South Africa’s history bears the imprint of powerful external forces. The country’s people are a product of continental migratory drift, cross-oceanic slavery, and colonial aggression. The modern South African state was created by means of violence, at the turn of the twentieth century, by the world’s greatest empire. Her history was profoundly influenced by mass industrialised warfare and by the Cold War between East and West. Today the country is enmeshed in the dynamics of a new period of economic globalisation. The ‘realist’ tradition in the study of international relations characterises states as competitive and conflicting actors pursuing their own national interests. Such an approach lies in stark contrast to more idealist approaches that emphasise the importance of morality and co-operation in international affairs. This chapter views South Africa’s post-apartheid foreign policy through these two lenses, as a regional power obliged to balance its initial instincts as a human rights crusader with the demands imposed by the need to pursue the country’s immediate political and economic interests. In the apartheid era, Pretoria was the most powerful actor in its region.
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