Efforts to Return to International Fold Dominate SA’s Foreign Policy Since 1994
South Africa’s primary foreign policy priority since 1994 had been to accelerate the country’s reintegration into the international community, according to Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Mr Ebrahim Ebrahim.
Ebrahim was speaking on “Twenty Years of South Africa and Multilateralism: Returning to the Fold” at a Public Lecture on South Africa’s foreign policy hosted by UKZN on the Westville campus.
The Minister examined the country’s achievements over the past two decades with a focus on South Africa’s multilateral engagement, saying the priority had also been to promote an international rules-based system through active and constructive participation in multilateral institutions and processes.
He highlighted the country’s achievements in priority areas over the past two decades. The first of these was the international role in the continued fight against racism as an international scourge, culminating in 2001 in the hosting of the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance.
‘The struggle against racism and other forms of discrimination is far from over and South Africa’s commitment to fight racism and to promote human rights will remain strong – inspired by those who paid the ultimate price in the fight against racism and injustice.’
South Africa’s commitment to see a peaceful world free of weapons of mass destruction was the second area highlighted by Ebrahim. He said: ‘Today, we continue our quest for a world free from the threats posed by arms that are indiscriminate or cause excessive harm to civilians. This includes our active engagement in the area of conventional arms, such as the recently concluded Arms Trade Treaty as well as efforts to finally rid our world of the existential threat posed by nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.’
Pinpointing the third area of interest in South Africa’s foreign policy as the global fight for the eradication of poverty, Ebrahim said there were three dimensions essential to this fight for sustainable development - the promotion of: economic development, social development and environmental sustainability.
‘No state can achieve such lofty goals on their own making partnerships and global action important to the achievement of national priorities.
‘Last week with the introduction of the “20 Year Review: South Africa 1994 to 2014”, President Zuma announced that South Africa is on track to fulfill all its obligations under the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.’
The next area Ebrahim looked at was the promotion of international peace and security. He said South Africa’s peaceful transition from the brink of civil war was central to the country’s approach to the resolution of disputes and remained an example to the world of how a deeply divided country on the brink of disaster could build a nation through all-inclusive dialogue.
‘Moreover, our approach towards peace and security is based on the belief that South Africa’s security and development is inextricably linked to the welfare of our continent – we will only be able to fully deliver our development commitments to our own people if we can fully benefit from the economic growth of a continent at peace with itself,’ he said.
Building further on South Africa’s commitment to international peace and security, specifically on the African Continent, he said South Africa served four of the past seven years on the UN Security Council (UNSC).
‘Throughout its two terms South Africa prioritised the resolution of conflict and the attainment of peace and stability on the Continent, whilst advocating a strengthened partnership between the UN and the African Union (AU).
‘Unfortunately the UN Security Council has not been able to move a negotiated settlement towards a two-state solution along, mainly because of the narrow self-interest of one or two permanent members of the Council. Another profound failure of the Council has been its inability to give concrete support for the efforts of the Joint Special Representative of the United Nations and the League of Arab States on Syria, to bring the parties to move towards a negotiated solution.’
He added that the Security Council remained the primary international organ mandated to promote international peace and security and it was essential that it remained true to its mandate moving beyond the paralysis brought on by the geo-political interests of a few member states.
‘The only way this can happen is if world leaders, including those who represent the Permanent Members of the Security Council, are bold and courageous and commit to enlarging the Security Council urgently. Failure to do so will encourage states to start acting unilaterally, with disastrous consequences for all.
‘The best safeguard of our security and prosperity is to consolidate rather than erode international rule of law which informs the exercise and limits of the use of state power, and to embed the principles of co-operation over conflict and collaboration over confrontation. The challenge before us is to transform global politics from a power-based hierarchy to a rules-based system of international society.’
In response to the Lecture, UKZN’s Director of the Centre for Civil Society Professor, Patrick Bond, posed questions to Ebrahim, including whether multilateralism had been working since 1987, and whether South Africa had changed the balance of forces? There was also a question on the Palestinian issue.
Discussions that followed centred on issues of Palestine, problems with international trade, BRICKS, restructuring the UN, the role of the United States, among others.
Ebrahim said there has to be a multilateral approach to strengthen multilateral institutions, promote peaceful resolutions to conflicts and to oppose all unilateral approaches.
- Sithembile Shabangu