Stop drift towards militarization of brave new democracy

On 27 April the Defence Review Committee appointed by the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans published its Defence Review draft report. The last time South Africa undertook a Defence Review was in the late 1990s and it was in the context of a new democratic dispensation. However, those civil society organizations who participated in the 1996-98 review were disappointed and felt compromised by the final outcome. Although we already feel that civil society’s contribution has already been trivialized, the Ceasefire Campaign has made a submission to the Committee in the hope that the greater militarization the review promotes can at least be tempered.

Our submission notes that the presuppositions, the language and the proposals of the draft report are egregiously militarist. In particular, the proposals regarding the centralisation of power in the Ministry of Defence, the massive new arms purchase programme, the expansion of arms manufacturing capacity, and the insidious militarisation both of non-military functions and of the youth of South Africa signal a fundamental departure from our hard-won democratic state towards a military state and it opens the door to extensive corruption.

The failure of the Committee to present a properly motivated and quantified force design and properly motivated and quantified budgetary implications, let alone alternative options, is bad enough. But the vague scare talk and the weak and incoherent arguments presented for the proposals made, particularly for massive increases in military spending, portrays a leave-it-to-us-we-know-better attitude that shows arrogance and lacks credibility. In the words of a Ceasefire member and prominent anti-arms and peace campaigner, the draft report recommends the use of an ‘expensive sledgehammer to crush a non-existent flea’.

Ceasefire’s submission identifies 56 substantive failures of the draft report. The organization also believe that he process followed by the Defence Review Committee has been compromised and that it has trivialized civil society’s contribution to the process which advanced rapidly with minimal input from organizations and individuals not promoting a militaristic world view.

We are particularly opposed to the section that promotes military service for our youth and Ceasefire calls attention to how the Committee views the inculcation of a military world view in the minds and attitudes of young people as an unqualified good. The current draft defence review document states:

“Military service, even quite brief periods, can play an important and valuable role in:
a. Maturing and socializing young adults;
b. Providing a stable environment in which to enhance the education of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds;
c. Developing in young people from different communities and social sectors a national consciousness and cohesion;…”

In order to achieve this, the draft report proposes:

  • the establishment of a National Youth Service (NYS) as an auxiliary service of the Department of Defence (Chapter 8 para 141);
  • the introduction of cadet systems (Chapter 2 para 59);
  • the use of research and development funding to attract young people to engineering and science (Chapter 2 para 63(b));
  • service-specific “Youth Development Programmes” (Chapter 11 para 84(b); and
  • the use of these programmes to recruit for the SANDF (Chapter 11 para 84(b)).

These proposals are particularly problematic. They are reminiscent of the apartheid regime’s military response to the “total onslaught”. Children and the youth should not be taught the ways of violence. They should not be taught to glorify war. War is an evil to be withstood. The introduction of war games in schools through a cadet system will inevitably result in or necessitate compulsion, thus condoning conscription at ages at which children are not mature enough to challenge militarist thinking and make ethical choices between conscription and conscientious objection. In fact nowhere in the draft report is there a rejection of conscription per se. The only reference to conscription is a comment in Chapter 4 para 57 blaming the decline in the reserve component on the abolition of conscription. The Committee needs not only to reconsider the above-mentioned proposals but also to make it clear that there should be no compulsory military service or conscription of any form whatsoever.

Our present Minister of Defence is on record as saying, "We would like to have a period in which we take your children and give them a bit of discipline”. Last year, in a glossy supplement selling the SANDF in the daily press and entitled ‘In your defence’, she continued with this theme, “..we will be taking them out of a state of idleness and mischief by providing them with a chance to become productive members of society” and more words to this effect. She also speaks of building ‘tomorrow’s leaders’, as if military training is the only training that can do this.

The Ceasefire Campaign recommends that instead of military service, government should establish a peace corps outside of the Department of Defence. This would enable young people to contribute to peace and development both in South Africa and amongst our neighbouring states. That would be a far better way of inculcating constructive values amongst young people. As it is, the proposal smacks of empire-building.

The draft Defence Review Report can be viewed at www.sadefencereview2012.org.
The full Ceasefire Campaign submission is available at www.ceasefire.org.za