Deconstructing demilitarisation argument
IN response to “Demilitarisation: A viable reform option” (Lesotho Times, 26 May 2016), by Tlohang Letsie, the author’s thesis is that the only viable option to attain lasting peace and stability in Lesotho is to demilitarise.
In order to appreciate my reaction to Mr Letsie’s article, it is fitting to start with a brief summary of its main tenets. To help advance his argument, the author first lays down the framework for his analysis, under which he explains the operating concepts of peace, security sector and demilitarisation. Peace is understood to mean absence of violence in all its forms, be it direct, structural or cultural. Security sector is confined to the Lesotho military, while the operating definition of demilitarisation is that of Barbey, describing it as “a process of dismantling military forces and disposing of weapons that leads ... to a state of non-militarisation”.
Secondly, the author details the roles of militaries, categorised as traditional and secondary roles. The traditional role, based on which the main conclusions of the article are drawn, is defined as the territorial defence against attack or deterrence of threats from foreign forces.
Thirdly, under the heading “An international overview”, the author mentions the number (about 26) and some names of countries without armies. According to Chistopher Barbey, whom Mr Letsie seems to have referred, these include Costa Rica, Monaco, Mauritius and the Vatican etc.
Under this heading, the article mainly focuses on Costa Rica (claimed to be the shining star of non-militarised states) and Mauritius (claimed to be the only African state in the “non-militarised” club). The relatively high standards of living and long periods of peace and stability in Costa Rica and Mauritius lead the author to conclude that “these are, to a greater extent, the benefits of the country’s [Mauritius] bold decision to never establish an army”. Finally, after a brief history of Lesotho’s military and its stated functions, Mr Letsie claims that “an historical overview of the Lesotho’s politics shows that the country’s army has been more involved in the political conflict that has characterised Lesotho in the past three decades than performing any of the above-stated roles”. Briefly, those stated functions include, among others, protecting the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Lesotho, and upholding law and order in support of the police.
The main arguments of the article for demilitarisation in Lesotho are that, first, due to her being surrounded by South Africa, Lesotho has no external enemies other than, potentially, South Africa, against which she cannot not engage in war due to South Africa’s military might.
Second, Lesotho’s military has proven unable to provide territorial defence against foreign incursions as evidenced by its failure to stop apartheid South African military attacks in the 1980s.as Mr Letsie warns, a “factcharged demilitarisation, not emotional one, can in the long-term prove to be a very good peace investment for Lesotho”. It is in this spirit that I write to challenge his arguments.
My aim in this article is not to proffer an alternative view as to whether or not Lesotho should demilitarise, but rather to show that Mr Letsie’s advanced arguments fall far short of supporting demilitarisation in Lesotho.
First of all, I would like to clear these two, seemingly trivial, issues with the article before I engage with its arguments. The first issue is that I found the title of the article to be a bit disconnected to the main body.
Instead of the article discussing whether or not demilitarisation is a viable or feasible reform option, it seems to focus much on the attempt to show that Lesotho does not need a military. The title leads one to think that the article discusses the viability or feasibility of the demilitarisation reform, having pitted it against other potential reform options.
But, alas, it veered from this goal. Nonetheless, what matters most for my reaction is the body of the article.
My second issue is that the article has no discussion on how Lesotho’s army exerts violence, in all its forms, on the populace, nor does it deal with how demilitarisation would then help reduce such violence. It leaves much of this for the reader to guess. Be that as it may, below I attempt to address some of the author’s claims, and will briefly touch on the correlation between military expenditure and economic development.
Mr Letsie states that “there are 26 countries worldwide that do not have armies”. It seems to me the aim of this point is to show that there are many sovereign states out there that have already demilitarised, hence the call for Lesotho to do the same is not a crazy idea after all. As I mentioned above, such states include Costa Rica, Monaco, Mauritius, Nauru, Saint Kitts and Nevis, San Marino, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, the Vatican City Republic, etc. I have a number of problems with this implicit argument. First, many of the said states are so tiny that they would hardly qualify to be a town in Lesotho. For example, the Vatican City Republic has an estimated population of about 783 (as per the 2005 census), Tuvalu has about 10 441 inhabitants (2005 estimate), and Nauru has about 13 005 inhabitants (2005 estimate). San Marino, with an estimated population of 32 500 inhabitants, and the Vatican City republics are actually states within Italy.
Given this and their relatively tiny sizes compared to Lesotho, it is reasonable to believe that these had no choice but not to have any army. Therefore, in my view, the number of “demilitarised” countries to which Lesotho may be compared is far less than 26.
Second, Costa Rica and Mauritius, mentioned as good examples of demilitarisation, are not actually demilitarised. Writing for the “War is Boring” blog, Robert Beckhusen states that “Costa Rica does have a small military force in all but name”. He further states that, in July of 2014, Costa Rican commandos participated in a biennial war game, in which commando units from 16 other countries participated, sponsored by the U.S. military’s Southern Command. In those games, snipers and combat teams from the Costa Rican Special Intervention Unit, the unofficial military force, came in tenth place. This shows that in spite of it being a tiny force of just 70 soldiers, it is a potent force. It is not a police force!
Furthermore, according to the CIA World Factbook of 2016, Mauritius has no regular military forces. This implies that it has military forces but not regular ones as in the case of Lesotho. How else does one explain the fact that it allocated about 0.19 percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to military expenditure in 2012? If it really didn’t have an army, it wouldn’t have such an allocation in its national budget.
Next, I deal with the claim that demilitarisation leads to better living standards (or economic development). By quoting the former Costa Rican president claiming that “the extraordinary advances of my country in the fields of education, health, housing and social welfare are basically due to the fact we do not dedicate our resources to the purchase of arms”, Mr Letsie implicitly infers that demilitarisation causes an increase in the living standards.
He in fact explicitly states that “apart from its thriving economy, Mauritius is rated the most peaceful country in Africa” due to its decision not to “establish an army”. First of all, the claim that these countries do not have armies and/ or allocate resources to buy arms is inaccurate as highlighted above.
Second, the claim that having no army leads to economic development is too strong for one to take. That there is some correlation between the two, I agree. But that there is a causal relationship between the two is too much of leap.
I am not aware of any hard evidence in support of the causal link between demilitarisation and economic development. There are a plethora of countries with armies and high standards of living and relative peace and stability.
Interestingly, Cuba has the military and, in spite of being under an economic embargo for more than 50 years, has relatively higher education and health standards than the praised Costa Rica.
Cuba is also more peaceful than most countries. Furthermore, Egypt is now the second largest African economy despite of it being ruled by, effectively, military dictators, three in succession.
By the way, I want to mention that I find any mention of El Salvador in the article out of place. Given that Mr Letsie’s thesis relies much on Christopher Barbey’s definition of demilitarisation (which means non-militarisation), and that El Salvador has only reduced its army, it is strange that he uses it as an argument for demilitarisation. Next I challenge the main arguments advanced directly against Lesotho having an army.
‘Lesotho doesn’t need an army’ Mr Letsie argues that Lesotho does not need an army because the “army cannot engage their
South African counterparts in war due to the latter’s might” and cannot project its power abroad.
All in all, Mr Letsie claims that Lesotho’s army fails dismally in its traditional role, which is to defend against, and/or deter any attacks from foreign forces.
The problem with this argument is that it overlooks the fact that many countries effectively keep armies simply as a deterrence mechanism.
Cuba’s military is far smaller and less sophisticated than that of the US, and if the latter were to launch an all-out attack, the former would be effectively defeated.
But that it has an active army, however small, is enough a deterrent against such an attack because any foreign army would also worry about potential losses it may incur.
Therefore, the argument that if your army is small warrants demilitarisation seems to lack merit. Lastly, the argument that Lesotho’s army cannot engage the South African army in war is troubling.
This is because engagement in war is different from winning a war. While I concede that the South African army might overrun Lesotho’s army, they certainly will need to engage in war before that can happen.
The second reason for Lesotho not to have an army, according Mr Letsie, is that the army has on several occasions failed to defend Lesotho against foreign incursions by the apartheid South African army in the 1980s, and against the LLA (Lesotho Liberation Army) hijack in 1988.
To me, the stated reasons for demilitarisation here seem to be actually a suggestion that we should strengthen the army so it can effectively defend Lesotho next time. For instance, countries such as Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda, that have experienced several terrorists’ attacks, have not dealt away with their armies, but are instead focusing on strengthening them. Moreover, Rwandan forces have, on several occasions, been said to have carried out attacks against some Hutu rebels in the DRC.
We, however, have not heard calls for DRC to demilitarise based solely on the fact that it failed to stop and/or defend itself against foreign attacks. Why then should one buy this argument for demilitarisation in Lesotho?
Before closing, I would like to note how Mr Letsie seems to contradict himself in some instances. For example, he claims that Leso- tho’s army has not been performing any of its stated roles, including “upholding law and order in support of the police”, in the past three decades.
He then later on states that “the army only significantly engages in the upholding of law and order in support of the police”. Which is which? I take it that the latter statement is what the author actually meant, in which case, he proves that the army has some role to play in the security sector.
In sum, Mr Letsie’s article has failed to convince me and possibly other sceptical readers that Lesotho really needs to demilitarise.
Hopefully, this reaction will provoke the author to better advance his arguments and ultimately move me from this position. As it stands, I don’t think the article does enough to achieve its stated goal of showing that Lesotho does not need an army. However, I must admit that I have learned a lot from reading Mr Letsie’s article. Keep up the good work.