Saturday, January 16, 2010

Future of Fiji’s Military and Return to Democracy-My Thoughts

By Sai Lealea, 16 January 2010

One of the key ongoing questions to resolve in regards to Fiji’s peaceful and coup free future will be the place and role of its Military.

Is there and what is the threat to Fiji?

On the basis of first principles, some key points to consider are the following:

· Do we have an enemy that will threaten Fiji as a nation and if so who?

· Is the threat external or internal?

· Is it a threat in the nature of law and order, breach of economic zones, keeping the peace, and enforcing laws?

· If there are no threats to Fiji as a nation (i.e. strategic threat) is there still a need to have a military, and;

· if so what should be its role, size and structure?

Peace keeping as Core Activity

Far from dealing with direct threats to Fiji as a nation, its military has increasingly being deployed in peace keeping operations around the world. While this is commendable, it is nevertheless inconsistent with its initial purpose. For this reason the following has become acceptable as the norm by default:

· Peace keeping and internal security are the two principal functions of the Fiji military in recent times.

· Peace keeping then becomes important for governments over the years as a revenue earner. So much so that even Ratu Mara once threatened the UN of withdrawing Fiji troops from overseas missions unless overdue payments were made in time.

Peace keeping Coalition

Over time, the market for peacekeeping will be affected by private security firms and coalition of nations. Fiji may have to be part of a wider Pacific coalition force thus reducing its individual involvement as currently the case. Good ongoing relationships with Pacific neighbours, including NZ and Australia, will be pivotal for this type of peace keeping coalitions.

Removing Threat Posed by Arms

Even if Fiji wants to corner the peace keeping market, by continuing to offer its services, the threat to future Fiji governments will continue unless weapons and arms are only taken on outside of Fiji and offloaded before returning. NZ and Australia could then be used as staging posts for military training for Fiji soldiers destined for peace keeping duties. This will also mean that only the Police will be the agency internally with majority holdings of arms and weapons. After all, threats to Fiji will largely be about law and order and the patrolling of economic zones. This option will be a win-win by continuing with a revenue source while removing the threat posed by readily available arms and weapons for the military to carry out coups.

Military Structure

This question should be answered in relation to the threat assessment and analysis referred to earlier. As in management, "form should follow function". My thoughts are:

· Police is more than able to deal with internal threats in Fiji.

· Maintain an engineer corp in the military with a role in rural development. In fact I argued some years back (letter to Fiji Times) that if they're good enough, they could even compete for Government construction/building contracts using a semi-corporate business model. We're therefore taking advantage of their military training and technical skills to reap multiple benefits without the threat of arms.

· If peace keeping is still an option for revenue purpose, my suggestion in earlier post for the infantry offloading weapons unless out of the country.

· In terms of size, A STANDING ARMY WILL NOT BE NECESSARY AS A RESERVE CORP (TF) WILL DO. Again this option removes arms/weapons threat to execute coups.

· Extra military personnel could be added to Police or redirected to border protection (customs/fisheries patrol).

Dealing with Coup Victims

For the integrity of any reconciliation, victims will have to be compensated and have their day in court. The State must see to this.

Equally, victims' sense of hurt and loss must be directed towards a contribution in refining the scenarios as they have a story to tell and they must tell in their own voice and passion. Others must listen deeply without questioning its veracity.

That is why a kind of Truth Commission would be useful to serve as a reconciliation forum among coupsters and victims.

Truly Inclusive Dialogue for Way Forward

Out of the reconciliation process we could then work with victims on the dream they have for Fiji so they feel it is also their dream and not just that of a government. This is what the Mont Fleur model could offer in refining the scenarios in my earlier post. Hopefully a variety of stakeholders, in addition to coupsters and victims, could be part of such an exercise in exploring pathways to move Fiji out from where it is now to where it deserves to be in the future.

The goal would be to engage over the dreams and future scenarios through deep talking and listening to first refine the scenarios so the contrast among them become prominent and emphasised. Ideally, the best option for Fiji would then emerge as obvious.

The problem in the Charter exercise was its "problem focused and set agenda" such that people came to it just to validate their position as there was no open talking and listening. People need to tell their stories in human terms first before we seek resolution and then a way forward. Therefore the intention to exclude those opposed to the regime in Fiji from any dialogue is extremely unwise and bound to be counter productive.

That is what scenario planning is about and with the UN and Commonwealth assistance, we just might be able to get it going. With good luck and The Lord's blessings, pray it comes about for the sake of our beloved Fiji.

Conclusion

I believe a total rethink will be required of the role and place of the Military in Fiji's future if Fiji is to enjoy genuine stability, peace and prosperity. We all know the negative effects of coups on the credibility and standing of Fiji's military. Gone are the reverence and pride formerly associated with it and those who serve as its leaders. The crop of recruits since the 2006 coup have become brainwashed in the misguided philosophy and culture of a dictator and tyrant. Reversing this will be a monumental task, especially if the regime prolongs its illegal rule.

But since we still all have relatives, former class mates, and friends in the Military, I have no doubt we would want the best from a "fit for purpose" military with a clearly defined role and one that is clearly under civilian rule. Fiji's military has become too large for a small country and its role dispersed. A critical rethink will be necessary if we want to restore Fiji's military to its former glory.

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