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I saw active service in conventional, clandestine and covert units of the South African Defence Force. I was the founder of the Private Military Company (PMC) Executive Outcomes in 1989 and its chairman until I left in 1997. Until its closure in 1998, EO operated primarily in Africa helping African governments that had been abandoned by the West and were facing threats from insurgencies, terrorism and organised crime. EO also operated in South America and the Far East. I believe that only Africans (Black and White) can truly solve Africa’s problems. I was appointed Chairman of STTEP International in 2009 and also lecture at military colleges and universities in Africa on defence, intelligence and security issues. Prior to the STTEP International appointment, I served as an independent politico-military advisor to several African governments. I am a contributor to The Counter Terrorist magazine. All comments in line with the topics on this blog are welcome. As I consider this to be a serious look at military and security matters, foul language and political or religious debates will not be entertained on this blog.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

IS OUR MILITARY LEADERSHIP IN CRISIS?

I recall as a young officer how the subject of “Leadership” was always part of any military course curriculum. It was an aspect of military training that was given very serious attention. It later became a way of life to many young SADF officers and NCOs during combat operations where we were expected to lead 17- and 18-year olds into battle. We were expected to lead by example, never ask more of our men than we were capable of, always accept responsibility for the actions of our men and above all, make sure our planning would achieve the overall mission.

Along with our NCOs, we became the “father” and “mother” of all men under our command. We were expected to protect them at all costs and we often did – even when we knew our men were in the wrong. We supplemented our leadership with discipline and training – and leading from the front. When things went wrong, our men looked to us for guidance and their safety. When we were in the wrong, we were hauled over the coals by our company or battalion commanders – a most unpleasant experience.

This approach to leading men was something that was entrenched into us, assisted sometimes with a good kick up the backside. It could be found from platoon- to battalion level and within combat teams and battle groups. It was very evident at small-team level and during covert operations. It was also occasionally found at theatre-level. But sadly, it ended there as many of us were to realise.

Although it can be argued that the South African political leadership - prior 1994 - was to some extent coerced by foreign pressure into the actions it took, they also prepared themselves to jump ship with alacrity. Thus, I can only suspect that they also suffered a serious lack of moral fibre. Added to this wide streak of yellow was a distinct lack of a grand strategy – and the desire of some of the politicians to rather see themselves as soldiers, despite the fact that their military experience was, in one instance, limited to singing in a choir.

The fact is that South Africa needed to change its internal policies – many in the military agreed with that. What we did not agree with was the wholesale betrayal and lack of leadership displayed by politicians and generals alike. Whereas some politicians wanted to be generals and tried to dictate military strategy, the converse was also very evident. Some generals wanted to be politicians and in the process were prepared to ignore their military duties and ingratiate themselves with the politicians. This sad state of affairs removed any chance of the military remaining apolitical in terms of the government and the citizens of South Africa, regardless of their political persuasion.

The Chief of the South African Army, Genl Solly Shoke recently admitted in a press conference (13 Feb 2009) that the Army had made some serious mistakes with regard to training. He also expressed his concern at the lack of discipline in the Army. But these problems lie not with the soldiers – they lie with the leaders of the Army, including Genl Shoke himself. The soldiers can only be as good as their leaders. It is one thing to blame soldiers for their poor discipline and lack of training but where did the problem start? And what did their leaders do to rectify these problems?

This sad state of affairs has, furthermore, manifested itself as a breakdown of command and control. Recently, the Pretoria High Court, in an unprecedented judgement, ordered the SANDF to do its job properly. (http://jv.news24.com/Beeld/Suid-Afrika/0,,3-975_2476192,00.html) Actions such as these are cause for extreme concern and ought to immediately rectified.

But, from where I am sitting, I see this as a problem not only confined to South Africa or Africa.

The West is currently going through a rather serious crisis. The results of Global War on Terror (GWOT), coupled to the global economic meltdown will, despite what many say, be felt for years to come. It is especially in times such as these that politicians need to show leadership. It, however, appears to me as though the Western democracies are lacking in courage, direction and leadership. This has led to a floundering of foreign policy and a lack of strategic direction.

The division and disarray that exists at the political level seems to be permeating through to the military level. Adding further confusion is the desire of politicians, once they have committed the armed forces, to interfere in military strategies and the execution of tactics. But soldiers need effective leadership, discipline, training and above all, the support of their political masters. When this support is lacking, leadership becomes feeble and problematic.

In a world where foreign policies are based on appeasement and accommodation and the exploitation of emotions, the development of guilt among the strong, and a hatred for political systems, it is to be expected that the military will become part of this policy.

When a lack of political courage, direction and leadership manifests itself, its effects are dramatic on the military. Military leadership then becomes a system that follows its own appeasement and accommodation – the results of which could be disastrous.

28 comments:

Robby Noel said...

"A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly. But the traitor moves amongst those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself.

For the traitor appears not a traitor; he speaks in accents familiar to his victims, and he wears their face and their arguments, he appeals to the baseness that lies deep in the hearts of all men. He rots the soul of a nation, he works secretly and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of the city, he infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist. A murderer is less to fear." -- Cicero (106-43 BC)

simon said...

Hello Mr Barlow. I have missed reading your blog while I was on detail. I look forward to going thru the posts and add to it. As I get further into the workings of the american government, leadership is the fountainhead of all the foibles and problems we experience. It definately starts from the top and that is where the standard must come from.

When the top man sends a message, it trickles down. I feel at times, Im bypassing whats being put out and trying to 'bear true faith and allegiance' but it leaves a quandry.

I shudder to think of the messages that are coming from the top in america. The president gave a timetable speech to Marines at camp lejune and I just felt aghast at the implied rather than the actual words. We are no longer working from a 'global war on terror' which no person in this administration has used and reverting to an idea that the troops became victims of the bush years and that we must now operate with enemy combatants as a matter of civil justice rather than combatants on a field of battle.

Liberals who want the CIA to tone things down and be 'accountable' which sounds good but our new director has never even so much as learned to About Face and now we have a former chief of staff in the clinton admin running the most pivotal instrument in our war against terrorism.

the american institutions we have are in crisis from financial to military and intel. Anyway, good to have net access and time to ponder. Thanks for your work. Simon

matt said...

Excellent, excellent, and excellent. Any time I see a problem with any organization, from the small unit all the way up to a country, we must always direct the blame for such problems on where they truly lie. And to me, the buck stops at the upper most leadership of any organization.

Eeben, you hit on some excellent qualities of good leaders, and so often individuals take on a position of leadership, with not a clue about what good leadership is. Do they know their stuff, do they have the courage to do what is right, and most of all, do they take care of their people? Most of all, are they students of good leadership, and does the organization give guidance as to what they expect of their leaders?

I also believe for the current war effort, that actions in said countries, must first be reinforced with good governance in those countries. We can train a military or police force all we want, but if the government of that military or police force does not have the respect of the people or even that military or police force, then efforts will fall short. We see that in Afghanistan and in Pakistan, and in many of the countries in Africa. The people need to believe that their government knows their stuff, has the courage to do what is right, and takes care of their people. I even see this with my own country, and good leadership is often lacking amongst a few of our politicians, military leaders and CEOs. They are a cancer of any organization, and they must be called out and dealt with. It's either that, or the organization will suffer and fail.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Words so true and still applicable to our modern society, Robby. In fact, they are more relevant today than ever.

When that treachery has infiltrated into the military, it is a sign of a pending collapse of those must protect and defend the nation.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Welcome back, Simon. In a perfect world, we would not need to raise and sustain an armed force. Sadly though, we do not live in a perfect world. To add fuel to the fire, most politicians in the West and the East live in their own fantasy-worlds where their positions of power become positions of enrichment and disorder.

Currently, the military ought to an indispensible tool for covering up the colossal failures of foreign policy and diplomacy. However, political interference and lack of leadership and direction makes the military vulnerable and unable to perform its missions. It also removes the ability of the military to maintain an apolitical stance instead of acting as an extension of a particular political party.

I fear that what we are witnessing is a collapse of the military, sanctioned by the politicians in order to ensure their grip on the citizens of a country. This sadly exposes a nation to the enemies from both within and beyond the borders of the country.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

You make some very valid points, Matt. Respect by a nation’s citizens of its military and law-enforcement agencies is paramount to maintaining the safety of its citizens. When that respect is lacking, morale of the nations suffers, crime rises and the enemies of a state become more brazen in their belief that they can force that government to accept terms of “peace” which are detrimental to the rest of the citizens.

Whether we like it or not, no country can afford to live in a fantasy world where a highly-trained, motivated, disciplined, well-equipped military and most importantly a well lead military is not required. This leadership is currently, in my opinion, seriously lacking in the West.

Rgds,

Eeben

Robby Noel said...

Interesting ...from Pravda

Private military companies to supersede regular armies

Private military companies (PMCs) have become rather popular nowadays in terms of providing specialized expertise or services of a military nature. These units can compete with special services and regular armies. There are such companies in Russia, although they are not so widely spread in the country in comparison with their prototypes in the West. As experience shows, the PMCs will prevail in the future.

The history of private military companies started on June 24, 1997, when experts of the US Intelligence Department proclaimed the PMCs as a major tool in the implementation of the military security policy of the United States and its allies in other countries.

The professional level of a private military company is its major advantage. Inexperienced military men are not welcome there. A PMC member is usually a man between 35-40 years of age. A human being of this age is resistant to stresses and emergency situations. In addition, a man of this age can also do routine work very well, which can not be said about younger men.

Potential fighters of the private military companies possess the required level of experience and have an adequate insight, which allows such units to achieve better results in their activities in comparison with regular armies.

A private military company can be very efficient in local conflicts, where the use of regular armies can be complicated for legal reasons. For example, Russia can not send its troops to Nigeria if Nigerian gunmen attack employees of Russian companies – it would be a gross violation of international laws.

Russian PMCs – Tiger Top Rent Security and Orel Antiterror - do not lag behind their US or British colleagues. The only difference is that Russian PMC fighters are paid a lot less.

Russian PMCs took part in the military actions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, Lebanon and Palestine.

Russia’s largest companies such as Russian Aluminium (Rusal), Lukoil, Rosneft and Gazprom received a carte blanche to form military structures to protect their interests both inside and outside Russia.

Private military companies supply bodyguards for the Afghan president and pilot armed reconnaissance planes and helicopter gunships to destroy Coca crops in Colombia. They are licensed by the State Department; they are contracting with foreign governments, training soldiers and reorganizing militaries in Nigeria, Bulgaria, Taiwan, and Equatorial Guinea. The PMC industry is now worth over $100 billion a year.

Viktor Shishkov
http://english.pravda.ru/world/europe/24-02-2009/107146-private_military_company-0

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Very interesting indeed, Robby. I agree with the writer in many instances (interesting how the US started it all?) but I feel that there should still be a mechanism in place to weed out the “wannabes” and the “posers”. It is those types that tarnish an entire industry.

Rgds,

Eeben

Robby Noel said...

(interesting how the US started it all?)

It is Pravda after all :-)....however I'm sure you know there was a huge US PR effort to lose the term mercenary which the US media used ad nauseum to describe the "evils" of Africa for decades....so saying "The history of private military companies started on June 24, 1997" is technically correct....although we know different for me it brings back memories of how the US regarded the 300 Americans who came to Rhodesia in the 70's to help fight communism... we called them "The Crippled Eagles" the US government called them a bunch of mercenaries

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I tend to disagree, Robby. In 1993, I referred EO as both a PSC and a PMC. I also referred to our men as “contractors”. At that time, we were considered by some in the media to be a bunch of trigger-happy mercenaries running around destabilising Africa. Of course, the fact that it was untrue and that we were under legitimate contract to those countries were we were working was never going to detract from a good bit of fiction which could be used to bolster sales of newspapers.

I also recall the UN and the US scoffing at the term PMC – until it suited their agendas.

I don’t think the US soldiers who came out to serve in Rhodesia or SA were part of an organised business entity. I recall those I met came out on their own steam and were not under a legal government contract to assist the armed forces of those two countries. Hence, I cannot term them as having been part of a PMC or a PSC.

Rgds,

Eeben

Robby Noel said...

Don't get me wrong as you said "I also recall the UN and the US scoffing at the term PMC – until it suited their agendas."

Exactly my point all part and parcel of that thing we call PC

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

This whole PC thing is rewriting history and undermining societies, Robby. What was once wrong is now right and visa versa. A strange world we live in.

Rgds,

Eeben

Robby Noel said...

You think things are crazy now wait for the shift East

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I guess you are right, Robby.

Rgds,

Eeben

matt said...

Eeben, I would be curious to hear your thoughts on how you organized and influenced your leaders and employees in Executive Outcomes? Obviously you had to pick good people who had leadership experience in the military and in combat, but did you have to impress upon them a EO management and company philosophy so to speak? Also, how did you deal with poor managers and employees?

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I was very fortunate, Matt. The leader cadre of EO consisted of men who had seen extensive action in different units and were either known personally or by their reputations. So as far as that was concerned, it made it easy as they knew how to lead men and how to motivate them.

The company philosophy was to achieve the best results possible at all times while being an example to everyone who passed through our training or worked under us in combat. As we structured the company along the lines of a military unit, we functioned in much the same manner.

But of course, all was not rosy, especially when some men wanted to challenge leaders. Again, a simple motto of “Fit in or F_ off” applied. Furthermore, I had a policy whereby any tale-teller was given the opportunity to tell his story – in front of the person he was willing to slander. If I recall, this only happened twice and then all tale-telling ceased.

If a person in a command position was unable to perform according to his appointment, he was either transferred away from that post or in severe cases, fired.

If the law was broken in a client-country, they were handed over to that country’s police force.

If anyone was caught leaking sensitive company or client information, he was either handed over to that country’s CI people or fined in the company and discharged.

We did have a strict code of conduct which we tried to apply at all times. Again, we were not as perfect as I would have liked us to be but no country ever accused us of anything negative, either in our attitude or our work-ethic.

Rgds,

Eeben

Robby Noel said...

Eeben...Heres the problem we were born into a different era where we learned at a young age to respect our elders speak when spoken to and if we got out line getting slapped around was the expected result.....some say those of us (lucky enough)brought up in Rhodesia were more British than the British

The break down of discipline in the military and in society in general has been the abandonment of these basic principles of honesty trust and respect.

Nothing better illiastrats this than the current global financial crises a complete break down of the above,funny thing no one wants to admit it.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

You are absolutely correct in what you write, Robby. I, too, had a “colonial” upbringing and respect, honour, loyalty and trust were part of that education. Those principles became a way of life to many of us and allowed us to adapt very quickly to a strict discipline.

Apart from the problem you point out, another has – in my opinion – been the cultivation of TV/cinema shows as part of reality. In films, the criminals are often depicted as actually being misguided good guys. In war films, subordinates challenge their superiors and often appear to be correct. This has had an influence on how people view real life. I somehow suspect that many officers and men are acting in their own TV shows.

As for the global financial crisis – what amazes me is that it was all criminal but as you say, no one wants to mention any of that. Again, I suppose it is for fear of offending the guilty.

Rgds,

Eeben

Robby Noel said...

I went to Milton in Bulawayo :-)....fond memories!

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

So, you are a Milton-man Robby.

John McKenzie Primary, Francistown, Botswana (it was Bechuanaland then). I recall signing “God save the Queen” every morning before school started. Our teachers all came from the “home country” and they tried to turn us all into little English gentlemen. I suspect they failed dismally…

Rgds,

Eeben

Robby Noel said...

Thats so funny start with God Save the Queen end with the Lords Prayer and yes I was also a good Boy Scout :-)

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I started out as a Cub – the teachings were based on fostering respect and obedience and a good smattering of adventure. I suspect that education, both formal and otherwise, as well as extramural activities – there wasn’t any TV in those days – made us appreciate where we were and taught us to become self-reliant. Additionally, we were taught to have confidence in ourselves and our (limited) abilities. A lot of this became very necessary in the army and the subsequent war.

I have, however, noticed a trend in the military and it is centred on trying to impress politicians instead of trying to accomplish missions. This is not unique to Africa but to the West as well. The price will be heavy.

Rgds,

Eeben

Robby Noel said...

"military and it is centred on trying to impress politicians instead of trying to accomplish missions."

Yes my friend what was noble was ruined by politicians and the reason Major General Smedley Butler called war a racket!

matt said...

Very interesting, and thanks. Here is another question if you don't mind. If a subordinate witnessed a leader doing something wrong, like stealing from the client or endangering the team and mission with reckless decision making, what did you have in place to take care of such activity? Did you have an open door policy, or was there some other method for reporting of this kind of thing within your company?

The reason I ask, is that this is a huge problem in American companies operating out there. If a subordinate has an issue with a leader, and there is a consensus amongst the team about what is going on, yet the reporting of such a thing falls on deaf ears, then how do you deal with that? Some of these companies even protect poor leaders, and they know they are doing bad things, yet they do nothing about it. Or worse yet, the common reply of that poor leader is to cry insubordination, and just fire those individuals to insulate themselves.

I have seen this scenario played out time and time again over there, and it is what drives my views on leadership. I was just curious about how you were able to navigate this?

Obviously a company wants to stand by and support it's leaders, but how would you navigate the kind of scenario I laid out up top? Did you have an open door policy, and did your subordinates have a means of reporting poor leadership or crimes in out in the field? How about evaluations-did you actively evaluate leaders and contractors, to determine the health of the company?

You brought up a cool deal about the scouts. I was a Boy Scout myself, and that organization has certainly influenced my philosophies on life and leadership. It was an excellent foundation for a young man, and I certainly grew up respecting my elders during my formative years. Cheers.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

The General was correct, Robby.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

An important point you raise, Matt. Anyone caught stealing, regardless of position, was subject to an investigation and if the serious crime was confirmed, he was summarily dismissed from the company. Crimes of whatever nature should never be tolerated – especially when it can endanger the lives of men and the contract of a company. As far as reporting crimes were concerned, yes, there was an open door policy at all times.

To protect men who commit criminal actions and poor leadership is in itself a crime and has no excuse and is in itself an example of poor leadership and a lack of discipline, honour and trust. Any action that can jeopardise the men, the company or the client should never be tolerated.

A leader could not just fire a member, unless there were really exceptional circumstances that could jeopardise the company, the men or the client’s position. The majority of cases were subject to their own internal investigations and a commander could impose a fine or a punishment that suited the crime. A judgement could however be appealed, but seldom was as those who did wrong, knew they did wrong and usually admitted it.

Evaluations were on-going by the client in terms of objectives to be reached and by our own staff as far as discipline, professionalism and such. Evaluations were also attended, for example in Angola, by the Chief of Staff of FAA and his advisors to observe, question and comment.

The majority of men knew that their actions and behaviour were a mirror-image of the company and they gave their best shot. Of course, there were those who thought they were there for a free ride but they didn’t last long.

Rgds,

Eeben

Alan said...

Eeben:

Excellent article. While none is needed, some follow-up from our feckless generals to reinforce your point.

Cheers, Alan

Top US general meets tribes ahead of Afghan surge
By Jason Straziuso

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) — The top U.S. general in Afghanistan reached out to influential Afghan tribesmen in regions where U.S. troops will soon deploy, apologizing for past mistakes and saying he is now studying the Quran, the Muslim holy book.

http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5gunkSrMK4ibAEoKo01Dl4GQlykOAD97FEVGG0

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Thanks for the link, Alan. Most interesting...

Rgds,

Eeben