Landsberg, Chris/van Wyk, Jo-Ansie (Eds), South African Foreign Policy Review

By le Pere, Garth | Strategic Review for Southern Africa, June 2013 | Go to article overview
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Landsberg, Chris/van Wyk, Jo-Ansie (Eds), South African Foreign Policy Review

le Pere, Garth, Strategic Review for Southern Africa

Landsberg, Chris/van Wyk, Jo-Ansie (eds), South African Foreign Policy Review, Vol 1, Pretoria: Africa Institute of South Africa and the Institute for Global Dialogue 2012, 290 pp.

South Africa emerged into a rapidly changing world in 1994 and its transition to democracy was almost coterminous with the tectonic rumblings which shaped the larger systemic contours that signalled the end of the Cold War. While EH Carr's The Twenty Year's Crisis (1939) lamented the failure of liberal internationalism and helped to frame the logic for the dominance of five decades of realism, the end of the Cold War saw an ascendancy of liberalism in both the study and the conduct of international relations.

It found its apotheosis in Francis Fukuyama's The End of History and the Last Man (1992). Fukuyama's famous exposition of the 'liberal idea' was based on the rule of law, liberal democracy, and market capitalism. In declaring its triumph, liberalism evolved to cast an immense geo-political, economic and ideational shadow across the post-Cold War landscape. Already by the late 20th century, liberal ideas had developed an inter-subjective plausibility and presence that penetrated and transformed many non-Western and developing societies. The gravitational pull for this was provided by globalisation which practically became synonymous with the final expansion of an increasingly liberal world order, driven by the contested power architecture of Western hegemony in its various forms and guises. In an ironic twist, while this liberal world order progressively brought people and societies together as interdependent 'communities of fate', it also intensified divisions, cleavages, and asymmetries within and among countries and regions.

If this is the new geo-political world that South Africa encountered and entered, and if we are to understand that this book is the first in a series, then it does not suffice as a compass for guiding future research agendas. Quite importantly, it does not provide the proverbial scholarly bridge that takes South Africa inexorably away from the sui generis preoccupations and de facto exceptionalism of post-1994 foreign policy studies by opening new ontological vistas. This is of fundamental importance since, by and large and with some exceptions, the book falls short of presenting fresh appraisals, persuasive readings, and nuanced interpretations of the factors that will shape and influence South Africa's foreign policy in the future or bring into sharper focus the relevant cause-and-effect issues as far as the postulates of the 'liberal idea' logic are concerned. The binary of continuity or change in the Zuma era as one of the book's leitmotifs is rather platitudinous in the context of interesting, exciting, and challenging lines of comparative theoretical and empirical enquiry that have arisen over the last five years or so, most crucially among emerging powers and related changing global power dynamics.

As a matter of fact what James Rosenau, the doyen of foreign policy studies, wrote almost five decades ago remains very relevant in charting a future path for this research enterprise. It is worth recalling his words because of their normative resonance and emphasis on greater rigour in foreign policy analysis:

To identify factors is not to trace their influence. To understand processes that affect external behaviour is not to explain how and why they are operative under certain circumstances and not others. To recognise that foreign policy is shaped by internal as well as external factors is not to comprehend how the two intermix or to indicate the conditions under which one predominates over the other. (1))

In terms of these injunctions for greater theoretical creativity, Rosenau then used a genetic metaphor which enjoined foreign policy scholars and analysts to treat nation states as distinct types of plants that warranted closer observation and comparison and through such activity, he hoped that knowledge could be generated that had explanatory and predictive power across various levels of analysis.

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