SA, Africa & the Global Balance of Forces: Combining Solidarity with Strategic Action

During its remaining tenure on the UN Security Council and as rotating Chair of the African Union, South Africa will have to engage decisively in the conduct of strategic geopolitical power diplomacy if it is to regain the ‘punching above its weight’ momentum on the international scene it once enjoyed. The challenge here is compounded by a global pandemic in the form of COVID-19 and South Africa’s weakened domestic economic predicament. All combined, these developments make 2020 something of a ‘do or die’ moment that, if not decisively acted upon, will place the country in a disadvantageous diplomatic position on the continent and internationally for years to come. This is because of the unfavourably aligned global balance of forces working against progressive internationalism and how this anti-progressive alignment is unfolding on the continent, including within SADC. South African foreign policy actors will have to contend with the interrelated diplomacies of Morocco, Israel and France interacting with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt in navigating an international strategic landscape that has shifted to the right. They will also have to contend with Russia’s reengagement with Africa and an increasingly confrontational relationship between China and the United States. Diplomats in Tshwane and abroad will thus have to ensure that the general shift to the right in the international strategic landscape does not entrench itself on the African continent, placing progressive forces on the defensive. As such, this occasional paper attempts to sketch out the current global balance of forces in play and how they align with geopolitical dynamics within Africa itself. This is against the challenge of a prevailing South African diplomatic culture that fears coming across to neighbours in the region and beyond as ‘hegemonic’ when, in fact, what may be called for in this environment is the nuanced application of solidarity backed up by the smart use of power and carrot-and-stick diplomacy.