The cementing of ties between South Africa and the Mercosur countries occurred at the time when the Cold War had just ended. Characteristic of the post-Cold War environment is the ascendance of socio-economic issues and the receding importance of military issues. Thus, South Africa’s security relations with Mercosur are rooted in the socio-economic sphere with limited military interaction which is designed to facilitate trade links and deal with potential trans-oceanic criminal activities such as drug-trafficking, arms-smuggling, poaching and sea piracy.
This is in stark contrast with the pre-1994 relations between South Africa and the South American states. Given the fact that South Africa was regarded by the international community as a pariah state owing to her unacceptable political system, it was only prudent for South Africa to look for like-minded allies across the South Atlantic Ocean. From the mid-sixties to the early eighties, most South American states were under military rule, thus providing an ideal opportunity for possible allies for South Africa. At that stage, South Africa’s motive for cementing ties with South American states, especially those that eventually formed Mercosur, was not based on a genuine need for mutual protection and complementarity of defence capabilities, but a quest for some semblance of acceptability by the international community.
Despite the decreasing importance of military matters in international relations, South Africa still maintains a significant exchange programme with the Mercosur military establishments. While most of the exchanges are for diplomatic purposes, military establishments on both sides of the South Atlantic Ocean conduct regular military exercises on both shores, in co-operation with extra-regional powers such as the US and the UK. These exercises serve the purpose of ensuring interoperability of military equipment (such as operational communication systems) and harmonising national policies and procedures, especially for search-and-rescue operations, but also for ensuring the smooth operation of maritime traffic on the South Atlantic Ocean. Furthermore, there is always a perennial fear that, despite the demise of the Cold War, the South Atlantic region may become a theatre of war in future. This is particularly based on the analysis of possible resource-endowment in Antarctica, which will fuel competition and intensify territorial claims. South Africa and some of the Mercosur countries also have significant interests in Antarctica.