[in] focus

China Occupies Disputed Island: Repercussions for Maritime Rights in the South China Sea

Recently, China made a move to occupy one of the disputed islands in the South China Sea, a decision that has been highly criticised by the United States and some South Asian nations. The decision is viewed as irresponsible and having the potential to exacerbate already existing tension in the South China Sea.

For decades now, diplomatic relations between the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN) and China have been clouded by controversy over the maritime rights on the South China Sea. The South China Sea supports one-third of the world’s traffic in the shipping trade. Half of the world’s oil and gas is transported through it. China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei and the Philippines all have overlapping territorial claims over a seabed that has proven oil reserves and natural gas.

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The Olympics, International Geo-politics and Soft Power

Politics is everywhere, sport being no exception. Even before the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics there have been a number of diplomatic faux pas. South Africa was on the receiving end of a blunder that saw the apartheid-period national anthem played at the start of the women’s hockey match between SA and Britain.

A later incident saw the football (soccer) match between North Korea and Colombia delayed following the displaying of the South Korean flag alongside the players of the North Korean team. A similar bungle saw the weightlifting teams from North and South Korea allocated the same time and venue for their respective training sessions. Although these may be unintended logistical errors, they create political embarrassment for the host country.

These mega sporting events provide a challenge for both the host and participating countries, not only in displaying athletic competence, but in the ability of states to navigate the complex world of international geo-politics.

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Dr Dlamini Zuma’s win does not herald smooth sailing for South African foreign policy

After what seemed like an uphill battle against incumbent African Union (AU) Commission chair Jean Ping of Gabon, former minister for Home Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has secured the confidence of 37 out of 51 states in Africa to become the newest leader of the AU’s executive arm. While her victory is undoubtedly a triumph for the country, and indeed women everywhere, South Africa should not expect plain sailing in the months and years ahead, as this success will only catalyse more scrutiny of its foreign policy from its African neighbours.

The Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) has received much criticism for what many believed were over-ambitious tactics in attempting to secure Dlamini-Zuma’s election. After a failed attempt at winning the contest in January – as well as what must have been some incredibly robust negotiation behind the scenes – South African diplomats managed to secure enough votes to ensure Dlamini-Zuma would take up the reins at the AU with a view to revitalising a moribund and floundering organisation. Her experience in the former Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), and more recently her time improving the appalling performance of the Department of Home Affairs, meant that Dlamini-Zuma was touted as the candidate to bring about a new era for the AU – one in which the body could perhaps legitimately escape comparisons with its corrupt, ineffective predecessor, the Organisation for African Unity (OAU) or so-called “Dictators’ Club”.


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South Africa got it right this time in the UN Security Council

In the midst of escalating violence in Syria, the UN Security Council (UNSC) on 19 July 2012 failed to reach consensus on an appropriate international response to contain the crisis. A draft resolution tabled by the United Kingdom (UK), with the support of other western countries in the Council, failed to gain the endorsement of the UNSC after Russia and China predictably vetoed it. 

The draft resolution was affirmed by 11 of the Council’s members, while South Africa joined Pakistan in abstaining from the vote. While Pretoria’s voting decisions in the Council have in recent times been questionable, its decision not to vote on a text that would have threatened sanctions against the Syrian government can hardly be faulted and demonstrates that it can take independent and rational positions without the influence of the permanent members of the Council (P5 – US, UK, France, Russia and China).

One of the negative externalities of the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) for South Africa is the bad publicity generated around the country’s foreign policy decisions, given that the events coincided with its return to the Security Council. South Africa’s voting behaviour in the UNSC on crises stemming from the so-called Arab Spring has been the subject of intense controversy both within and outside the country. 

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Can Rwanda be a sincere peace broker in eastern DRC?

A new rebellion in eastern DRC

In March 2012, a group of disgruntled ex-soldiers formed a new rebel group including remnant of Laurent Nkunda’s now defunct National Council for the Protection of the People (CNDP) and called it the March 23 Movement or M23, thus adding yet another layer to an already complicated conflict complex in eastern DRC. This began as a mere mutiny against inhumane treatment of what we have known to be dispirited, poorly paid and battle-fatigued soldiers by their officers. It became a rebel movement after the mutineers insisted on the full implementation of the 2009 peace accord, which was intended to end a devastating insurgency by the CNDP in the eastern DRC. As was the case with the CNDP, the Congolese government and some international actors accuse Rwanda of sponsoring this new round of rebellion, which the Rwandan government has vehemently denied, arguing that its only interest in the troubled region is to bring about peace and stability. This piece provides a preliminary assessment of the new spark of conflict in a region already infested with many armed groups involved in low-intensity conflict and the role of Rwanda.

A complicated theatre of conflict

The M23 rebellion is part of what has become a common trend in resource-rich eastern DRC where armed groups mushroom out of either defections of the badly-organised DRC army or emerge out of group rivalries in this war zone. The last terrible rebellion involved the CNDP, which was formed in 2007 by Laurent Nkunda, a former general in the Congolese army who also was associated with the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF)’s efforts to contain the Rwandan genocide. This led to suspicions that the CNDP like a number of its predecessors was a creation of the Rwandan government to be used as a proxy in the battle to control natural resources and to protect the Banyamulenge, who are Congolese Tutsis of Rwandan origin residing in the Kivus. The rebellion ended when Rwanda arrested Nkunda in 2009 and his successor, Bosco Ntaganda, signed a peace accord with the Congolese government which saw CNDP fighters integrated into the Congolese army. But given the poor state of affairs in this army, the integration was never successful in minimising underlying tensions that had caused soldiers to defect in the first place.

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