South Africa's Post-1994 Military Relations with the Mercosur Countries: Prospects and Challenges *

By Khanyile, Moses | Strategic Review for Southern Africa, November 2004 | Go to article overview
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South Africa's Post-1994 Military Relations with the Mercosur Countries: Prospects and Challenges *

Khanyile, Moses, Strategic Review for Southern Africa


The formation of Mercosur/Mercosul in 1991 coincided with the changing political dispensation in South Africa and the end of the Cold War. The coincidence is particularly important in the sense that South Africa's foreign policy options expanded in scope and that the newly-democratised South Africa was catapulted into a changing global environment which, for decades, had been characterised by a political-ideological divide between the East and the West. The historical links between South Africa and Mercosur member states had to be redefined and reconfigured in response to the changing national and global political, economic and military environments. This presented opportunities and challenges which the new South African government, but particularly the new Department of Defence, had to deal with.


The formation of Mercosur/Mercosul (1)) (Southern Cone Common Market) coincided with the end of the Cold War, rather than being a result of it. The member countries--Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, with Bolivia and Chile as associate members--had been under military dictatorships or authoritarian rule for the whole or a significant part of the Cold War period. The end of apartheid in South Africa and the country's subsequent readmission to the international fold also coincided with the new post-Cold War era. Hence it was not long before South Africa was catapulted into the international limelight, with the expectation to assume leadership roles in certain international organisations and to articulate Third World positions on global issues. While this newly-found reputation endeared South Africa and enhanced its diplomatic significance from a strategic partnership perspective in global affairs, it also engendered resentment from some hitherto recognised regional players who had been displaced by it.

This article analyses the evolution of the broad policy framework governing defence foreign relations; the nature and scope of military relations between South Africa and the Mercosur countries from 1994 to 2002, in terms of military representation, high-profile visits by military personnel, bilateral and/multilateral agreements, and co-operation among defence-related industries; and the resumption of joint military exercises. It concludes with a reflection on prospects and possible challenges to trans-Atlantic ties in the Southern Cone.


The African National Congress (ANC), which became the ruling party after the first democratic elections in South Africa, had through its Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) committed South Africa to a regional foreign policy based on co-operation rather than competition, and stability rather than destabilisation. Recognising the adverse effects of restrictions imposed by the Bretton Woods institutions, namely the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, the ANC argued that it would be necessary to negotiate with the then GATT (General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs), the IMF and World Bank as a collective representing the Southern African countries in order to create stable markets in the region and also to stem the tide of illegal migrants flocking into South Africa due to lack of employment, peace and stability in their own countries. In this regard the RDP manual proposed that "(t)he democratic government must negotiate with neighbouring countries to forge an equitable and mutually beneficial programme of increasing cooperation, coordination and integration appropriate to the conditions of the region. In this respect, the RDP must support the goals and ideals of African integration as laid out in the Lagos Plan of Action and the Abuja Declaration". (2)) While the role of the defence force was not specifically mentioned within the foreign policy context, the manual did specify that the "defence force and the police and intelligence services must be transformed from being agents of oppression into effective servants of the community with the capacity to participate in the RDP.

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South Africa's Post-1994 Military Relations with the Mercosur Countries: Prospects and Challenges *


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