Quite recently, the Democratic Alliance spokesperson for Defense and Military Veterans (although the DA does not give two hoots for military veterans, it has copied the rather silly title given the job by Zuma and his boys) made a shocking announcement. The announcement was that South Africa was supplying arms to dictatorial governments That brought the house down, or at least it was supposed to. The horror, the horror!
Now, before we have to start changing our trousers from the shock, let’s think for a moment about the crime of supplying arms to dictatorial governments. The biggest single arms deal in British history was the Al Yamamah deal with Saudi Arabia, which is an absolute monarchy. Another massive British deal was the supply of warships to the Argentinian Navy at the time when Argentina was controlled by a military junta led by General Galtieri. (Ironically, those weapons were later used against the British Navy.) France has supplied warships to apartheid South Africa, and warplanes to Libya and Iraq. Italy supplied warplanes to apartheid South Africa and would doubtless have supplied them more widely had anyone else wanted them. The United States has armed up such paragons of democracy as Indonesia under Suharto, Greece under Papadopolous, and Uzbekistan under whoever could be found to accept the weapons.
So it seems as if supplying arms to dictatorships is pretty much par for the course in arms deals. One may, of course, say that because the West does it doesn’t make it right, and that is perfectly true. On the other hand, dictatorships come and go, as South Africa has experienced, and the weapons remain. (Indeed, the West forced our apartheid junta to dismantle its nuclear weapons so that they would not fall into the hands of a democratic but black government, which could not be trusted with such toys.) Also, even dictatorships might need to defend their country; the USSR in June 1941 was a dictatorship which needed all the help it could get.
So our Conventional Arms Control Committee (why are only conventional arms controlled — do we intend to sell nukes, germs and gas to all and sundry?) follows fairly strict rules. Don’t sell arms to countries which are engaged in wars or in civil wars. Don’t sell arms which are likely to engage in wars or civil wars. Then, if the arms get used in the end, you can at least say that you didn’t expect it.
Of course, these rules are ground rules. They can be bent at the pleasure of the government’s foreign policy. For instance, when Haiti was invaded by American-backed gunmen in 2003, South Africa tried to send them a shipment of arms (though the Americans had kidnapped President Aristide before they arrived). The inverse of that is where South Africa sold the Americans a shipment of armoured personnel carriers, knowing that these would be used in the occupation of Iraq, which South Africa opposes, but sucking up to America trumps moral judgement. Sigh.
Well, then, how have these rules been broken?
Nothing in the DA’s declaration shows that these rules have been broken in any way. Everything in the declaration is smoke and mirrors behind which nothing concrete exists. South Africa has supplied arms to Libya (which it is entitled to do) and to Venezuela (which it is entitled to do) and to Syria (which it is entitled to do). None of these three countries is engaged in wars or civil wars, nor seems likely to do so. All of these three countries have reasonable grounds for fearing foreign aggression (all have been victims of foreign aggression in recent decades). The policy of the DA in a-hootin’ and a-hollerin’ about all this amounts to one simple fact: the DA believes that there are political grounds for making this huge noise.
What are these grounds? All three countries are basically brown-skinned. The DA’s core constituency is white South Africans who are historically suspicious of brown people. Therefore, racism gives the DA a boost here. Perhaps more importantly, all three countries are ones which have been historically demonised by the United States, and therefore by Britain which is a political annexe to the United States. South Africa worked quite hard to get the ridiculous sanctions against Libya lifted. (Under American pressure, the British framed the Libyan government when the Iranian government bombed an American Boeing 747 over Lockerbie in Scotland, in revenge against the Americans shooting down an Iranian Airbus in the Arabian Gulf.) Syria was defined as a terrorist state by the Americans in the 1980s, at the behest of Israel, and then suddenly undefined in 1990 when the Americans wanted to invade Iraq from Syrian bases, but then redefined as terrorists after 2003 when the Americans needed someone to blame for the failure of their occupation of Iraq that year. Venezuela has been defined as an evil terrorist state ever since the failure of the American-backed military coup in that country in 2002. Sigh.
So, insofar as one may understand it, the DA is beating the drum for racism and for subservience to American foreign policy disasters — not just support for American foreign policy, but particular support for areas where no sane person would support the Americans. This is, er, interesting.
It is backed up by two other points. The DA also makes a great fuss over the fact that South Africa supposedly sold, or contemplated selling, arms to North Korea before sanctions were imposed. (Again, sanctions have been off and on according to how badly the Americans were in breach of their treaty with North Korea; they are currently on, as a result of the Bush administration’s mishandling of the entire affair.) Now, the Creator does not think that North Korea is in any real military danger from anybody; the Chinese wouldn’t permit anyone to attack them. The Creator does not consider North Korea a beautiful state for all to envy and emulate. Hence, we probably should not sell arms to them, and they don’t need arms from us anyway. But having sold arms to them in the past, if the North Koreans were at peace with the world, was not a big issue. Here the DA seems to be boosting the Americans’ policy-of-the-week (Obama putting the U.S. military on alert in defense against nonexistent North Korean missiles was an amazing return to the policies of George W Bush, and a striking sign of what a gutless little creep the man really is.)
Then the DA makes a great fuss over South Africa contemplating selling flying suits to Iran. Flying suits are suitable for high-performance aircraft. They are, thus, useful only for major combat operations. Iran is under threat from Israel and the United States. As such, providing Iran with arms for self-defense could well be a good idea, for it would potentially discourage an Israeli/US attack, both because of the arms themselves and because of the sign that Iran was not without allies.
Of course, there are sanctions against Iran (imposed by the US and EU, so not mandatory for South Africa, but still worth thinking about.) These sanctions were imposed because Iran is developing uranium enrichment technology. There is no evidence that this is being used for making nuclear weapons (although the technology can, of course, be so used, as can nuclear reactors) and theoretically any country in the world is entitled to develop nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. Therefore there is no reason to impose, or support, such sanctions. Indeed, there might be good reasons to challenge them because they are obnoxious and foolish.
But the DA, apparently, prefers to follow the American line with the utmost slavishness, even though nothing has actually been done which challenges this line. The DA considers it unthinkable that anyone can legitimately differ with Washington, and therefore discourages people from such thoughts.
This is not a good basis from which to run an effective political opposition. It creates the unseemly impression that the DA leadership are moving at the guidance of little strings leading up to a puppeteer under orders from the American ruling class.
The last issue is the DA denouncing the South African government because the Zimbabwean government has applied to buy ammunition from South Africa. South Africa does not manufacture ammunition for the AKM rifle which Zimbabwe uses, but we do produce 9mm ammunition and ammunition for the FN rifle which Zimbabwe has in storage; also we have a lot of old AKM ammunition which the apartheid regime captured in raids into Angola. Hence we could supply Zimbabwe if we wanted to, provided Zimbabwe didn’t ask for too much.
In terms of the guidelines, most certainly we should. Zimbabwe poses no threat to its neighbours. It has a government of national unity. Hence, with no threat of foreign or domestic war, we can safely supply it with military equipment which, a few years ago, we could not have supplied without fearing that it might be used in a clampdown on the MDC opposition party. There are arms sanctions, again, imposed by the West against Zimbabwe, but these sanctions were imposed because Zimbabwe helped to defend the Democratic Republic of the Congo against Western-backed aggression from Uganda and Rwanda. South Africa opposed that aggression, and so we should disregard those sanctions.
If Zimbabwe were not our neighbour, that would end the matter. However, since Zimbabwe is nearby, we must watch more closely. Inarguably there are tensions within the government of national unity there. Might the government collapse and civil war break out, with our ammunition being used? Alternatively, might providing ammunition be seen as a gesture of goodwill, thus promoting trust and national security in Zimbabwe? It’s a tricky question. Armies need ammunition in order to fight, but also in order to train, and the Zimbabwean army probably uses up over a million rounds a month just to keep its troops in fighting order. Last year, in order to embarrass the South African government, COSATU bragged about preventing a shipment of Chinese small-arms ammunition through South Africa to Zimbabwe. However, the shipment eventually went to Zimbabwe (it was so insignificant that it was flown into the country from Angola). No bloodbath ensued; as suspected by all serious observers, the ammunition was needed for training.
Hence, the DA’s position, which happens to coincide with the position taken by COSATU a year go, is one of unthinking hostility to Zimbabwe. To be fair to COSATU, at the time the government of national unity was not in place; they may have been wrong on specific details, and they were effectively serving the interests of Western imperialists (one of COSATU’s unfortunate little hobbies) but they were not conspicuously evil. The DA, however, appears to be trying to break up the Zimbabwean government of national unity. This was made all the more plain when they held a press conference to announce that the Zimbabwean government was “planning war”. It is inconceivable that Zimbabwe, in its present condition, could plan war against anybody. Nor is there any sign that the Zimbabwean government is breaking up, nor that the Zimbabwean military is making serious preparations against such a prospect. The DA was simply trying to increase tensions in Zimbabwe for mischievous purposes, and trying to encourage hostility against Zimbabwe among its white conservative — and often racist — constituency in South Africa, while scoring brownie points with its Western backers, especially in Britain and the United States, who hate the Zimbabwean unity government and want to see it broken up.
Sometimes the Creator wonders what South Africans did to deserve President Zuma. However, it is worth noting that he has his points. Perhaps the most important positive thing about President Zuma is that he at least protects us from the catastrophe which would ensue if any of the filthy scum leading the Democratic Alliance opposition ever attained any real measure of power in South Africa, as they had before 1994.