ACRI: Working with African Nations to Build Regional Stability

Interview of Ambassador Aubrey Hooks, Special Coordinator for ACRI, U.S. Department of State (Washington, DC) by Susan Ellis, 10 September 2001

The principal challenge for the African Crisis Response Initiative (ACRI) as it enters the next millennium is trying to respond to the growing interest on the part of African countries that would like to participate in the program, says Ambassador Aubrey Hooks, Special Coordinator for ACRI, U.S. Department of State. ACRI's primary missions, the ambassador explains, are to enhance the capacity of African countries to participate effectively in peacekeeping operations and in humanitarian crises and to build a more stable future for themselves and the continent as a whole. He was interviewed by Contributing Editor Susan Ellis.

How would you define ACRI's current role and key objectives?

Hooks: The role of ACRI is the same as it has been from the very beginning, which is to enhance the capacity of African countries to participate effectively in peacekeeping operations and in humanitarian crises.

Where is ACRI most effective and why?

Hooks: We are a training program, and I think we're most effective in training peacekeeping skills and also in training command and control. That is, how do you take the various elements, various contingents, bring them together, and translate a political mandate into a military presence on the ground? I think this is where we have gained our reputation, which I think is a very good one now on the African continent.

Do ACRI's country-to-country and regional contacts influence instruments of diplomacy?

Hooks: In terms of diplomacy, there has been a very definite impact. USEUCOM (U.S. European Command) and USCENTCOM (U.S. Central Command), the theater commands that deal with various parts of Africa, describe ACRI as the flagship in their military-to-military relationship with African countries. What we see is that there is tremendous interest in ACRI. And, in the military context, this has helped to open many doors. I think also, of course, in terms of our embassies in Africa, this is another engagement on the part of the United States that broadens our contacts with a number of countries and has paid dividends. We provide equipment, and we provide training. This also means that the relationship between the United States and a partner country is much deeper than it would have been otherwise.

So you believe that ACRI represents a good example of public diplomacy?

Hooks: Exactly. And Malawi, one of the earliest supporters of our program, is an excellent case to demonstrate this. Malawi is in the southern part of the continent, and we are delighted to have the Malawians as participants in the program. They have been enthusiastic supporters from the very beginning, and they are probably the most advanced in terms of where the program has evolved, because they started early, have been consistent in staying with us, and have progressed significantly. We have heard many compliments on the qualifications of Malawi's troops. For instance, when they participated in the Blue Crane exercises—organized in South Africa by the subregional organization SADC (Southern African Development Community)—their performance was duly noted by other participants who were there.

In what ways does public diplomacy advance ACRI's objectives?

Hooks: ACRI is a program that from the very, very beginning has put strong emphasis on transparency and openness. And we welcome attention and public discussion of ACRI. We think that this is an excellent program that shows further U.S. engagement on the African continent, and it is probably now the best known and most successful initiative in Africa of this administration. We think that we have a great story to tell, and we are always delighted to be able to do that in the press so that we can reach the maximum number of people. We think that this has opened many doors not only in our military relationship, but also in broad political terms, because I think people have come to respect the program for what it offers and to see that it responds to a significant need.

When this program was first launched in 1996, peacekeeping was viewed differently on the continent. Now, more and more governments - and I think Kenya is perhaps an example of this - have come to see that peacekeeping is, indeed, an important mission for the military and offers them a mission beyond the boundaries of their country. It is seen as a good thing. It burnishes the prestige of the military as an institution. It enhances the prestige of the country as a country that is engaged in a good humanitarian cause. ACRI, at the same time, has earned an excellent reputation since it was launched three years ago. Part of this is attributable to the public exposure that we have received. I believe that media exposure and public diplomacy go hand-in-hand. Therefore, I believe that public diplomacy has contributed to the success of ACRI.

What is the process by which ACRI determines when and where it will become involved?

Hooks: ACRI is a training program. We look at various countries in Africa where we have a number of contacts. We give briefings about the program throughout the continent. Where we find countries that are interested in the program, and that have expressed an interest in participating in peacekeeping operations, we pursue the possibility of a partnership.

We have three broad parameters that are required: (1) a democratic civilian government, (2) respect for human rights, and (3) a significant military capacity. And when countries that meet these three criteria express an interest in the program, we then pursue the possibility of providing training.

I understand that you hope eventually to have ties with Nigeria?

Hooks: We would love to have a relationship with Nigeria, as we would with South Africa. These are very large countries. In the case of Nigeria, no other country on the continent has had the experience in peacekeeping that Nigeria has had. Nigeria has played the role of lead country in a number of peacekeeping operations. It is a large country with a large population, the largest in Africa, with significant military capacity and the economic wherewithal to participate in peacekeeping operations. We think that it would be a tremendous asset to have both Nigeria and South Africa in the program and to benefit from their experience.

Partnership is a word that I think reflects the way we see the program and its effectiveness. Before ACRI was launched, we consulted very carefully with our African friends and we took their suggestions and advice and re-oriented this program to reflect their suggestions, even changing the name of the program. Originally it was ACRF for African Crisis Response Force, and that was subsequently changed to ACRI, with the word initiative, to reflect those consultations. To have countries like Nigeria participate in the program would be a tremendous boost for our program. But I also believe that we could offer something significant to Nigeria.

Other than the direct and obvious benefits of military-to-military contacts in peacekeeping training and operations, what are some of the other long-term and perhaps less well understood benefits of contacts and interactions between U.S. military and foreign military forces?

Hooks: We can cite a number of things. The U.S. military is trying to engage various African countries in a number of different programs. We have regional exercises such as Natural Fire that took place in the eastern part of the continent in 1998 and was extremely successful. It involved Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya. And I think a program like that, where there was direct contact with the U.S. military, also figured very prominently in the decision of Kenya to welcome ACRI as a training program.

When militaries get to know each other, work together, and train together, they build up the contacts that instill confidence, foster cooperation, and encourage long-term relationships that are in the interests of both the partner country and the United States.

What international organizations are involved in ACRI's training programs?

Hooks: One of the things we have tried to do, from the very beginning of our program, has been to involve humanitarian organizations. When we were first developing the program, we went to the United Nations, for instance, to make sure that what we were prepared to teach corresponded to U.N. standards that had been developed for peacekeeping operations. They confirmed that it did.

Second, we have invited various organizations within the UN framework, such as the UNHCR (UN High Commissioner for Refugees), and other humanitarian organizations including the International Committee of the Red Cross, to send representatives to participate in the training, because these are organizations that are on the ground in any peacekeeping operation wherever there is a humanitarian crisis.

We believe that to make the training realistic we need to incorporate the input of these organizations during the training, so that the military can become aware of the needs of the humanitarian organizations, and also so that the humanitarian organizations can realize the needs of the military and what the military can do for them. For instance, if they wish to deliver a convoy of food, they often will need protection to get it to its destination. This is an area where the humanitarian organizations can work with the military. Our program has been unique in bringing the humanitarian organizations together with the militaries to train together so that they can work better together.

In what ways has ACRI improved the international community's ability to respond to potential or real humanitarian disasters?

Hooks: That's a great question, because the focus of ACRI is to enhance the capacity of African militaries to respond to crises. And that call, or that mandate, can come from the United Nations, the OAU (Organization of African Unity), or subregional organizations such as ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) or SADC. It also can come from coalitions of the willing—that is, allies that have been brought together by a lead country to address a particular crisis. It is a capacity, therefore, that can be harnessed by a number of different organizations. Whether or not to deploy in a peacekeeping operation is always the sovereign decision of the country that participates in our program. Obviously, our focus is on Africa, but the troops that go through our program are fully qualified to participate in a peacekeeping operation in the Middle East, Asia, Latin America, or anywhere in the world.

How would you assess the key concerns and challenges that ACRI faces in terms of interoperability with respect to equipment, communications, and doctrine?

Hooks: This is always, of course, the key question, and we try to address two issues: commonality and interoperability. To address the issue of commonality, we refer to the fact that we have a shared training experience according to common standards. So that when contingents from different countries and different traditions come together, they will more easily find a common approach to addressing problems.

Many see Africa as somewhat homogeneous. It isn't. It's very diverse. I recall working with the commander of the UN-mandated force in the Central African Republic called MINURCA. The commanding general, Barthelemy Ratanga from Gabon, pointed out that African contingents from different francophone countries sometimes operate quite differently, because they have their own local traditions. So, the commonality of our approach is that we have standards that are shared, a training experience that is shared—therefore the approach in dealing with problems also will be shared.

In terms of interoperability, the key issue is how to use contingents from different countries and make it possible for them to communicate with each other. And what we do, in addition to training, is provide equipment. That is the second component of our program. And much of that equipment has to do with communications. It includes radios that can be adjusted to many different frequencies so that contingents from different countries can have the same frequency and therefore be able to communicate with each other without difficulty.

How are the functions of your office coordinated with the Department of Defense?

Hooks: ACRI is a presidential initiative that is managed by the Department of State. Even though it involves the training of military in Africa it is not managed by the Department of Defense. Nevertheless, there are several elements of the Department of Defense that are very close partners in what we are trying to do.

After all, the lead trainers in ACRI training are the U.S. Special Forces of the U.S. Army. And therefore we work very closely with the Joint Staff (staff of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) and also with the Office of the Secretary of Defense on questions related to training, to make sure that we meet the highest standards; that our doctrine is militarily sound; and that the training itself is militarily sound and presented by the best U.S. trainers, who are in fact U.S. Special Forces. So, there is a very, very close symbiotic relationship between us and Department of Defense personnel.

What have been ACRI's most significant achievements since its establishment some three years ago?

Hooks: There have been several significant achievements. One is launching a program of training in peacekeeping skills that has gained an excellent reputation throughout the continent. The evidence for that is that some countries - Senegal and Ghana, for example - are requesting additional training.

Second, countries, including Kenya, that initially had some reserve about the program, have requested ACRI training.

Third, we have trained military who have engaged in peacekeeping operations since they started ACRI training. And, from all accounts, their performance in these operations has reflected good training. This is evidence that we are, indeed, meeting our objective.

What are we trying to do? We are trying to train the military of countries that are willing to participate in peacekeeping operations. Of the seven countries that we have trained in so far, five have been, or are currently, engaged in peacekeeping operations. So, we are reaching the right people.

Since the ACRI program was launched—and there are other factors that also contributed to this—many African militaries have begun to view peacekeeping as a significant role for their national forces.

Of course, from the U.S. perspective, peacekeeping operations have increasingly occupied the time of our own military in recent years. And I think ACRI, certainly in the African context, has drawn attention to the fact that we can train military to be prepared to do that.

How do you see the long-term effect of ACRI's initiatives? And do you believe the ultimate goal is to have no more need for the organization?

Hooks: That's an interesting question. One of the things that we are always concerned with is how to sustain training. Training, of course, is a perishable item, so to speak, so how do you sustain it over the longer period of time? In our particular case, we address it at several levels.

First of all, the training at the battalion level is six training exercises at six-month intervals; therefore, they cover a three-year period of time. So there is the initial training, and then five follow-up exercises to reinforce that training.

Second, our program is built around the train-the-trainer concept—not just training skills but training in how to manage a training program. So that, for example, in one exercise we have classroom exercises, what we call Follow-On Training One. And Follow-On Training Two is designed to see how well those who participated in the first exercise have trained troops to participate in the second exercise.

Third, we believe that there are a number of programs and exercises that reinforce what we are trying to do. One example is JCET (Joint Combined Exchange Training), which is a training exercise of the U.S. military in African countries and in other nations around the world. These exercises conducted with local troops can complement the force protection skills that we are teaching.

Fourth, there are regional exercises, generally focusing on peacekeeping skills, for example Blue Crane which I mentioned earlier. We organized one last year called Natural Fire. The French organized one in 1998 called Guidimakha, and they are organizing one in January or February next year called Gabon 2000.

All of these exercises actually involve peacekeeping skills, and, therefore, reinforce what we are trying to teach. The broadened relationship with the U.S. military—whether it is ship visits, JCETs, or regional exercises—contributes to a relationship that will help to sustain our training over a long period of time.

But I do not see ACRI as a program that will necessarily exist forever. Rather, it is a program that was launched to teach peacekeeping skills and to teach countries how to organize programs for training in these skills. Once this is accomplished, the training that we provide can be sustained in the long run by the other programs that the Pentagon has in its military relationships, and by the regional exercises that many countries organize in Africa.

How would you characterize the key connections and differences between peacekeeping and peacetime military engagement?

Hooks: Peacetime military engagement refers, I think, to the whole gamut of our military-to-military relationships with, in this case, African countries, whether it is a JCET or a regional exercise or a ship visit or something else. Peacekeeping, of course, generally follows in the wake of violence—whether between states or within states—when countries deploy in an effort to try to assure a stable environment so that peace-building can occur. That is, there has been a conflict, and all sides agree to allow a peacekeeping force to come in. That force is there so that the institutions of government can be put back into place and can address the question of how to move the country toward stability over the long run.

Peacekeeping operations, of course, can go on for years and years, but generally exist for a shorter term. The military relationships established during peacekeeping, on the other hand, are something that will go on for years and years and years, and hopefully will become richer as the years go by.

What are ACRI's foremost challenges as we enter the next millennium?

Hooks: Our principal challenge is trying to respond to the growing interest in participating in the program. As more and more countries wish to come into the program, tremendous training assets are needed, in view of the number of exercises that we carry out. And, given the fact that we use Special Forces, whom we supplement with contractors, as the lead trainers, the question is: How do we manage those assets most effectively to provide training for the most countries, the most militaries? That is the true challenge: finding enough training assets among the U.S. military to respond to the expressions of interest in the program.

That, of course, is a problem associated with success. It is a wonderful problem to have but nevertheless one that has to be managed very, very carefully.

The real question is: Why have we launched this initiative? I think it reflects the concern about the conflicts that unfortunately have troubled the African continent in recent years, and the desire on the part of the U.S. government to help African countries as they seek to address the problems that take place on their continent. We are witnessing a growing willingness on the part of African countries to try to resolve the problems in their neighborhoods.

Therefore, the goal of our program is to enhance the capacity of African nations to build a more stable future for themselves and for the continent as a whole.