Discussion With US War College Personnel


06 March 2002
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report


6 March 2002

Chairperson: Mr N Mashimbye (ANC)

The Committee engaged in a question and answer session with a delegation of faculty and staff from the US War College (USWC), whose leader explained that the participating officers are being trained, during a ten month program, for senior military leadership positions. The group, which has been visiting other African nations, welcomed the opportunity to engage the Committee in dialogue about defense, political and economic issues as part of bi-lateral USA-SA efforts to work together on various issues.

Col Sayles, noting that racial transformation within the US military had been a 30-year process, asked what transformation means to the SANDF.

Col Green's asked how post-apartheid democracy affects the SANDF.

Ms T Modise (ANC), chairperson of the Defence Portfolio Committee, stated that there is no time deadline for completion of the transformation of the SANDF, as the whole of South African society continues to undergo change in the post-apartheid era. There are hiccups in the process along the way, and alluding to the killing of several white officers at Tempe by a black soldier a number of years ago, she indicated that the problems have been small relative to overall achievements.

In this regard, she cited that language and political issues have largely been eliminated from the SANDF, and that most citizens recognise the legitimacy of the SANDF as a neutral force within society, which is a great attainment given that seven disparate military organisations were absorbed into today's institution.

Progress is also evident on sexuality issues, namely, homosexuality within the force, which is not as controversial an issue as it has been in the US, and on gender and racial balance within the force, though the predominance of whites at middle levels of the SANDF should, and would, change over time.

She expressed a desire that Parliament will become more active in formulating military recruitment policies, and while noting that change cannot be implemented too quickly, stated that there is much to be done, particularly regarding the reserve forces, where racial imbalances and the perception within communities that the reserves (unlike the permanent force) are over-aggressive and racist remain a problem.

Mr Mashimbye agreed that progress in transformation has been phenomenal, even if problems remain, and observed that the SANDF's role in peacekeeping in the DRC and Burundi demonstrates its commitment to peaceful conflict resolution in Africa.

Brig Schalkwyk (DP) added that the gradual infusion of new recruits will result in the SANDF being completely de-factionalised, and de-politicised.

Lt Col Knight's asked what the local effect was of regionalism and whether SADC is and will be a viable and functioning entity.

Mr Smit (DP) noted that evaluation of SADC is a politically loaded question. From an African perspective it plays a co-ordinating role, while Europeans seem to expect it to be more active and interventionist-a difference that may also be mirrored in the attitudes of the ANC and DP towards it.

Ms Modise commented that SADC had historically pushed for the liberation of SA from apartheid, and is part of a framework of African regionalism which should now primarily focus on economic problems. She also noted its role in bringing countries together and thereby minimizing perceptions of SA regional big brotherism, though added that the previous evident clash between former President Mandela and Zimbabwean President Mugabe for recognition as regional leader had retarded SADC's maturation. Imbalances within SADC, and its individual members, between powerful executive branches and relatively weak legislatures were problematic, and in future SADC must function in concert with West and East African regional bodies to solve economic, migration, and other problems.

The Chair confirmed that, while SA has unavoidable regional responsibilities despite its relatively limited resources, in light of history it is very sensitive to not acting as "bully" or "policeman". By providing a forum for dialogue SADC plays a key role in the region, and is a place for discussion of current continental initiatives such as the African Union and NEPAD, which will help strengthen democracy within member states and thus facilitate sustainable continental partnerships.

Mr Smit added that NEPAD is a key programme, and that SA must therefore be very careful in being unduly harsh on other African nations in other contexts.

Lt Col Hunt, having done research in the field, asked about the national security implications of health and social issues.

Ms Kota (ANC) remarked that the obvious concerns were AIDS, the proliferation of small arms and migration issues.

Ms Modise (ANC) commented that the US military conducting research on African security issues is troubling. Mr Ndlovu (IFP) also expressed concern, and wondered how the product of the research is disseminated and used.

Commander Black asked what the role is of the SA Navy, and how its submarines are used. Mr Smit (DP) stated that the new submarines obtained as part of the recent arms deal will aid in maintenance of peace and security, and support the Navy's overall blue water capability.

Mr Theron (DP) added that acquisition of subs fills in gaps within the forces, and maintains a balance between land, sea, and air capabilities.

Ms Modise (ANC) observed that the Navy cruises as far as Tanzania on the African east coast, and up to Namibia on the west, as well as having a role in protecting SA fisheries and stopping drug trafficking. The importance of maintaining effective naval capabilities was reiterated by the Chair (notwithstanding the comment from Col Cook that the delegation's visit to Luanda had been almost overwhelming, and that African problems are more on land that at sea), and in response to a question from Mr Ndlovu (IFP) it was confirmed that SA possessing a submarine force was not of concern to the US.

Responding to a question whether SA's relationship with Angola will change with "the demise of UNITA", it was noted that the late Jonas Savimbi had been somewhat marginalised in recent times. UNITA was splintered into at least three groups, so that his death may not immediately lead to significant changes in the Angolan situation.

Mr Mashimbye agreed with Mr Ndlovu that the Angolan parties need to meet and talk in an effort to resolve the situation, as is happening with the Inter-Congolese Dialogue currently under way, with SA support, in Sun City. The ANC has encouraged the Angolan government to peacefully resolve matters, notwithstanding the MPLA's effective military victory. SA facilitates and advises, and does not dictate and interfere, a policy which conflicts with that urged by the DP opposition. Savimbi, who had been financed via the blood diamond trade, was the grandson of the [past] SA government and the US. The Angolan war had greatly cost SA, with many struggle fighters having died there fighting UNITA.

Col Burgess asked what lessons had been learned from the exercise of Parliament's oversight role concerning the recent arms scandal.

The Chair cheerfully admonished the questioner for his "bad English" in so characterising the matter, declaring that "there is no arms scandal". The Defence Minister had asked for a review of allegations of irregularities in arms procurement, with a report having been made to Parliament, which is being considered. He noted that US Congressional oversight of Defence is impressive, and the South African Parliament needs more capacity to strengthen its own oversight capability, which would enhance democracy.

Mr Smit (DP) added that the arms deal controversy had demonstrated that there is much room for improvement in the procurement system itself, and in the system of dealing with irregularities that arose, for instance, concerning former Chief Whip Yengeni and procurement personnel such as Mr Chippy Shaik. In this regard, Parliamentary oversight should be enhanced, perhaps along the lines of the US model, in preference to the existing British model. Ms Modise (ANC) concurred that Parliamentary oversight must be strengthened, and Parliament's importance should be respected more.

Concerning a question from Commander Stevens as to whether there was a prevailing perception that US policies toward Africa were more talk than action, Mr Smit (DP) noted that it is difficult to criticise the US when funds it supplies are left unspent, but that sometimes US rhetoric seems to outpace its actual efforts. He also noted the perception of America's interventionist inclinations.

Lt Col Boykin asked about SA's role in counter-terrorism.

Ms Modise noted that, while the September 11 attacks were abhorrent, there is a continuing debate in SA as to the definition of "terrorism", which is sometimes hard to distinguish from "legitimate liberation struggles", such as the one conducted by the ANC. She decried the lack of a forthright US policy on Palestinian rights. She indicated that an Inter-Ministerial Committee is currently developing SA's anti-terror plan.

At this point Col Burgess disclaimed that any responses were solely personal opinions, and not pronouncements of US government policy.

Mr Ndlovu (IFP) asked what the US strategy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was.

Col Green indicated that the US has consistently acted as moderator, and expressed the hope that with the help of other regional powers a peaceful resolution could be found, perhaps incorporating the faith-based solution he thought necessary to stop the cycle of hatred and bring love to the region.

Mr Ndlovu's question concerning the performance of the new Afghan government was left unanswered.

Ms Kota (ANC) asked whether the US perceives African nations individually, or the continent as an undifferentiated mass. An ANC Member asked why perceptions of SA and the rand should be affected by Zimbabwe's problems.

Lt Col Hunt stated that the media frames perceptions of Africa for the general public. Lt Col Knight noted that the USWC curriculum recognises the individuality of African countries. Another delegation member also noted the huge problem of "Americo-centric" thought and perception which afflicts the US.

Ms Kota (ANC) and Mr Smit (DP) enquired about the effects of the September 11 attacks on the US military budget.

There was consensus among the delegation that, while military spending has increased, the zero sum growth principle concerning numbers of forces remains in effect.

In response to a question concerning the costs of peace-keeping missions, Col Sayles stated that such long term activities effectively require triple depth rotation. That is, for a force already deployed another needs to be preparing, while a third re-equips after having come off deployment. He also noted, as lessons learned in Bosnia and Kosovo, that peacekeeping forces' battle readiness deteriorates, and that there is a significant fatigue factor for troops engaged in peacekeeping activities.

The meeting concluded with a plaque being presented to the Chairperson in appreciation of having been provided with the opportunity to engage in discussion with the Members.

The meeting was adjourned.


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