Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

The Changing Nature of Strategic Significance in the Post-Cold War Period: Some Implications for Africa

Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

The Changing Nature of Strategic Significance in the Post-Cold War Period: Some Implications for Africa

Article excerpt

Post-Graduate Student University of Pretoria (*)


The concept of strategic significance has undergone a certain degree of change in the post-Cold War period to include aspects such as human rights and "good governance". This change is over and above the extension of the concept during the previous era to include both tangible and non-tangible determinants of national capability, as well as ego and alter perceptions of strategic significance. If they do not want to be marginalised, countries today have little alternative but to meet the new requirements as regards democratic political systems and successful market-based economies. This applies to Africa in particular, which is neglected by the industrialised nations in favour of the former Eastern European countries. In order to survive, African nations are being forced to co-operate with each other in the form of regional and other arrangements.


Strategic significance is largely determined by a country's national capabilities. It is primarily these capabilities which lead to ego perceptions of own importance to the international community, as well as to alter perceptions of this importance. Strategic significance is of relevance to all states. No state exists in a vacuum and all members of the international community are subject to the perceptions and judgements of others. A state's strategic significance is not static and is continually changing according to circumstances. These circumstances include a change in national capability and changes in ego and alter perceptions. The latter two concepts are particularly susceptible to change as environments alternate between times of peace and war. It must also be remembered that perceptions are a subjective attribute that can ultimately influence a state's overall significance, in spite of evidence that disproves a specific perception.


The term "strategy" has undergone change as regards its use and meaning. It has evolved from the strict interpretation of "military strategy" to a total concept which involves a variety of factors other than pure military power. This has also affected the concept of strategic significance.

The concept of strategy has, in fact, developed by three extensions, namely strategy has gone beyond the primary use of armed force to include such aspects as political, economic and ideological instruments of policy; strategy has gone beyond war to include peacetime military involvement; and strategy is sometimes defined as the use of complete state power for the achievement of all political goals. (11) Just as the term strategy has evolved into a broader concept, the term strategic significance has similarly evolved to cover a spectrum of factors that are both tangible and non-tangible.

The contemporary world is characterised by a condition of permanent insecurity which forces states to rely on their respective national resources to ensure survival. These states are also entwined in a situation of interdependence involving various relationships that include allies and enemies. (2) National security is still considered to be of the utmost importance to all states and a nation's national security policy is partially based on perceptions of its strategic significance. The concept strategic significance is thus linked to perceptions, both those of the respective states and those of their allies and enemies.

As explained, strategy is no longer viewed as a purely military concept, but has become a "total" approach that involves all elements of national capability. Nations are today faced with a completely different facet of strategy and strategic significance. The result has been a subsequent emphasis of such factors as economic capability and political leadership. Economic considerations have even begun to take precedence over ideological and other political issues. …

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