18 May 2012

Defence policy ignores regional security

Written by  Dawn Nagar

No. 216: Defence policy ignores regional security / Dawn Nagar / Business Day
18 May 2012

How can the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) make a progressive contribution to national security and strengthen its role in regional and continental peacekeeping?

The SANDF's vision of itself as a key component of Africa's peace and security architecture is challenged by SA's lack of proper co-ordination with the region's most important structure, the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) Brigade, which is one of the building blocks of the African Standby Force. Hegemonic countries in the region have important responsibilities in relation to the force. SA provides key logistical support for the Sadc Brigade, compensating for weaker states that lack the capacity. Not long ago, the SANDF pledged a parachute battalion; engineering and sanitation capabilities; a field hospital; patrol boats and a naval support vessel; and air transport to fill resource and capacity gaps in building a viable Sadc Brigade. However, the new 2012 Defence Review policy document fails to reference this commitment explicitly or to align properly the proposed provision of peacekeeping troops and support with Sadc's needs.

The review also lacks detail on how the military and the police should co-operate with each other domestically and regionally, despite proposing a larger role for the armed forces in this area. The new proposal reverses the position adopted in 1998, when the SANDF withdrew from supporting the police in routine safety and security operations along the borders. A revised approach has been recommended because as many as 15% of immigrants to SA are entering illegally; now the policy document calls for a greater role for the military in protecting SA's borders to prevent illegal immigration.

Meanwhile, civilian police have become an increasingly important element of peacekeeping missions. In 1999, SA's police constituted a key part of Sadc's second military peacekeeping exercise in SA, which was code-named "Blue Crane". The South African Police Service was also involved in another major rehearsal, "Blue Hungwe", in 2004. The exercises highlighted the importance of civilian police and the need for more structured co-ordination between the military and police for successful peacekeeping, with SA being the key player. In February 2009, in Angola's northern Bengo province, the Sadc Brigade completed its first exercise. In April 2009, the second phase of the Sadc Brigade command post exercise was conducted in Maputo, Mozambique. This was an important preparatory exercise for military, police, and civilian decision makers rehearsing command, communication, control and co-ordination techniques. A follow-up exercise, conducting final field training of Sadc's 8200-strong brigade, was held in SA in September 2009. The capabilities of the regional brigades to handle conflict have to be tested in line with the United Nations peacekeeping framework. However, the new draft defence review fails to address this adequately.

The revamping of police structures in the context of Southern Africa's regional peace and security agenda overseen by Sadc has been highlighted as an important issue by, among others, Tsepi Motumi, the director-general of the Department of Military Veterans. He says civilian police activities have been increasingly integrated into peacekeeping missions since the 1990s and now represent an invaluable component of such missions. The Southern African Regional Police Chiefs Co-ordinating Organisation is one of the two credible organisations established by Sadc to support peacekeeping operations. Based in Harare, the organisation assists in the implementation of Sadc's protocol on small arms.

Armed conflicts and civil wars that threaten the stability of Southern Africa require a rapid response from well-trained military and civilian police officials. Motumi acknowledges that peacekeeping efforts require well-synchronised operational procedures to have the desired effect. Synergy between military and police staff is critical to this. The police component can usefully bolster the military effort, particularly since national defence forces in the region have been weakened by HIV/AIDS. Estimates of those with HIV/AIDS range from 23% or more among SANDF members to as much as 60% in other Sadc militaries.

SA has a unique responsibility to foster efforts that can create peace — and a new defence policy has an obligation to regional security as much as it has to national security.

Nagar is a researcher at the Centre for Conflict Resolution in Cape Town.

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