“Peacekeeping and the army: the RFMF Brand”. The Fiji Times, 3 July 2002.
RFMF Brand is undermined
Our peace-keeping soldiers are coming home.
The RFMF and the whole country would like to see them re-employed internationally, instead of joining the ranks ofFiji’s unemployed or criminals. But all that is on offer are unpleasant stints in places likeCongoandRwanda, which the RFMF is reluctant to accept.
Good contracts are still being given out, but they are going toCanadaand other countries, with military organisations less troubled thanFiji’s.
And the RFMF top brass know that peace-keeping contracts will be hard to come by, because the RFMF “brand” has been undermined by soldiers who “forgot” that they are part of a global military and economic order.
The military are now a globalized brand
Soldiers easily understand that their lives depend on having the modern military technology that globalisation offers: guns, surveillance equipment, global positioning instruments, and the rest.
No soldier will stupidly risk their lives by rejecting foreign weapons in favour of wooden clubs and spears. Globalisation is as essential to our military as it is to our economy. But, as with any other product, globalisation also imposes other harsh disciplines.
For instance, international demand for a car depends not just on the price, but also its quality, its reliability, its track record, its brand name. And if once the brand name and track record is tarnished, future sales are jeopardised.
Global products are subject to the rules of organisations like the World Trade Organisation (WTO), ensuring world wide competition amongst producers, giving greater consumer choice – better range, quality, and price. Consumers not happy with a particular brand are easily able to switch to other brands.
And for every product line, specialist organisations maintain a close watch, providing information on industry structure, the producers, the product prices, quality, and standards in general.
All these global economic pressures apply equally to the RFMF who sell international peace-keeping services, once a major export industry worth around $15 millions per year, in places likeLebanonand Sinai.
RFMF once a great brand
The RFMF soldier was once a “brand name” product in high demand, built up over decades of performance in the field- in WWII, in Malaya, inLebanonand Sinai.
Helped by the reputation of individual soldiers likeRatu Sukuna,VictoriaCross winner Sefanaia Sukanaivalu, and the many face-less individuals who have served in the British Army and special units like the SAS.
The RFMF brand name was associated with professionalism, strict discipline and obedience to higher authority.
Such total discipline was crucial in multi-national operations commanded not just by Fijian officers, but also non-Fijian military commanders appointed by the larger countries or the UN. Only thus could the UN maintain control over thousands of soldiers of different nationality.
Most normal goods and services, such as a shirt or can of paint, do not pose great risk to society if misused. But soldiers are entrusted with weapons of death and destruction- with guns, grenades, tanks, and missile systems.
Undisciplined soldiers who disregard legitimate authority, rules and regulations, can cause massive havoc not just to other soldiers, but also to civil society, as has happened in so many countries of Africa andAsia.
Brands are monitored internationally: what do they see in RFMF?
So international buyers of military services (including peace-keeping) monitor military organisations everywhere: numbers of soldiers, their armaments, training, performance of the officers and soldiers internationally and domestically.
The reports may not be seen by the general public, but those who matter, do get the reports. And what would they have reported recently on the RFMF?
A 1987 coup against a legitimate civilian government led by the third in command in the RFMF.
A 2000 coup against a legitimate civilian government, backed by some soldiers, but with unknown support from some senior officers; a coup during which senior army officers “traditionally requested” their President (and Supreme Commander), to “step aside”.
And then, a 2000 mutiny by a rebel RFMF unit, against their senior officers, with serious loss of lives.
For 2001 and 2002, they would report public dissent amongst RFMF officers, court actions, and public statements some emphasising allegiance to traditional “vanua” leaders, and implicitly undermining the authority of the military hierarchy.
They would report anonymous statements in the media voicing dis-satisfaction about internal RFMF matters.
Militaries have potential for chaos
International military analysts know that in many African countries, military forces have often split along tribal or provincial lines, causing civil war and chaos.
They also know that theFijimilitary hierarchy historically has had provincial attachments (such as to the Big Three Chiefs), and that provincial tensions can occur if not guarded against.
How could an any international buyer of peace-keeping services have confidence in a military with such weaknesses in discipline?
Fiji is not the only country supplying “peace-keeping” services.
Is it surprising if the UN prefers to buy peace-keeping services from countries which do not have any record of coups or internal dissension?
RFMF must strengthen brand
The RFMF, like our local manufacturers, cannot ignore the forces and discipline of globalisation.
It is clear that senior RFMF officers do appreciate that mistakes have been made, undermining their internal discipline, international credibility and, ultimately, their global “brand name”.
But how does the message filter down to the rank and file, when ordinary soldiers are not privy to the confidential discussions of the officers? And it is the rank and file who often lead insurrections?
There have not been any public inquiries clarifying where the mistakes have been made, by officers and/or soldiers, nor has any officer or soldier publicly acknowledged his mistake.
And while public confidence has been shaken in many an officer, no one has done the honorable thing and resigned, as they do elsewhere in the civilised world.
Challenges for RFMF
So how does the RFMF restore the credibility of its brand name, and total discipline?
How ensure that all officers and ranks single-mindedly respect their lines of authority within the military- right up to the Commander- whether he is a soldier or sailor?
How ensure that the military hierarchy remains totally subservient to the Head of State and the legitimate Government of the day?
How ensure that vanua leaders do not attempt to influence military officers and soldiers?
How end the cycle of coups?
These are the challenges facing the RFMF. And they must be met, because there are great benefits possible forFiji.
Future benefits of good branding of RFMF
Because globalisation also implies a further strengthening of “world governance”, which also means increased demand for international “peace-keeping” in areas of strife and turmoil around the world.
We know that the militaries ofUKor NZ place high value on, and will keep recruiting individual Fijian soldiers and officers. Just as they do our individual rugby players, or nurses.
But the challenge for the RFMF is to re-establish the international peace-keeping as an export industry, and not just facilitate the export of individuals.
This can only be done by the RFMF restoring its “brand name” and high standards, in the global world order.
[This is the second article based on lectures on globalisation, given to the RFMF Officer Training Courses at Vatuwaqa]