Conceptualising Regional Power in International Relations: Lessons from the South African Case
Regional powers can be distinguished by four pivotal criteria: claim to leadership, power resources, employment of foreign policy instruments, and acceptance of leadership. Applying these indicators to the South African case, the analysis demonstrates the crucial significance of institutional foreign policy instruments. But although the South African government is ready to pay the costs of co-operative hegemony (such as capacity building for regional institutions and peacekeeping), the regional acceptance of South Africa’s leadership is constrained by its historical legacy. Additionally, Pretoria’s foreign policy is based on ideational resources such as its reputation as an advocate of democracy and human rights and the legitimacy derived from its paradigmatic behaviour as a ‘good global citizen’. However, the Mbeki presidency is more successful in converting these resources into discursive instruments of interest-assertion in global, rather than in regional bargains. In effect the regional power’s reformist South-oriented multilateralism is challenging some of the guiding principles of the current international system.
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