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New Partnerships for a New Era: Enhancing the South African Army's Stabilization Role in Africa

Authored by Professor Deane-Peter Baker. | June 2009

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Since emerging from the mire of its apartheid past, South Africa has become a key player in Sub-Saharan Africa. The very significant challenge of creating a truly national military during a period in which South Africa has also wrestled with tough internal socio-economic problems has left the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) in a weakened state. Despite this, in recent years the branches of the SANDF, particularly the South African (SA) Army, have made a considerable contribution to efforts to bring peace and stability to the African continent. A critical step in building a capable and confident future SA Army has been the commencement of the Army's Vision 2020 forward planning process. Recent political changes in both the United States and South Africa have opened up a new window of opportunity for developing a productive partnership between the two nations. This monograph outlines ways in which the United States can contribute to the SA Army's Vision 2020 program so as to help optimize South Africa's potential contribution to the emergence of a peaceful and stable Africa.

The primary product of the Vision 2020 program to date is the recently document titled The Future SA Army Strategy, informally referred to as "Strategy 2020." Strategy 2020 outlines two central objectives for the future SA Army:

  • To deter potential adversaries and, where that fails, to successfully engage and defeat actual adversaries that threaten South Africa's territorial integrity, sovereignty, or vital interests; and,
  • To contribute to peacekeeping, peace enforce- ment, and stability operations in the continent at large.

An ancillary function for the SA Army will be to provide support to the nation's population in response to threats to human security that are beyond the ability of the nation's other security forces to address, and to contribute to socio-economic development in South Africa.

In response to its dual mandate, Strategy 2020 outlines a future SA Army force structure composed of a mechanized division (optimized for conventional warfare, manned primarily by reservists, and kept at a sub-optimum level of readiness); a motorized division (primarily composed of active component infantry brigades and prepared for routine expeditionary deployments on peace and stability missions); and a Special Operations Brigade (designed to undertake quick-reaction and early-entry operations).

While there is much to be lauded in Strategy 2020, the dual-mandate force structure it proposes is problematic for many reasons. The central argument of this monograph is that the proposed force structure will not maximize South Africa's ability to contribute to expeditionary stability and peacekeeping opportunities, nor will it leave South Africa militarily prepared for a significant conventional threat to her sovereignty, territorial integrity, or vital interests. The United States and her North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies should therefore seek opportunities to enable the SA Army to design a force structure agile and flexible enough to meet both conventional threats (to its territorial integrity) and nonconventional threats (to extraterritorial stability).

In addition, South Africa should be encouraged to see the nation's army not simply as a contributor of forces to multinational peace and stability operations, but (given South Africa's relative economic and technological strength) also as a critical enabler of such operations. The SA Army's structure and capabilities should be designed accordingly, with particular attention to its capabilities in logistics; intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance (ISTAR); command and control; and other essential force-support functions.

This monograph also proposes that the SA Army be formally connected, through the supply of trained personnel, to a newly created system of border guard and other specialized South African Police Service units. This mission offers a means by which the SA Army can significantly contribute to the task of addressing one of South Africa's biggest challenges—crime and illegal immigration—without taking the politically unpalatable step of direct involvement in internal security operations.

The means by which the United States can contribute to optimizing the design and development of the future SA Army include:

  • Developing closer ties between the United States Marine Corps and the SA Army. There are significant commonalities in the envisaged future missions and capabilities of both forces; therefore, potentially valuable synergies should emerge from closer connections between them.
  • Sharing important lessons learned from U.S. employment of reserve forces. The picture of the reserve component of the SA Army painted in Strategy 2020 is a very traditional one: citizen soldiers with conventional soldiering skills standing ready to defend the nation against external attack, and occasionally being called up to assist the active component when the operational tempo exceeds what the actives can cope with. It is questionable, however, whether employing the reserve component as primarily a strategic backup, i.e., one with a secondary relief role, is the best approach.
  • Establishing SA Army and SA Police Services links with U.S. Border Patrol and National Guard units that have recently been deployed to parts of the U.S.-Mexico border, with a view to sharing experience and ideas for the possible creation of dedicated, SA Army-trained border patrol units for the SA Police.
  • Offering support to the SA Army's nascent reserve training system, which seeks to recruit and train university students as junior leaders in the future SA Army. The considerable experience gained through the operation of the U.S. Army's Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) should be shared with the SA Army. Moreover, expanding the scope of Africa Contingency Operations Training Assistance (ACOTA), International Military Education and Training (IMET), and/or similar programs to fund scholarships tied to the SA Army's reserve training system will have a significant longterm beneficial impact on the quality of the SA Army's future leadership. Other contributions to the SANDF's broader education and training infrastructure (such as assisting with the establishment of distance education programs) should also be considered.
  • Assisting with the initiation and funding of a South Africa-based defense research center to help offset a dearth of study, data-gathering, and other investigative resources available to the SA Army and other SANDF structures as they seek to develophigh-quality strategy, organizations, and doctrine.

Summary of Recommendations.

Recent years have seen a growing determination among African nations to seek "African solutions for African problems." While the economic and other challenges facing most African states mean that the continent will continue to be reliant on outside help for a long time to come, it is desirable to seize every opportunity to enable Africans to find those African solutions. The SA Army has the potential to contribute very significantly to peace and stability operations on the continent. The recommendations outlined in this monograph, if implemented, will greatly enhance that potential. Particularly given Africa's history of exploitation and abuse by Western nations, Africans deserve the opportunity to take responsibility for peace and stability on the continent. From a practical perspective, a capable SA Army, proactively engaged in securing stability in Africa, will help reduce the demands on U.S., NATO, and other outside forces that would otherwise be called upon to respond. Such an outcome is devoutly to be wished by all, and a goal worth investing in.

Recommendations for Enhancing SA Army Strategy 2020 Possible U.S. Contribution
Rethink the "Dual Mandate" Force Structure. · Make simulation/wargaming capabilities available to SA Army Vision 2020 planners.
· Develop closer ties between USMC and SANDF.
Conceptualize and design SA Army as a force enabler for multinational AU and UN operations. · Share U.S. Army expertise in working with coalition partners.
· Assist SA Army in developing specialized capabilities such as advanced logistics, ISTAR, military police, civil affairs, psyops, and human terrain system.
Rethink the role of the reserve component in the SA Army. · Share U.S. military experience and thinking on the flexible and appropriate use of reserve forces.
Increase SA Army's formal contribution to addressing South Africa's internal security challenges (crime and border security). · Create SA Army links with, and share experience of, U.S. Border Patrol and Nat. Guard, to explore creation of SA Army-enabled Police-"owned" border patrol and specialist police units.
Operationalize Reserve Training System and higher- level officer education. · Build links with U.S. Army ROTC.
· Expand the scope of ACOTA, IMET or similar programs to enable the funding of scholarships tied to RTS.
· Create RTS-ROTC exchange program.
· Assist SA Army education system in equipping faculty and directing staff and designing curricula.
· Support the creation of a robust distance learning platform for the SA Army.
Improve the quality of research undertaken in support of Vision 2020 and development of doctrine. · Contribute to the creation of a dedicated defense research center.