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News | Feb. 12, 2021

Rethinking “Alliances”: The Case of South Africa as a Rising Power

By Christopher Williams and Mihaela Papa

How does South Africa view international alliances? International relations (IR) scholars have been debating the end of alliances and the relevance of the alliance paradigm itself. South Africa presents an excellent test case for advancing these debates for three reasons. First, it has been committed to nonalignment yet engages in close and complex inter-state collaborations. Second, debates about the alliance paradigm have largely taken place in, and focused on, the Global North. And third, there is a gap in South African scholarship on this subject. This article examines the South African understanding of alliances through a systematic study of its academic and policy landscape including an analysis of 285 articles from South Africa’s five most highly ranked IR journals and key policy documents produced during the post-apartheid period. The article outlines how alliances are conceptualized and operationalized. It finds that the alliance concept in South Africa departs from the traditional understanding in the Global North: alliances are often driven by mutually shared political and developmental objectives rather than an external security threat. These objectives, combined with a perception of new economic opportunities, have led to an increase in the importance of South Africa’s strategic partnerships with rising powers, and reinforced its multi-alignment diplomacy.

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Associated Minerva-funded Project:
Rising Power Alliances and the Threat of a Parallel Global Order