Saturday, March 24, 2007
South Africa is a normal country
Pssst.... hey, IR grad students. looking for an interesting paper topic? Michael Wines' New York Times front-pager on South Africa's foreign policy would be a good start.
Wines asks why a regime that relied on international support to end apartheid seems... let's say "indifferent".... to human rights abuses in countries near and far:
Modern South Africa came about, historians agree, in part because of the United Nations’ unrelenting stance against apartheid. The United Nations affirmed that South African racism was not merely an internal political problem, but a threat to southern Africa. It banned arms shipments to South Africa. It demanded fair treatment of black dissidents.Why is South Africa acting this way? Wines gets at some possibilities at the end of the article:
Apartheid, the South African government contends, was a crime against humanity. In contrast, it argues that human rights abuses in Myanmar do not fall within the mandate of the Security Council. Indeed, the South African government says, the Council’s encroachment on issues better left to lesser agencies like the Human Rights Council undermines the organization’s global nature.Let's knock down the third theory first -- I suspect this is not about reflexive anti-Americanism. The ANC has been perfectly willing to tolerate Washington Consensus-style economic policies for more than a decade now. This is not about the doctrinaire implementation of a militant ideology.
I'm not sure I buy the Security Council reform argument either. South Africa's obsteperous behavior at the UN is not a sufficient roadblock to Security Council action -- and if, anything, their positions on some issues are likely to alienate rather than persuade the United States and other western governments on U.N. reform. Plus, if it was just about UN reform, one would expect to see South Africa adopt a tougher position vis-a-vis human rights abusers in their bilateral relations -- and there's been zero evidence of that happening.
Me, I buy a variant of the first hypothesis -- South Africa is becoming a normal country pursuing a realpolitik foreign policy. If this means coddling dictators in Harare and accomodating rising powers in East Asia, so be it. It should also be pointed out that they're not the only country in the Southern African region to be acting this way.
From an IR theory perspective, however, post-1994 South African foreign policy might represent an ideal test of the power of ideas and norms to influence a middle power's foreign policy -- and the test suggests that ideas don't count for a lot. However, that's just my take based on a very surface-level scan of Pretoria's behavior. A proper, in-depth case study might turn up a different explanation..
Grad students, why are you wasting your weekend reading this blog? Get to it!!
UPDATE: I've now created a new blog category, "thesis ideas," devoted to these kind of research questions prompted by an interesting news story.