Source: Business Day
THE South African National Defence Force in late 2011 has a whole host of hi-tech weapons that it cannot afford to operate optimally due to a shortage of funds — which makes the recently announced defence review a vital necessity.
Launched more than a month ago, it is being chaired by pre- 1994 defence minister Roelf Meyer. The first defence review was completed in 1998, about two years after the defence white paper. That review was largely ignored when the strategic weapons package was bought in late 1999.
Now the opportunity has arisen for defence policy and force design to be tailored to the changing role of the defence force and indeed the politics and conditions in Africa under which it will have to operate. But there have been some doubts whether the terms of reference of the defence review committee will allow this to be achieved.
Greg Mills, of the Brenthurst Foundation, in a recent discussion document, sounded the first warning by noting that the new defence review would be « a committee reporting to the minister with their recommendations. Such a defence review should, however, take place within the context of the establishment of a national security policy framework. It must also be consultative and public.
« The relative absence of public or parliamentary input and consultation into what essentially is a back-room drafting process is of concern not only given its influence on the budget, but also as it pertains to security capabilities and foreign policy. »
Among the 12 members of the review committee are North West Premier Thandi Modise , ambassador Thenjiwe Mtintso, Moses Khanyile, Phandelani Motoma, Nonkonzo Molai, Col G Seape, Nick Sendall, Helmoed Romer Heitman, Adm Philip Schoultz, Tony Yengeni, Godfrey Giles and Charles Nqakula .
Democratic Alliance defence spokesman David Maynier says the interim national defence force service commission « was absolutely correct to recommend that there needs to be an extensive and properly funded defence review ». However, Mr Maynier is concerned that the process may be flawed, and this could have major implications for the defence force.
« It is not clear to me that the … committee, under the leadership of Roelf Meyer, is geared up to implement a full-scale defence review that effectively resets the mandate, capabilities and funding levels of our defence force. We cannot afford to get this wrong. »
Dr Mills also question s the purchase of hi -tech weaponry. » Ongoing experience with the (defence force) illustrates, however, that good equipment and good-quality people need good training to turn it all into genuine capability.
« Without meeting this formula, expensive kit is not worth having. Modest but well-trained forces offer a much greater (and more influential) capability than hi -tech equipment that is useless because insufficient people can be trained to use it. »
Part of the problem is that the review committee will not be considering or recommending the levels of funding which the defence force should enjoy.
« At the heart of any force design is the necessity of deciding which league you want to play in — and then fund at that level. Put differently, there’s no point in buying a luxury SUV if you can’t afford to fill the tank or replace the tyres, » Dr Mills says.
Turning to the situation in Africa which the defence review should address, Dr Mills paint s a bleak picture. « Rag-tag rebels zig-zagging in armed pick-ups across the Libyan desert. Egyptian soldiers stone-facedly monitoring demonstrations on Tahrir Square from their tanks…. An army, only in name, preying on its people in the Congo, or standing between Zimbabwe’s electorate and democracy. »
Since independence, African armies have tried to transform themselves from a paramilitary into a more conventional set-up only to return to paramilitary establishments . « Against this backdrop, what sort of armed forces and equipment is SA … able to operate for the next generation? »
Stressing the need for an honest and transparent debate, Dr Mills concludes : « Any defence review worthy of the name should examine three key issues. Strategic environment: what do threats look like over the next 20 years? Capabilities: current and projected. Affordability: what can we afford — in financial and manpower terms, not just to buy, but to operate? »
By Wyndham Hartley