obsession with parsimony to develop theories which set out exactly to capture the complexity of politics. In other words the theoretical model which I am attempting to elaborate begins with the assumption of the need for complexity. Anyone with the slightest knowledge of contemporary South African politics must stress the convoluted nature of the political dilemmas confronting the post-apartheid government, as well as the complex nature of political process and struggle in that country. Similarly, it seems to me, any attempt to grapple with the evolving forms of South African foreign policy after apartheid, must likewise seek to grapple with the multilayered nature of the problem.

My own approach is located within the reflexivist debates. Nevertheless, I remain convinced that, on their own, none of these emerging accounts of international relations is adequate to grasp the complexities of current South African foreign policy dilemmas. I shall therefore present, in somewhat schematic form, a first draft of the parameters my own model, indicating where necessary the relevant theoretical sources. While I hope to have gone beyond mere eclecticism, I am nevertheless painfully aware that this putative model leaves unanswered many urgent epistemological and ontological questions. These I hope to address in further elaboration of this work.


2. Towards a new theoretical model

With an ironic bow to the formulaic discourse of strategic studies, I have labelled my putative theoretical model C4I3P. Its parameters are:

C4 = cui bono, context, conceptualisation, capabilities;
I3 = identity, interests, issue-areas;
P = process

Three problems present themselves immediately. The first is that of the nature and role of each of the determinants. These are no mere factors in foreign policy analysis. Rather, I advance these problematic categories as determinants necessary to grasp the overdetermined matrix of human actions which we label "foreign policy." The notion of overdetermination (Althusser 1986), underlines at one and the same time, the complexity of social life; the inadmissability of reductionist explanation; the difficulty in untangling the contingent, from the structural and from agency; and the mutually determining effects of each of these discreet determinants.

What is involved here, then, is attempt to develop a method to grasp a complex totality; an ensemble in which all of the determinants both interact with, and have a determining effect on each and all the others. The task of analysis then, it seems to me is three fold:

This raises, secondly, the old chestnut of structure and agency. Again, I do not intend to review the debate here (see Gould 1998), but rather restate a position I have outlined elsewhere (O’Meara 1996: 472-486). Agents always act within structure. Their actions are always constrained by structure. Nonetheless, structures are, themselves, little other than the accumulated residues of the past actions of agents, they emerge from and are transformed by the actions of agents. Structure and agency are, thus, mutually determining. Their precise a distinct roles, as well as the nature of this mutual determination cannot be specified at anything other than the most general level in theory. Doing so requires detailed empirical analysis.

However the exposition of the eventual analysis of the two theoretical problems outline above, invoke a third. There is, as Marx noted, a world of difference between the mode of presentation of the conclusions of a theory and the mode of inquiry which produced them:

The latter has to appropriate the material in detail, to analyse its different forms of development, to trace out their inner connection. Only after this has been done, can the actual movement be adequately described. If this is done successfully, if the life of the subject-matter is ideally reflected as in a mirror, then it may appear as if we have before us a mere a priori construction. (Marx 1970: 19)

I make no claim as to either the validity of my inquiry nor the mode of its presentation. What I wish to underline is that the presentation of the elements of a theory of overdetermination are bound, by the very form and rules of a written academic text, to be linear and sequential. However the reader should try to bear in mind at all times Marx’s injunction: despite their separate and sequential mode of presentation, the determinants here discussed are mutually determining and really only make sense when viewed as part of an overdetermined totality.

The rest of this paper consists of a schematic and partial discussion of various aspects of what I take to be the eight determinants of the overdetermined ensemble which is South African foreign policy after 1994. In doing so, I claim only to have begun my own inquiry into the first two of the analytical tasks identified above, ie: disaggregating the totality; and analysis of the individual composition and effects of each of these determinants. I contend that the final analytical task ‹ that of reconstructing the overdetermined totality in such a way as to expose and lay bare the mutual determination of its elements ‹ can only be achieved via a detailed empirical analysis. The latter is the focus of a long term research project, recently being undertaken with Professor Linda Freeman of Carleton University.


3. The determinants of post apartheid SA foreign policy

3.1. Cui bono?

The thrust of my critique of prevailing analysis of SA foreign policy holds that most authors remain unproblematically trapped in a rational actor model. This state is conceived as a unitary, sentient and calculating entity. This true even of some who have explicitly sought to go beyond such a model.

Hence, any attempt to break with such a discourse needs begin with an understanding of what exactly is meant by two key concepts "South Africa" and the "foreign policy" which "it" adopts and implements.

Traditionally, "foreign policy" refers to the words, the representations and actions which a sovereign state projects beyond its territorial borders. Yet an enormous array of problematic assumptions underlie such quotidian language. Most fundamentally, it enshrines the rigid "inside/outside" distinction underlying realist analysis, one which insists that different forms and laws of politics transform the "domestic" and the "external" realms of all states into rigidly discreet ontological categories (Aron 1984: Chapt. IV). At best "linkage politics"can seek to explore the areas of overlap between them.

Such a notion then rests on a Hobbesian and Weberian definition of the state. Its domestic raison d’être being to ensure the security of the individual through its monopoly of legitimate violence; at the external level, the state is obsessed with pure survival (Waltz 1979), usually signified in terms of preserving and promotion "its" own sovereignty, territoriality and national security.

Leaving aside, for the moment, the profound challenge that globalisation poses to such notions of the state in international relations, the theoretical and normative problems with this conventional, billiard ball notion of the unitary, sentient state and state sovereignty have elicited vast criticism. Most obviously, the conventional IR model of the state simply forecloses the fundamental point that foreign policy, the "national interest" and "national security" are not the simple projection of a, collective "general interest" shared by the entire national population in question. Rather, these apparently neutral terms and practices always benefit some elements of their "own" nation to the detriment of others. They always serves to consolidate the hegemony of dominant groups within the country in question.

The basic ontological assumption of a rigid "inside/outside" split underlying conventional IR theory and foreign policy analysis has always been empirically indefensible. Even more significantly, such notions of discreet internal and domestic realms of politics, directly function to mask private interest in the name of general interest. Foreign policy is not only fundamentally shaped by domestic politics and domestic interests, it also serves certain domestic interests over others. The very discourse of foreign policy, and particularly such terms as "national interest" and "national security", is a profound intervention in domestic politics. It operates to elevate particular private interests to those of "the nation" (whatever that might be), and so profoundly disempower those who would seek to challenge these dominant domestic interests (and their external partners and equivalents).

In the literature on South African foreign policy, only Vale and Taylor have raised this issue explicitly:

Any competent analysis of South Africa’s foreign policy must begin with the fundamental question; how does it affect the country’s citizens? Which segments benefit from the policies being pursued, and which do not? Whose interest is being served by, for example, South Africa playing an activist role in the WTO? Is such a role consummate with a government committed to ‘A Better Life for All’, or, after the rhetoric and the bluster have been stripped aside, is only a limited fraction of the country’s peoples being served by such posturing (Vale & Taylor, 1999: ** emphasis added).

This also implies that the supposedly neutral academic analysis by experts is not only complicit in, but a key component in reproducing, the very dominant interests promoted by conventional foreign policy discourse. As Robert Cox has cogently argued, "theory is always for someone and for some purpose" (Cox 1986:207). In a country such as South Africa, where an entirely new category of politicians came to government determined to change the old order, the solemn voice of experts intoning the supposed eternal truths of foreign policy analysis is, in effect, little more than the frantic effort of the old order to sustain and reassert itself. Thus the question of why the representatives of the new order have so quickly and so profoundly adopted so much of the old understandings, redolent with all of their myriad past mistakes and crimes, involves a detailed unpacking of domestic politics.

Asking this basic, crucial question, cui bono? necessarily leads to a problematisation of the two key concepts of "foreign policy" and "South Africa". Neither can be taken as given but have to be unpacked in detail, not just in terms of their content and the interests they foster, but more significantly in terms of the detailed political processes through which the dominant disource is established, promoted and defended. This leads to the second determinant in my model.

3. 2. Process

We must grasp the genesis and structure of particular security problems as grounded in concrete historical conditions and practices. Rather than in abstract assertions of transcendental rational actors and scientific methods. We must understand the genesis of conflicts and the creation of dilemmas of security as grounded in reflexive practices rather than as the outcome of timeless structures (Krause & Williams 1997:

The form of democratic state put into place in South Africa after 1994 represented not only a radical break with the apartheid state, but also in some significant ways, its continuation under transformed conditions. The new constitution of 1994 was not the result of an unambiguous victory for the forces of non-racial democracy, but rather the outcome of a long violent strategic stalemate (O’Meara 1996; 4-10, 317-413).

What emerged out of four years of difficult, violent negotionations was essentially a compromise. The ANC was obliged to accept, inter alia, that the new government would retain virtually all of the personnel and administrative structures of the old apartheid state. Those apartheid functionaries who chose to stay would have their jobs, rank, salaries and pensions guaranteed by the new state.

Thus the key foreign-policy decision-making and policy-implementing structures which emerged in the new state, were essentially a problematic mix of those of old apartheid regime (including the bantustan functionaries) and cadres appointed by the ANC. The elaboration of a "new" foreign policy thus also required a long, still unrealised process of harmonising these competing structures, visions, institutional and policy interests.

To further complicate matters, President Mandela’s appointee as Minister of Foreign Affairs, former ANC General-Secretary, Alfred Nzo, was seen by many observers as the most bureaucratic minded of the ANC bureaucracy (O’Meara 1995). He evidently lacked both the vision and dynamism needed to impose a new vision on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This led many observers to comment that the foreign policy of the "new" South Africa" was essentially being made by those who shaped the foreign policy of the apartheid state, and that litte had changed either in terms of who was really making foreign policy and in terms of its content (Southall 1995; Vale 1995).

At least three levels of analysis can be briefly identified here. The first is the highly politicised process of reconstituting the institutions and practices of the new South African state on the basis of this messy compromise. This is not just a question of which institutions are to play what role in foreign policy issues; not even one of which functionaries occupy which posts; but more particularly one of what forms of training are given to new personnel, what vision and which norms are to underly each of the ‹ competing‹ bureaucratic matrices (institutions/structures) which play key roles in the elaboration and implementation of foreign policy. At least six sets separate bureaucratic structures have emerged as key players in this process: the Office of the President; the Department of Foreign Affairs; the Defence Department; the Department of Trade and Industry; the Department of Safety and Security; the various intelligence apparati of the state.

The various crises of post apartheid foreign policy (and particular the issue of the recognition of Beijing vs, Taipei, and the invasion of Lesotho) point to the need for a second level of analysis: the equally problematic, contested and largely unresolved process of instutionalising decision making within and between these bureaucracies. Drawing on Allison’s classic analysis of the Cuban missile crisis (1969 & 1999), this is to insist that the elaboration of foreign policy involves complex political conflicts at least at three intersecting levels:

On its own, such an anlysis of bureaucratic politics within the new South African state would be highly revealing ‹ particularly of such foreign policy disasters as the September 1998 invasion of Lesotho. (. However, I would argue that the analysis of the process of foreign policy needs to include still another level of anaysis. To spell this out it it is necessary to introduce the third of the determinants in my model.

3.3. Conceptualisation

[A]ctors act on the basis of the meanings that objects have for them, and meanings are socially constructed. A gun in the hand of a friend is a different thing from one in the hand of an enemy, and enmity is a social, not material, relationship (Wendt 1996:50).

Recent theoretical trends have stressed the constructed nature of both the discipline of international relations and the practice of international politics (Wendt 1992; Kubalkova et. al. 1998). Reflected in the "argumentative turn" in policy analysis (Fischer & Forester 1993), such an approach holds that

the language of policymaking...does not simply reflect "real" policy issues and problems; instead, it actively produces the issues with which policymakers deal and the specfic problems that they confront. (Weldes, 1998: 217, emphasis added).

This approach rejects the conventional notion that South African foreign policy faces the "objective" constraints of material circumstance. It likewise breaks with conventional rational actor models which begin by specifying the objectives of foreign policy (Moloto n.d; Mills n.d). Rather, its postulates that objectives, like interests, and identies are contingent outcomes of complex processes. These outcomes cannot be taken as given, but can only be grasped through a detailed unpacking of these complex processes.

Seen in these terms, policymaking becomes a constant struggle over the definition of meaning at a number of key levels. Moreover, such a constructivist understanding of foreign policy also interprets this struggle over meaning very broadly. It goes beyond even the widest definition of the realm of bureaucratic/governmental politics in the literature of foreign policy analysis (Stern & Verbeek 1998). A host of non-State and non-national actors provide key inputs into this elaboration within the state apparatus of

the criteria of social classification, the boundaries of problem categories, the intersubjective interpretation of common experience, the conceptual framing of problems, and the definition of the ideas that guide the ways people create meanings which motivate them to act. (Fischer & Forester 1993: 2).

This suggests that at least two complex sets of analytical tasks are involved here. The first involves a redefinition of models of bureaucratic politics in order to specify who gets to speak and (a different question), who gets to be heard (and by whom) within this struggle, and (still a different question), why?

Such a struggle over meaning implicates sets of bureaucratic interests beyond those of the apparatus of government. Analysis of process in these terms asks which national and non national agents, occupying which state and non-state roles, and commanding which social resources (discursive and other) are involved in each of the different stages of policymaking, across a range of different issue areas?

The question of stages is significant. As Allison (1969) long ago pointed out, the term policymaking commonly confuses at least three different phases, or levels of politics and political struggle: policy decision-making; policy implementation; and adapting policy to the unforseen consequences of its own implementation. Each stage involves different forms of political struggle, sometimes involving different actors and different sets of practices.

The second set of analytical tasks requires the specification of the various levels of meaning which are the object of such struggle. These are not constant, but will change according to the issue area. In broad terms, I would suggest that a number of levels of struggle over meaning are central, regardless of the issue area. Analysed in turn, there are respectively the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh determinants of my model.

3.4. Context

One task of theory in International relations is to find meaning in actions and events, which may elude all the actors involved. It is not the same sort of task as that of the natural scientist in search of hidden causes, because the context of action cannot be divorced from the actors’ understanding of the context (Hollis & Smith 1991: 70. Emphasis added)

Context is central in defining all actors’ perception of the situation in which they and their interlocutors find themselves, and hence, the range of options open to each.

The formal process of transition in South Africa from an apartheid to a democratic state, coincided with tumultuous events and far-reaching changes at three discreet levels of politics: globally, within the southern African region; and domestically. The changes within each of these levels had significantly effects for the location of the South African state in all levels and issues of international politics. Moreover, these tri-levelled changes also radically transformed the perceptions of key sets of actors of their own place, interests and range of options in the "new South Africa". These various and competing newly emerging, and transformed intersubjectivitie understandings are both contextually located and determined, but are likewise fundamental in grasping the place, interests, and options of the new ANC-led government after 1994.

As hinted at above, at least three different contextual sets are significant here: global, regional and domestic. Each of these levels in turn contain various elements.

3.4 .i. The Global context

At least two very different aspects of this global context stand out: the new, evolving, and fundamentally uncertain post-Cold War international order; and globalisation.

3.4.i.a. The post cold-war global order

The end of the cold War both coincided with, and was a significant contributing factor in, the decision of the apartheid regime to begin the long process of ceding power to the ANC. This profoundly transformed international order had crucial determinate effects on the place and role of the South Africa African state in global strategic relations, or what Aron terms the configuration du rapports de force (1984: 104-108)

This is the domain of classical realist strategic analysis. A schematic and partial list would have to include the following:

These and other consequences thus directly impacted on the struggle to define the range of foreign policy options open to the South African state at very many levels in many issue-areas (see below).

The end of the cold war also forced the two key sets of institutional actors in South African politics ‹ the apartheid state and the ANC ‹ to reinvent their worldviews. With both sets of actors long frozen in the most rigid of cold war postures, neither was well equipped to confront the new challenges of the evolving post-cold war global order (see below)

However locating the new South African state in the contemporary global order involves more than the analysis of Aron’s "diplomatic-strategic conduct" (1984: 33-57) consequent on the end of the cold war. The global context in which this new state finds itself is also radically transformed by globalisation.

3.4.i.b Globalisation

The debate over the very existence, the extent and the implications of globalisation is particularly intense in the field of International Political Economy (Hirst & Thompson, 1998; Mittleman 1997). I do no intend to enter these debates here, merely to summarise my perspective on globalisation and its impact on South African foreign policy.

I take globalisation to be a complex, contested, and contradictory process which ‹ since the end of World War II ‹ has gradually produced a reconfiguration of, and a re-articulation between, political space, economic space, social space, cultural space, and identity. More than twenty years ago, Charles-Albert Michalet summarised this process with the observation that "the political and economy boundaries [of the nation state] no longer coincide" (Michalet 1979: 48).

The principal aspect of this process for the purpose of this study has been a simultaneous reduction and redefinition of two central aspects on which the both nation-state and the international political system have been constructed since 1648 ‹ state sovereignty and state territoriality.

Military, economic and social forces are calling into question the state’s territorial imperative, as well as the modern state’s insistence on a politics of control from the center. The ability to represent the state as territorially sovereign is diminished by the latest phase of warfare, the globalization of capitalism, the proliferation of international managerial institutions, and the tremendous mobility of people around the globe. Present developments not only seem to be challenging the current form of the state, but are also questioning the possibilities of territorialized, sovereign power. (Opello and Rosow 1999: 225. Original emphasis)

Globalisation has seen the dispersion, fragmentation and segmentation of political power under the logic of the "free market". While globalisation has not led to the withering away of the state, as some claim (Ohmae 1999), it has produced a profound change in the nature and function of the state. It could plausibly be argued that the Hobbesian and Rousseau-ian social contracts have been replaced by a purely Lockean one. The raison d’être of the contemporary state is no longer to protect its citizens from domestic and external threats to their security, nor to realise the General Will. Nor, as the collapse of the Soviet Union without the Red Army firing a shot indicates, is the state even motivated by the Waltzian imperative to ensure its own survival, let alone protect its sovereignty. In purely functional terms, the state exists today to manage to transition to globalisation (Vergopoulos 1989/90). Governments which decline to accept this role are no longer invaded, but punished by "the new gunboat diplomacy" (L’Hériteau 1982) of the market (as enforced by the IMF, WTO and World Bank).

The significance of globalisation for this study, lies at two levels. Firstly, again in the context of extraordinarily high expectations in South Africa of far-reaching government intervention to dismantle the socio-economic consequences of apartheid, globalisation has radically constrained the ability of all states to implement autonomous monetary, commercial and industrial policies.

[T]he global market has increasingly taken on the role of a regulator of sovereignty, creating institutions and generating norms and discourses that make it appear necessary and inevitable that states both adopt free market economic policies and proffer interpretations of the national interests that conform to the norms of global competitiveness (Opello and Rosow 1999: 235).

Likewise, the collapse of (largely Soviet-derived) pre-existing models of alternative policy modes has created the somewhat ironic situation in which a government headed by the former chairman of the South African Communist Party (Thabo Mbeki), and in which members of the CP hold key economic portfolios, has implemented a radically Thacherite domestic economic programme (known as "Growth, Employment and Reconstruction", or Gear).

Both domestic and external policies adopted by the ANC government fit right within the Washington consensus mainstream of turning the nation state into the "competitive state" (Coussy). This means that any attempt to modify South Africa’s place in the global economy may no longer follow the models favoured by the ANC (and most Third World states) prior to the 1980s, ie reinforcing autarchy. Rather, these efforts must now seek to render the South African economy more "competitive". In this sense, the new South African state (like all others) has been transformed into the principal manager of the "adjustment" of South African economy and society to the imperatives of globalisation. Posed in these terms, the cui bono of South African foreign policy is evident.

Another way of putting this is that the new, democratic state-in-formation finds itself in a situation in which many of the traditional levers of state power, state sovereignty and state territoriality are no longer available to it. This has profound effects on the range of foreign policy options available to the state, and not just in the field of economic policy.

However, the structural effects of globalisation are felt at yet another level. Many authors have pointed to the fact that globalisation has fostered a new "regionalisation" of world trade and other relations (Vergopoulos, 1989/90), of which the emergence of three great trading blocs at the end of the 1980s was the most obvious index (Collectif, 1989/90).

In the early 1990s, the democratisation of South Africa induced great hopes that the industrialised South African economy would be the powerhouse to re-ignite development within southern Africa (O’Meara, 1991). Such innocence has long disappeared. Regionalisation has seen massive South African investment in Southern Africa, various half-hearted attempts to reinforce "South South" trading links, but most of all, growing fear in the other states of the region that this aspect of globalisation would simply reinforce South Africa’s regional domination.

As the South Africa Department of Trade and Industry initially sought to export some of the worst effects of globalisation towards its neighbours, and most particularly Zimbabwe (Freeman 1999), globalisation further heightened tensions in the region.

3.4.ii The regional context

The political transition in South Africa likewise coincided with, and was in many ways also partially rendered possible by dramatic changes in the balance of forces in the Southern African region in the late 1980s early 1990s.

This is seen at three distinct levels. Firstly, South Africa’s final retreat from its illegal colony of Namibia in 1989; the winding down of the war of destabilisation in Mozambique; the multiparty elections held for the first time in most states of the region; most dramatically, the re-igniting of civil war in Angola (but now without direct US and South African involvement); and finally, South Africa’s incorporation into the various regional organisations (most particularly the - renamed - South African Development Conference) produced a radical re-ordering of the regional balance of power.

This is reflected secondly, in growing regional reluctance ‹ particularly on the part of Zimbabwe ‹ to see a now democratic and relegitimised South African state resume its role as the regional hegemon. Complex issues, including, but not limited to, deep resentment of Nelson Mandela’s international stature, are involved here. Yet the period since 1994 has seen growing defiance of Pretoria’s policies and initiatives by more than one state of the region.

This is linked, thirdly, to great indecision on the part of the new government, over its regional role. The ANC government was initially ideologically disposed against playing the role of the regional hegemon, without having developed any concrete alternative definition of its regional role. The result was vacillation, farce, and, as in the case of the invasion of Lesotho in September 1998, tragedy.

All of this produced growing conflict within the region and the SADC, and particularly over the question of the role of the latter’s "Organ on Defence, Politics and Security" (Malan, 1998). The drawn out war in the Congo, South Africa’s vacillating policies towards the various protagonists, and particularly Zimbabwe, are the most glaring manifestations of this problem. In the words of the anonymous author of the Strategic Survey :

South Africa’s relations with its neighbours (and with Africa as a whole) have been very disappointing....South African foreign policy, both in the region and internationally, has been a series of embarrassing failures (IISS, 1999: 249).

3.4.iii. The domestic context

Mohammed Ayoob identifies state formation as the key determinant in both regional conflict and the foreign policy of third world states (1995, 1997). South Africa has been involved in a complex and highly contested process of state formation since the liberation of Nelson Mandela in 1990. While the holding of a second, and peaceful, democratic general election in June 1999 marks the end to the early phase of state building, this process is in no sense yet in its mature phase.

The formation of a democratic South African state has necessitated, inter alia, a drawn out process of reconstructing and redefining all elements of the state’s foreign policy and security apparatus. This has occurred, as noted above, in a context in which key actors were forced radically to rethink their basic assumptions concerning foreign and security policies. They did so under enormous pressure from domestic and external forces favouring the broad thrust of neo liberalism. Moreover, in a context of enormous domestic expectations of radical change, a range of civil society actors clamoured to achieve access into the ongoing process of state formation and role definition. That the result has been somewhat chaotic should surprise nobody.

To sum up: the post apartheid state is obliged to grapple with the dilemmas of foreign policy elaboration and implementation in a multilayered context, all of whose elements together act to delimit the definition of the options open to policymakers. Phillip Cerny characterises this complex set of intersecting levels of political terrain as the emerging "neo-medievalism" of the global system ‹ one which imposes a "new security dilemma" on all states.

What we are left with, then, is a new security dilemma. In this situation, attempts to provide international and domestic security through the state and the states system actually become increasingly dysfunctional. They create severe backlashes at both local and transnational levels, backlashes which further weaken the state and undermine wider security. Furthermore, these backlashes do not develop in a vacuum; they interact with economic and social processes of complex globalisation to create overlapping and competing cross-border networks of power, shifting loyalties and identities, and new sources of endemic low-level conflict ‹ a ‘durable disorder’ analogous to some of the key characteristics of the medieval world....The new security dilemma, then, is inextricably intertwined with globalisation, broadly defined (Cerny 1999:40).

In this fraught, multilayered context, the struggle in South Africa over how to best to define, or "represent", the origins, trajectory, content and consequences of such changes is far reaching. Two brief examples will suffice.

A complex debate has developed within and between the various institutional apparat of the South African state over national security policy. This involves not only key ministries (defence, foreign affairs, finance etc), but also a gamut of non-state and non-national actors (including the ANC itself, various think tanks, NGOs, business organisations, domestic and international arms manufacturers, foreign governments etc). In terms of traditional threat analysis there is possibly no state on this planet less exposed to an even remotely conceivable conventional military threat than South Africa. Only the United States has the strategic, tactical, logistical and financial resources necessary to mount such a threat.

Nevertheless, in a period of shrinking resources for the implementation of the socio-economic programme on which it was elected and re-elected, the new government has decided to go ahead with arms purchases ‹ including state-of-the-art fighter aircraft ‹ totalling some R29 billion. The message sent by such arms purchases has clear, and highly negative, implications for the vast majority of South Africans struggling to escape the appalling social and economic legacy of apartheid, and has roundly been criticised as such. While the major institutional beneficiaries of such purchases are the military itself, as well as foreign and domestic arms manufacturers, the government has sought to market these purchases to the electorate as a key component in stimulating economic growth. The Defence Ministry has barely even bothered to persuade sceptics that it needs short range Swedish Grippen fighters to defend South African airspace against incursions mounted by Botswana, or Lesotho, or Mozambique, or Namibia, or Swaziland or Zimbabwe.

Thus, despite efforts by various NGOs to promote the notion of "non-offensive defence" (Mollet, 1994; Williams, 1996; Willet 1998), after some debate, a more traditional national security orientation has been adopted. However this not only remains subject to substantial domestic criticism, but the government still clearly lacks a defined set of strategic objectives and priorities at the global level, with regards to the African continent as a whole, and with respect to regional conflicts. This is seen in a series of debacles (relations with Nigeria, the disastrous military intervention in Lesotho, South Africa’s apparent lack of influence in the war in the Congo, etc.)

The second example relates to the extensive struggle over the meaning and implications for "South Africa" of globalisation. Again, this is a complex, multilevelled debate which I cannot go into here. However, at least three positions have emerged. The first is linked to major business groups, and is likewise propounded by the powerful Ministry of Finance. This presents globalisation as an accomplished and unavoidable fact, and through integration into this reality will the South African economy experience any real growth. The second, opposite extreme, propounded by some within the trade union movement and other left wing groups, argues that the South African state should simple decline to engage with the neo-liberal dictates of globalisation. A third approach calls for a strategy of globalisation which would see the state forging South-South links and pursue opportunities for "a just, humane and equitable order" (ANC 1997).

The public rhetoric of South African economic and trade policy is cast within the terms of the third approach. However the content of such policy, and particularly the GEAR, seems to indicate that the proponents of the first view have so far managed to carry the day. Cui bono?

3.5. Identity

The struggles over the definition of the meaning of these changing contexts are intimately tied up with another key struggle over meaning in the new "rainbow nation" ‹ that over identity and the very definition of "South Africa" and "its" interests.

Traditional foreign policy models stress the unique, sovereign, identity of the nation state. However, not only is such a paradigmatic identity brought into question by the consequences of globalisation, the very nature of the new South African state involves a ceaseless quest for the elaboration and adoption of a new, national identity. This is well summed up in Mandela’s vision of a "rainbow nation". As expressed by (then) Deputy President, Thabo Mbeki:

History has granted to us the privilege to be the midwives of a new nation...We must seek to build out of South Africa’s diversity one nation with a common sense of patriotism (Cape Times, 8 April, 1996).

This remains far from accomplished fact. Indeed, under Mbeki’s presidency, the discourse of "the national question" has taken an elaborate turn, with far greater emphasis placed on "black empowerment" than in the "reconcilliationist" tenor of the discourse of former President Mandela. Mbeki’s notion of "black economic empowerment" actively fosters the blatant consumerism of the South African power elite and middle classes (black and white), and promotes a neo-liberal economic agenda as the only solution to the profound structural problems of these South African economy. All the ANC governments failures and broken promises have fuelled a growing disillusionment and despair among the tens of millions of poor. As an insightful American journalist has commented:

The struggle for economic justice in South Africa is a rather depressing story of idealism that fell flat when it was most needed (Goodman 1999 :356).

Thus the issue of the identity of the South African state remains both deeply ambiguous and highly contested. This is seen at a number of crucial levels, not the least of which is a ferocious debate over immigration policy.

This becomes even more complex when the question of the "projection" of this unresolved identity beyond South Africa’s borders is discussed. Much of the literature treats this question in conventional terms, often characterising South Africa as aspiring to "middle power leadership" (Solomon 1997a; Cilliers 1999). However, this issue remains fundamentally unresolved. Nearly six years after the establishment of the new state, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has yet to post either a White Paper or a Green Paper on the South African government website (which proclaims itself as "up to date"). All that has been produced so far in the July 1996 "Discussion Document" (Department of Foreign Affairs 1996).

This latter document sets out a very general set of principles and priorities. It leaves unresolved, however, some of the key issues of Southern African foreign policy. Perhaps the most important of these is a clear conception of the implications of South Africa’s overwhelming military and economic preponderance in the Southern African region. The conventional anodyne diplomatic language hides the clear inability to face up to the question of whether the new South African government sees itself as, in the title of a recent monograph, the regional Fairy Godmother, Hegemon or Partner (Solomon 1997). To date, there has been extreme vacillation around this issue, leading to a real vacuum in the region, the outbreak of new wars, and a renewal of at least one old one.

More significantly, however, the thorough debacle of the September 1998 invasion of Lesotho indicates two clearly worrying trends. The first is what seems to be an entirely ad hoc decision making process around vital issues. This was clear in the resolution of the issue of the diplomatic recognition of Beijing versus Taipei. Likewise decision to launch the military "intervention" in Lesotho was taken while both President Mandela and (then) Deputy President Mbeki were out of the country. Secondly, even more disturbingly, the choice of the military option, and the total incompetence of the operation itself, is an ominous echo of a past supposedly laid to rest. There is little to quibble with in Vale’s assessment of this disaster:

The thinking which appears to fashion South Africa’s choices in the region seems captured by the same ideas which promoted apartheid to near-destroy Southern Africa in the 1980s...the obsession with state security is not over...In choosing this course, South Africa has closed off the option of building a different kind of community in Southern Africa (Vale 1998: 1).

Thus the struggle over role definition (Le Prestre 1997) again raises the question of which social actors proposed which definitions of South African identity, and which broader social interests are reproduced by the various visions propounded? Issues of process, of conceptualisation and of identity are profoundly interlinked. Together they pose the problem of the sixth determinant of my model, interests.

3.6. Interests

State interests do not exist to be ‘discovered’ by self-interested rational actors. Interests are constructed through a process of social interaction. ‘Defining’, not ‘defending’, the national interest is what this book seeks to understand. (Katzenstein 1996:2)

How do states know what they want? (Finnemore 1996: 1). The conventional answer to this question is that a set of objective circumstances lead rational actors to a definition of national interest and national objectives (Moloto nd). While, in the real world of policy making, bureaucratic politics might render this process somewhat complex, nevertheless a "good" foreign policy is one which sets "realistic" goals, and does not overly disturb the existing order of things.

However, the argumentative turn in policy analysis points to very different responses to such questions. As a wide constructivist literature has now argued, state interests are defined in a context shaped by emerging international norms about what is appropriate and proper state behaviour: In these terms, interests can never be taken as given, nor even extrapolated from a decision-maker’s bureaucratic position. Rather,

[I]nterests are produced, reproduced, and transformed through the discursive practice of actors. More specifically, interests emerge out of the representations that define for actors the situations and events they face....Representational practices tell us ‘what the world is and how it works for all practical purposes’; they populate the world with subjects and objects, define the relations among and between subjects and objects, and, in so doing, endow subjects with particular interests. The interests of actors are thus constituted in tandem with, and are internally related to, the objects, subjects and situations themselves...Defining policy issues‹that is, the situations and events that require a policy response‹and the interests according to which one responds to them, requires considerable ideological work. (Weldes 1998: 218-219. First emphasis original, second added).

Others go even further. Whilst acknowledging the significance of representations, norms and forms of discourse, the neo-Gramscians would a would insist upon locating the origin and propagation of forms of meaning less in the realm of pure intersubjectivity than in the dialectic between what Stephen Gill has labelled the "triple crisis" of an emerging global hegemonic order on one hand, and the production and social forces at work ‹historic blocs ‹ within the state societal complex in question (Cox 1983).

Either way, the question of the sets of (domestic and external) interests expressed in, and promoted via the foreign policy, no matter how chaotic, of the new South African state can in no sense then be simply deduced from a realist notion of the correlation of forces. Unpacking interests, requires unpacking in turn process, identity, context and all forms of meaning, as well as exploring the convolution question of co-determination. Doing so also poses the question of the capacities of the state in question.

3,7 Capacities

I would argue that one of the few useful services Waltzian neo-realism has served in IR theory is to replace the vague concept of power with the perhaps even more vague concept of state capacity. While Nye’s concept of "soft power" has injected some relevance into in increasingly sterile debate over the nature of power (Nye 1990), the question of state capacity refers to much more than the hard and soft power resources at the command of the South African state.

Indeed, in the constructivist literature "power" is itself not just a construct, but only has any sense in intersubjective terms ‹ if ones adversaries do not "understand" the nature of one’s power, it serves little purpose in an allegedly anarchic international system. Measured in conventional military and economic terms, the new South African state remains the superpower of southern Africa. However, as the military disaster at Maseru in September 1998 indicates, much of this "power" might well prove chimeric.

Be this as it many, I want to displace the terms of the debate. I understand state "capacity" in very different terms to those posed by the author of Theory of International Politics. Firstly, the state is here conceived not as a unitary, rational, actor, not as a thing, but rather as a complex bureaucratic ensemble. The "capacity" of this complex ensemble ‹ even down to its ability effectively to organise those strategic resources presumably available to policymakers in thee South African state ‹ is first and foremost, again, a question of process.

At least six levels of process are relevant here. The first refers to the internal operating procedures, routines, rituals and resources of each element of the complex ensemble comprising the state. The second refers to the capacity of key state agents to impose some sort of coordination and order on this various and competing bureaucratic routines and rituals. The third level refers to the elaboration of broad intersubjective meanings within and between these bureaucratic ensembles, while the fourth raises the issue of the articulation between the elements of this ensemble and the various components of civil society. A government which enjoys scant public support for an activist foreign policy is not likely to be able to sustain such a policy indefinitely.

The fifth level of the process underlying state capacity refers to the performance of the state bureaucratic ensemble relative to other state ensembles at the various regional and global levels of the emerging world order. Capacity, like power, is not only constructed, it is entirely relative.

Finally, capacity is never absolute, it changes from issue-area to issue-area. For example, despite the overall negative assessment of its foreign policy achievement, the post-apartheid South African state has been relatively effective in certain issue areas. Two examples stand out. The key role in the negotiations over the ratification of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and Pretoria’s intervention to resolve the Lockerbie dispute between the United Nations and Libya (though, as always, the question cui bono needs to be posed).

3.8. Issue areas

The rapidly evolving context of international politics at the start of the 21st Century obliges all states to focus on a growing range of issue areas. This is well captured in Nye’s rebuttal of the "shallow historical analogies" underlying realism’s assertion of the timelessness of a Thucydidean conception of international politics (Gilpin 1981: 227-228):

Thucydides never had to worry about nuclear weapons or the ozone layer or global warming [let alone globalisation or AIDS - D.O’M]. The task for international politics students is to build on the past, not be trapped by it. (Nye 2000: 2)

In the research project of which this paper is a first attempt to define some theoretical space, Professor Freeman and I have chosen to focus principally on three highly contested issue areas of post-apartheid foreign policies which seem to us highly emblematic of the range of political dilemmas confronting the new state. the overall posture and orientation of national defence and security policy; the nature of South Africa’s relations with other southern African states; and the impact of the forces of globalisation of South Africa’s external trade relations.

Our joint research project envisions a detailed empirical analysis of these issue areas. However, it is the central contention of this paper that any attempt to do so needs to transcend the supposedly objective empiricism of much of the literature (Millls, 1999). The model here proposed is, in effect, a form of research agenda.

(To be continued...)



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