Brian J. Hesse. The United States, South Africa and Africa: Of Grand Foreign Policy Aims and Modest Means. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2001. xvi + 238 pp. $79.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-7546-1739-6.
Reviewed by J. P. Brits (Department of History, University of South Africa, Pretoria)
Published on H-SAfrica (January, 2003)
In this volume Brian Hesse, an associate director at Washburn University, Kansas, examines U.S.-South African relations, as well as relations between those two countries and the African continent during the crucial period between 1990 and 1998. The author has divided his text into four main periods: firstly a period which he describes as one of obsolescence, secondly one of flux, followed by one of focus, and finally a period of coalescence.
Hesse demarcates the period of obsolescence as roughly 1990 to 1991 for the United States and 1990 to 1994 for South Africa. In these eras, arguably some of the most dramatic changes in Europe and Africa since the Second World War took place. For example, the Berlin Wall was crumbling and communism disintegrating, and in southern Africa F. W. de Klerk started the process of dismantling apartheid--the most notable remains of statutory racial discrimination in the twentieth century. These changes had major implications for the only remaining superpower as well as for the leading country in southern Africa. The United States had to reposition itself in global politics, which also meant the adoption of an attainable policy towards Africa. South Africa, on the other hand, had to work out the mechanism of a new non-racial dispensation and also face the numerous new challenges awaiting the democratically elected government.
Hesse analyses in two chapters the repercussions of the volte face by the South African minority white government on the United States and South Africa. In the first chapter he records the events following the collapse of the Soviet Union as well as the National Party's decision to free Nelson Mandela and unban the liberation movements in South Africa. He also focuses on the response of the Bush administration to developments in South Africa, particularly with regards to the lifting of U.S. sanctions against South Africa once certain conditions were met by the interim De Klerk administration.
In the second chapter the author deals with issues such as the National Party government's rationale for abandoning apartheid, with a special emphasis on economic considerations, and the somewhat painful transition period from De Klerk's 1990 announcement to the non-racial, democratic elections of 1994. By and large the ANC also had to make fundamental decisions, keeping its Harare Declaration in mind. With the removal of the Eastern Bloc, the ANC could no longer cling to outdated policies and strategies which would be seen as unacceptable to the Western powers. Yet there remained a group within the policy-making ANC elite that was apprehensive over deviating too far from the Freedom Charter. To aggravate the situation for the ANC, the South African government cleverly exposed a number of weakenesses of the ANC government-in-waiting. At the same time, Mandela had not been particularly well-received by U.S. officials during his first post-liberation visit.
Hesse's second period, identified as one of flux (for the United States, 1991-1995, and for South Africa, 1994-1996), is also covered in two chapters. In chapter 3, the author reflects on the role of the United States in the new world order, particularly President Bush senior's assessment of the changed situation. As the only remaining superpower, the United States exercised substantial influence in the Third World, but the Bush administration hoped that Africa would not be too taxing, especially in terms of financial expenditure. This soon proved to be wishful thinking, as the Somalian food crisis demonstrated. Once Bill Clinton became president, U.S. forces were withdrawn from the continent. Foreign aid had never been popular among American policy makers, and in this case, later legislation was even to limit U.S. participation in peacekeeping forces. More importantly for South Africa, after the Somalian and Rwanda crises, perceptions regarding Africa in general worsened. The continent came to be seen, by many Americans, as one that was in a permanent state of decline.
In chapter 4 the author argues that South Africa hardly lived up to expectations in the first year after the "miracle" of 1994. The country was now admitted into worldwide organisations, which previously had excluded it due to apartheid, and South Africa became a participant in arms treaties, yet there was little evidence of real material progress for South African people. Additionally, foreign investments remained inadequate. It seemed as if the "Madiba magic" was fading. Moreover, foreign policy makers criticised the South African government for not producing a clear foreign policy. The existing foreign policy lacked a specific focus (even on Africa) and its program was fragmented, containig disparate objectives. To top it all, South Africa was involved in arms deals with countries with questionable human rights records.
Hesse describes the third period (ranging from 1995 to 1997 for the United States and 1996 to 1997 for South Africa) as one of focus, and it constitutes a turning point in relations between the two countries. Chapters 5 and 6 deal with the frustrations and scepticism felt by both South African and American policy makers. South Africans were painfully aware of the degree of disillusionment by some Western policy makers in regards to their country. This resulted in several tense reactions from South Africans, accusing Western spokesmen of portraying their leaders as incompetent. Others claimed that international markets were "amorphous and racial".
Whereas the euphoria concering the new South Africa appeared to be over, there was a realisation in the United States that expectations of the new democracy had been unrealistic. President Clinton's administration showed renewed interest in the continent within the framework of its enlargement objectives. The administration took the initiative in an attempt to change negative perspectives regarding South Africa, which was portrayed as the jewel in Africa. By early 1995 contacts between the two countries had been formalised, including the Binational Commission established by the two vice-presidents, Al Gore and Thabo Mbeki. The creation of the African Crisis Response Force (ACRF) constituted a significant step in creating a more secure regional environment, while the Southern African Development Community (SADC) took steps early in 1996 to expand its role in the field of security. Although the actions of Clinton and Mbeki (especially the latter's first articulations of an African renaissance) represented a turning point in relations, it did not mean that attitudes would be changed overnight. Internationally South Africa was still not out of the woods. For instance, money which had entered the country during the "honeymoon period," was drying up; in addition South Africa's arms sales to Syria, along with Mandela's apparent affection for pariah states such as Cuba and Libya, continued to annoy Americans. Conversely, some African leaders, including Mandela, were sceptical about U.S. motives, hinting that the Americans were using the ACRF to get a military foothold in Africa. Progress occurred despite these reservations, notably Mandela and Mbeki's initiatives in Zaire, even though they were not completely successful.
The fourth period, entitled "coalescence," covers the years 1997 to 1998 in both countries and represents a more definitive change in relations. In chapter 7 the changes in direction of U.S. policy towards Africa are discussed in detail. The Clinton administration proved much more serious about co-operation in Africa, as demonstrated through the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) in April 1997. This legislation gave Africa a more permanent status within U.S foreign policy thinking. Clinton followed a month later with the Partnership for Economic Growth and Opportunity in Africa (PEGOA). The latter was aimed at providing greater access for African countries to U.S. markets through tariff and quota reductions; it also boosted U.S. investments in Africa. These measures, however, were not unconditional, for African countries had to pursue political and economic reform in order to participate. Once again the United States regarded South Africa as a key player and, judging from its response, the latter were determined to uphold its side of the arrangement. Already in June 1996, South Africa had launched its Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR), a macroeconomic strategy and, as a result, its trade with Africa was growing. South African policy makers were now fully convinced that economics would play a determining role in the development of the region, and regional projects, such as the Highlands Water Scheme, presented tangible evidence of the country's commitment to economic growth. Thabo Mbeki made it clear that a vote for him, as Nelson Mandela's successor, meant a vote for commitment to GEAR and economic development in general.
Hesse's conclusion points to a "significant correlation between grand foreign policy aims" and "modest means"--the utilisation of resources to implement policies towards Africa. This was a feature of both U.S. and South African foreign policy towards Africa in the period under discussion. Modest means shaped and drove the "evolution and eventual congruence" of U.S. and South African foreign policy towards Africa in the 1990s.
The author has consulted a wide range of sources, including newspapers, news articles, journals, books, published official documents, and academic journals. In the future, archival material currently not available for researchers might uncover information that could throw a different light on Hesse's findings. What one misses most in this book is the historical context for dealing with Africa on the part of both the U.S. State Department and the South African Department of Foreign Affairs. U.S. ambivalence towards South Africa's racial policies and its amorphous African policy both have long histories. Analysing historical developments beginning with the Cold War would explain, to an extent, the hesitancy of the United States to move beyond "modest means" in expanding its influence in Africa. Likewise the ANC's experiences in exile had an influence on its foreign policy making after 1994. Works by scholars such as Walshe, Karis, Carter, Gerhart and Lodge should have been utilised more fully to explain the ANC government's sympathetic attitude towards so-called pariah states.
Despite this criticism, Hesse offers an extremely useful overview of the topic. His conclusions are verified and the book is particularly readable. I am convinced that academics, students, journalists, government officials, and the reading public will make good use of this volume.
J. P. Brits. Review of Hesse, Brian J., The United States, South Africa and Africa: Of Grand Foreign Policy Aims and Modest Means.
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