Letter: Britain's vital role in South Africa

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The Independent Online
Sir: In 'How secure is their future?' (17 May) Susan Willett argues convincingly for a further reduction in South Africa's defence budget in the interests of social reconstruction and economic development. Pressures to maintain armed forces larger and more sophisticated than needed to make a reasonable contribution to regional security have to be resisted. South Africa cannot, for instance, afford at this stage in its history to have its forces committed indefinitely in a situation such as Rwanda.

With regard to internal security and stability and the question of British military assistance, however, her article is misleading. The achievement of 'permanent internal stability' by economic and social measures is inevitably a long way off and will depend for the foreseeable future on the National Defence Force providing, albeit reluctantly, the military basis of internal security.

The success of that depends on the remarkable degree of consensus and mutual trust recently established between the Defence Force generals, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) (the ANC's old armed wing) and President Mandela. The maintenance of that trust and co-operation will now, by common consent of the two main parties, rely heavily on the presence of British military advisers as honest brokers to adjudicate and validate the processes of selection, promotion and training involved in creating the new force out of disparate cultures and traditions.

For Britain - having been invited apparently unanimously by the Joint Military Co-ordinating Committee, after much deliberation, to accept this role - now to rethink its position would be seen by the Government of National Unity as a betrayal and as a missed opportunity to contribute directly to the stability essential for economic progress.

Such military assistance, as experience in Zimbabwe, Namibia and even Mozambique has shown, is relatively cheap and very effective. The expenditure will not (and could not legally) come out of the Ministry of Overseas Development's aid budget but from the Diplomatic vote.

Yours faithfully,


Executive Director

Research Institute for the

Study of Conflict and Terrorism

London, W1

18 May