October 18, 2007

HARRISONBURG—In his weekly “Strategic Interests” column for the World Defense Review, Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, warns that South Africa is “playing with fire” by not only failing to confront the terrorist challenges it faces, but even cultivating ties with extremists and rogue states.

Dr. Pham notes the lead that South African Defense Minister Mosioua Lekota has taken in opposition to the new U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM):

At one level, South Africa’s opposition to AFRICOM is consistent with what an analysis based on realist international relations theory would expect. Smaller countries will tend to view the new command as a potential hedge against the hegemonic aspirations of their larger neighbors, while larger nations may conversely view it as a potential obstacle to those same ambitions. Thus the willingness of Botswana’s President Festus Mogae to openly muse about possibly opening country to the command even as Minister Lekota was quoted in the South African media as fulminating that “any country that wants to go against the decision” to give the cold shoulder to AFRICOM should “consider what the implications might be.” At another, deeper level, however, the South Africa government’s hostility is profoundly troubling because it arises not so much out of a rational geopolitical calculus of its own interests, but rather out an ideological straightjacket that endangers not only the lives and property of its citizens, but the security of Africa and, indeed, the world.

Citing a series of South African links to terrorists and terrorist-supporting states—including the advocacy for Hamas by Minister for Intelligence Services Ronnie Kasrils and Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s blocking of United Nations Security Council action on two financiers tied to al-Qaeda as well as the offer by three cabinet ministers to transfer uranium to Iran last year—Dr. Pham concludes that, despite some signs of progress from the professional ranks of the country’s military and security personnel:

While one should be careful not to over exaggerate the imminence of the threat, the overall risk is very real. Between the ideologically-motivated ignorance of the country’s rulers to the dangers posed by transnational Islamist terrorism as well as the attractiveness of South Africa’s highly-developed infrastructure to terrorist networks seeking a base for and/or a theater of operations, terrorists understandably find in South Africa an enabling environment at the very least. South Africans should not count on their leaders’ long-standing ties to terrorists groups and regimes to immunize them from the danger that confronts civilization in the twenty-first century. To cite just one example, in a little over two years, in 2010, South Africa will be the first African nation to ever play host to the World Cup Finals, the most widely-viewed sporting event in the world and a target terrorists may find too tempting to pass up. Should anything happen during the tournament, the consequent drying up of tourism and foreign investment would be devastating not just to South Africa, but to the entire African continent. While AFRICOM may not be welcome in South Africa, if the new structure is to “enhance our efforts to bring peace and security to the people of Africa and promote our common goals of development, health, education, democracy, and economic growth in Africa,” it will have to closely monitor—even if from a discreet distance—the foolish playing with fire by the political leaders of that pivotal state before the flames sweep across its entire area of responsibility.

To read the full text of Dr. Pham’s article, “Playing with Fire: South Africa’s Dangerous Terrorist Liaisons,” click here.