Remarks by Ambassador Terence P. McCulley art the National Defense College, Abuja, Nigeria (April 26, 2012)
April 26 2012
I am honored to be here at the National Defence College. I wish to thank the Commandant of the College, Rear Admiral Lokoson and the Deputy Commandant, Major General Idris, for hosting my visit. I would also like to recognize Ambassador Adeniran, as well as the other students and guests in attendance. Thank you for your warm welcome.
The United States and Nigeria share a strong partnership when it comes to security cooperation. From equipment transfers like that of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Chase, now the NNS Thunder, to joint missions such as medical civic action programs, to completed and ongoing training programs in both countries, our nations’ militaries have enjoyed a close collaboration that is an essential element of our overall bilateral engagement.
Today, I would like to speak with you about the important role that the military plays in democracies like the United States and Nigeria. Civilian control of the military is an important concept for any secure, democratic nation to uphold. When elected civilian officials formulate policy, the important role of the military is to implement that policy in order to guarantee national security.
In the United States, the role of the military in our democracy is based on the concept of the “citizen-soldier,” with what former Chief Historian of the U.S. Army Center of Military History David Trask called “the unshakable conviction of the American people that civilian control of the armed forces is an essential aspect of government of, by and for the people.” Oddly enough, this concept was born out of a near military mutiny. In 1782, shortly after our Revolutionary War, a group of officers felt they had been inadequately compensated for their war services and threatened a military revolt. When they went to plead their case before their commander, General George Washington, he adamantly refused, calling instead for the disbanding of the army and continued loyalty to the civilian government. This became the American model in which public policy is decided by the majority, subject to rule of law – not brute force (Note: All from David Trask, “Civilian Control of Military in the United States .)
The role of the military in the U.S. democracy, however, has evolved, certainly through the experience of our Civil War in the mid-19th century, and during the emergence of the U.S. as a superpower in the mid-20th century. In fact, the very concept of our democracy is continually evolving as well. This July, the United States will celebrate its 236th year as an independent nation, and while we are proud of our democratic institutions, we are constantly striving to perfect and improve them.
One example of all of these factors converging – an evolving democracy, rule of law over brute force, a government of, by and for the people – occurred after the famous U.S. Supreme Court ruling of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. In that case, the Court ruled that the “separate but equal” doctrine was unconstitutional and ordered the desegregation of American schools. This was an enormous victory for the Civil Rights Movement, but many southerners opposed the ruling, believing it was an abuse of judicial power. In Little Rock, Arkansas, the Governor used the state militia to stop nine black students from entering the Little Rock High School. In response to the state using brute force over rule of law, President Eisenhower ordered federal troops into Arkansas to stand guard and protect those nine black students so they could go to school. In doing so, America was changed forever.
One of my predecessors used to say that Nigeria and America are two pilgrims on the road to democracy, and it is clear that Nigerian democracy is also evolving. We say that elections are a defining feature of a democracy, and the international community deemed Nigeria’s 2011 elections to be the most free and fair in recent history. More importantly, Nigerian citizens – participating massively and peacefully – sent a strong signal to their leaders, and to the world, of their commitment to democratic progress. Another important characteristic of a democracy is the power of a country’s citizens to hold their government accountable for its decisions and actions. The fuel subsidy protests earlier this year, in which civil society organized protests against an unpopular government decision, highlighted the readiness of the Nigerian population to make its will known, and the strength of civil society as a counterforce and a catalyst for change. The new Freedom of Information Act gives citizens the resources they need to understand how the government is working so that they can identify waste and propose improvements. Each of these recent changes represents a step towards a better democracy and a stronger Nigeria.
Those of you attending the study tour in the U.S. will learn about another aspect of civil-military engagement, which is disaster response and emergency management. The world has seen a long history of military forces being used for humanitarian purposes, dating all the way back to Alexander the Great. On your trip, you’ll learn about some more recent successes, including the U.S. military’s response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, which was a joint effort with other U.S. government agencies like USAID. In this case and others, military strengths like logistics and communication, and assets like vehicles and well-trained teams, can be lent to enhance humanitarian efforts.
A coordinated civil-military policy response is especially important in Nigeria today. When the State Department’s Assistant Secretary of African Affairs, Johnnie Carson, spoke at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, he noted that security measures to defeat Boko Haram must be paired with real steps toward social and economic progress. I believe that the military can play a big role in these development programs as well. We saw how military-led development programs in Senegal – part of the “Armee Nation” concept of military participation in development, the brainchild of Senegal’s first President Sanghor and its second Army Chief of Staff, General Diallo – promoted health and infrastructure, and even built the 7,000 kilometer “green wall” to stop desert encroachment.
We have also seen some good progress in the U.S.-Nigeria partnership to enhance civil-military programs. Last month, a team of medical personnel from the Benue State Ministry of Health, the Nigerian Army 72nd Special Forces Battalion and the Civil Military Support Element of the U.S. Embassy collaborated on a medical civic action program. Two personnel from the Nigerian Army Department of Civil Military Affairs also accompanied the U.S. military team on its initial planning visit for the event. During the two-day program, more than 700 residents received free medical services, including dental treatment; HIV, malaria and tuberculosis testing; and immunizations. This successful collaboration is a great example of how the military can be used in cooperation with other government organizations to further humanitarian objectives, and of how our two nations can partner together towards that aim.
Just as Nigerians hold civilian officials accountable, military leaders have a responsibility to hold their troops accountable. The military must conduct its operations, especially those supporting humanitarian objectives, responsibly and in coordination with the rest of the government. For example, the military must avoid collateral damage and human rights abuses, and must work with counterparts in other agencies who share the same objective of a freer and safer Nigeria. The struggle to contain the extremist insurgency in northern Nigeria requires a coordinated response and a holistic, whole-of-government approach. Military has a key role in this, as do other security agencies, in targeting terrorists, but development programs and strategic communications are also critical. This sometimes means that the military will need to step back, for example, to allow Nigeria’s judicial system to prosecute those responsible for Boko Haram’s kidnappings, killings and terrorist events. I encourage you to envision the role of the military as part of the bigger picture, in which the whole of Nigeria’s government and all of its international friends partner together towards our common goal of eliminating terrorism and ensuring a conducive environment for economic prosperity.
You have a lot of responsibility, but you also have a lot of support. At our Binational Commission this past January, the U.S. pledged support to Nigeria in addressing regional security challenges. We look forward to strengthening the excellent partnership that our two countries enjoy. I wish you the best in your studies and careers, and I look forward to working with you towards that goal.