Civil-Military Relations: seminar

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Defence and Military Veterans

29 May 2002
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report

29-31 May 2002

Chairperson: Ms. Modise (ANC)

Documents handed out:
The Centre for Civil-Military Relations: Legislative Focus Program on Civil-Military Relations
Seminar Outline & Notes (email for document)

The US Department of Defense sponsored a three day seminar for members of the Portfolio Committee on Defence to develop an understanding of the importance of the relationship between the legislative branch and the armed forces. Mr. Michael Mensch and Mr. Robin Sakoda of the Center for Civil-Military Relations Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California presented the seminar. Members of the Portfolio Committee, members of the South African Military, and representatives from NGOs attended the seminar.

Opening Remarks and Introductions
Ambassador Hume, the American Ambassador to South Africa, opened the seminar by discussing the importance of the tension between civil authority and military authority. The Ambassador suggested that parliamentary debate about defence spending is a core issue in every democracy and that it is necessary to find a balance between Parliament's oversight power and the Military's objectives.

Following the Ambassador's remarks, Chairperson Modise made an opening statement documenting the history of civil-military relations in South Africa. The Chairperson worried that the South African military may grow too strong for the Parliament to provide adequate oversight; therefore, she stated a desire to learn as much as possible from her American counterparts in order to help determine the road that her Committee should take.

The Military, Civil Society, and Democratic Governance
Mr. Mensch lead the first session of the Seminar focusing on basic democratic principles that form the framework for civil-military relations. In general, secrecy is overdone in issues of defence, and both the military and the government must be responsive to civil society. The rule of law guides the framework that follows the Constitution, the statutory laws of the country, and policies of the country. The presenter admitted that democracy is often slow and inefficient, but that time-consuming checks and balances in the system ensure that conflicts are processed in a fair and equitable way.

The military must exist, but as a body the military is a potential threat to its own country's democracy; therefore, civil society must manage the military and manage it effectively. In the debate discussing the country's military objectives, the Military can proffer an opinion on its role, but once policy has been established by the Parliament or the Executive, the Military is bound to follow it. The military should never be involved in direct governance, only in accomplishing the task set for them.

Armed Forces and Parliament
Irrespective of the title of this segment of the seminar, most of the discussion lead by Mr. Sakoda focused on formulating a national interest policy and a defence strategy that assists in buttressing that policy. Mr. Sakoda suggested that the first purpose of every functional security policy is to protect and forward the national interest. Of course, any given country will have regional and global concerns, but the country should never sacrifice its interests for another country's interest. For example, the US maintains troops in Japan, not because Americans have an inherent love for rice and sushi, but because it is in the US national interest to support a strong, US-friendly Japan.

The ultimate body for stating the official national security strategy is in the Executive branch. The Parliament does play a political and budgetary oversight role in doing this, but the Ministry of Defence has the final policy making responsibility.

Defence Restructuring
Post Cold War, the US has struggled in deciding the appropriate number of troops its armed forces should maintain; however, the US Government has determined that it should reduce its active number of troops around the world. Unlike the restructuring following WWII, the US military is attempting to do a better job preparing its soldiers for returning to civilian life.

Legislative Aspects of Defence Restructuring
Working upon the assumption that South Africa currently does not face any external military threat, the legislature, executive, and military must work together to determine the size, function, and future of the South African Military. Of course, South Africa must constantly prepare and train for a potential invasion, but most believe the primary task in the future for South Africa's military will include regional peacekeeping and security operations. Thus, the legislature must take into account the changing needs of the military when making funding decisions.

Life Skills Development in the Armed Forces
In a nation that has an unemployment problem, it would be irresponsible for the military to discharge troops without first training them for specific jobs in the civilian sector.

Base Closures and Realignment
The legislature and the military must take many issues into consideration when determining to close bases and realign troops. It is necessary to look at both the interest of the military and the civilians in the region, and when the military turns over a base to the public it should leave it in usable condition.

Social Aspects of Defence Restructuring
Most of the soldiers in the military have families. It is difficult to ask a soldier to uproot his family and move across the country to a different base when he has a wife with a job and children in school; however, mobility is a required of modern militaries, so it is a sacrifice that must be made. However, officers must realise that if a soldier has difficulty with his family at home, then it will be difficult for that soldier to focus in the field. Family issues should always be treated thoughtfully.

AIDS and the Armed Forces
The numbers on HIV infected soldiers in the South African military varies widely. Parliament has been presented with numbers from 2% to 20%, and one researcher has suggested that HIV among military on the African Continent may average twice that of the normal population. The research points to the mobility of troops and the macho stereotype of servicemen and women that put them at increased risk. Whatever the numbers are, all agree that the effect of AIDS could potentially cripple the financial and physical health of a country's military.

Many countries are failing to adequately respond to the AIDS problem. The embarrassment and expense of dealing with the problem fosters denial; however, until the problem is acknowledged, the rate of AIDS among soldiers will likely increase.

In the United States, every potential soldier is screened for HIV/AIDS before entering the military, and all HIV-positive candidates are refused. However, if a soldier contracts HIV once in the military then the HIV is treated like any other disease and the soldier is given a medical discharge when symptoms reach the point that the officer is no longer deployable. HIV status is kept confidential in the US Military, but an HIV-positive soldier is expected to take precautions not to endanger other soldiers or society as a whole.

In the US, courts have given the military latitude in ordering soldiers to be tested regularly for HIV. Mr. Mensch felt that it is extremely important for each soldier to know his or her HIV status, so that soldier and the military can take steps to ensure that the disease is contained and treated. The military can use its influence to actively face the problem of HIV and halt its growth. In order to do this, politicians and military leadership must attack this issue.

Closing Remarks
Both military representatives and Members of the Portfolio Committee on Defence concurred to request further training from the Center on Civil-Military Relations on a future date that would include more representatives from Parliament, the South African Military, and the Ministry of Defence.


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