Despite diplomatic gains, South Africa plans military buildup

Despite the success of regional peace initiatives, South African military thinking remains as rigid as the brick walls that ensconce the top brass at their Pretoria headquarters.

In a white paper, the South African Defense Force (SADF), which wields increasing power in the government, has called for a general military expansion - arms, manpower, and money - over the next decade.

The Defense Force gives a nod of approval to diplomatic efforts that have in recent months forged a border ceasefire with Angola, a nonaggression pact with Mozambique, and the general neutralization of the other black-ruled states that border on South Africa.

However, the SADF makes clear in the white paper that it laid the groundwork for the diplomatic achievements with what it calls ''forceful military action'' over the past decade. This is an apparent reference to the SADF's repeated strikes against neighboring states that harbor insurgents, primarily the African National Congress (ANC) or the South-West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO). The ANC is fighting for power in South Africa, SWAPO for power in Namibia, which is controlled by Pretoria.

South Africa's cross-border military activity and the economic havoc it has caused are widely regarded by analysts as the club that drove neighboring states into peace agreements with Pretoria.

The SADF acknowledges that its military position in relation to its neighbors is ''favorable'' and says this will make it possible to ''conduct future negotiations in a calm and relaxed atmosphere.''

At the same time, though, South Africa's military planners see a generally escalating threat against the country that is couched in stark East-West terms. ''The escalation of the threat goes hand in hand with the ever-increasing interests of the USSR and its surrogates in southern Africa,'' the white paper says.

Although many analysts scoff at the notion that South Africa is threatened in any military sense - particularly when many suspect it has nuclear capability - the white paper says the insurgency movements, coupled with the Soviet Union's alleged growing interest in the region, ''could lead to a conventional onslaught'' against the country. In a preface to the white paper, South African Minister of Defense Magnus Malan says the dominant feature of southern Africa over the past two years has been a ''large-scale arms buildup.'' Aircraft, missiles, armor, and artillery, mainly of Soviet origin, have been pouring into the region, he claims, although he declined to specify the recipients.

The SADF says that, during the next decade, South Africa will have to ''concentrate on the development, production, and commissioning of a new generation of main armaments in order to meet the threat of the Soviet arms stockpile.'' This ''renewal program,'' as the SADF calls it, will entail increased demands on ''manpower, finances, and sophistication. . . .''

The SADF already appears to be on the move. In this year's budget, it was granted a 21 percent increase in funding amid this country's worst recession since World War II. Indeed, the white paper claims the military needs more money , since in real terms defense spending is 2 percent less than it was six years ago, thanks to inflation. (The present budgetary increase will help correct that since it is about double the present rate of inflation.)

Although the subject of a mandatory United Nations arms embargo since 1977, South Africa has gone a long way toward military self-sufficiency, launching a major export drive in 1982. In the same year, it increased conscription requirements, expanding by 50 percent the pool of manpower it is entitled to call on for service.

The white paper gave details on some other areas of expansion. It said a ''main fighter base'' for the Air Force was under construction at Trichardt near the Zimbabwe border. And a ''forward airfield'' program in South Africa's Transvaal and Natal provinces had been completed.

The Air Force is also expanding its system of building roads that can double as landing strips. Two road/runways are already completed and two more are planned.

The SADF also announced further efforts to establish a local ship-building industry for naval vessels. Strike craft armed with missiles are already being built locally.

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