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The relevance of Political Sciences at the South African Military Academy: context, comparative perspectives and reflections.


Generally speaking, as an area of scholarly inquiry, Political Sciences are of great interest to military academies as (military-academic) institutions of higher learning. Apart from providing a foundation of military skill and enhancing the ability of officers to think creatively and to reason critically, the relevance of Political Sciences also stems from the fact that it is both desirable and advisable for officers to acquire a comprehensive understanding of the political-military issues and trends that affect the security of their countries.

Accordingly, this article assesses the relevance of Political Sciences at the South African Military Academy. In this regard, the following questions are explored: To what extent are Political Sciences important to the professional education of future leaders of the South African National Defence Force, and to what extent are Political Sciences indeed well-placed and presented in the academic offerings of the Academy? In finding conclusive answers, two further questions are also explored: Firstly, what should be regarded as the required educational basis of military officers as 'security functionaries'; and secondly, to what extent do Political Sciences feature in the academic offerings of comparable military academies?


Louw states that politics results from the conflicting demands of two most basic human impulses, namely survival and solidarity. As an area of scholarly enquiry, Political Sciences study this conflict and aim at demarcating the rival claims of nature (survival) and reason (solidarity) in the process. (1) Haywood likewise argues that politics, in its broadest sense, is the activity through which people make, preserve and amend the general rules under which they live. (2) Tansey similarly asserts that both conflict and consensus "are essential elements to the creation of a political situation". Politics is thus inextricably linked to the phenomena of conflict and cooperation. (3) Against this background, it could be stated that a significant proportion of Political Sciences is concerned with the study of phenomena in the aforementioned context.

As an area of scholarly enquiry Political Sciences generally include a wide variety of sub-fields, or areas of specialisation, such as International Relations, Political Economy, Comparative Politics, Political Behaviour, Political Risk Analysis, Political Management and the Politics of Gender. (4) This said, scholars and political scientists distinguish between Political Science and International Relations as the two main fields of study or (sub-)disciplines resorting under what is quite commonly known or broadly referred to as Political Sciences. (5) In this regard, Political Science (sometimes referred to as Politics) is viewed as "the study of political society" with the focus on political thought, institutions, processes and behaviour. International Relations is viewed as "the study of international phenomena, trends and events". (6) Similarly, the Oxford Concise Dictionary of Politics defines Political Science as "the study of the state, government and politics", while International Relations is defined as "the discipline that studies interactions between and among states, and more broadly, the workings of the international system as a whole" (7)

Political Sciences as an area of scholarly inquiry, seem to be of considerable interest to military academies as (military-academic) institutions of higher learning. Without going into too much detail, the following reasons suffice. Firstly, all militaries are political institutions of a very particular kind. Militaries may function as instruments of foreign policy, or they may play a decisive domestic role in maintaining public order and protecting constitutional principles. Secondly, all systems of rule are underpinned, to a greater or lesser extent, by the exercise of coercive power through the institutions of the military and the police. In the words of Haywood: "So great is the potential power of these institutions that questions about how they can be controlled or be made publicly accountable are of enduring political significance". (8) In this context, Kaufman points out that the intellectual foundation of academic programmes of the United States (US) Military Academy at West Point, for instance, provides not only for a broad liberal education, but also prepares graduates for the professional environments in which all of them will serve. Their academic programmes include one semester of American Politics and one semester of International Relations as part of the core curriculum for all students--regardless of their majors. (9)

This article assesses the contemporary relevance of Political Sciences at an undergraduate level in the academic offerings of the South African (SA) Military Academy (hereafter the Academy). As a background, a brief overview is presented of the historical and contemporary context of the Academy. This is followed by reflections on the imperative of producing professional educated officers, specifically officers with a sound political-military-social grasp and understanding. To this end, the undergraduate tuition of Political Sciences at other military academies is explored and contextualised.


Students (cadets) normally live a collegial-type life at military academies where they pursue both their academic studies and their military training. Contemporary education programmes of military academies are typically a mix of strictly military subjects and other subjects more specific to university studies. Whereas the former usually includes subjects such as Military Strategy, Logistics, Military History, Leadership, Communication Systems and related subjects, university subjects generally include Political Sciences, Contemporary History, Computer Science, Sociology, Geography, Public Law, Governmental Accounting and Foreign Languages. In other words, some subjects provide a typical military education to the student, while others bring officer education closer to university education. (10)

From the outset, in the early 1950s, the Academy followed the model of the US Military Academy at West Point with its emphasis on the Natural Sciences. In fact, at military academies internationally, much emphasis has been and still is placed on Mathematics, which is often regarded as more suitable than the liberal arts as regards the cultivation of critical thought for the kind of decisions military officers face. Consequently, the bulk of students at the newly established Academy had to take the BSc(Mil) course. Only a relatively small portion--about 25 per cent--were allowed to follow the BA(Mil) course. Moreover, Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry were compulsory, even for the BA(Mil) degree. However, internationally the focus on a broad liberal education was clearly aimed at creating an understanding of the complex socio-political milieu within which the military operates. To this end a number of core subjects directly relevant to the military profession were compulsory for both degrees, namely Military History, Military Law, Military Geography and Military Technology. Yet, the absence of Political Sciences * as a core subject in the Academy's BSc(Mil) and BA(Mil) curricula "was an obvious hiatus". (11)

It should be noted that the Academy was initially established in 1950, under the auspices of the University of Pretoria, as a branch of the SA Military College (later renamed the SA Army College). In order to establish the Academy as a separate, independent institution, as well as to accommodate naval students, it was decided in 1953 to relocate the Academy to Saldanha in the Western Cape. Here it was to resort under the academic trusteeship of the University of Stellenbosch. On 1 February 1956, the Academy was organisationally detached from the SA Army College in Pretoria whereupon its headquarters were temporarily located in Stellenbosch, awaiting the erection of suitable accommodation at Saldanha. (12)

An important milestone was achieved in 1961 with the establishment of the Faculty of Military Science of the University of Stellenbosch within the Academy at Saldanha. A new academic dispensation made provision for three BMil courses, namely Human, Natural and Commercial Sciences. The curricula of the BMil in Commercial Sciences and the BMil in Human Sciences included Political Sciences as a compulsory subject. Given the contention that not all students were adequately prepared for the socio-political milieu in which they were to operate, a request was made to Defence Headquarters for the inclusion of Political Sciences in the curriculum of the BMil in Natural Sciences. This appeal was, however, rejected. (13)

In 1967 and 1968 respectively, two extensive investigations into the academic offerings of the Academy led to the introduction of a new educational system. Having studied the educational offerings of various military institutions abroad, Political Sciences, together with Military History were introduced as compulsory subjects for all first-year students, regardless of the focus of their studies or the needs of their respective Services. This development also followed a recommendation by Prof Gerrit van N Viljoen, former Rector of the Rand Afrikaans University, * that the BMil curricula should have a "common professional base". According to Visser, the inclusion of Political Sciences and Military History as compulsory subjects provided some common base that oriented prospective officers in the socio-political milieu in which they were expected to operate. Yet, this position did not last long. The escalation of the (former) SA Defence Force's involvement in the so-called 'Bush War' on the border of South West Africa (SWA)/Namibia since the mid-1970s, increasingly required officers to be 'task qualified' within their respective Services. In short, those who did end up at the Academy--as in previous years--studied divergent BMil courses without any common, professional base or core curriculum since Military History and Political Sciences fell away as compulsory subjects. (14) Since then Political Sciences have been confined to the BMil course in the Human Sciences.

The question is: Where does this leave Political Sciences as an area of academic enquiry in the contemporary academic offerings of the Academy? After some extensive work since 1999 in conjunction with senior military officers in Pretoria, (15) the Academy 'migrated' to a new framework of academic offerings in 2001. The traditional (three) degrees in the Human, Management (Commercial) and Natural Sciences were substituted with six outcomes-based academic programmes designed in accordance with the transformational requirements of higher education in South Africa, namely: (16)

--the BMil Programme in Technology;

--the BMil Programme in Technology and Management;

--the BMil Programme in War, Environment and Technology; *

--the BMil Programme in Security and Africa Studies;

--the BMil Programme in Organisation and Resource Management; and

--the BMil Programme in Human and Organisation Development.

As far as the teaching of Political Sciences is concerned, only the BMil in Security and Africa Studies--a programme that is mainly aimed at educating both combat and support officers in the historical, political and strategic fields in which the military operates--is really of relevance. Political Sciences form a core element of this programme as students are required to take Political Sciences until at least the end of their second year of their study for the BMil degree. In the final (third) year students are presented with the option of selecting their two majors from Political Sciences, Military History and Military Strategy, being the three 'sister-disciplines' in the School for Security and Africa Studies. ** It should be noted that a single foreign policy-based module of Political Sciences at second year level, entitled South Africa and the International Community, has also been integrated as a stand-alone module in the (hybrid) BMil Programme in War, Environment and Technology. At the same time, the aforementioned two 'sister-disciplines', Military Strategy and Military History, are in a slightly better position as they are presented as electives up to third year level in two of the above-mentioned six programmes. * Generally speaking, there is no core curriculum. Only two skills-based subjects, Computer Skills and English Studies are incorporated in all six programmes.

This begs the following questions: To what extent are Political Sciences actually important and relevant to the general professional education of future leaders of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), and to what extent are Political Sciences indeed well-placed and presented in the academic offerings of the Academy? In finding some conclusive answers to these questions, two further questions need clarification: Firstly, what should be regarded as the required educational basis of military officers as 'security functionaries', and secondly, to what extent do Political Sciences feature in the academic offerings of comparable military academies?


It has already been stated that militaries are political institutions of a very specific kind. In this regard, Haywood states that militaries are able to play different roles in political life. The most important of these are the following: (17)

--Militaries are instruments of war. The central purpose of militaries is to serve as instruments of war that can be directed against other societies or states if necessary. If militaries have an exclusively defensive role, they tend to lose much of their prominence in public life, but when militaries are used to pursue offensive or expansionist ends, they become substantially more important.

--Militaries are guarantors of political order and stability. The coercive power and operational efficiency of militaries are not only of significance in international relations. Militaries may also be decisive factors in domestic politics. In cases of serious political tension and unrest, militaries could become the only guarantors of the integrity of the state, and may even be drawn into what may amount to civil wars.

--Militaries are interest groups. This implies that militaries could seek to shape or influence the contents of policy itself. More often than not, militaries are 'insider groups' in the sense that they are represented in the key policy-making bodies and processes and accordingly possess an institutional power base.

--Militaries provide potential alternatives to civilian rule. The control of weaponry and coercive power gives them the capacity to intervene directly in political life, leading in extreme cases to the establishment of military rule. Just as militaries can support an unpopular government or regime, they can also remove and replace the governing elite or topple the regime itself.

Given the relation between the military and politics, a fundamental question is: What officers should learn? Van Creveld states that firstly, officers have always studied subjects that are perceived as somehow related to the conduct of war, such as National Security, Strategic Studies, Military Theory and Military History. Secondly, much attention has been paid to the so-called social sciences, relating to subjects such as Political Sciences, 'Government', Economics, Management, Business Administration and Sociology. Thirdly, some emphasis has been placed on regional studies, such as studies on Latin America and South East Asia. (18)

According to Kaufman, every cadet (attending a military academy) should be a Security Studies student. * This viewpoint can be narrowly or broadly defined. Narrowly defined, Security Studies are focused on the use of force to secure, defend and advance national interests. Broadly defined, Security Studies imply a term to incorporate the range of threats to national survival, stability, and sovereignty to include environmental hazards, domestic crime, economic growth, and questions of social justice. (19) In the words of Kaufman: (20)
   The purpose of an undergraduate education in national security
   studies should then be clear: to prepare graduates of the service
   academies for positions of responsibility in both operational and
   policymaking assignments. Service academy graduates will oversee
   the implementation of U.S. national security policy, develop
   the future capabilities that the defence of the United States and
   its allies will require, and contribute to the formulation of
   national security policy. Consequently, it is imperative that
   newly-commissioned officers understand current U.S. national
   interests and those of our allies, the threats to those interests,
   and the constraints on our ability to meet those threats. Given
   all of those factors, officers must be able to contribute to the
   development of national security strategy, now and for the future.

From an Australian perspective, the areas of knowledge which all officers--save for a small minority of dual professionals, such as doctors or chaplains--need to be familiar with, are grouped into three core areas (see Table 1): (21)

--the armed forces as an organisation;

--the physical elements of war; and

--the purpose for which armed forces are employed.

From a Canadian perspective, Haycock points out that Canadian military education, with the Canadian Royal Military College as its centre, was subjected to political scrutiny and acute reform in 1997. The fundamental question was indeed: What should an officer candidate learn? A decision was taken at highest political level that from 1997 all officers were to have a university degree upon commission. (22) It was furthermore decided, in the words of Haycock, that "(t)o perform well, officers must be trained and educated to master the art of war. A foundation of military skill is essential, as is the ability to think creatively and to reason critically. Officers must acquire a comprehensive understanding of the political, economic, social, cultural and military issues and trends that may effect the security of Canada". (23)

By early 2000, the Canadian military accepted a vision statement in which eight fundamental deficiencies in professional development were specified, the first of which was general education. This was followed by a number of sub-sets, namely leadership theory and practice; technological and operation context; knowledge of civil-military relations and the Canadian way of life; the theory and structure of conflict; acceptance of bilingualism and pluralism in Canada; and finally a concept of operations to implement a new vision. (24)

From the above it could rightly be contended that Political Sciences should be viewed as one of the cornerstones in the educational offerings of military academies. Much of Political Sciences is, for instance, relevant to questions of public policy, particularly those questions relating to defence and security affairs. (25) From the above the importance of studying the 'non-military aspects of war' is also clear; a field where the teaching of Political Sciences could be of crucial importance. To put matters in perspective, Van Creveld claims that "(t)he fact that senior German officers were never required seriously to study the nonmilitary aspects of war may also help to explain another phenomenon, namely their inability to stand up to Hitler". In other words, a solid understanding of civil-military relations in the democratic context should be regarded as a matter of great importance at military academies.(26) In fact, Haycock points out that the above-mentioned ministerial decisions and related vision statement towards the end of the 1990s resulted in the Canadian Forces College in Toronto adding some civilian academics in Military History, Political Sciences and Anthropology to its academic staff. (27)

Having considered the required educational basis of officers as 'security functionaries', the emphasis now shifts to the role of Political Sciences in the academic offerings of selected military academies.


In the following section the focus specifically falls on two leading military-academic institutions where the teaching of Political Sciences is employed as an educational tool in preparing students for leadership roles in their respective military services in the 21st century. These institutions are the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra and the US Military Academy at West Point, New York. Although a number of other military academies could also have been explored, the scope of this article does not allow for their in-depth discussion.

4.1 The Australian model

In 1967 the University of New South Wales entered into an agreement with the Australian Defence Force to establish a Faculty of Military Studies at the Royal Military College at Duntroon, with the aim of presenting academic programmes in arts, science and engineering. The University also entered into an association with the Royal Australian Naval College to present approved courses. In 1974 the Federal Government of Australia announced its intention of establishing a single tertiary institution for the Australian Defence Force and sought the assistance of the University of New South Wales in providing education for prospective leaders of the Australian Defence Force. Negotiations led to an agreement in 1981 between the Commonwealth of Australia and the University of New South Wales, with the University undertaking to establish a University College within the ambit of the proposed Australian Defence Force Academy. Consequently, the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) opened its doors in January 1986. Located in Canberra the University College offers undergraduate courses to students (cadets) from all the services leading to the university's degrees of Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Engineering, and Bachelor of Technology, as well as opportunities for higher degrees. (28)

Today, the ADFA offers the following Bachelors degrees at undergraduate level: (29)

--Bachelor of Arts (BA);

--Bachelor of Business (BBus);

--Bachelor of Engineering (BE);

--Bachelor of Science (BSc); and

--Bachelor of Technology (BTech).

Importantly, both the Arts (BA) and Science (BSc) degrees allow students to include a 'mix' of Arts and Science subjects in the curricula (see Table 2). The subjects available in the Arts and Social Sciences area are Asia-Pacific Studies, Economics, English, Geography, History, Indonesian, Information Systems, Management, and Politics. The following may be taken as Science subjects, namely Chemistry, Computer Science, Geography, Mathematics, Information Systems, Oceanography, Operations Research, Statistics and Physics. It is a feature of all ADFA degrees that students must take at least some subjects outside their main study area. These courses are referred to as General Education.

Therefore, Politics is not confined to students majoring in Arts and Social Sciences, but is also open to students majoring in Science. In this regard, General Education courses that examine contemporary issues in politics, are offered. (30) Even students in Engineering may include Politics as an elective in their curricula. In this regard, 'Politics General Education' subjects have been designed, covering topics that are most relevant for specific needs and interest. Indeed, students from various study directions are actively encouraged by the Department of Politics to take Political Sciences. (31)

Generally speaking, the following rationale is presented to justify the relevance and importance of Political Sciences: (32)
   As a cadet, you will be preparing for a role as officer of the
   Australian Defence Force--an integral part of the Australian
   system of government, and of Australia's presence on the regional
   and world stage. In other words, you will be preparing to become
   part of the political process. It will therefore be extremely
   beneficial for you to understand, and be able to explain to your
   fellow officers and troops, the foreign policy objectives of
   Australia, the political rationale for various operations, and the
   nature of the foreign political and cultural systems involved.

      Your future duties may take you overseas--whether attached
   to embassies, or on UN missions, on aid programs, or
   in a combat role--but for much of your military career you
   will have to negotiate the political and bureaucratic environment
   of Australia and your department. A sense of duty is not
   enough to prepare you for these challenges. The study of politics
   will not just enable you to develop the general skills you
   will need, but will supply a great deal of information relevant
   to pursuit your career. Whether it be the politics of Northeast
   or South East Asia, of Russia, the USA or China, or of our
   own community, the knowledge and understanding you acquire
   here will equip you to meet your responsibilities.

Students are furthermore informed that studying Political Sciences will offer them a first-rate professional training in critical analysis and discriminating judgement, along with straightforward and forceful self-expression. It is also contended that clear thinking about complex human affairs, and a grounding in the ways different people handle their political problems, is a priceless asset for a senior officer. Also, skill in communication is fundamental to leadership at any level. (33)

From the abovementioned it is evident that ADFA's Department of Politics presents Australia's progressive peacekeeping role and the fact that Australian officers need to have a sound understanding of Australia's regional and strategic responsibilities, as the basic rationale for encouraging students to study Political Sciences. This approach is based on the Australian Defence Force being an active foreign policy instrument that plays an important political-military role in the Asia-Pacific region. This requires an understanding of the fact that Australia needs to maintain preparedness for operations including warfigting, but also of a clear appreciation of the nature of multinational, coalition operations as an essential element of defence and security planning. (34)

4.2 The American model

Of all military academies, the US Military Academy at West Point (hereafter West Point) is certainly one of the most famous military-academic institutions of higher learning in the world. Having been established in 1802 after President Thomas Jefferson signed legislation to educate US Army cadets in the fields of arts and sciences of warfare, it is one of the oldest institutions of its kind. Similar to the other two service academies in the US, namely the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, and the US Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs, Colorado, West Point presently provides a liberal education and also prepares graduates for the professional environments in which they will serve.

Tuition at West Point is based on a core curriculum of 31 courses (see Table 3). Every cadet, regardless of academic major, must take four semesters of Mathematics, two of Physics, two of Chemistry, one of Terrain Analysis, one of Computer Science, and five from one of seven Engineering sequences (Civil, Mechanical, Electrical, Nuclear, Computer Science, Environmental, Systems). In the humanities and public affairs, every cadet must take four semesters of History, three of Social Sciences, three of English, two of Behavioural Sciences, one of Philosophy, two of a Foreign Language and one of Constitutional Law. The three required Social Sciences courses include one semester of American Politics, one of Economics, and one of International Relations. The core curriculum is bound by a belief in the importance of a 'truly common educational experience'. In addition to the 31 academic courses in the core curriculum, students must take four courses in Military Science and four year-long courses in Physical Education. (35)

Against this background, the American Politics course covers policy-making, institutions and processes. It covers the philosophical roots of modern democracy and aspects such as the Presidency and the Congress, which are analysed from both a US and a comparative perspective. Students also consider processes relating to political leadership and they address some of the fundamental aspects of national security education, namely how US defence policy and other government policies are made. (36)

The core course in International Relations focuses on the issues of conflict and co-operation in the international system. The question underlying the major part in this course is: Why do states behave the way they do? Students use multiple paradigms or approaches, such as theories of international relations, to analyse and understand international events and to learn the importance of intellectual pluralism. (37)

In their third year, West Point students are given the opportunity to study a wide range of fields. Students may then, for instance, choose their majors in such a way that national security could be studied in depth. In this regard, Strategic and International History, Economics, Military Art and Science, as well as Political Sciences, come into play. Three of the (available) electives for majors are offered in the field of Political Sciences, namely American Politics, International Politics and Comparative Politics. (38) These three courses (programmes) are heavily oriented towards the study of specific aspects of national security. Whereas the core curriculum provides the basis for analyses of public policy and national and international relations, the majors are explicitly focused on more advanced questions of public policy, particularly those questions relating to defence and national security affairs.

The American Politics course (programme) basically teaches students to quantitatively and qualitatively analyse political science phenomena and public policy; to understand the philosophical underpinnings of the American political system; and to develop an appreciation of and the ability to compare the US to other political systems. (39) The International Relations course (programme) offers students the opportunity to study advanced International Relations theory, American foreign policy, conflict negotiation, international political economy, terrorism, and the politics of cyber-warfare. It also includes courses on political analysis, using the scientific method and comparative politics to analyse state-society relations in selected case studies. Finally, the Comparative Politics course (programme) offers students the opportunity to analyse the sources of stability and instability in political regimes; and to examine the conditions that promote either democracy or dictatorship in a number of diverse settings, ranging from Latin America, Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Africa, as well as the US. (40)

Importantly, it is believed that by the time students reach their capstone courses, their understanding of American Politics and International Relations should provide them with a firm understanding of the democratic values on which the US was founded and in defence of which they will serve. They should also be able to comprehend the domestic and international environment in which security policy decisions are made. It is also believed that they should be able to confront questions about the threats to US interests, presently and in the foreseeable future, and about US membership in, and interaction with, alliances and international organisations. (41)


The South African White Paper on Defence states that education and training programmes within the SANDF are cardinal means of building and maintaining a high level of professionalism. This assumption is based on the constitutional provision that all members of the SANDF "shall be properly trained in order to comply with international standards of competency". (42) Apart from being a political imperative, there are compelling, practical circumstances that necessitate the need for professional military education in the SANDF.

5.1 Responding to environmental challenges and opportunities

It is commonly accepted that professional military education has its roots in the 19th century Prussian military reforms. Having suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of Napoleon in 1806, Prussian military reformers such as Von Molkte and Scharnhorst spearheaded the campaign to transform the Prussian army from a temporary force, weakened by aristocratic incompetence, to a professional body that would become the model upon which most modern militaries would be built. Today, in the words of the former Commandant of the Military Academy in Saldanha, Brig Gen Solly Mollo, "(t)he appropriate education, training and development of professional military practitioners are arguably the best investment a state can make in order to protect itself against uncertainty associated with future conflict". (43)

Mollo states that the African continent is experiencing a period of unprecedented revival and restructuring. Haunted by the dual impact of underdevelopment and ongoing internal disputes, a new generation of African leaders has emerged to engender a commitment to finding African solutions to African problems. It should be clear that African defence forces (including South Africa) have an important role to play in supporting peace initiatives on the continent. To this end, it is contended that "(t)ertiary military education will be of paramount importance to facilitate greater regional cooperation, to engender sound civil-military relations and to serve as an important confidence building mechanism between different African defence forces". (44)

Mollo's contention should be viewed against the adoption of a Framework for a Common African Defence and Security Policy for the continent by the African Union (AU) in 2004. The AU also made significant progress in the development of a cohesive African peace and security system, when relevant functionaries agreed on the modalities of an African Standby Force to deal with security crises on the continent. This should be seen as a decisive step forward by the AU, bearing in mind the need for a holistic approach in response to security crises on the continent. The challenge now is to harness all regional, continental and international role-players and instruments into an integrated and coherent framework, both on a political and technical (military) level. In this context, Cottey and Forster point out that defence diplomacy as a means of building confidence and co-operation, thereby helping to prevent conflict, has increased considerably in the post-Cold War era--a process that is likely to remain an important part of multinational efforts to build co-operative relations and prevent conflict on a global or regional scale. (45)

Visser furthermore correctly argues that SANDF officers will be operating in a very complex socio-political milieu in the 21st century, both nationally and regionally. It is thus imperative that SANDF officers should know and understand the societies--foreign and domestic--in which they operate, their role in these societies and the possible repercussions of their actions. This operational milieu and related challenges "makes university education imperative for all its future officers". (46)

Against this background it should be noted that the Executive National Security Programme (ENSP), presented at the SA National Defence College in Thaba Tshwane (Gauteng) to prepare selected officers and officials for top-level appointments, specifically deals with the following four fields of study, namely National Security, South Africa and its Domestic Affairs, South Africa's 'Strategic Neighbourhood', and Global Trends. (47) In this context, during the official commencement of the 7th ENSP in January 2003, Vice Admiral Martyn Trainor remarked that senior officers must be able to understand, evaluate, communicate and even influence the judgement and opinions of politicians and countless other experts, specialists, authorities and representatives of government departments. They must also be able to participate in the planning, formulation and execution of policy at the national level. "Your participation will be required in a variety of arenas, extending from foreign policy, through the full spectrum of matters affecting national security". (48) Much of the underlying rationale of the ENSP boils down to the point that senior officers and officials must have an "all embracing knowledge of national, regional and international affairs, which will have an influence on national strategy and specifically on national security policy and strategy". (49) This said, it is self-evident that academic disciplines, such as Political Sciences and Strategic Studies, are most relevant in this context. In fact, it should be pointed out that much of the guest lecturing at the SA National Defence College is done by Political Scientists and scholars in the field of Politics and Security Studies.

In view of the above, the following questions arise: To what extent are Political Sciences and other related disciplines at the Academy geared to educate young officers as 'security functionaries'? Furthermore, to what extent are Political Sciences indeed well-placed and presented in the academic offerings of the Academy?

5.2 Political Sciences at the Military Academy

It needs to be noted that the following undergraduate courses in Political Sciences are currently presented at the Academy: (50)

--Introduction to Politics (1st year);

--Introduction to International Relations and Civil-Military Relations (1st year);

--South Africa and the International Community (2nd year);

--Introduction to African Politics (2nd year);

--African Political Thought (3rd year); and

--Africa and the International Political Economy (3rd year).

The intention of the Subject Group (Department) is to prepare officers who will command and lead the SANDF in the 21st century. It is believed that their educational background will assist them to meet the challenges that are shaping the international and (sub-) regional environment in which the SANDF--as a foreign policy instrument--functions and operates. The rationale of the above being that officers need to be accomplished and informed functionaries in the decision-making environment where South Africa's defence and security outlook and policies are at stake. Specifically, they need to be able to facilitate the shaping of South Africa's defence and security outlook, as well as to consider and pursue South Africa's national interests--specifically in a security-related context--in a responsible manner. The purpose of undergraduate education in Political Sciences should be clear, namely to prepare students for positions of responsibility and leadership at both operational and strategic decision-making levels in an ever-changing regional and international environment. (51)

To meet this objective, the introductory course in Politics covers the philosophical roots of modern democracy, modern constitutional arrangements, and the politics of making and implementing policy. Students are introduced to a wealth of ideas concerning political philosophy, different ideologies, policy-making processes, and different comparative political systems and institutions. The South African political context is also assessed and studied. Given the importance of 'defence in a democracy', the sub-discipline of civil-military-relations is furthermore duly attended to.

In addition, the international and continental (African) political systems, with their organisations, structures and dynamics, are also important focus areas. The courses in International Relations and African Politics relate to questions, such as: Why do states and other international role-players do what they do?; and, How do international and continental politics and relations reflect co-operation and conflict? Students consider these questions through various paradigms, such as classical realism (where power and interest are the main factors), or from an international political economy perspective (where the interdependence of politics and economics is considered to be at the centre of understanding and explaining international and continental dynamics). Students also consider the above-mentioned questions through the study of the dynamics and decision-making perspectives and processes of nation-states and (sub-)regional systems. In other words, students are taught to employ multiple 'lenses' that increase their ability to analyse and understand developments in the international community and on the continent. Through the use of theoretical perspectives and case studies, individual research and writing, and course exercises, students focus on and assess questions of power, wealth, underdevelopment, (in)security and (in)stability. (52)

It should furthermore be noted that a new course, South Africa and the International Community, was introduced in 2004. The first part of this module is focused on the international community in order to study international and regional phenomena, developments, trends, entities and organisations that have a direct or indirect impact and/or influence on South Africa's contemporary foreign policy and international relations. The second part of this module provides the background against which South Africa's foreign policy is formulated, implemented and practiced. In this context and framework South Africa's political-military involvement in conflict management and peacekeeping is specifically addressed and assessed. (53)

The teaching of Political Sciences at the Academy is complemented by the teaching of Military Strategy and to some extent, Military History. Military Strategy, for instance, which is presented at second and third year levels, entails the following courses: (54)

--The Study of Strategic Thoughts and Concepts (2nd year);

--Introduction to African Security (2nd year);

--Contemporary Thought on Low Intensity Conflict (3rd year); and

--Conventional Schools of Thought and Future Warfare (3rd year).

Similar to the West Point case, the above-mentioned courses in Political Sciences are intended to provide Academy students a firm understanding of the democratic values on which the South African constitutional dispensation is based and in defence of which the SANDF should serve. At both institutions the intention is to make officers understand and comprehend the domestic and international environment in which security policy and related decisions are made and implemented. The aim is to educate young officers to the point where they could deal with questions regarding present and foreseeable challenges or threats to South African interests, as well as on South African membership of and interaction with alliances and multinational organisations. In addition, by emphasising Political Sciences like their Australian counterpart, the Academy takes cognizance of the country's peacekeeping role and of the fact that SANDF officers need to have a sound understanding of the country's regional and strategic responsibilities. In common with the Australian approach, this role is based on the use of the SANDF as a significant foreign policy instrument in order to stabilise the African continent.

Yet, as already pointed out, Political Sciences form a core element of only one of the six academic programmes of the Academy, namely the BMil Programme Security and Africa Studies programme. Although a foreign policy-based module on South Africa and the International Community has been incorporated as a 'stand alone' module in the (hybrid) BMil Programme in War, Environment and Technology at second year level, the aforementioned actually implies that Political Sciences are presented to a fairly limited 'audience' at the Academy. To this extent, Political Sciences lag behind other subjects, such as Public Management and Development, Military Geography and its sister disciplines, Military Strategy and Military History--all of which are presented as elective majors in two of the Academy's six academic programmes. (55)


Generally speaking, as an area of scholarly inquiry, Political Sciences are of great interest to military academies as (military-academic) institutions of higher learning. In addition to a foundation of military skill and the ability to think creatively, as well as to reason critically, it is desirable and advisable for officers to acquire a comprehensive understanding of the political-military issues and trends that affect the security of their countries. Based on the aforementioned ADFA rationale for explaining the relevance of Political Sciences to prospective students, it could (likewise) be said of young South African officers that it would be extremely beneficial for them to understand, and be able to explain to their fellow officers and troops, the foreign policy objectives of South Africa and the political rationale for various operations.

Like their counterparts in militaries all over the world, the future duties of young South African officers could take them to foreign soil--whether attached to UN or other continental, multinational missions or in a combat role. To this end, they are likely to deal with the socio-political context and bureaucratic environment of the Department of Defence in general and the SANDF in particular. A sense of duty is not sufficient to prepare them for such challenges. The study of Political Sciences would without any doubt be instrumental in enabling young officers to develop the general knowledge and information they will need, but would also supply them with the relevant skills to function in their professional military careers. Whether it be the politics or political challenges of Southern Africa, the Great Lakes area, North Africa, the continent as a whole, or further afield, or even the South African community, the knowledge and understanding they could acquire through Political Sciences will certainly be relevant, useful and valuable in equipping them to meet their responsibilities in a globalised international community.

Against this above background it seems to be an anomaly that Political Sciences are presented to a fairly limited 'audience' at the Academy. Moreover, the lack of a 'social sciences based core curriculum' at the Academy has been criticised by Visser: (56)
   The new academic programmes instituted at the Academy in
   2001 perpetuated the shortcomings of the past. Most of these
   programmes still address the functional needs of the various
   services only. They do not meet the requirements of South
   Africa's current threat perception, neither in terms of preparedness
   to meet a direct military threat that might materialise
   unexpectedly, nor in terms of the secondary, essentially
   non-combatant functions of the SANDF associated with its role in
   regional peace and security. The SANDF's perceived role in the
   new millennium as guardian of South Africa's national integrity,
   protector of the new democracy and peace supporter of the
   African continent, demands an institutionalised knowledge of the
   dynamics of the socio-political milieu within which its officers
   operate, but also to keep pace with advances in weapons technology.

Irrespective of how the contemporary environment in which officers operate is regarded, one point is clear, namely that the demands placed on the leaders of South Africa's military have grown in scope and complexity. These demands extend well beyond the traditional roles and tasks of military forces. Today, SANDF members are engaged in a host of activities that range from conventional tasks to multinational peacekeeping under the auspices of the UN in conflict-stricken states, such as Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Sudan. In this regard, the teaching of Political Sciences can most certainly play an important and even significant role in providing a relevant and appropriate professional education to future SANDF leaders.

If the SA Military Academy, in common with its West Point counterpart, views its general educational goal as "to enable its graduates to anticipate and respond effectively to the uncertainties of a changing technological, social, political and economic world", (57) it would need to seriously reconsider the relevance, 'fibre' and underpinnings of its current academic offerings. In this regard, it would be worthwhile to reconsider the relevance of Political Sciences in terms of the need to prepare graduates as professional officers and accomplished role-players in a dynamic global and regional environment characterised by uncertainty and change.


(1.) Louw, A, "People, Society and the State", in Venter, A and A Johnston (eds), Politics: An Introduction for Southern African States, Oxford University Press, Cape Town, 1991, p 1.

(2.) Haywood, A, Politics, MacMillan Press, London, 1997, p 4.

(3.) Tansey, S D, Politics: The Basics, Routledge, London, 2000, p 7.

(4.) Stellenbosch University (SU), Department of Political Science, 2005, Political Science: Studying Political Science, (

(5.) Schoeman, M, Doing Politics in a Rough Neighbourhood: Challenges and Opportunities for the Political Science Community, Inaugural Address delivered at the University of Pretoria, 27 September 2001.

(6.) University of Pretoria (UP), Department of Political Sciences, 2005, Undergraduate Courses. (

(7.) McLean, I, Oxford Concise Dictionary of Politics, Oxford University Press, New York, 1996, pp 385 and 247.

(8.) Haycock, R, "'Getting Here from There': Trauma and Transformation in Canadian Military History", Scientia Militaria, Vol 32, No 2, 2004, p 359.

(9.) Kaufman, D J, "Military Undergraduate Security Education for the New Millennium", in Smith, J Met al (eds), Educating International Security Practitioners: Preparing to Face the Demands of the 21st Century International Security Environment, Strategic Studies Institute, Carlisle Barracks, 2001, pp 9-11.

(10.) Cafario, G, "Military Officer Education", in Cafario, G (ed), Handbook of the Sociology of the Military, Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, New York, 2003, pp 259-260 and 262.

(11.) Visser, D, "The South African Military Academy's Educational Offerings and the National Threat Perception", Scientia Militaria, Vol 32, No 2, 2004, p 72.

(12.) Military Academy, Military Academy History, 2005. (

(13.) Visser, D, op cit, p 78.

(14.) Ibid, pp 80-81.

(15.) Potgieter, P C, "Message by Flag Officer Commanding Military Academy, Annual 1999", Military Academy Annual 1999, Military Academy, Saldanha, 1999, p 2.

(16.) Stellenbosch University (SU), Faculty of Military Science, Calendar 2002, Part 13, 2002, pp 6-11.

(17.) Haywood, A, op cit, pp 361-367.

(18.) Van Creveld, M, The Training of Officers: From Military Professionalism to Irrelevance, Colliers Macmillan Publishers, London, 1990, pp 75-76.

(19.) Kaufman, D J, op cit, p 7.

(20.) Ibid, p 18.

(21.) Smit, H, "The Education of Future Military Leaders", in Smith, H (ed), Preparing Future Leaders: Officer Education and Training for the Twenty-first Century, Australian Defence Studies Centre, Canberra, 1998, pp 156-157.

(22.) Haywood, A, op cit, p 54.

(23.) Ibid.

(24.) Ibid, p 56.

(25.) Kaufman, D J, op cit, p 13.

(26.) Van Creveld, M, op cit, p 33.

(27.) Haywood, A, op cit, p 57.

(28.) Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA), A Short History of UNSW@ADFA, (; and Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA), What it Takes to Study at ADFA, Australian Defence Force Academy, Canberra, 2005.

(29.) ADFA, What it Takes to Study at ADFA, op cit.

(30.) Ibid.

(31.) ADFA, A Short History of UNSW@ADFA; and What it Takes to Study at ADFA, op cit.

(32.) ADFA, A Short History of UNSW@ADFA.

(33.) Ibid.

(34.) Ryan, A, "From Desert Storm to East Timor: Australia, The Asia-Pacific and 'New Age' Coalition Operations", (Australian) Land Warfare Studies Centre Study Paper, No 302, 2000, pp 4-5.

(35.) Kaufman, D J, op cit, p 11.

(36.) West Point, American Politics Program, 2005a. ( AP%20Program.htm.)

(37.) West Point, International Relations Program. 2005b. ( IR%20Program.htm.)

(38.) Kaufman, D J, op cit, p 13.

(39.) West Point, American Politics Program, op cit.

(40.) West Point, Comparative Politics Program, 2005c. ( CP%20Program.htm).

(41.) Kaufman, D J, op cit, p 14.

(42.) Republic of South Africa, Department of Defence, South African White Paper on Defence, as approved by Parliament, May 1996, p 10.

(43.) Mollo, S, "Tertiary Military Education--Current Trends and A Look into the Future with Specific Reference to South Africa", SANDF Bulletin for Educational Technology, January 2003, p 113.

(44.) Ibid, pp 117.

(45) Cottey, A and A Forster, "Reshaping Defence Diplomacy: New Roles for Military Cooperation and Assistance", Adelphi Paper, No 365, 2004, pp 14 and 26.

(46.) Visser, D, op cit, pp 88 and 95.

(47.) South African National Defence College (SANDC), Executive National Security Programme (ENSP), 2003. ( Trainingformation/sanationaldefencecollege/index.html.)

(48.) As quoted by Siyongwana, F and M Hartley, "Dealing with National Security", SA Soldier, April 2003, p 26.

(49.) South African National Defence College (SANDC), op cit.

(50.) Stellenbosch University (SU), Faculty of Military Science, Calendar 2005, Part 13, pp 38-39.

(51.) Subject Group Political Science, Introduction: Politics and the Military, 2005. (

(52.) Ibid.

(53.) Subject Group Political Science, Study Guide: Political Science 214, Sun Media, Stellenbosch, 2005.

(54.) Stellenbosch University (SU), 2005, op cit, pp 34-35.

(55.) Stellenbosch University (SU), 2002, op cit, pp 6-11.

(56.) Visser, D, op cit, pp 94-95.

(57.) Kaufman, D J, op cit, p 9.

Prof Theo Neethling

Subject Group Political Science (MI)

Faculty of Military Science

Stellenbosch University

* Following the example of the mother campus at Stellenbosch, Political Sciences has always been presented as 'Political Science' at the Military Academy. In this article the term 'Political Sciences' is preferred to 'Political Science'.

* Now part of the recently established University of Johannesburg.

* It was decided that a new BMil Programme in Technology and Defence Management should (gradually) replace the BMil Programme in Technology and Management and the BMil Programme in War, Environment and Technology with effect from 2005.

** The Faculty of Military Science in the Military Academy consists of five Schools, as organisational-administrative units.

* The two being the BMil Programme in Security and Africa Studies and the BMil Programme in War, Environment and Technology.

* Brig Gen Daniel J Kaufman is a Professor and former Head of West Point's Department of Social Sciences. He is the current Dean of the US Military Academy at West Point.
Table 1: Core Educational Requirements

Armed forces     The nature and character of the armed forces
                 and their business. These range from an
                 understanding of war in general to the behaviour
                 of individuals:

                 --Nature of war and strategy: history/politics.

                 --Military history: history.

                 --Leadership and behavioural studies:
                   sociology/ psychology.

                 --Standards of individual behaviour: ethics/

Physical         The physical elements of war, including force
elements         itself. These range from the physics of weaponry
engineering.     to the physical environment:
of war
                 --Weapons and weapons systems: science/

                 --Management and material: management/

                 --Management of information: information

                 --Physical environment: geography/

Purpose of the   The purpose for which armed forces are
armed forces     employed range from an understanding of society
                 and its political system, which set the goals the
                 armed forces are to achieve, and extend to the
                 global context in which policy is formulated and

                 --Society and politics: economics/sociology/

                 --Defence and foreign policy: politics/history/

                 --Region: politics/history/economics.

                 --Global political-economic system: politics/


Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Science

Arts Electives         Science Electives

Asia-Pacific Studies   Chemistry
Economics              Computer Science
English                Geography
Geography              Information Systems
History                Mathematics
Indonesian             Oceanography
Information Systems    Operations Research and Statistics
Management             Physics



Army Officers


Bachelor of Science Degree


9 to 13 Electives for Major/Field of Study


4 Military Science
4 Physical Education


1 Philosophy
2 Foreign Language
3 Social Science
2 Leadership
3 English
4 History
1 Law
5 Engineering Science/Design
1 Computer Science
1 Terrain Analysis
2 Chemistry
2 Physics
4 Mathematics
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Author:Neethling, Theo
Publication:Strategic Review for Southern Africa
Geographic Code:6SOUT
Date:May 1, 2006
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