Fiji's security dilemma: Dr Steven Ratuva
We are now used to the cycles of tension between the military and the government which come and go, as if they have their own internal mitigating mechanism which create and diffuse tension.
This time around the tension was more intense because of the nature of the threat for the government's resignation and the intensive media coverage and speculations of an impeding coup.
This is part of our security dilemma. We do not have any mechanism in place to create and maintain sustainable security.
We reply entirely on the circumstances to stretch out its invisible hand and dose off the fire.
Our recent history has shaped our political circumstances in a unique way and our response needs to be appropriate to the circumstances, not merely driven by narrow legalistic approaches which will only escalate the problems. It is time to think "outside the box" and address our problems creatively in ways which are conducive to sustainable security.
Line of demarcation between the civil state and military.
In a normal parliamentary democracy, the line of demarcation between the civil state and the military is very clear.
The military as an arm of the state is ultimately responsible to civilian rule.
Unfortunately, our history has denied us the luxury of this clear distinction.
The coups of 1987 and 2000 destroyed this line in a violent way and our attempts to redraw them have been particularly difficult. This has made our democracy even more fragile and unstable.
Since the coups have made the lines blurred, it is important to re-draw them through the broader process of consultation and consciousness-raising rather than using the mechanical legalistic method which we have tried but unfortunately has led to further tension.
This is part of the challenge in making the state and military engage in deep and long term good relationship.
The state institutions, including government and military must slowly but pro-actively engage with and talk to each other more often to ensure that the responsibilities of the different institutions are not only understood but are also respected.
In the meantime, what can we do to ensure long term sustainable security in Fiji? How can we avoid tensions such as the one we are going through? As a young and fragile democracy we have to invest in our political security as much as we can because it impinges on economic development and social stability. We need to think creatively outside the box to look for solutions. I'm putting together a proposal to be submitted to the powers that be hoping that some of these can be considered seriously. I outline some of them below.
Participatory security system
The current state security system may need to be re-looked at in the light of what has happened. The police and military operate with relative independence although accountable to the Ministry of Home Affairs. Then there is the National Security Council (NSC) which consists largely of government members. The police and the army only attend the NSC through invitation. Recently they were incorporated as observers.
The current system is too restrictive in terms of the process of participation of the military, police and other security stakeholders in decision-making. There should be another broader security forum consisting not only of cabinet members, also of the two security institutions (police and army), civilian experts on national security and representatives of relevant citizen groups. This is important to engage diverse viewpoints on issues of importance to national security.
This process ensures that security governance is democratized and transparent and differences can be ironed out at an early stage. Parliamentary bills such as the two contentious ones now under scrutiny (Reconciliation and Qoliqoli Bill) which may have security implications need to go through the extended committee for assessment and opinions on its way to parliament.
This would allow for continuous interaction and dialogue between the different security stakeholders. The inclusion of diverse groups in the process would ensure not only broad participation, also building up good relations between the institutions and organizations involved. We should not isolate anyone since security is everyone's business. Isolating various stakeholders such as the military or citizen groups would be a threat to national security itself in the long run.
Parliamentary security oversight
There should be a parliamentary security oversight process which includes, amongst other things the setting up of a Parliamentary Security Committee (PSCom). This is a growing trend world-wide to make the security institutions directly accountable to parliament as the elected representatives of the people rather than just to government. The US uses this system quite successfully.
The point is to make sure that there is direct engagement between parliament, the military and government in an open way. The parliamentary committee can be the moderator in cases where there are differences between the government and the military.
The process of direct dialogue between the PSCom and the military would ease some of the tension which could go out of hand.
Security think tank
In the past think tanks in Fiji have been largely geared towards economic development and the national security sector has been largely ignored. The diminished profile of national security in the recent national economic summit shows this serious flaw.
The Fiji government should seriously think about setting up a security think tank. The idea of a security think tank is common in many countries. Uniformed and civilian national security experts engage in informed and research-based analysis of security matters and advise the government on matters of security interests, including parliamentary bills and national policies.
After the events of 2000 and the political developments in recent weeks, there is really an urgent need to re-look at our national security situation, including the mechanisms in place and how we can introduce a more participatory and interactive human dimension into it. This involves re-thinking about our policy-making process, development initiatives, and strategic decision-making.
Perhaps a major national security summit needs to be convened to include representatives of all the citizens including the government, police, army, navy, customs, immigration, civil society organizations, religious groups and community groups etc. The summit should encapsulate the need to engage with each other more and create a national consensus on what is best for all of us. We need to build a broad citizen security partnership process.
Although the coup of 2000 is six years away, the consequences are still with us. Let's not pretend that the past will automatically go away. We have to be pro-active in how we deal with security issues for the future stability of our country.
Meanwhile, we all hope that good judgment and goodwill will prevail in these difficult times to ease the tension between the government and the military. I'm confident that the two sides are conscious of this and are determined to move ahead with positive dialogue. Let there be peace in Fiji.
Dr Steven Ratuva is a Senior Fellow in Governance at the University of the South Pacific.