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Updated: 14 Jan 2003

Background Briefing


Tuesday, February 8, 2000 - 3:30 p.m. (EST)
Subject: SecDef Trip to Africa
Presenter: Attributable to Senior Defense Officials

MR. BACON: Welcome. This is a background briefing attributable to senior Defense officials. Just for the purposes of identification, here they are. This is about the trip that Secretary Cohen is about to take to Morocco, Nigeria, and South Africa. And the briefer -- the briefing will be in two parts; first -- three parts: a general introduction, and then some discussion of Morocco, and then some discussion of Nigeria and South Africa.

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Just real quickly, the trip is Thursday to Thursday. Thursday will be a travel day, ending in Morocco. Working day in Morocco on Friday. Saturday is a long flight to South Africa, Cape Town. Sunday will be partial working, partial recovery in South Africa. Monday will be a mixed day in Cape Town as well. Tuesday will be a working day in Pretoria, as will early Wednesday. Wednesday then will be consumed with traveling to Nigeria, remaining in Abuja overnight, and a working day in Abuja on Thursday, and a quick comeback, to be back about -- currently scheduled -- 10:00 Thursday night.

That's the skeleton.

My partner will talk about Morocco.

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: In Morocco we will basically have a meeting with the new king, Mohammed VI, and visit some military facilities. Our key objective in going to Morocco is really to have an opportunity to talk to the new king about important regional issues, areas of common concern, and to essentially get a very good working relationship started with the new king, and build on the 200 years of solid friendship we have with the Moroccans. This is a very good opportunity to do that.

And the secretary and the king will have an opportunity to talk about the regional security and challenges in the region, to include the situation in Algeria, the situation in Libya, the general security of the Mediterranean Basin in general, the situation in Africa, since he will be going on there to South Africa and Nigeria. And then also to talk about issues related to broader -- the Middle East, the peace process. Morocco has been a very long-standing supporter for the Middle East peace process. Also, issues related to Iraq and the importance of Morocco's continued support on Iraq.

So this is an important part of an effort that we started, I would say over the last year, to look at how we can expand our defense relationship with Morocco. I don't have to tell all of you how the world has changed. There are new challenges, there are new ways in which we work together with our security partners in peacekeeping, in peace enforcement, in multinational activities, and we need to bring Morocco more actively into those activities.

We started the process, under the old king, to talk about what that actually means. The secretary was there last in 1998. General Clark was there. We recently had the Joint Military Commission, where we get members of the military establishments together to talk about proposals and ideas. And at this juncture, we want to be able to have the new king and the secretary talk about those, those areas and those avenues where we can enhance and develop and expand our cooperation, bring it what I would call more into the 20th [sic] century.

We have had a long-standing relationship with the Moroccans. It's been very much based on the traditional bilateral exercises and security assistance. That has shifted and we have a lot of areas where we actually can begin to look at different ways of working together. Morocco has been involved in KFOR [Kosovo Force] and SFOR [Stabilization Force in Bosnia], and also in other peacekeeping activities, so that's an area where we would like to look at more concerted areas of working.

And if the Moroccans have other areas that they would like to explore with us, this is a very good opportunity to do that. We have a lot of common interests in the region, and this will be an opportunity to, again, share those kinds of views.

So with that, I think I'll go ahead and take any questions.

Q: The king serves as defense minister, is that --

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes, yes. And commander in chief of their armed forces, too.

Q: Could you describe in a little more detail the current military relations between the two countries, and then describe in a little bit more detail where you hope that they will go, besides what you just said -- expand on it a little bit?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Well, we had a very robust security assistance relationship with them up until 1993. It was on the order of, I think, about $40 million in FMF [foreign military financing] that we were giving them. When we looked hard at redoing that whole FMF distribution, Morocco basically cut from receiving any foreign military financing. We restored that in '94, and we are -- right now we are looking at approximately $4 million in FMF, which has allowed the Moroccans to continue to sustain some of their current equipment.

So that's been a traditional aspect of the relationship. The other one has been a series of bilateral exercises. I won't get into the details of those, but we have a fairly robust program. EUCOM works with the Moroccan military in doing those exercises. So that's -- over the last couple of years, that's really been the focus of our activities with the Moroccans.

What we're hoping to do is look at expanding some of our exercises to include some regional partners -- not just the North Africans, but also the Europeans along the Mediterranean. Again, as I said, there are peacekeeping activities, peace-enforcing activities, both in Africa and elsewhere in the world that we can work more closely with the Moroccans in how we coordinate and we -- we can jointly support those.

The Moroccans, under the new king, may have some ideas on how they may want to rework their military, and we have a lot of experience in that -- in defense reform, defense reorganization, and if the Moroccans feel that that's some place where we can provide some assistance, we want to look at that, if that's where the king would like to look at his vision. And then, again, going back to the regional security challenges, we want to have a discussion with them on how we can work with them to enhance and support regional stability. A lot of it is something that we need to have a discussion with the Moroccans on, because we have ideas; they may have different ideas, and at this point we really need to sit in a room together and discuss those, and this will be one of the ways in which we can do that.

Q: The new king has recently allowed some dissidents to return. Do you see that as a sign of a general move toward a more democratic direction, or is that -- is there some way to characterize that, put it in perspective?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I think the new king is looking at moving Morocco towards that. He is going to do that rather carefully and in a very studied manner. And I think that's one example of how he is going to go about doing it.

Q: You mentioned this FMF funding was restored in '94. In the current budget, is there money for Morocco?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes, there is.

Q: What's the order of how much it is and what it's used for?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I think it's about $4 million. We still haven't made any final decision to that -- (inaudible) -- that it's roughly going to stay about the same. There is not going to be a significant jump back to the way it was.

Q: And what's that used for?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Most of it is used for sustainment. They are a top recipient also of excess defense articles. So a lot of that FMF goes to support the excess defense articles that need to be transported or incorporated. There are some costs associated with that, which allows them to use it for those purposes.

Q: Will terrorism, cooperation on terrorism, be an issue at all?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: It certainly will be a topic of discussion. It's an issue that is of concern to us and to the Moroccans, and it will be an issue that will -- I imagine will be raised.

Q: Thank you.

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Thank you.

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: The secretary's visit to South Africa is a very logical next step in our relationship. That's probably the most mature significant relationship we have in sub-Saharan Africa.

We have been engaging South Africa since -- in some ways actually before the '94 elections, "before" in the sense of "get ready for South Africa." I think you know of the fact that there is a military committee as a part of the Gore-Mbeki Binational Commission. I believe it's still correct to say that that is the only truly military committee on any of the binational commissions.

This is a structure that we have found very useful in a measured, systematic approach to developing a full-blown relationship with a South Africa that is still experiencing problems coming together. But the sides in South Africa; both sides, if you can characterize that way, have reason to be suspicious, and are, of us. We are slowly working our way through that; through the 35 years of isolation of the apartheid guys. And they -- those that remain -- are still wondering what it is that we are up to in their country. The blacks don't feel, the liberation movements don't feel, that we supported them sufficiently, through much of the history of their struggle.

So we're working through all of that, and we're working through all that in a military way, based on just a professional cooperation.

This visit is important in a variety of ways. Secretary Cohen had a very close relationship with the former minister of Defense, Joe Modise, and that has seemed to have become even warmer very quickly with the new minister, Minister Lekota. Minister Lekota, as some of you know, was here in December. The two hit it off very well. This is -- I think this will be a very fruitful and warm reconvening of a very heretofore fruitful relationship.

The secretary will see President Mbeki, probably will see President Mandela. President Mandela, in the sense of -- I think you would know that the newly named facilitator of the Arusha peace accord or peace process for Burundi. It's important to see President Mandela both for who he is and who has now become in that particular process.

The objectives, again, of the visit to South Africa are a continuation of a fairly mature process that will lead us to cooperation in exercises, cooperation in regional peacekeeping, a mutually beneficial program. That does not include FMF kinds of relationships. It does include a very healthy -- in fact, the most healthy in sub-Saharan Africa -- IMET [international military education and training] or training relationship.

The next stop, Nigeria, is sort of at the opposite end of the spectrum -- clearly a very important country and one that is particularly fragile since the 29th of May, when Mr. Obasanjo stepped down as president, elected president of Nigeria, ending a number of years of military rule and years that were marked with total isolation from the U.S. military.

The last couple of years we have taken, again, gradual steps to re-engage with Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, the hub of West Africa, which is, as you all know, almost a center point of turbulence and turmoil -- second, perhaps, only to Central Africa.

But we hope to help the fragility become less fragile. We're not interested in waiting and seeing. In a sense, we are anxious to move forward on an approach that will help them restructure a bloated military; a military that has lost its professionalism through years of neglect by, interestingly, military leaders; a military that has become a source of fear to its own people; at the same time, a military that has been effective in regional peacekeeping -- ups and downs, of course, in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Our idea is to help restructure an infant Ministry of Defense into something that sincerely has civil control of the military at its core, to help facilitate communication between the civilian structures in the Ministry of Defense and other parts of the government and, most importantly, with the National Assembly. We worked on that -- my junior defense official and I were over there a week ago sort of setting the stage for this.

We do have a program in place. We are in the notification-to- the-Congress process, so I cannot speak in specific amounts, but we want to spend some money in Nigeria to help them restructure their Ministry of Defense, to help them refurbish their C-130 fleet, which has been most useful in regional peacekeeping, and most importantly, perhaps, deal with some basic soldier needs -- what are the training and -- equipment and training aids necessary?

We hope to help Mr. Obasanjo's experiment. We have a good relationship -- the secretary has a good relationship with President Obasanjo. He's met with him twice in Washington. This will be his first visit to Nigeria. He has developed a good relationship with Minister of Defense Danjuma, as well.

I will stop there and take any questions you have about sub-Saharan Africa.

Q: To what extent will the situation in Democratic Republic of Congo come up in your talks in South Africa? And I don't know whether the Nigerians would be relevant there, but --

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Well, the Nigerians are relevant because of sheer size. Most of the conversation on DROC will be in South Africa. As you probably know, South Africa has been in that process for quite some time; has expressed willingness repeatedly to participate in a genuine peace process. And there will definitely be an exchange of views between everybody that Secretary Cohen sees on what's going on in the Congo and elsewhere.

Q: Any sort of initiatives or anything like that with respect to that peace process?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I think -- well, other than to discuss what is currently going on, we are still operating under the general guidelines that the president gave us, which is, should the parties be able to achieve a genuine peace process, not just a cease-fire, but a peace process, then he, the president, our president, would consider supporting that process. There would be no particular South Africa- U.S. initiative discussed in this trip.

Q: By "support" you mean politically, rhetorically, financially, militarily?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah, but --

Q: Any of those? All of those?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: All of those, probably. Again, with the process moved a little forward. And in military support, I would always use the cautionary terms of, our idea would be, you know, the parties to the conflict are going to have to be in the front of this. Where we can often help is in traditional forms of support that we have that they don't -- lift, communications, that sort of thing.

Q: Madeleine Albright said a couple of weeks ago that Nigeria is one of four countries the administration is going to focus on in the last year of the administration. Can you talk about how this initiative to work with the Nigerians to shore up or rebuild the Ministry of Defense fits in with the U.S.'s objectives in Nigeria? And are there other dimensions to the effort that DOD is going to have in Nigeria beyond this MOD effort?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Well, this is integral to the "Nigeria as one of the four" kind of approaches. Quite frankly, the reason we are in the congressional notification process for some security assistance funding is because Nigeria is part of the four, and there are many parts of the four. But most people would agree that a key, if not the key to the success of this experiment in Nigeria is a reform of the military. And the words we like to use are a "re-professionalization" of the military, because it used to be quite a professional force, and it is only the years of abuse that created what we have now. We think, therefore, that if we can help it get back -- not backward in the negative sense, but backward to that professional state it once enjoyed, that can't help but help this process. But the military engagement part of it is only a part of the administration approach to Nigeria.

Q: Has the letter gone to Congress yet?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: There's been pre-consultation, but the formal notification has not gone yet. And as you can imagine, there is considerable suspicion and opposition on the Hill to military engagement to these guys. We feel, frankly, like we've got to help them now, or try to help them now, and it's worth taking some risks to do that, rather than wait and see and maybe watch a fragile entity crumble. So we are aggressively pursuing a military engagement with these guys because we think the people we've met -- the Danjumas, the Mohammeds, the Obasanjos -- are sincere in their intent to reform.

Q: So as you make your case to Congress, what do you tell critics is at risk if the U.S., perhaps, doesn't pursue the kind of initiatives that you're talking about?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Democracy arrived on, theoretically, the 29th of May when Mr. Obasanjo sat down. What is at risk is the future of his government. There have been, certainly, many warts on the past few months, but there have been positive things. When we were just there, one of the questions we tried to ask a bunch of people, who were anxious to complain about the failings of the new administration, the question that was universally answered in the positive sense was, "Is it better now than it was? Are you participating more? Are you getting somewhere where you weren't?" So, what is at risk is the success of that process, in my opinion -- our opinion.

Q: How large is the Nigerian military now? And does this engagement with them -- do you envision, say, like Green Berets going in and training Nigerian troops? Or, you know, how would this work? Or would it simply be --

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We would want ultimately to get to the point of -- I'm sorry.

Q: Or would it only be on, you know, how to administer a defense establishment?

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We're looking for a defense establishment. Green Beret training, if you're referring to JCETs [joint combined exchange training], yes, ultimately I would want to get to JCETs. But we're in very much the crawl stage here with this; that's maybe walk or maybe run. We're not quite there yet.

But to answer your question as to how many are in the army, for example, we're trying to help them develop a Ministry of Defense that can answer that question. They can't right now. The number that is bandied about is 80,000. Chances are, there are considerably less, because there is a tradition -- there has been a tradition of we inflate the numbers in the units, therefore the unit commanders get the paycheck that would pay a bigger number than there actually is and pocket the difference.

So we're looking to help develop a structure that can account for people, that can provide hospital facilities for a deployed soldier's family when he's behind a barracks, that -- you know, we talk about keeping people in the barracks. Well, if anybody has ever seen a Nigerian army barracks, it's not difficult to understand why they wouldn't want to stay in them. Basic creature considerations that we take for granted are not taken for granted there. Regular paychecks -- that's an unusual phenomenon.

At the same time, we want to help them develop the system -- to develop a transparent budgeting system. They have transparencies in their budget, but their budget is not based upon a national strategy and national needs. So what are the objectives of the military? What's it there to do? They have currently a military that is heavy in armor; heavy to the point of not being mobile. But they don't need, necessarily -- or, we would speculate that they don't need heavy armor to deal with the situation in West Africa where, perhaps, a more mobile force would be logical. We want to help them develop a system to figure that out and to match their requirements against their resources and -- I won't say create a PPBS [planning, programming and budgeting system] for Nigeria, but something like that. Those are the kinds of things we're going to work on.

Q: (Off mike.)

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: And there will also be the traditional -- excuse me for interrupting you -- IMET, International Military Education Training, kinds of things. But we're not telling the Congress that what we want is infantry training or artillery training or things like that. We're focusing again on civil-military relations, military law, law of war, those kinds of things. We need to get, ultimately, to the basic professional military skills, but because of history, because of, you know, the realities of the past eight years, we're not going to start out that way.

Q: If you're successful, what sort of role do you envision for the Nigerian military in that region in the future? I mean, do you see them playing a more active role in --

SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Well, it's not what we envision. We hope to provide them, you know, their own means of growth and their own vision. But clearly, that's the key to West Africa. That is the nation that, with all its warts, has a lid on some pretty sticky situations already. We think that that would be the anchor for the region of West Africa.

STAFF: Okay. Thank you.

MR. BACON: Now, I have one clarification from the earlier briefing, and it deals with the Foreign Military Financing Program. It was discontinued in '93. It was restored, however, in 1999. And the figure that year, in fiscal year 1999, was $4 million. The figure in the current fiscal year, 2000, is $1.5 million. That clarifies the earlier remark.

Thanks.

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