Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

The Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between South Africa and Russia

Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

The Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between South Africa and Russia

Article excerpt


Following an international trend, South Africa and Russia entered into a "strategic partnership" in 2006 and in 2013 upgraded it to a "comprehensive strategic partnership". This article examines the formal architecture of the partnership by means of Wilkins's "strategic partnership model". One of very few analytical devices for the study of bilateral partnerships between states, Wilkins's template probes three phases in the development of such alignments, namely their formation, implementation and evaluation. Based on a set of international instruments devised by South Africa and Russia, the institutional features of their comprehensive strategic partnership are set out and a tentative evaluation of its operation is offered. A comparative dimension is introduced by referring to formal aspects of South Africa's strategic partnerships with its other BRICS partners, namely China, India and Brazil.

1. Introduction

It is an age-old phenomenon that certain bilateral relationships between states are in some ways "special" or "privileged" and hence more important, better or closer than "ordinary" inter-state ties. In the 19th century, for instance, relations between Germany and Austria and between Russia and France were considered as exceptional by the parties involved (Evans and Newnham 1992:304). In modern times the notion of a 'special relationship', especially when written in capital letters, is reserved more or less exclusively for that between America and Britain (Evans and Newnham 1992:304). The term itself was coined by Winston Churchill in March 1946, when he was the leader of the Opposition in the British Parliament. In an historic address delivered in Fulton, Missouri, Churchill warned that "an iron curtain has descended across the Continent" (Europe) and that Western powers should stand together against the perceived Soviet threat. What he called "a special relationship between the British Commonwealth and Empire and the United States" would be at the heart of a united front. Such a "fraternal association", as Churchill portrayed it, "requires not only the growing friendship between our two vast but kindred Systems of society, but the continuance of the intimate relationship" in the military and security domains (Modern History Sourcebook, undated). The so-called Atlantic Alliance between Britain and America endured--with ebbs and flows --throughout the Cold War. In part due to the huge inequalities between the two partners in economic and military terms, the designation "special relationship" lost favour in recent years. In 2011, President Barack Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron opted for the expression "essential relationship" between the United States (US) and Britain (quoted by Blanco 2011:15).

Many other states have since 1945 also claimed a form of "specialness" for their bilateral relationships. Consider, for instance, ties between some former imperial powers and their ex-colonies, which are said to constitute "families of nations" (Haugevik 2010: 2-3); the Commonwealth, born of the British Empire, is the best-known embodiment of such an historical association.

Since the 1990s states began displaying a preference for the adjective "strategic" to depict bilateral relationships that are supposed to be deeper and stronger than "standard" interactions, but usually without extending to alliances (understood as formal agreements for military cooperation in the face of common threats). The terms "strategic partnership" and "strategic relationship" are nowadays used the world over (Blanco 2011:1-2). Among numerous examples are strategic partnerships/relationships between India and the US (Teja 2014: 183-194), Syria and Iran (Lawson 2007:29-47), the US and Israel (Miller 2013:16), the US and Saudi Arabia (Miller 2013:1-6), China and South Korea (Kim 2008: 97-121), and Brazil and Japan (Lessa 2010: 123). Variations on the "partnership" theme include "constructive strategic partnership" (as the US and China envisaged in the 1990s) (Shambaugh 2004: 97); "comprehensive strategic partnership" (as between Russia and South Africa); "privileged strategic partnership" (Russia and India); and "fundamental partnership" (the US and Brazil) (Lessa 2010: 120). …

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