LONDON — The debate about sanctions against South Africa is only the shadow-boxing for a more profound debate not far down the road: Will the West support the guerrillas of the African National Congress if the white government continues to refuse to compromise?
Surely, if the Western world is on a crusade to restore democracy, as President Reagan suggests it should be, military support of the ANC should be up for consideration.
In the 1950s and '60s the United States used to debate which wars of national liberation it should oppose. Now, however, it debates which ones to support. In the last two years it has decided to send assistance in one form or other to insurgencies in Nicaragua, Afghanistan, Cambodia and Angola.
But what are the rules? Intervention is a dangerous game. After all, three-quarters of the governments of the world are non-democratic. If the West were to decide that it must right every wrong, the world would be a highly unstable place. Yet if there is a good and righteous cause anywhere, the African National Congress is it.
In the current issue of the quarterly Foreign Policy, Rep. Stephen J. Solarz (D-N.Y.) attempts to come up with a rulebook for when it is correct for the United States to give arms to insurgent movements. The guerrillas in Afghanistan and Cambodia receive his endorsement; those in Angola and Nicaragua do not. This difference is because he believes that Afghanistan and Cambodia are illegally occupied and that the regimes are essentially puppets--in the one case for the Soviet Union and in the other for the Vietnamese. In contrast, the governments of Angola and Nicaragua are unquestionably sovereign. Although they have communist support--Angola has 30,000 Cuban troops, and Nicaragua has communist-supplied weaponry--the two governments are independent enough to still call the essential shots, and both seek negotiated settlements that would lead to a reduction in this communist support.
South Africa's government is totally different, Solarz argues. It is not a Marxist government in power, and the insurgents draw on communist support. But the chairman of the House subcommittee on Africa is an agile enough political thinker to avoid getting hooked on that as a reason for not supporting the African National Congress, although for many people that is the determining factor. He observes, correctly, that the ANC looks to Moscow because the West will not provide it with military assistance.
Solarz holds back for another reason: He still believes that it is possible to promote majority rule peacefully. It "would be premature" to rule out peaceful change and the exercise of nonviolent pressure, including multilateral sanctions where possible, he says.
Surely this misses the point. We cannot allow decisions about our military intervention to rest on highly arguable judgments of politicians as to whether peaceful change is possible or not. There would be no end to it, and the world would become anarchic.
There must be a tighter line of reasoning than this, and one that compels a wide measure of international support. The danger with a loose, "pragmatic" judgment is that either superpower and a host of regional powers can bend the facts to suit their moods, needs and judgments of the moment. On Afghanistan, Cambodia, Angola and Nicaragua, Solarz is on course. With South Africa, he is way off.
The only argument that can withstand the rigors of international realpolitik is the principle of non-intervention unless there is an invitation by a sovereign government, or unless the sovereign government has been deposed by outside intervention. Otherwise, nations must work out their problems on their own.
At this stage it would be ridiculous to tell the African National Congress that military aid is not forthcoming because majority rule might still come peacefully. To explain that the West must show some consistency in its dealings with dictatorship and insurgency may not comfort the ANC, but at least it is honest, and in the long run it will produce a better world.