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Press Conference with Secretary Cohen and Ambassador Twaddell in Nigeria

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
April 03, 2000 5:15 PM EDT

Saturday, April 1, 2000, - 5:15 p.m. EST

(Also participating in this press conference at NICON Hilton Hotel, Abuja, Nigeria was American Ambassador to Nigeria William H. Twaddell)

Secretary Cohen: Ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to be here today. I first want to commend you for the courtesy you've extended to me by rising when I came in - it is a great role model for the American press that is traveling with me. And I am going to insist that they stand every time I rise whenever I come into a press conference from now on and say remember what it was like in Nigeria.

It is my pleasure to be here. This is a trip that has been long delayed. On the last occasion I was scheduled to come, we were unable to land by virtue of the weather conditions, and so at the invitation of your President and Defense Minister, they invited me to return as soon as I could, and this is the meeting.

I have had good meetings with both the Defense Minister and the President, also the National Security Advisor. This is my first visit to Nigeria, but my third meeting with your President. Actually we had on two occasions met in my office in Washington and have talked on several occasions on the phone.

Today, as before, we talked about Nigeria's great promise as a democracy, as an economic power and as a force for peace in the region. One key to realizing this promise is a military that is professional, subject to the rule of law, and operates under international norms of behavior.

Nigeria and the United States have launched a joint program to reprofessionalize the Nigerian military, and today I told your President that the United States is devoting ten million dollars this year to finance specific programs in the military's reform and rebuilding effort.

Of that total, some four million dollars is going to be applied to a program to rehabilitate the C-130s. These planes are important for transportation within Nigeria and for peace keeping operations outside of Nigeria.

Another three and a half million dollars will help to finance the Ministry of Defense's action plan to provide the kind of structures and institutions that are necessary to build a democratically oriented military that is responsive to the nation's needs and civil authority. Your president has told me that the government of Nigeria will also put out three and a half million dollars to meet the costs of this transformation.

Finally the package includes another two and a half million dollars for training equipment to help prepare Nigerian soldiers for peacekeeping missions.

In addition to this ten million dollar package, we are also providing six hundred thousand dollars this year to bring Nigerian officers to United States military schools for courses in command and general staff topics, law, medical management, civil-military relations and other types of disciplines, and this training is going to take place under the so called IMET program, the International Military and Education Training program.

These are going to help restore the professional stature that the Nigerian military has enjoyed in the past and must earn again, but I should point out this process is not going to be quick or easy. Nigeria's commitment to democracy and to the return of civilian government gives our countries new opportunities to work together toward the mutual goals of peace, stability and prosperity, and we both have to make the most of this opportunity.

So again I thank you for the invitation to be here and am prepared to answer your questions.

Q: Mr. Secretary, this security assistance program, does it presume military assistance for Nigeria for the first time in sixteen years?

Secretary Cohen: Well we have a foreign FMF program, and this ten million dollars is coming under that financing mechanism. I don't think it's the first time that we have this arrangement, but the size of it certainly has been significantly increased.

In the IMET Program, we have increased -- we've had the IMET program before, and we are increasing it. It represents the $600,000 program for military education and training, and that represents a $175,000 increase over the previous year. So there has been a significant increase in the military and education training program.

Q: Also do you see Nigeria as a partner in future peacekeeping in Africa, and did you discuss the possibility of Nigeria taking part in the African Crisis Response Initiative?

Secretary Cohen: We did have the discussion today about Nigeria participating in what we call the African Crisis Response Initiative. That basically is a program that tries to help prepare forces for peacekeeping missions and to engage in the kind of training and preparation so that they can be interoperable. We have some seven countries that now participate in this program, and we hope that Nigeria will also partake in that program, and the President indicated that certainly his mind is open to that to see whether or not we can't find ways in which we can work together to help Nigeria, which has a very solid foundation of peacekeeping, but to help to integrate that with others in Africa. The ACRI is really designed to help train and prepare African nations to engage in peacekeeping missions in Africa.

Q: (Inaudible)

Secretary Cohen: Well we are going to explore ways in which we can be helpful to the Navy, but right now the focus has been upon the Air Force because of the condition that some of the equipment is in. And that is why the ten million dollars for that is factored toward the Air Force, but we are trying to find ways that we can cooperate with the Navy as well.

Q: Do you see (inaudible) how long will this process take, and is the United States in it for the long haul? Do you foresee any U.S. service members coming here and helping with the training?

Secretary Cohen: We are in this for the long haul. We want to have a long and enduring relationship with Nigeria because we recognize that Nigeria is going to be a very important country in terms of its role throughout Africa. As I pointed out earlier today, the United States has looked to four emerging democracies that we are trying to focus our attention upon. One is Indonesia, the second is Colombia, third is Ukraine, four is Nigeria. Not necessarily in that order, but those are the four. And so we want to help build the strength and bonds of democracy in Nigeria because of the role that you can play, and will play, in Africa's future. You have a large population; you have great natural resources, you have the capacity to be a very stable anchor for stability throughout Africa itself, and you and South Africa will play a very important role in the future. So yes we are in it for the long haul, but our relationship now is one of education and training and not in the way of U.S. forces coming here to train at this point, but rather to have educational seminars and other types of activities on the educational side. What might unfold in the future is quite distant in the future. But we don't envision that at this point.

Q: With the steps taken by the U.S. and Nigeria now, do you see the possibility of the U.S. signing a defense pact with Nigeria in the near future?

Ambassador Twaddell: If I may, in one word, no. There has been no discussion. No, this has not been raised by either of the parties. It is not something that figures in this array of programs the Secretary has just been discussing.

Q: My question borders on a military that has been trained for over 100 years, now trained in the British tradition, now moving over to the American tradition. Do you envision some problems because what we are talking about now is a retraining of a people who have had a certain kind of education? Did you think about the problem of retraining, the problem of having to learn a new line of military and education and have you taken care of that?

Secretary Cohen: First, let me point out that we work very closely with our British friends. If you will look across the globe, you will find that the United Kingdom and the U.S. are very solid strategic partners who are engaged in a number of missions not only in Kosovo, Bosnia but also in Iraq. And so we train together; we plan together; we have great interoperability with our forces, and so I would not foresee any great problems that emerge from moving from the past British system to the current American form of training and doctrine. We have again, because of our relationship with NATO, with the United States and the United Kingdom cooperating within the NATO alliance -- being two leaders in that Alliance -- that we share information, we share techniques, we share technologies, so I do not envision any major problems that would arise as a result of this.

Q: Did the President ask you or was there any discussion about additional arms or weapon sales to Nigeria? And my second question is, was oil discussed?

Secretary Cohen: The answer is no to both accounts. We did not discuss any weapon sales. We confined our discussions to the matters that I mentioned, namely the ten million-dollar package that the United States is prepared to offer. We also discussed the ACRI, the African Crisis Response Initiative, and also the ACSS, African Center for Strategic Studies. And that is a seminar-type program that Nigeria has participated in mostly recently with another seminar coming up in Botswana in June that the President indicated he would also send representatives as well. So we really concentrated on the issues of military reform and budgetary matters. We did not discuss oil.

Q: Have you discussed how long you expect the process to take for the reprofessionalizing of the military and the education and training programs to go on before you are satisfied that Nigeria has reached a stage where it can move on to the next level?

Secretary Cohen: Well there has been a professional analysis done by an outfit called MPRI, and they have looked at phase one, and we are now looking at phase two. And this phase two is what the money that we are appropriating, and what we anticipate Nigeria will appropriate three and a half million dollars, is for. And when that is completed, we will move on to phase three, and I can't give you a definitive timeline on how long that will take, but it should not take a long period of time. What we want to see is a commitment to this reprofessionalization and that is going to take a few years, but it will not be an extended period of time. We think that Nigeria is moving out. They are looking forward to moving to reforming their system, to professionalizing it and to making sure that we have the institutions in place to take civilian control of the military with openness and transparency, the budgetary process so that elected officials can make a determination, an informed judgment in terms of what the military needs and whether its requirements are being met, whether those requirements are being overstated or understated and requires elected officials to become real students of military matters. And I believe, based upon the individuals that I met during this late lunch, that they are dedicated to that.

Q: How (inaudible) overcome the problem of a coup d'etat?

Secretary Cohen: I think a coup d'etat in the United States is the stuff of novels, and having written a couple myself, I can indulge in fantasy from time to time. But what we have in the United States is strict civilian over the military and that means that we have a Ministry of Defense, a Department of Defense in our country. We have oversight by our Congressional committees in both the House and the Senate. And ultimately we have the trust of the American people. Our men and women who wear the uniform understand that they serve the people of the United States, not the people of the United States serving them. And so they are engrained with that ethic and that ideal and the very notion that there could be or would be a military takeover is simply inconceivable in the United States because of our history and tradition and our ideals, which we constantly remind everybody that this is a military that serves the people not the other way around.

Q: I meant in Nigeria.

Secretary Cohen: Well that is precisely what the IMET program involves. One of the things that we stress in terms of this International Military Education Training program is that when you send your new up-and-coming officers and your civilian leadership, and they go to seminars, that is where they have discussions about the role of the military in a democratic society. And this is what we try to teach and to build into our curriculum. It is also up to the people of a given country to insist upon this, that the military always be subject to the civilian leadership, the elected civilian leadership in a democracy. But it may take time to do that, and some countries don't have that history or that culture. But it is something that we think through greater interaction with the United States and others that we can help promote that particular ideal and so the more contact we have, the more interaction we have, that's the way in which you build these bonds.

In any country (inaudible) I think the IMET program is one of the most important that we have for that very reason. So that when there is difficulty, for example in East Timor or in Indonesia, that because many of the military have had contact with our military and have been to seminars, have been to training centers and understand the role of the military in a democratic society, we are able to pick up the phone and talk to them and to remind them that the military must exercise restraint. Yes there is turmoil here, but you must deal with it in a respectful and prudent way. And so I think by virtue of more contact the better off everybody is going to be, and when you have little contact, then you don't have these bonds that you build that you remind people of what the role of the military is in a democratic society. So it takes more contact, more education, more training but basically more interaction.

Q: This package you just unfolded has to do with the reform of the military, professionalizing the military. Is it that the U.S., from U.S. prospective, Nigerian military men are not professionalized, or is it that you just want to reorient the Nigerian military to be submissive to the democratic dispensation? Which of it? You know, because there is a different thing that they are not professional soldiers, or just there for coup, and now want to reorient them to be submissive as you have.

Secretary Cohen: Well, we say to reprofessionalize because historically you have had a professional military. During a sixteen-year period, that depreciated somewhat, and now that you have new leadership, an elected President who wants to pursue democratic reforms, you have a military that is now in need of new equipment, new training, and so we are seeking to reprofessionalize to restore the Nigerian military to the levels it once enjoyed. And to do so with entering this new century with new leadership and with a demand for democracy. So we think it is important that we provide whatever assistance we can. It is up to Nigeria. Nigeria could say we are not interested, but that is not what your President has said. He has said we are very interested, and so I think it is just a question of trying to reform the structures. We have gone though reform in the United States. We have been reforming our military. We have what we call a revolution in military affairs. We are restructuring the way in which we think and act and carry out programs, and we are having a revolution in business affairs, how we do business in the Department of Defense. So we are always in the process of becoming and that is true of any country. There is no stable or static plateau of excellence. You always have to constantly modify and improve yourself and that is true of the United States. That is what we are doing, and we hope to be able to assist Nigeria to do the same.

Q: I would like to find out, do you expect a repeat of the location for the reform program and what part will the United States contemplate?

Secretary Cohen: I'm not sure I understood the question. Just repeat...

Q: What I asked, are we expecting a repeat (inaudible) of the location of the reform and what part (inaudible). What I mean, the reform budget of ten million dollars.

Secretary Cohen: Ten million dollars total. Out of that ten million dollars, three and a half million dollars is going toward the MPRI study program, phase two of it. Nigeria will also put three point five [million dollars], so it is a total of seven million dollars that will be for the program. And then the balance goes for the C-130s, that is four million dollars that goes for the C-130s, and then two point five [million dollars] for education, training, equipment and programs. So Nigeria will have to come, and has pledged to come up with three and a half million dollars to complete the total package for the MPRI study. So we have ten million dollars, and you will have to contribute some three and a half million dollars.

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