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Cohen Tightens Defense Ties Between U.S.-South Africa

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

CAPE TOWN, South Africa, Feb. 10, 1999 – The United States hopes to "broaden and deepen" military relations with South Africa, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said Feb. 9.

"We want to share information and cooperate in ways that we can learn from them, and they can learn from some of the challenges we have faced," Cohen told reporters at the start of a three-day visit here, the first ever by a U.S. defense secretary. Cape Town is his last stop on an eight-day trip to Europe and Africa.

"There's a lot we can learn from South Africa, particularly in the field of demining," Cohen said. South Africa has a worldwide reputation for its expertise in detecting and removing mines. The United States is purchasing 10 of South Africa's mobile mine detection systems, he explained.

The United States is also helping to fund a South African demining operation in Mozambique, and a joint working group is identifying other ways the two nations can cooperate in this field, Cohen added.

The United States and South Africa established a defense committee in 1997 as part of the bilateral commission lead by Vice President Gore and South African Deputy President Thabo Mbeki.

Since then, a senior Pentagon official said, joint working groups have met to identify mutually beneficial areas of cooperation. Officials produced some of the fruits of those meetings during Cohen's visit here in South Africa's legislative capital.

A 19-gun cannon salute echoed from Table Mountain Feb. 10 as the South African defense ministry officially welcomed Cohen to Cape Town. Following a military salute at the 17th century Castle of Good Hope, Cohen and South African Defense Minister Joe Modise signed a memorandum of understanding on military environmental matters.

Cohen said the agreement will help the two nation's militaries solve common problems such as reducing contamination, developing environmentally sound ships, demilitarizing conventional ammunition and closing unnecessary bases in an environmentally sound way.

U.S. and South African defense officials also exchanged a draft range management manual they are producing for worldwide use that outlines environmentally sound practices for military test ranges. The two-nation working group also plans to host a worldwide conference on the subject later this year.

Cohen said U.S. defense officials have much to share with African democracies on modernizing armed forces, establishing civilian control of the military, promoting regional peace and dealing with environmental issues. DoD officials can exchange expertise on downsizing and base closures, which may be particularly helpful to South Africa as it transforms its military forces, Cohen said.

The United States strongly supports South Africa's military transformation, Cohen told South African officials and media. "When Minister Modise launched his effort to transform the South African national defense force, he announced a '4-A' approach," the secretary said. "He wanted a military that was adequate, appropriate, affordable and accountable. These, I might say, Mr. Minister, are worthwhile goals of any military."

Both the United States and South Africa have excess bases and are working together on economic and environmental issues connected with base closings, the secretary said. During the signing ceremony, U.S. and South African officials also exchanged a draft handbook on base closure procedures.

The two nations share many common values and challenges, Cohen noted. "The United States and Africa both value democracy and diversity," he said. "Countries maintain armies to defend their dearest values, but they can only do their jobs if the military establishments respect the values they were formed to protect. Minister Modise's visionary leadership recognizes this important point."

South African officials have attended the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla., Cohen noted. They've used that training to design a similar course for their defense ministry managers and commanders. Senior U.S. and South African officials also have set up a hot line between the two ministries to deal with equal opportunity matters.

"South Africa and the United States share a commitment to making Africa stable, peaceful and prosperous," Cohen said. The United States currently supports two peacekeeping projects in South Africa. U.S. defense officials are helping to create a simulation center for training peacekeepers, and the Defense Department is supporting South Africa's Blue Crane peacekeeping exercise slated for April 16 to 29.

About 2,000 to 3,000 troops from 12 of the 13 African nations in the Southern Africa Development Commission are slated to participate in exercise Blue Crane, a South African military spokesman said. To date, Mauritius has not yet decided to participate, he said.

The United States is providing funds and two C-130 transport planes to airlift neighboring nations' troops to and from the South African army battle school, one of world's largest training ranges, the spokesman said.

The U.S. African Crisis Response Initiative is helping several nations develop peacekeeping units. Although South Africa has not yet signed up for the program, Cohen said, in the future, it could become an important peacekeeping force for the region, where conflicts continue to erupt.

"Our militaries will have many opportunities to advance our mutual goals to help make Africa a continent of peace and prosperity in the 21st century," he said. He called his meetings with South African leaders part of America's overall "shape, prepare, respond" defense policy. Shaping, he said, includes diplomatic and economic engagement as well as developing good military-to-military relations. "All of that provides for a greater security and stability for the region," he said.

Regional stability ultimately promotes prosperity, Cohen noted. "Whenever you have a stable democratic government, then international companies want to come and invest, build infrastructure and generate prosperity. Every country has an interest in promoting prosperity for their citizens."

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