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DoD Helps Promote Global Military Reform

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 22, 2000, Feb. 22, 2000 – When it comes to downsizing, the U.S. Defense Department has got it down. Base closures? Been there, done that. Modernizing? Yup -- doing that, too.

DoD has gone through a lot since the Cold War ended and new challenges replaced old enemies. The Pentagon has reformed and modernized its armed forces to meet the changing security threats of the new century. The department is now sharing its experience and expertise in this area with other nations that need to do the same.

Defense Secretary William S. Cohen traveled to Morocco and the Republic of South Africa, Feb. 10 to 17, to express America's willingness to share its knowledge in this arena. Bad weather canceled a scheduled stop in Nigeria, Africa's newest democracy.

The United States would like to see economic development and prosperity in Africa rather than continuing conflict, according to senior U.S. officials. To further this end, President Clinton visited the continent in 1998. His visit served as a foundation for initiatives to shape a more stable, prosperous and democratic environment. Since then, U.S. officials have engaged in an evolving partnership with African nations.

Cohen, who first visited Africa in 1998, said the United States wants to build a level of trust and mutual respect with African nations. The United States is not trying to dominate, take over or cause offense through its education and training programs, he stressed.

Since regional peace and stability will promote economic development and prosperity, developing strong military relations will help this effort, Cohen said. Joint exercises, seminars and training programs such as the African Crisis Response Initiative, as well as military personnel exchanges, can be beneficial to building strong relationships, he said.

DoD currently assists South Africa in several ways. This years U.S. defense budget, for instance, allocated $800,000 in International Military Education and Training program funds. The program provides instruction and schooling for military and civilian leaders in equal opportunity, civil-military relations, resource management and military justice. In 1999, U.S. mobile education teams taught members of the South African military classes on acquisition, health resource management and military justice.

This trip, Cohen visited Marrakech, where he met with Moroccos King Mohammed VI. The secretary heralded a new security dialogue to discuss ways to improve joint training, conduct multinational exercises and work together to promote reform and modernization.

"King Mohammed is committed to improving the welfare of all Moroccans, strengthening government institutions and expanding human rights," Cohen said. "He also wants Morocco to remain a leading force for peace and stability. To this end, we agreed to open an expanded security and defense dialogue between our countries that will enable us to explore ways to expand our cooperation."

During the Cold War, the United States contributed significant military aid to Morocco -- about $40 million per year, a senior U.S. defense official said. This aid diminished, however, following the breakup of the Soviet Union. Morocco currently receives about $4 million in U.S. military aid. "What we are trying now is to expand the nature of the relationship beyond what it's been," Cohen said.

In South Africa, Cohen met first in Cape Town with President Thabo Mbeki and members of the Parliament's Defense Committee. He then traveled to Pretoria to meet with Defense Minister Patrick Lekota. The South African leaders are currently downsizing South Africa's military forces.

In 1994, when Nelson Mandela was elected president, South African forces totaled about 110,000, a defense ministry spokesman said. That number has now dropped to about 83,000, and plans call for continued reductions to about 70,000 within a year or two.

Parliament members expressed interest in how the United States downsized its armed forces and prepared military people to return to the private sector. "They were very eager to have any advice and assistance they can get in that effort," Cohen said.

The secretary explained to the South Africans that the U.S. military demands high educational levels of its service members and vigorously trains them while they're on duty. U.S. troops are then able to leave the military and go directly into the private sector, where they are in high demand, he said.

Committee members also asked about civilian control of the military. The United States recently conducted a seminar in Monterey, Calif., for senior South African officials on this subject. A second program, the South Africa Civil Military Relations Seminar, is set for Cape Town Feb. 24 to 27. It will focus on cooperation between Parliament and the defense ministry in making policy and budgetary decisions.

Cohen pointed out the critical importance of understanding and controlling the defense budget. Civilian leaders have to "analyze what is required, what is desirable and what is affordable," he said. "All of those trade-off issues have to be examined by a committee, and to effectively carry out their responsibilities, they have to make a very detailed examination of the budgetary process," he said.

Closing bases is difficult, Cohen admitted, since military facilities provide communities with income and employment. "I expressed my own experience in dealing with this, both as a legislator and now as a defense minister who is calling for more base closures, and to give them the benefit of how we do this," he said.

In Pretoria, Cohen met his counterpart, Lekota. At a joint press conference following the meeting, Lekota hailed Cohen's visit as another building block, strengthening friendship and cooperation between the two countries and the two militaries.

"South Africa, long isolated in the world by the former government's apartheid policy," Lekota said, "is slowly building up its relationships which share with us the ideas of freedom and democracy. We are eager to work with such countries so that we may learn from each others' experiences."

Cohen and Lekota said they discussed South Africa's goal of transforming its military into a smaller, more modern force. "The United States has been in the process of a similar transformation for some time," Cohen told reporters. "A U.S. team will be in South Africa next week to discuss some of the lessons that we learned and ways that we might be able to help South Africa make this very difficult transition."

Much of the hour-long meeting centered on peacekeeping training and future joint combined exchange training exercises, Lekota said. "The new regional and continental situation requires that we beef up our peace enforcement, peacekeeping and peacemaking capabilities," he said. "We are therefore happy to acknowledge U.S. interest and support in these training exercises. So in about a month's time, we shall proceed with further training in South Africa."

To further exemplify the U.S.-South African military cooperation, Cohen announced the United States would provide U.S. water purification equipment and teams to provide safe drinking water to eastern South Africa recently hit by disastrous floods. He also offered to send a team of experts to help South African defense forces address the problem of AIDS. The team is going to focus on health education and training, he said.

Both militaries benefit from this kind of joint cooperation, Cohen noted. South Africa, for example, is a world leader in detecting and clearing land mines. "Our soldiers have learned from South African soldiers," he said. "We have purchased state-of-the-art demining equipment from South Africa." The U.S. Army, Cohen noted, is also considering a South African polyurethane road wheel that could save money and improve the performance of U.S. Bradley fighting vehicles.

South Africa and the United States share common values and compatible goals, Cohen said. "We both promote equal opportunity and stress human rights," he said. "Our countries believe that international cooperation is the key to bringing peace and stability to Africa. Our shared goals and complimentary capabilities make South Africa and the United States natural partners for peace in Africa."

He lauded South Africa for initiating a quest for peace in Burundi and playing a crucial role in promoting peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Lekota called on the international community to vigorously pursue a settlement of the Congo conflict. Cohen and his South African counterpart also agreed that efforts should be made to contain the escalation of hostilities in neighboring Angola.

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageRepublic of South Africa's Defense Minister Patrick Lekota (right) listens as U.S. Defense Secretary William S. Cohen fields a reporter's questions during a joint press conference in Pretoria, South Africa. The two defense leaders met Feb. 15 during Cohen's recent trip to the sub-Saharan region to promote military ties. Photo by Linda D. Kozaryn.  
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