The Relevance of Political Sciences at the South African Military Academy: Context, Comparative Perspectives and Reflections

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Generally speaking, as an area of scholarly inquiry, Political Sciences are of great interest to military academies as (military-academic) institutions of higher learning. Apart from providing a foundation of military skill and enhancing the ability of officers to think creatively and to reason critically, the relevance of Political Sciences also stems from the fact that it is both desirable and advisable for officers to acquire a comprehensive understanding of the political-military issues and trends that affect the security of their countries.

Accordingly, this article assesses the relevance of Political Sciences at the South African Military Academy. In this regard, the following questions are explored: To what extent are Political Sciences important to the professional education of future leaders of the South African National Defence Force, and to what extent are Political Sciences indeed well-placed and presented in the academic offerings of the Academy? In finding conclusive answers, two further questions are also explored: Firstly, what should be regarded as the required educational basis of military officers as 'security functionaries'; and secondly, to what extent do Political Sciences feature in the academic offerings of comparable military academies?


Louw states that politics results from the conflicting demands of two most basic human impulses, namely survival and solidarity. As an area of scholarly enquiry, Political Sciences study this conflict and aim at demarcating the rival claims of nature (survival) and reason (solidarity) in the process. (1) Haywood likewise argues that politics, in its broadest sense, is the activity through which people make, preserve and amend the general rules under which they live. (2) Tansey similarly asserts that both conflict and consensus "are essential elements to the creation of a political situation". Politics is thus inextricably linked to the phenomena of conflict and cooperation. (3) Against this background, it could be stated that a significant proportion of Political Sciences is concerned with the study of phenomena in the aforementioned context.

As an area of scholarly enquiry Political Sciences generally include a wide variety of sub-fields, or areas of specialisation, such as International Relations, Political Economy, Comparative Politics, Political Behaviour, Political Risk Analysis, Political Management and the Politics of Gender. (4) This said, scholars and political scientists distinguish between Political Science and International Relations as the two main fields of study or (sub-)disciplines resorting under what is quite commonly known or broadly referred to as Political Sciences. (5) In this regard, Political Science (sometimes referred to as Politics) is viewed as "the study of political society" with the focus on political thought, institutions, processes and behaviour. International Relations is viewed as "the study of international phenomena, trends and events". (6) Similarly, the Oxford Concise Dictionary of Politics defines Political Science as "the study of the state, government and politics", while International Relations is defined as "the discipline that studies interactions between and among states, and more broadly, the workings of the international system as a whole" (7)

Political Sciences as an area of scholarly inquiry, seem to be of considerable interest to military academies as (military-academic) institutions of higher learning. Without going into too much detail, the following reasons suffice. Firstly, all militaries are political institutions of a very particular kind. Militaries may function as instruments of foreign policy, or they may play a decisive domestic role in maintaining public order and protecting constitutional principles. Secondly, all systems of rule are underpinned, to a greater or lesser extent, by the exercise of coercive power through the institutions of the military and the police. …


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