EXCERPT | South Africa & Multilateralism with respect to U.N. Security Council
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EXCERPT | South Africa & Multilateralism with respect to U.N. Security Council

 By  Chris Landsberg
via Austral: Brazilian Journal of Strategy & International Relations 

EXCERPT | South Africa & Multilateralism with respect to U.N. Security Council

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The first year of South Africa’s two-year tenure as a non-permanent member of the UNSC, January 2007 to December 2008, shows that despite the current global power imbalances, norm entrepreneurs (i.e., states that act in an exemplary and predictable manner in keeping with expectations about desirable behavior) can make a limited but significant contribution to the cause of the UN and broader multilateralism. South Africa also had a second term as a non-permanent member in 2011-2012. 

Using the opportunity to contribute directly to the maintenance and promotion of international peace and security, it brought to the council a commitment to enhancing the integrity of the UN and its organs and placement of Africa and the global South at the center of their agenda.

To be effective in the council, a member requires capacity to understand and handle the complex agenda and calculate how to respond to the disproportionate power of the Permanent Five (P5) - China, France, Russia, the UK and US - and their willingness to use this power to push through issues of self-interest. South Africa was concerned about the P5’s ability to arrogate to themselves the right to define threats to international peace and their response. This produced tension between South Africa and some of them over what was considered abuse of power.

Siphamandla Zondi argued that,

(…) South Africa needed coalition with like-minded members, and with six other non-permanent members who were also members of NAM (Congo Republic, Ghana, Indonesia, Panama, Peru and Qatar) it reconstituted the NAM Security Council caucus to develop unified positions on major issues before the council and protect the interests of the developing countries”. 

Without the privilege of the veto powers, the united positions of these states have affected the outcomes of major decisions in the council. South Africa virtually acted as a spokesperson and champion of the group, and deftly used its position as the chairperson of the broader G77+China Group for 2007 drawing on its own moral authority, further to punt loudly for the reform of the UN and other multilateral bodies. 

South Africa’s principled positions on Myanmar, Zimbabwe, Iran, Libya, Cote d’Ivoire and, currently, Syria, have been regarded by representatives as major successes in the UN chambers; but poor public diplomacy has led to criticism in the public arena. 

In recent times, it has also been difficult to reconcile the various positions of the country as it appeared contradictory in nature. As exemplified by the recent agreement between the country’s ruling party and Hamas rather than all stakeholders in the Palestine-Israel conflict, a weakness in its conduct of international relations and position in the Security Council continues to be communication: on each occasion on which its vote was controversial, the Government has failed to anticipate the shift in the rhetorical war of words from the chambers of the UN to influential media. 

It underestimated the power of the media and communications machinery, and to counter this, the Department of International Relations and Co-operation (DIRCO) must be considerably strengthened. It is often weak in articulating the country’s foreign policy imperatives in normal circumstances, let alone in complex matters relating to their application to international relations.

South Africa has been an avid supporter of UN reform during the cause of the past two decades. On issues of conflict and threats to international peace and security, the post-apartheid South African governments have prompted middle powers and countries from the South to help challenge the dominant powers. 

We take this to include not just the western powers, but other dominant powers like Russia and China as well. It is determined to prevent an abuse of the Charter by states for selfish foreign policy aims and is concerned about the power some countries have over the UN simply through contributing to the bulk of its budget.

It not only sought to reform the UNSC, the UNGA and the Economic, Social and Cultural Council (ECOSOC), but also strengthen the capacity of the UN bureaucracy. During the period 2005 to 2007, it galvanized members of the G77+China and others behind UNGA resolutions to increase representation of developing countries in the UN Secretariat, improve access of vendors amongst them in the UN procurement system, enhance the accountability of the Secretariat, set apart funds for refurbishment of the UN’s headquarters, and provide additional resources for the expansion of Secretariat personnel. Pretoria sought to defend the integrity of the UN and multilateralism by securing its financial position and urging developed and developing countries alike to meet their obligations. 

UN reform seems poised to be a more tardy, tedious and long-term project than South Africa often makes it out to be. But this is not a good enough reason for the Republic to rest on its laurels. South Africa should continue to beat the transformation drum, but should do so in partnership with others and stress multilateral engagement for the sake of multilateral transformation. 

About the Author:

Chris LandsbergSouth African National Research Chair: African Diplomacy and Foreign Policy; Senior Associate: School of Diplomacy, University of Johannesburg. 

This excerpt is taken from a technical article, title -"MULTILATERALISM AND THE UN IN SOUTH AFRICA'S FOREIGN POLICY" published at Austral: Brazilian Journal of Strategy & International Relations  e-ISSN 2238-6912 | ISSN 2238-6262| v.4, n.8, Jul./Dec. 2015 | p.43-57 under Creative Commons License 3.0