Seldom in the conduct of human affairs have two groups been more predisposed to misunderstand each other than the military and journalists. US Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman thought of us as worse than spies and on one occasion gave journalists in his camp a 30 minute head-start, threatening to have any found within his camp afterwards shot.
Thoughts on the media and its relationship with the defence industry
by Leon Engelbrecht
February 12, 2004
A presentation to the
Executive National Security Programme
at the SA National Defence College,
February 13, 2004
It is usual, at forums such as today’s, for participants to propagate the need for closer links between the military and the media. At seminars, such as this one, we often hear how we should all cooperate for the greater good, how we are one in a common struggle and how important openness and transparency is to good governance and democracy.
This is the conventional wisdom – and it is the triumph of hope over experience. In “Open Government”, the launch episode Yes, Minister, Cabinet Secretary Sir Arnold Robinson tells a naïve private secretary that open government is a contradiction in terms. “You can be open – or you can have government.” The secretary replies that the citizens of a democracy had a right to know. Arnold thought they had a right to be ignorant. “Knowledge only means complicity and guilt. Ignorance has a certain dignity.” The Official Secrets Act exists to protect officials, not secrets. If no one knows what officials are doing, no one can finger their mistakes.
Seldom in the conduct of human affairs have two groups been more predisposed to misunderstand each other than the military and journalists. US Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman thought of us as worse than spies and on one occasion gave journalists in his camp a 30 minute head-start, threatening to have any found within his camp afterwards shot. New York Tribune war correspondent Henry Villard later wrote: “General Sherman looked upon journalists as a nuisance and a danger at headquarters and in the field, and acted toward them accordingly… I did not, of course, agree with him at that time as to my own calling, but candor constrains me to say that I had to admit in the end that he was entirely right. If I were a commanding general I would not tolerate any of the tribe within my army lines.”
Before wading into my topic is may be prudent to first lay a foundation for what follows and to introduce you to my species…
First, a few general clichés about the media: If a specialist is someone who learns more and more about less and less, then a generalist knows a little about a great deal. A little knowledge is dangerous. Many reporters and even many assignment or news editors today know very little about the military milieu and often will not be able to tell a general from a grenade. They also cannot tell whether an operation is going well – or not. It is axiomatic if a writer does not understand the story he cannot tell it to his readers. Very few reporters – white or black – today have any experience of military service. At best they now see it as a peacekeeping force or at worst they see it as a police auxiliary. The situation is not necessarily better among senior journalists and editors – some of whom served as conscripts in the former SA Defence Force or perhaps as volunteers in the liberation movements. Many have a healthy distrust of authority, particularly of the military kind. Others also have a residual dislike towards the military because of bad experiences under conscription and suchlike.
Likewise, the majority of the military and the public-at-large are ignorant about the actors they encounter in the media world and have little real idea of how the average newsroom functions. This can be very dangerous for all concerned. There is a romantic perception that journalists are free to choose the stories they do. That is the exception rather than the rule.
Newsrooms, like armies, are never identical. Each has its own idiosyncrasies, culture and organisation. Newspaper, radio, television and wire service newsrooms are about as different as the Army, Air Force and Navy. However, the following does broadly apply. The majority of journalists are given story ideas to develop by a news or assignments editor. It is this individual, not the reporter, who decides whether there is a story to develop or not.
What one has to remember is this: While some reporters may be better disposed to the military than others, and while some are certainly more knowledgeable, reporters ultimately have little say in what is covered.
How much of a story gets published, the headline and the layout is again the decision of others. Generally layout- and page editors decide the layout, prominence, and perhaps, even the headline. They usually do not consult the reporter. Sub-editors also alter copy: rewriting here, slashing paragraphs there. The end product can be very different from what the reporter sent into the system!
A note on wire services. It strikes me that a few words about wire services such as Reuters, The Associated Press, AFP and my own Sapa may be in order here. If newspapers are news at the retail level, then wire services, where print, radio, television and even many businesses and the National Intelligence Agency source their news is wholesale. We generally do not sell “direct to the public”. Wire services, with particular reference to Sapa, have in my view, the following functions:
n Acting as a tip-off service to the newspapers, radio, TV and other wire services,
n Providing filler material for newspapers,
n Setting the national agenda by maintaining a national news diary,
n Covering routine events newspapers cannot cover and acting as the inland office of coastal newspapers and the coastal office of inland papers, and
n Providing newspapers alternative reports to that submitted by their own reporters and in that way providing a “reality check” to news editors.
Reporters versus Correspondents: some thoughts
Military Reporters and Correspondents In my view, military correspondents are specialists: authorities not only on policy matters but also on military strategy, tactics, techniques and procedures. They are often activists as well and can be partisans in the struggles that precede policy and doctrine formulation. British historian and journalist Captain Sir Basil Liddell Hart (1895-1970) is still alternatively revered and loathed for the part he played (or didn`t) in the development of mechanised warfare during the 1920s and 1930s. At the time he was the military correspondent of a number of London daily newspapers. Reporters, by contrast, stress the facts and leave judgement to the reader and opinion to the editorial writers. Military reporters are far more common: non-specialist writers, often times disinterested, penning articles of interest to the general public. Their work is generally of the “he said, she said” variety and is often more social or political in content than military.
War Correspondents/Reporters War correspondents and reporters accompany military forces during wars and campaigns and file eyewitness accounts of what they have seen, heard, and in some instances, done.
Winston Churchill (1874-1965) was an outstanding example of a war correspondent. A British Army lieutenant in 1895, he joined Spanish forces fighting guerrillas in Cuba as a military observer and correspondent. Three years later he turned his experiences during the Malakand into the subject of his first book. Later that year he sought service in General Kitchener’s campaign for the reconquest of the Sudan, fulfilling the dual role of active officer and war correspondent. On the outbreak of the South African War in 1899, he went out as war correspondent for the London Morning Post. Within a month of his arrival, he was captured along with an armoured train when acting more as a soldier than as a journalist…” War correspondents, then, are participants in the events they write about. War reporters are not.
Depending on the circumstance war correspondents and reporters are entitled to protection upon capture under the Geneva Conventions as a lawful combatant. During World War Two, for example, South African journalists accompanying Commonwealth forces wore uniform and were entitled to use weapons for self defence. Carel Birkby, who covered the Somali and other campaigns for my Association, Sapa, wrote in the October 1980n edition of Armed Forces that South African correspondents were at first commissioned officers. “Paid by my civilian employers, I was to operate under the protective rank of captain under an arrangement dreamt up in Pretoria… Nevertheless the system (could) not work because war correspondents cannot be trammeled by rank of any kind. A mere captain cannot very well write dispatches calling a general a bloody fool.” Birkby later persuaded the authorities to “de-pip” them and adopt the Anglo-US system under which correspondents wore uniform when in operational areas (for their own protection under the Geneva Convention) but were distinguished only by cap badges bearing the letter C in gold on a green background and shoulder flashes reading ‘War Correspondent` in the same colour scheme. They took their rank from whomever they dealt with. So no private need to salute them, and they were not required to salute even a general – although often it was not only polite but politic to do so…”
How we view ourselves
Shortly after my last lecture here, a number of journalists pontificated about journalism in South Africa at D+10 years. Writing in the Sunday Times on February 22, Anton Harber, now Caxton Professor of Journalism at Wits and previously editor of the Mail & Guardian, said: “The picture that is emerging of South African media 10 years into freedom is one of vibrancy, diversity and flux, with a cacophony of new voices fighting for attention from audience and advertisers alike – and many of them having moved from the social and economic fringes to the spotlight at the centre.
“We have had six new newspapers launched in the last three years, including a remarkably high-quality, top end product (ThisDay) and a Zulu paper (Isolezwe), reversing the pattern of the first few years of democracy when smaller, alternative voices closed one after the other,” he added. “We have about six times more radio stations than a decade ago, about 18 times more television channels (albeit mostly by subscription only) and nobody knows quite how many more magazines. But more noise and clutter does not necessarily mean more quality. The fact is that all these new outlets are competing for an advertising pie that has shrunk or barely grown, particularly in the last year or two.
“This is a global phenomenon, and the consequence has been the steady shrinking of newsrooms and journalism resources, the trivialisation of news and the triumph of entertainment and advertising over journalism,” he continued. “It is felt no less in this country, particularly since Gauteng has an oversupply of newspapers. Business Day has 32 fewer journalists than it had two years ago. Independent Newspapers is doing more and more group sharing of editorial resources, which has the effect of homogenising their papers across the country.” Have you noticed?
“Specialist reporters are fewer, and that means that quality, in-depth, analytic writing is becoming less authoritative,” he added. Newsrooms are run by younger, less-experienced journalists who are expected to churn out a lot more material than they were a decade ago. This accounts for much of the trouble journalists have run into in the past few months: Darrel Bristow-Bovey turned out to be not so much a columnist as a highly paid copy typist; Ranjeni Munusamy was meant to work her sources and instead appears to have worked for them; and City Press’ Vusi Mona was spending his time looking after everyone’s public relations except his own. Where our newspaper industry was dominated by four companies a decade ago – two English, two Afrikaans – we are down to two, with Naspers and the Independent group commanding about 70% of the advertising, audience and titles. Who would have thought that, after a decade of freedom, our media would be dominated by a traditionally Afrikaans giant and an Irish-owned monolith?” Who indeed…
Business Day on February 25 summed up the registration debate quite nicely: “The debate about registration makes a mistake each time it starts and that is to assume a journalist can be registered in the same way that a doctor or lawyer might be, so that some self-regulating but state recognised body is able to stop one practicing one`s craft. But that is the problem. Journalism isn`t a profession. It is a trade, a craft, like plumbing or carpentry. It is largely unregulated because there is nothing to regulate. Journalists do not have clients or patients and hold no one`s money or health in trust. The one thing that humans value that journalists can damage is reputation, and there the laws of libel, and even criminal libel, apply as perfectly adequate means of control. The relatively recent arrival of the academic qualification of journalism should not detract from the essence of the craft. The journalism degree, nowhere, can reasonably be said to confer the status of journalist upon the holder.”
Another speaker will tell us journalists and their newspapers owe no one a duty to report in the public interest – or anything else. That is so. Instead journalists make their “best stab at the truth in the time available.” But more and more this is with ever less resources. Instead, many newspapers have become little more than advertising delivery vehicles. Once upon a time newspapers may have primarily delivered information to their readers, but today they increasingly profit only their owners. Onetime Vrye Weekblad editor Max du Preez told the Cape Town Press Club editors were no longer editors – instead they were part of management. I agree. “They get rewarded for making money. That division between state and church, between editor and management, has disappeared. Editors have become capitalists, and as my bank manager will tell you, those two don’t mix…. Now we have making money as the first concern, not journalism as the first concern,” he added.
The real versus the ideal: As aspirant national security strategy practitioners you do not have the luxury of the ideal. Just the reality of an imperfect media.
Room for misunderstanding
I have previously stood here lamenting perceived poor media-military relations. In doing so I preached a gospel of reconciliation, quoting several US sources as my authority.
Today I sing a new song, quoting another – although still American – James F Dunnigan, author of How To Make War, a book that claims to be a comprehensive guide to modern warfare in the 21st Century. Although sometimes a bit flippant, Dunnigan, a former artillerist, cuts to the quick on many issues. Here`s an example: “The mass media helps create and perpetuate many myths. Often the appointed experts are equally ill informed… Real warfare is ugly, destructive and remembered fondly only by those who survived it without getting too close.” To which one may add Desiderius Erasmus` (1469-1536) motto – Dulce Bellum Inexpertis – War is delightful (only) to the inexperienced.
Perhaps the only thing more dangerous than an ill-informed, inexperienced journalist is the self-appointed “expert” who advises him. How often have you seen warmed-over news reports from the last few days pass as “analysis” by some policy wonk followed by a weather forecast conclusion so full of hedged bets and qualifications as to be useless to you?
I now accept that the media is a terrain of struggle, a battlefield of competing ideas. Journalists and the military from time to time also have ideas and where these conflict, personal and professional clashes result.
Journalists often have an exaggerated view about the role of the Fourth Estate – as we like to call ourselves – and make impossible demands upon the military. We also have a habit of being very fickle. This tends to irritate you.
On the other hand, you correctly see us as a vehicle to convey information to your target audiences, including potential enemies and allies, the government and Parliament, and the public at large. Sometimes you have a strategy that involves us unwittingly or otherwise in what you would call “information warfare”. That tends to irritate us.
There is nothing wrong with you wanting a favourable public rating. The Department of Defence `s Strategic Plan for Financial Years 2002/3 to 2004/5 makes the point that the DoD, as a “contingency-based organisation,” does not render a direct service to the public in the tangible way that departments dealing with housing, health and water do. Elsewhere, the document points out that “(a)s a result of the nature of defence the outcome of defence and the outputs of defence are not highly visible during times of peace and are taken for granted. This has led to spending on defence being questioned, as the utility of the defence expenditure is not always obvious in peace time.” It continues: “Defence leaders have to be sensitive to popular sentiment and ensure that the contribution of defence towards the general well-being is well publicised and that every Rand is spent wisely to ensure that the citizens of South Africa continue to support the Defence Force.”
This is not just a South African phenomenon. Writing mostly with the US military in mind, Dunnigan notes: “Doctrine is the plan, reality is the performance. Most nations` military planning rests on their own appraisals of their own military ability. This appraisal reaches a low point just before arms budgets are voted on and rises swiftly during international crises and reelection campaigns. When actual warfare approaches, the military becomes more realistic.” He adds: “Armed forces exist primarily, or at least initially, for self-defence. Some nations go overboard, and some feel the best way to defend against a real or imagined attack is to attack it. Armed forces also serve as one more bargaining chip in a state`s international diplomacy. If war comes, the armed forces have failed in their primary purpose: to appear too strong to be successfully attacked. Therefore armed forces pay a lot of attention to appearing strong. If substance is sacrificed to enhance apparent strength, why not? An apparently stronger armed force is more valuable than a less capable appearing one.” No wonder you get so annoyed when we wrote there were only four tanks running in the SA Army in 2002. You may also understand our irritation at being publicly rubbished as “irresponsible” after finding out although there are indeed several hundred tanks in store and a few dozen in use, there was at that time only enough money to run four of the 30 operational tanks at any given time over a 12-month period. What we said was true – from a certain point of view. But it did not help you project the image of the SANDF though!
Compare this to what I said here before:
Recent editions of two prominent US defence publications called the media the single most important channel between the military and the public – and by extension the national legislature: the US Congress there, the South African Parliament here. Writing in Armor, Captain Jeffrey Nors said a strong military is a pillar of democracy, as is the media. “The media inform the very people who pay our salaries, own our equipment and help form the opinions of the parents whose sons and daughters they entrust to us. For a significant portion of this nation, the media is their only link to the military. The American people are our higher headquarters, and the media is our radio.” In his article in the Marine Corps Gazette, Lt Col Stephen G Brozak, USMCR, called the media a conduit to the people – “the device by which we explain who we are and what we do.”
Very flattering. And true – from a certain point of view. But should the media be this? And how does it affect our much-valued independence?
Dunnigan observes that war “isn`t what it used to be before radio and television. Because of instant media, public opinion guides military decisions far more than in the past.” It may be best for us to stay wary of each other…
The consequences of us embracing can be quite lethal for all concerned. Hundreds of Royal Air Force (RAF) pilots died in the period 1939-1942 while Bomber Command sought to prove their pre-war theory, swallowed whole by the media and the pundits of that day, that the bomber would always get through. Entire raids were shot down because the RAF had believed its own propaganda and no one had disabused them of their beliefs. “The RAF`s misfortune was that it had believed its own publicity. For twenty years it luxuriated in the conviction ‘We are, ergo we are capable of a strategic bombing offensive,” Max Hastings wrote in Bomber Command.
Being to cosy with the media can also cause nasty shocks to the political system. Imagine the shock Winston Churchill received when his French counterpart Paul Reynaud phoned him crying in June 1940 saying, “We have been defeated.” Up to that moment Winston had believed the prevailing wisdom – that France had the most powerful army in Europe.
Holding off the Media: Some US guidelines
The primary requirement the US armed services have for information it issues is that it be accurate and consistent. It should also be prompt — whether it concerns a peacekeeping mission, a training exercise gone wrong or details of the repatriation of the dead. Where information is withheld, speculation is rife, several guidelines consulted say. Speculation is seldom accurate and can seriously damage a military image and public sentiment. In the field it can undermine operations and troop morale. If the information is not immediately available or in the process of being collated, say so.
Security considerations should not be used to sensor stories that might be embarrassing or negative. “The public, the troops and the media deserve honest responses to media queries, even if the news is unfavourable to the operation,” one source said. If security is not compromised, then there is little cause to withhold information.
Credibility is critical to the success of a media liaison officer/Public Affairs Officer (PAO). “If caught deceiving the press, credibility cannot be recovered. One doesn’t lie just once. The lie is on the news shows many times, in different editions of the newspapers, and rerun as much as the news outlets desire. The lie is world-wide and instantaneous.” And: “A PAO distrusted by the media has no future, his utility will be short-lived. “A reporter’s view of a situation doesn’t have to be true, but becomes true if so perceived.”
Holding off the Media: How the US handles reporters
Despite a sometimes antagonistic relationship, the United States’ armed services realise that, like it or not, the media is there and will report on their activities. “That a reporter is ignorant of what you do, or the rules under which you operate, makes him or her no less interested. And, in any event, that reporter is going to convey something to the public.” A reporter covering, but ignorant of the military can be an irritation, requiring the expenditure of valuable time to explain basic concepts. However, “it’s far better. to view this journalist as a piece of mouldable putty upon whom the (military) will make a lifelong impression… No matter what it takes, it is incumbent on every (soldier, sailor, airman) to provide the access, candour, and insights necessary to produce an honest portrayal,” a US Marine Corps publication says.
OPSEC and mutual convenience. That sorted, the issues remaining are operational security (“OPSEC”) and mutual convenience: there have been many attempts over the years at resolving these to all’s satisfaction. In broad brush-strokes, reacting to alleged over-control during World Wars One & Two and Korea, the US let go in Vietnam. Stung by the reporting of that conflict, the US military tightened up in the 1980’s. The British, having learned from their many conflicts and from the American experience did likewise during the Falklands War. Both drew heavy fire for this and relaxed in the run-up to the 1991 Gulf War. Afterwards, they drew more flak. The pooling system employed did not agree with the media and the perception was that journalists had been hijacked and were shown only what the allied military wanted them to see. In other words, they felt stage-managed.
US Marine Corps Doctrine Publication 3-33.3, Marine Corps Public Affairs, reminds that when the Allies landed on France in the Normandy invasion of 1944, fewer than 30 reporters were with them. By comparison, more than 500 journalists and technicians were on the scene within hours of the beginning of combat operations in both Grenada in 1983 and Panama in 1989. In 1991, more than 1,600 members of the news media gathered in the Persian Gulf to cover the war against Iraq. By then, typewriters had given way to laptop computers, minicams, digital tape recorders, and satellite phones. Coverage was live from anywhere around the globe. Additionally, the advent of 24-hour news networks brought about a need for news reports to fill broadcasts and led to increased competition for stories.
Embedding. When last year’s Gulf War became inevitable, the US, to use one of their quaint doctrinal terms, decided to “embed” journalists with front-line combat units rather than face that charge again. About 500 to 600 journalists were “embedded” in this fashion. As such they were assigned to operational units before the invasion began and were expected to accompany them for the duration of the conflict. Other journalists were accredited with various headquarters in Kuwait, Bahrain, London and Washington. Hundreds more roamed behind the frontlines at their own recognisance — and risk.
“Embedding,” by the way, in its current form, is a Marine creature. Marine Corps Public Affairs, published in 2000, explains it so: “The most effective operational public affairs effort is predicated on taking the news media to where there is action. Let reporters go smell it, touch it, and talk to people on the ground. This will help the news media develop a much better appreciation for Marines and their mission. The Marine Corps` best messengers are Marines talking about the Marines they lead or the job they do. Commanders should encourage their Marines to talk to the news media whenever and wherever possible about what they do. Marines can tell the Marine Corps` story better than any chart, graph, or press release.”
“Historically, the Marine Corps has endorsed and benefited from the practice of embedding (italics added) news media into the force, adopting reporters as honorary members of a particular unit. This alternative to pooling fosters mutual trust and understanding. Some reporters who are eager to become better educated about the military see embedding as an unparalleled opportunity. They realise that reporters who are truly part of an operational unit may garner the ultimate front-row seat. Embedding raises the reporter`s awareness level and reduces errors in reporting. An embedded reporter should, ideally, come to see himself as part of the Marine team. Furthermore, informed reporters are less likely to violate security guidelines. Because the reporters themselves are in harm`s way, along with the Marine unit to which they are assigned, they have a vested interest in complying with security concerns,” the manual continues.
Embedding news media is never a sure thing. Commanders must realise that risk is involved. Overall, embedding has been a positive experience for the Marine Corps. During Desert Storm, this policy benefited both the news media and the Marine Corps. Unlike many units from other Services, the I Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) allowed coverage of the MEF and in return reached a worldwide audience. News media coverage will help shape the perception of future operations. The news media will get there, with or without the Marine Corps` assistance, in many cases, well before the Marines` arrival. Forward-thinking commanders will use innovative and creative ways to educate and assist news media located in theatre, whether or not a pool is in place. PAOs should accurately apprise staffs that they should anticipate news media presence and assist the commander in determining the best way to assist reporters,” the manual adds.
By most accounts the system worked well for both sides. Geert Linnebank, editor-in-chief of Reuters, in March 2003 said he was unrepentant in his decision to “embed” at least 30 reporters and camera crew with coalition forces. Writing in the March 30, 2003 edition of the South African Sunday Times, he made the following comparison: “Under enemy fire, Reuters reporter and future editor Doon Campbell waded ashore with the British Royal Marine Commandos. The opposing artillery put down a firestorm as the troops inched forward from the blood-soaked beach. Crouched in a ditch, the 24-year-old typed his first dispatch as medics treated the wounded around him. The year was 1944 and Doon was witness to the beginning of the D-Day landing. Writing afterwards, he recalled: ‘The only thing that mattered to me at that moment was the story. The news – how to convey even a tiny detail of this mighty mosaic – transcended everything.’ Doon was one of the journalists who was ’embedded’ with Allied units. They slept, washed, ate and worked alongside the Allied troops as they took on the Nazis. The results were some of the most compelling first-hand accounts of modern warfare. Move forward 60 years and, as the US and the UK wage war in Iraq, the technique of ’embedding’ has been resurrected. Swop the Normandy beaches for the deserts and the mud flats of Mesopotamia.”
So criticism and terminology aside, “embedding” is not new. Like many other American neologisms, it’s simply a new way to describe something familiar.
Much of the criticism directed at “embedding” was, frankly, ill-informed or came from those, both inside and outside the media industry who were opposed to the Anglo-American action in Iraq. “Embed” conveniently became “in bed”, the eyewitness reporter and unscrupulous media whore. Tawane Kupe, a senior lecturer and head of the media studies programme at the University of the Witwatersrand, was one such critic. He described “embedded” journalism thus in the same edition of the Sunday Times: “The apparent ingenuity of the scheme — not to mention its improper name — will remain a talking point in news, journalism and media critiques for years to come. In very simple terms, embedding is an attempt to censor journalists while appearing to give them unprecedented access. It is designed to ensure journalists, directly or in the broadest possible terms, report the war from the point of view of the US and its coalition of invaders.”
That may be, but the attempt would be unlikely to succeed. Kupe forgot that wars end and censor go home. War correspondents, as the Churchill example shows, then produce books to complement their initial reporting. Linnebank conceded that an “embedded correspondent is a part of the war effort.” Linnebank continues: “Even where a reporter resolves to be detached, the fellowship of the battlefield can influence his or her dispatches. If you share a foxhole with a US or a British marine, he is your buddy. The incoming artillery belongs to the foe. Comrades become heroes. You demonise the enemy. Embed as many as 500 journalists within an army — as the Pentagon has done in Iraq — and this effect may well be magnified. There is another peril, too, that goes beyond being a part of a political attempt to rally public opinion. The experienced war correspondent knows that he cannot “read the battle” from the front lines. He is not there to file in-depth analysis but to send what the trade calls the “colour”, as often as not fragmentary and in itself perhaps misleading. Rocket-propelled grenades are so noisy that by night a skirmish might sound like Armageddon.”
“I acknowledge the right of an army to exploit the media to confuse the enemy. It is our job not to fall for it. I do therefore share a concern that, with so many reporters deployed in Iraq, some of them novices in the art of reporting warfare, our profession might be at greater threat than usual of being a channel for disinformation…”
“Embedding with combat units is better than being taken to the front in a ‘pool’ to be shown selected scenes. The news executive either buys the deal or misses the action. Once he’s bought it, however, he must offset the downside. He has to brief his team. And he wants to ensure that he deploys some roaming reporters to try to balance, if not verify, what the “embeds” are saying. He also needs a vigilant and skeptical editing desk supported by specialist writers,” Linnebank continued. Amen!
Linnebank added that a number of the journalists killed in Iraq were not “embedded.” “In all wars, correspondents have often elected to ride to battle with a regular military unit, or with the best-disciplined of the irregulars. Then they may at least hope to know where the forward perimeters are. Nobody pretends that journalists are safe if they are embedded, but I do have an added worry that the need to verify may impose an extra risk of ambush and crossfire on those who are not,” he cautioned.
Another critique came from the editor of the Marine Corps Gazette. Remember my concern about the “talking heads?” In his July editorial, Colonel John P Glasgow, Jr, USMC (Ret) slammed not embedded reporters, but news anchors and pundits “embedded” in their newsrooms. “The continuing danger here is that spin from agenda-driven commentators can force perceptions to become reality,” Glasgow wrote. “Embedded journalists were basically good for the lower echelons of the fighting forces. But at the national levels of print and broadcast journalism there were forces at play to distort reality. We saw it in a damning fit of pique ranting about practices at MEF (Marine Expeditionary Force) and division levels of command. We saw it all over Baghdad with the most egregious coverage concerning the looting of the museum, with journalists not telling the truth, and with national television prompter readers proclaiming the military had lost control in Baghdad.”
Yes, the reports were exaggerated – the bulk of items missing from museums had been hidden by staff in the desert before the war and was recovered. The little that was looted was also mostly returned to the musea in a few weeks. And the US military had not “lost” control – they never had it in the first place.
So, what now?
What do we make of this? Clearly, embedding has numerous advantages for both the media and the military – but also some disadvantages. Like live, these are not necessarily evenly divided and prone to change from time to time and place to place.
Having been on both sides of the fence myself, both as a journalist and as an infantry officer with a front-line unit, I recognise the over-riding importance of OPSEC during actual operations. The reporter’s life is at stake too. And the old adage is that no story is worth a human life. Linnebank added that embedded Reuters reporters were remarkably free to file — subject to guidelines not to detail tactical deployments or specific troop numbers, or identify casualties before next-of-kin have been informed. Vietnam veterans told him that they followed a similar code of practice — not to file when to do so might endanger lives or add to grief. Surely, there can be no disputing that?
Mutual convenience is important too. The need of reporters to “taste” all there is to experience and the need of news organisations to reflect a “slice of all the action” must be tempered with the safety of reporters and the forces they accompany as well as the ability of those forces to provide the freedom of movement reporters might seek. Veteran US newscaster, Walter Cronkite, flew on bomber missions over Germany during World War Two, while with United Press International, parachuted with airborne units and was at the “Battle of the Bulge.” Combat units generally do not have spare personnel or vehicles to assign to battlefield tourists. If you are to accompany a combat unit will generally be on their terms – and as a journalist and a Reserve officer I see nothing wrong with that. Neither does Dunnigan.
For the Military
· The media better appreciates the military and their mission.
· Enhanced mutual trust and understanding.
· OPSEC violations less likely.
For the military
· Not a “sure thing.”
· The reporter is there to see and report your mistakes in tactics, operations and strategy.
· The reporter gets to interview your “problem cases” and may see your more undisciplined troops commit “excesses”.
· The Col. Tim Collins case: Someone with a grudge could smear a commander through the media. The correction never carries the same weight as the original report.
For the Journalist
· Access to “the ultimate front row seat.”
· Long term exposure to the military. Staying with the same unit takes you past a “PR exercise.” You get to know the platoon/company you are with. This makes for great copy.
· Raises awareness of military issues and operations, minimises errors in reporting.
For the Journalist
· Freedom of movement restricted.
· Reports limited to what the reporter can see or hear. Mostly colour.
· Accusations of bias.
From the introductory to the crux:
THE ROLE OF THE MEDIA
IN THE ACQUISITION OF NEW ARMAMENTS FOR THE DOD
The media, strictly speaking, has no role to play in the acquisition of new arms and equipment. A procurement process can work perfectly well without media assistance.
However, the media, general and specialised is generally involved in the process in a number of ways at the behest of a number of interests. By the “general media” I mean the mainstream newspapers and broadcasters and by the “specialised press” I mean journals such as the African Armed Forces Journal domestically and those of, for example, the Jane’s and Mönch groups internationally.
Specialised media. The specialised press is intensely interested in the acquisition process for a number of reasons. Firstly, it may want to inform its readers about the process, about the product, about the end-user’s requirement and how this will come together — or otherwise — in training and operational schedules once the product is integrated with the rest of the military’s inventory. The readers referred to would include military officers and other ranks of the purchasing forces, those from others who might be contemplating the same, bureaucrats, ministers of state, law makers (Members of Parliament), decision makers in the defence industry and the interested public. Secondly, it may want to examine the products, processes and requirements, study alternatives and evaluate lessons that can be learned from this, again for consumption by its defined public.
General media. Since the end of the Cold war, the public has generally become apathetic of defence matters and the mainstream media therefore has a different approach. Australia’s defence minister, Senator Robert Hill, last year put it in these words: “There is no area where public understanding and informed debate on key issues is more important. Yet there is not a lot of that debate in the community… Outside defence circles there is little discussion on what are the appropriate roles for the Defence Force. There is little discussion on whether terms of service adequately reflect the aspirations of today’s family. There is even less debate on what the public is prepared to pay for defence.”
The same can be said of South Africa and Africa in general, where some pundits want the armed forces to prepare for Cold War-style mechanised warfare, others want the military to embrace peacekeeping and still others want to turn our troops into uniformed development agents bearing human rights manuals rather than guns.
As a consequence the mainstream media and academic think tanks see defence as a convenient whetstone on which to grind other axes. Little interested in what a specific acquisition can or cannot do and not particularly informed whether the product is really capable of fulfilling the stated requirement (let alone the end user’s real requirement), most newspapers and broadcasters see defence as a prime hunting ground for signs of impropriety and corruption. Journalism, a satirist once said, is about finding problems, not solutions. A good example of this was the furore surrounding the government’s Strategic Defence Package. Despite much smoke little fire was found. Now that the Rand has rebounded one also hears little about the cost of the programme. While our currency was plummeting some were predicting the direst outcomes, arguing the cost could escalate to as much as R200 billion from R30 billion in 1999.
The mainstream media’s primary objective is the “scoop” or the placing of controversial items that generate sequels, public excitement and ultimately more sales — not only of the paper but of advertising in it, for it is there that the profit lies. Of course, the fourth estate is unlikely to admit to this. Media bosses and editors will always respond at this juncture that their are merely fulfilling their mandate as society’s watchdog. Of course they are, but at a price.. and for a profit!
Trial balloons, axes and planted stories. Of course, articles on defence issues are not only generated by journalists. Many are “planted” by officials, officers, industry players, academics and others with an axe to grind or trial balloon to float. A good example of the latter was a string of conference papers and feature articles generated by certain academic circles justifying the need for the SA Navy to acquire a class of helicopter carriers or assault ships in 2000-1. The argument was, in part, that the SANDF needed such vessels to support peacekeeping operations in littoral regions. While this may be so in some cases, neither of South Africa’s major deployments – to Burundi and to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) – support this thesis. While close to water, in the form of the Great Lakes, it is not certain that a helicopter carrier could support either operation.
A refinement of this approach is for officials to plant the idea with third parties, and once it has been made public, to support it. This creates the idea that two separate entities support the project when the origin is actually the same. It is my understanding that the assault ship trial balloon is one such case.
“Don`t put a lot of faith in press releases about weapons with no past”. There is much to be cynical about regarding arms acquisitions. For one thing, never forget the lowest bidder makes your equipment. Dunnigan`s several books rebound with examples of weapons that did not work as expected – or at all. “Don`t put a lot of faith in press releases about weapons with no past,” Dunnigan says. “Nearly all modern weapons have experienced problems, just as many weapons introduced during World War II did.” Think “Panther” and “Tiger” tank and thank God teething trouble made them less effective than they could have been. Also think “Polaris”, “TOW”, the M60 and T62 tank, the MiG21. With its shoddy gunsight and crude missiles it was a relatively harmless aircraft – except to its pilot. “The primary flaw,” Dunnigan argues, “in most weapon development is the reluctance to go as far as one should during testing. It`s quite common for testing to be one of the first items reduced when development budgets come under pressure. Realistic testing is not only expensive but requires a fair amount of imagination to mimic battlefield realities adequately. There is also the political pressure to get the weapon into service with a minimum of fuss and embarrassment.” A common mechanism for doing so is rigged wargames – ensuring that what passes for operational testing confirms predetermined outcomes. These receive lavish press attention, which takes us back to the dictum of not putting a lot of faith in press releases about weapons with no past. Many weapons exist for no other reason than their designers and manufacturers thought they were “neat.” Dunnigan observes that many politicians and military leaders are misled by the performance of weapons. PR companies and journalists must take their share of the blame for this. “The best weapons available in the hands of poorly led, ill-trained and unmotivated troops will lead to defeat. This is historical experience. The arms merchants` sales brochures will not mention these unpleasant facts… The preference for hardware over human values in magnificently equipped armies manned by the incompetent and led by people who believe their own press releases is all too common.”
Pork barrel politics. A menace perhaps even greater than journalists with their alleged experts and arms merchants with their often-dubious claims are politicians. In recent decades politicians in many countries have effectively seized control of the acquisition system. “The legislature has seized effective control because of the vast funds that can be channeled into their constituencies when defence funds are handed out,” Dunnigan complains. While the problem is particularly acute in the US, it has raised its head here too. Among the many accusations swirling around the SDP is one that politicians for reasons of expediency rather than merit preferred the Hawk for the LIFT programme in preference on an Aermacchi design favoured by the air force. Although the claim has been repeatedly denied, it remains an instructive example. Politicians are pragmatists. If they aren`t kissing your baby, they`re stealing its candy. They keep their options open and play off one interest group against another. Can we blame political decision-makers for choosing one similar LIFT candidate over another because in doing so they can claim the choice will generate more jobs, greater investment, better technology transfer and export opportunities than the other? I cannot. Politics is about perception. Being seen to bring the bacon home is far more important in peacetime than getting the right equipment, in the right numbers, into the right hands.
It takes a brave politician NOT to be a hero. Defence contractors know this too. US President Dwight D Eisenhower, the retired general, did not for nothing warn about the power of the military-industrial complex. Threaten a project and see the storm of protest from vested interests. The unions howl about job losses – and lost votes. The contractor warns darkly about the factory`s future viability, and taxes. Think tanks caution about the loss of the technology base and that the politicians will be to blame. Industry insiders write to newspapers arguing that too much has already been spent to cancel the project now. “Billions would be wasted,” they argue. Retired officers stress the doctrinal need for the equipment, pleading that the troops must not be left in the lurch. No politician wants to be seen as weak on defence or be blamed for decisions that waste taxpayer money or cost voters their jobs. It takes a brave politician NOT to be a hero in such circumstances. Powerful cards and often played to great effect to get projects reinstated. Politics is about perception. A controversial decision can cost you a few votes, a courageous decision can cost your party the election.
Magic wands. Politicians and government officials also have another use for defence acquisitions – deflecting attention from military unpreparedness. “Readiness is like the weather: everyone talks about it, but no one does anything about it,” Dunnigan argues.
When danger looms politicians sometimes have to create the appearance of action. It is the old “form over substance” trick. Sir Humphrey, Sir Arnold`s replacement in Yes, Prime Minister put it like this: “BW believes that the purpose of our defence policy is to defend Britain. Clearly in this modern world this is an impossibility. Therefore, the only purpose of our defence policy is to make people believe that Britain is defended. Some advocates of the deterrent theory understand this, but they assume that our defence policy is designed to make the Russians believe that we are defended. This is absurd. Our policy exists to make the British believe Britain is defended — the Russians know its not. Our defence policy is therefore designed to impress all those simple ignorant British citizens who shuffle in and out of houses, buses, pubs, factories and the Cabinet Room. We are trying to make them feel secure. BW and the PM (Prime Minister) are seeking a better way, which is doubtless thoroughly laudable. But the very words ‘better way` imply change, always a most dangerous notion. At the moment we have a magic wand. It is called Trident. No one understands anything about it except that it will cost £15 billion, which means that it must be wonderful. Magical! We just have to write the cheque, and then we can all relax. But if people in the government start talking about it, eventually they will start thinking about it. Then they will realise the problems, the flaws in the reasoning. Result: the nation gets anxious.” Perhaps this is why Minister Lekota declared the season closed for open government.
THE IMPACT OF UNRESTRICTED REPORTING ON THE DEFENCE INDUSTRY & THE ECONOMY OF THE COUNTRY
It is self-evident that the impact of unrestricted reporting on the defence industry can be devastating on the rest of the economy and the country. Left to their own devices, the media could violate confidentiality agreements, expose embarrassing sales to dodgy countries, report on questionable purchases from strange suppliers and a manifold more. The government attempted to give itself more leeway in this field by building in a gag for the press and whistle-blowers in the recently passed National Conventional Arms Control Act. Parliament gratifyingly struck it down.
It is self-evident too that a balance must be struck between the Constitutional imperative of free speech — and media reporting — and the right of contracting parties to commercial confidentially and the state to keep some secrets secret. In the case of commercial confidentiality the courts, by means of the common law interdict and the law of contract, provide adequate safeguards. In the case of the state, a number of laws of general application already apply, for example the Defence Act, Act 42 of 2003, the Criminal Procedure Act, Act 51 of 1977, and the Protection of Information Act, Act 82 of 1984.
What remains of concern is the apparent willingness of the SANDF to capitulate before any wild claim of constitutionality. Our 1996 Constitution contains a very clear section on the limitation of rights granted by its Bill of Rights. Section 38 of Act 108 of 1996 makes explains lucidly in what circumstances the application of a right can be limited and what factors would have to be alleged and proved by a party seeking to do so.
This should take care of this issue, though the SANDF’s handling of labour issues to date inspires no confidence that it can handle any other legal aspect any better. Applied to state secrets this may easily translate into “restricted” coming to mean that what was published in the media yesterday and “confidential” that what was published today.
As an aside I can mention that peacetime defence reporting can become wartime intelligence information. Reports that company X manufactures product Y at location Z can be very valuable when your opponent needs to target his cruise missiles.
THE MARKETING EFFECT OF THE MEDIA’S REPORTING ON THE DEFENCE INDUSTRY, BOTH GLOBALLY AND REGIONALLY
The effect of the media’s reporting on the defence industry in terms of its marketing effect could be difficult to quantify. Like statistics, whatever data was available could likely be used to prove anything. The nature of truth in this arena is also suspect. I have an uncomfortable feeling that much of what passes for “truth” and “fact” in marketing is that what cannot be disproved by the audience.
The media does, however, play a vital role in this regard. Whether this is by design or default falls outside the scope of this discussion. The effect is most visible with the end-user. Very often the few lines printed in the press about some new product or acquisition is the only opportunity a soldier, sailor or airman has to learn about an item or its manufacturer. Except for the occasional defence show the bulk of any defence force is cut off from the glossy brochures and slick sales talk the acquisition apparat has to endure.
While this distance may appear irrelevant to some, it is of importance when one realises that user requirements are often set by low-ranking frontline types and that the requirement is considered unmet until they, our riflemen, sergeants and lieutenants have given the item acquired to fulfil the need the thumbs up.
There is, of course, an element of the ideal in this depiction. Things do not always happen this way. Ask the Sandhurst-trained South Africans among the British about their patently poor SA80 assault rifles and their shoddy government-issue boots. This is where negative reinforcement enters the picture, hence the extensive coverage in the British media about the poor personal equipment and arms issued to Tommie Atkins and the equally extensive coverage given about BAE Systems’ woes in the same country. It should come as little surprise, then, that the SA80 is only used by Britain and that BAE Systems’ shareprice has taken a pounding on the stock markets in 2003.
Contractors as well as non-governmental organisations use the media as a terrain of struggle to wage information warfare.
When a new product is introduced to service or combat there are a quick succession of suitable service types punting its performance in the media. While faces change, the message is remarkably consistent: They always express their surprise at how much better the item performed than expected, what a “quantum leap” ahead in efficiency or effectiveness it is. It s only later that the flaws emerge. Companies also have a habit of adding the word “battle tested” to any sales and marketing literature the moment they can. They seldom take the trouble to explain that this is at best, a very subjective term. They also never mention that many products fail their battle test. “Battle tested” does not mean the product is any good.
The military and its industrial complex is not the only practitioners of information warfare. Dunnigan points out that NGOs use it too, and often the victims are the military. As an example he cites the 1997 treaty to ban antipersonnel mines (APM). “What was unique about the campaign to ban land mines was the skillful use of misinformation, lies, and rewriting of history to get the treaty signed.” He points out that the basic premise used by campaigners was that APM have no military usefulness and are used primarily against innocent civilians. Mines were used in volume during World War Two not because generals were sadists but because they saved lives. After that conflict, however, mines often became a political weapon. Most mines used against civilians are intended to terrorise them into supporting the guerillas or not supporting the government. “This was not brought out during the anti-mine crusade because it did not fit the mind-set of the crusaders, who sought to pin the blame on the nations providing most of the mines,” he writes. Most of the countries that afterwards signed were nations that either had no mines or were not keen to use what they had. “But on the negative side, the nations that did sign the treaty will, when they send their soldiers into some future war, lose more of those troops for the want of mines.” He predicts mines will be back, perhaps under another name, very quickly when reports citing their need come from the front. “But many of their citizens in uniform will die needlessly in the meantime.” A final point is that the anti-mine enthusiasts made up many of the statistics they quoted, such as that more than 100-million mines were in use and that 25,000 people were being injured each year. The figures were invented because most of those making and laying the mines were – and remain – disinclined to release accurate figures. Campaigners claimed there were up to 35 million mines in Afghanistan alone. Deminers on the spot now estimate the number at 600,000. So if you have to estimate, and you are an issue-driven NGO, guestimate in your own favour.
Says Dunnigan: The anti-mine activists knowingly used information warfare to achieve their goals… If you have a cause that is generally considered worthy and are willing to lie, cheat and deceive to achieve your goal, information warfare is the way to go.
THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE MEDIA, THE DEFENCE INDUSTRY AND NEPAD
From the onset of the colonial era up to very recently Africa had very little influence on and even less say about its fate. Its defence and development was the responsibility of its colonial masters – who were not above squabbling among themselves and conscripting Africans to fight each other in their name. When African states nominally became independent from the 1960s not much changed. The peace and security agenda remained externally driven and social-economic progress became the preserve of the development set – particularly the Bretton Woods institutions..
Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota in July 2003 argued that African countries should reduce their reliance on foreign military assistance by forming partnerships among themselves. He said Africa in the past often had no choice but to seek help from those whose military interference was often the very cause of the problem. “Our continent is caught between a rock and a hard place,” Lekota told defence ministers from the Southern African Development Community. “We are only too aware that the involvement of foreign powers, especially military involvement, has been the cause of many of our problems,” he said. “But we are forced to call for help from the developed world, especially the previous colonial powers, to resolve these same problems.”
Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi in the March 2003 edition of the African Armed Forces Journal argued that the long-term stability in Africa depended on Africans. “We cannot expect the rich countries of the world to continue to police Africa indefinitely and we do not want a future where our regional stability is at the mercy of the foreign policy aspirations of nations from outside the region,” he said. “The (then) recent intervention by both the French and the Americans in Cote d’Ivoire underlines the magnitude of our problem,” he added. “At the very beginning of the crisis, it should have been a properly mandated African Union force that stepped in between the warring parties… What we have now is a long wait as a regional force is assembled and dispatched to the country. In the meantime, France and the United States are doing their best to ensure a certain amount of stability. But the understandable priority of both these countries is to protect their nationals, guard their assets and leave as soon as is decently possible,” Qadhafi Jr said. “Only an African Union force with a proper mandate, a sound chain of command and properly trained forces will have the motivation (and legitimacy) to stay for the long term and achieving the lasting solution that will ensure real peace and security,” he concluded. I can but agree.
We all know when synergy is achieved. That`s when the sum of the whole is greater that the sum of the parts. Synergy between the media, the defence industry and NEPAD, the New Partnership for Africa`s Development, is possible. But this will require us to make better use of what we have to hand. In one sense this refers to our defence-related industry – here at home and northwards. In another, this refers to a much talked-about new order of things on this continent of ours: the African Union (AU) and its socio-economic agenda.
The prognosis for Africa has been often described as dire. But the launch of the African Union (AU), with NEPAD as its business plan; and the Peace & Security Council (PSC) as well as the African Standby Force (ASF) as its security umbrella provides one way to a better future.
The AU, PSC, ASF and NEPAD are, of course, continental projects. But the role of regional organisations such as the Southern African Development Community (SADC) must not be overlooked. In the SADC region a regional mutual defence pact is finally a reality. Key features are military preparedness, a commitment to collective defence, defence co-operation between SADC member states and compatibility of equipment and systems, in particular communications.
NEPAD is arguably the most important socio-economic plan ever to emerge from Africa. The programme, which links aid to good governance, has been widely – and rightly – hailed. NEPAD itself makes it clear that major preconditions for its success include peace and security on this troubled continent. Because NEPAD is primarily an socio-economic development programme defence issues play a negligible role in it as it stands. That`s where the PSC, an Africanised UN Security Council and the ASF, a five-brigade “peace force” enters the picture.
A cautionary note on NEPAD
I am increasingly concerned about the fate of NEPAD, the no-longer so New Partnership for Africa`s Development. The ship of state is the only one that leaks from the top and the announced departure, also immediately after my last address here, of NEPAD Secretariat chief Prof Wiseman Nkuhlu has made me wonder what he knows that we don`t.
A day after the surprise announcement, Nkuhlu claimed the plan has reversed the decline in international development assistance to Africa. Briefing the media on February 18 on the outcome of a Heads of State meeting on NEPAD and the African Peer Review Mechanism in Rwanda, he said that aid flows had grown from R104-billion in 2000 before NEPAD was launched to more than R122-billion in 2002 after it was launched. But while the international community was pulling its weight, African governments and regional bodies were apparently not, The Star newspaper had him saying. “I’m afraid the RECs (regional economic communities) have added very little to progress, yet they are supposed to be the building blocks of the African Union.” Nkuhlu added that the “heads” were also greatly concerned about the failure of national governments to integrate NEPAD into their own programmes and budgets, despite their promises to do so.
In addition, at least four recent publications by the authoritative International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) have thrown cold water on the project. Its 2002/3 Strategic Survey warned that NEPAD was veering from substance to process. “In terms of process, NEPAD witnessed a flurry of activity in 2002… Despite these nominal organisational successes, NEPAD has so far not adequately met four stiff challenges: the disputed nature of some embryonic African Peer Review Mechanism; the more tangible problem of Zimbabwe; organisational visibility; and organisational overstretch.”
In addition, an article in the Winter 2003/4 Survival, entitled Africa`s Growing Strategic Resonance, as well as two IISS Adelphi papers, titled The Future of Africa: A New Order in Sight? and South Africa`s Post-Apartheid Foreign Policy – from Reconciliation to Revival? all found fault with aspects of NEPAD. These can be tabulated as follows:
n There has been no popular buy-in. NEPAD is, and remains, an “elite” project. Nowhere is there great public enthusiasm and everywhere business, labour and others are asking for clarification and explanation. Yet little has been forthcoming. As a result, NEPAD is popularly seen as a neo-liberal Uncle Tom project on behalf of the Bretton Wood institutions.
n Even the elite is not in agreement. Some like Zimbabwe`s Robert Mugabe has openly rejected it while others cynically see it as another opportunity to “milk the cow.”
n Even if Africa`s many crooked rulers resist the temptation to steal, critics say it is hardly likely that they, the people least likely to benefit from good, clean, governance would put themselves out of the milk shed. Since NEPAD is a “top down” project it is doubly doomed to fail.
n Pretty words and some recycled money aside, the developed world is increasingly ambivalent towards the project. The ambivalence is fuelled by donor fatigue, short political attention spans, diminished “colonial guilt”, irritation at attempts to extort money through charges of racism, etc., changing priorities and the fact that although neither their cows nor Africans in Africa vote in their elections, the farmers who own the cows do. So don`t expect agricultural subsidies or barriers to fall anytime soon.
The PSC and ASF
By the end of this decade Africa should have a five brigade UN-style force ready to police the continent’s trouble spot. In terms of a plan drafted by a “panel of experts”, the force will consist of five regionally-based brigades in addition to a sixth, continental, formation based at the AU`s headquarters at Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The document, adopted by an African Chiefs of Staff meeting in the Ethiopian capital in May 2003, confirmed in January 2004 and cemented by a Heads of state meeting in Surt, Libya, the next month, contains detailed instructions for the establishment of the ASF. But the plan contains some loose threads that threaten to undo the entire tapestry.
The formation of the ASF is important for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is a manifestation of the ability, long desired, for Africa to police its own trouble spots. For this reason it is both long overdue and long called for. Politics sank all previous attempts and the perseverance of those driving the process should be commended. Secondly, and from a “Northern” perspective, the ASF at last provides a rationale in terms of which the international defence industry can engage Africa. Selling arms to Africa is almost an abomination in many circles. It is indeed difficult to do because of the poor financial record and solvency of many states and restrictions on defence exports for human rights and other policy reasons. But with the ASF, the AU PSC “action force” selling arms to Africa becomes morally right, if not imperative.
As the African Renaissance unfolds many are arguing that the need for armed forces will fall away and with it the need for arms. So, is there no market for defence products? Quite the contrary! As is plain for all to see, progress towards the often-talked-about African Renaissance will often be halting and there will be reverses. It is in such circumstances that the more democratically advanced African states may well have to militarily intervene or dispatch peacekeepers and peacemakers to restore order or to create the conditions for a new beginning. Providing defence products to these leading states and their militaries is therefor not only ethically correct but also morally proper, the argument goes.
The brigades will be based on the UN’s multinational Standby Forces High Readiness Brigade (SHIRBRIG), headquartered near Copenhagen, Denmark. The brigade, a consequence of the UN’s twin humiliations in Rwanda and Srebrenica (Bosnia), musters between 4,000 and 5,000 troops when fully deployed.
The idea is generally sound and avoids the obvious pitfall of reinventing the wheel. Where acceptable doctrine, tactics, techniques and procedures (DTTP) already exist, they are to be evaluated and modified as may be necessary before adoption. A worry, however, is what is deemed as acceptable. UN DTTP is throughout accepted uncritically. Unfortunately for those massacred in Rwanda in 1994 and Srebrenica in 1992, the UN’s record at peacekeeping is an almost total failure.
One shining exception was the UN taking action under Chapter VIII to protect the sovereignty of South Korea in 1950. The US 8th Army, made up of American and allied troops, was tasked with the responsibility – one it still upholds. When examining other, at face value, “successful” peacekeeping missions, such as UNTAC in Cambodia, UNTAG in Namibia and ONUMOZ in Mozambique, it can well be argued that they were superfluous to the outcome of events. Would the transitions in Cambodia, Namibia and
Mozambique have shipwrecked without the local UN baron having a limp-wristed military “force” at his disposal? In all three cases all the relevant parties were keen for the transition to go ahead.
Even the famous “Brahimi Report,” the result of a UN panel investigating this litany of failure, has not arrested the trend. Since its publication in August 2000, an ill-prepared UNAMSIL contingent has been taken prisoner in Sierra Leone by the very rebels they were meant to police. It took British troops, acting outside the UN chain-of-command, using real-world rules of engagement, to set them free and make the rebels live up to their agreements. Contrary to the findings of Algerian ambassador Lakhdar Brahimi’s experts, the fault lies not with a lack of funding or member countries failing to commit promised resources. The fault lies, I believe, with the UN’s very approach.
The ASF Panel of Experts claim to have studied various NATO and AU models but stated that they were inappropriate “for various reasons.” This is an old civil service dodge. It creates the impression that there was a proper study and that valid reasons exist. The 48-page report is supported by a great many annexes, explaining aspects of the UN system in great detail. If the alleged studies took place it would have been little trouble to attach the findings. Yet neither the main document nor the annexes throw any further light on the matter.
Although egalitarian, the cost of five regional brigades may be more than the AU can carry. Is there really a need for one brigade per region? Why? What for? The ASF document does not say. Another aspect the ASF report glosses over, is that although the Dutch, the Danes and the Canadians are indeed major UN donors and troop contributors as well as the major movers behind SHIRBRIG, the cohesion seen in Copenhagen is more the result of 54 years of familiarity and integrated decision-making within NATO than 10 years of tinkering with UN procedure
The ASF fits in well with Qadhafi Jr’s brigade. Qadhafi suggested a joint, combined force answering to the PSC through the MSC, an “AU Rapid Reaction Force Headquarters and a Joint Force Deployment Headquarters. Answering to this – and here he goes further
than the ASF planners’ UN-template — would be land, sea and air elements. Qadhafi proposed a land element of three light brigades and one mechanised brigade. The light brigades would consist of three 500-strong light infantry battalions, a 120mm mortar battery, an engineer battalion, a light helicopter squadron, a medical battalion, a maintenance company, a logistics/supply battalion, a military police company and a US-style civil affairs group. The mechanised brigade included a tank and three mechanised infantry battalions in addition to a 105mm artillery battery.
The sea element, Qadhafi, argued, could include two command vessels, two frigates, two amphibious vessels and one hospital ship, a marine battalion and various support ships. His air element would include three fighter/bomber squadrons, three C130 squadrons and an aerial refuelling, an attack helicopter and two utility helicopter squadrons along with
support elements. In addition to these air and sea elements, which neither the UN nor the ASF in its current form caters for, Qadhafi foresaw the need for a special forces battalion, an independent communications battalion, an independent combat service support battalion as well as a field hospital in addition to further logistics, support and civil affairs elements.
“The whole point of this force is its ability to deploy quickly and attempt to defuse a situation before it becomes a major security problem. Air assets and especially troop lift aircraft will have to be almost immediately available. The key to the deployment of the ARRF would be its capability to quickly move troops and equipment to crisis areas. The
tactical heavy lift squadrons would be one of the key elements of the entire force,” Qadhafi wrote. “The whole land element would have to be at ten days notice to move, but inside the land element, other units would have to be at a much higher readiness states. Possibly one infantry company group at six hours notice to move, a complete battalion group at 24 hours and the lead brigade (with its complete headquarters) at 72
As stated up-front, the time for an ASF has come. But the format adopted is unlikely to work because of an over-reliance on a discredited UN model. Qadhafi Jr’s model and the examples provided by the EU and NATO stand a greater chance of success in the real world. Sadly, the situation in conflict zones such as Liberia more often resembles Lord of the Flies than the ideal world the UN and, now apparently, the AU, want to police.
Presently, “light” is seen as right. This trend is not exclusively South African and indicates that the military mind is susceptible to the dictates of fashion or necessity. The current gallop to lighten the forces is based partly on the fashionable belief that intensive conventional warfare of the Gulf War-type (1980-88, 1991, 2003) is a thing of the past in most part of the world (barring the Middle East), partly on cost considerations (light forces are cheaper than heavy, mechanised outfits) and partly on the supposed lessons learnt from recent conflicts such as the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan and the war against Serbia in Kosovo. The latter would include the ability to deploy light mechanised forces in addition to Special Forces over strategic distances. The US, who as usual these days is setting the trend, is currently in the process of establishing a number of light brigades equipped with Mowag LAV-III`s to provide that ability. Since launching the programme the US Army has refashioned its entire acquisition programme to support the concept. The first high-profile victim was the Crusader self-propelled howitzer project, judged as “too heavy” despite its other impressive statistics. That the decision was not well received by United Defence, the prime contractor or by Congressmen representing districts home to United Defence and its suppliers, is an understatement.
Enhancing African Defence Cooperation
The PSC and ASF provide a framework for military as well as defence-industrial cooperation.
African militaries can work together in both the force preparation (training, etc.) and force employment (operations) fields. This could further include establishing joint units along the Eurocorps model as well as the joint acquisition and operation of equipment such as ships or patrol aircraft along the model of the NATO AWACS fleet. Another regional or continental project could be to establish a number of high-class exercise/maneuver area for member countries. Germany has an instrumented combat training centre (CTC) at Hohenfels and the US has Fort Irwin, California for heavy forces and Fort Polk, Louisiana for light forces. These give company/battalion/brigade size units an opportunity to really train as they would fight and the electronic monitoring devices to record their decision making for discussion afterwards. South Africa has a CTC – no yet instrumented – that could become a centre of excellence for realistic training for warfighting.
Integration will logically lead to common procurement. Zimbabwe Defence Industries CEO Colonel Tshinga Dube (Ret) is on record as saying that “besides meeting the defence requirements for the region, South Africa can also help other SADC members develop their defence industries. In so doing, the regional armies would be equipped with state-of-the-art equipment designed and manufactured in the region for the region.” This way, a project too expensive or cumbersome for one country can be tackled by the region as a whole. “Failure to utilise regional products may be attributed to lack of trust among member states, sanctions against each other, unwillingness to transfer technology between member states, influence caused by inheritance from colonial powers and the fear of dependence on neighbours”, he said. The consequences of importing from outside the region was also severe. First there was the exhaustion of scarce foreign currency, with about 30 percent of the purchase price going to freight charges alone. Next, imports perpetuated the region’s lack of technological advancement and high unemployment and kept it dependent on the developed world. “In most cases purchases are done through third parties which tends to increase the value of goods and sometimes result in the wrong equipment being delivered, ” Dube said. Armscor, the South African DoD’s procurement agency and life-cycle equipment supporter, has also expressed itself in favour of regional military-industrialisation, joint regional purchases and standardisation on numerous occasions. It also sees a role for itself as a SADC purchasing agent.
Ladies and gentlemen, I’ll leave it to each of you to draw your own conclusions on what I have said here this morning. This is the third time I have been invited to speak here at the National Defence College – I hope I am getting better at it! If my speechmaking skills were deficient, I will rely on Liddell Hart for my defence. Irked by his constant criticisms of British exercises in the 1930’s the British Army invited him to Egypt to command an armoured force there to show them better. He wisely declined, saying that criticism did not indicate mastery of the subject on his part. I hope I have nonetheless kept you entertained. Thank you!
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