`Known unknowns’ and ANZ Sanctions on Fiji

              By Scott MacWilliam

A recent Press Release by a New Zealand based consultancy firm 36th-Parallel.com has brought to light a potentially perverse consequence of ANZ diplomacy toward Fiji’s military regime. This diplomacy, it will be recalled, included requesting the United Nations to reduce or eliminate completely, the part played by Fiji soldiers in peace-keeping missions. Deployment overseas played a major role in training, including internationalising the attitudes of soldiers, and providing remittances which boosted foreign income for the country and relatives.

Thanks to the document recently issued by 36th-Parallel.com one response of the regime to this form of sanctions is now receiving wider circulation: see http://36th-parallel.com/2012/03/dispatch-fiji-regimes-ppp-defence-commercial-arm-targets-msg-states/ . To cite the opening paragraphs:

`Fiji’s military-led government is actively promoting a commercial-wing of its defense (sic) network as a recruiter and agent for private military-styled security personnel. Fiji Defence Logistics was established in 2008, less than two years after Commodore Voreqe (Frank) Bainimarama and the Republic’s military overthrew the Fijian government. The company was formed under the Fiji military government’s Public-Private-sector Partnership (PPP) framework.

Defence Logistics is the sole private defense company with authorization to operate inside Fiji. Additionally, Defence Logistics has established an ‘extended branch’ inside the politically unstable Melanesian state, Papua New Guinea.’

As the article notes, the reduction in UN employment posed a problem for Fiji’s military government and provided an economic and political opportunity. The problem was the threat posed to the regime by having unemployed highly trained soldiers back in Fiji, where they might have been either a source of spontaneous disorder or recruits for the regime’s domestic opponents. The opportunity was to form a firm which could find alternate employment for the `surplus’ soldiers, while posing as a benevolent, even anti-discrimination employer paying at international rates, above those paid to Fijians by the other private firms who sub-contract for the UN.

Using the security firm in Fiji could increase the regime’s means of repression at home by utilising privately employed soldiers, making it possible to distance the military from `unlawful acts’ by these personnel. The firm’s existence would also allow Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama to extend his influence among the Melanesian Spearhead Group. Foremost among the governments of the MSG countries which provided vital regional support for the regime against international condemnation was that headed by PNG’s Prime Minister Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare.

As the speculative piece notes, the Fiji-based defence contractor, established its PNG branch in 2010. Significantly, although re-elected in 2007, by the later year the Somare government was falling apart. Its collapse was only partly due to the illness and absence overseas of the PM. Younger rivals were circling PNG’s `Grand Old Man’ and his supporters. In 2011, Peter O’Neill took power with parliamentary support in a move which is still wending its way through the legislature and the courts.
During the change of government, a section of the PNG Defence Force staged an unsuccessful mini-revolt in an attempt to reinstate Somare. While the failure of the effort appeared to strengthen O’Neill’s position, it also demonstrated the fractured, ill-disciplined nature of the PNG military and how uncertain was its loyalty and ability to defend a government.

PNG national elections scheduled for mid-2012 are a subject of controversy already because of the disorganised preparations. Their conduct has become even more controversial recently. This is because of the ham-fisted intervention of Australia’s new Foreign Minister Senator Bob Carr who threatened sanctions against PNG if the elections were not held when due. Carr made this insistence even though it is well known that the electoral rolls and other organisational procedures are unlikely to be completed to an adequate standard by the polling date.

Past history would suggest no one party will win a clear electoral majority in its own right. Nevertheless the disorganised state of the electoral machinery, the ineffective security apparatuses, and the fractured nature of party organisations could provide a perfect opportunity for well organised interventions. Such interventions, conducted initially in the name of providing security for particular candidates and their supporters might also even assist after the election. When inevitable negotiations occur to form a government out of the usual collection of minor parties and independents, rounding up newly elected independent and small party MPs would also require `security’.

While unlikely that a private security firm could provide a major, or even decisive intervention, their assistance will be welcome in what seems likely to be an election marked by corruption, disputes and violence. As a colleague long-versed in PNG politics commented:

`The combination of forthcoming elections and LNG (liquefied natural gas) developments represent massive conflict stresses/opportunities that renders the private militaristic services on offer from Fiji all the more alluring’. In a country where levels of violence against some of the natural resource projects are already high, PM O’Neill has tried to reassure international investors by threatening protestors.

In these circumstances it should be borne in mind that neither Somare nor his supporters have any deep attachment to Australian governments and their policies. A firm associated with his `Melanesian brother’ Bainimarama could provide welcome support in what is likely to be a closely fought election, and further bolster Somare’s nationalist, anti-Australian profile. While PM O’Neill has flagged that his government wants to reduce the influence of Australia in his country, and the coming revenue stream from gas and other assets will make the shift easier, Somare is even less enamoured with Australian political influence in PNG. (This is not to say that he holds no personal fondness for some Australian politicians, including Liberal Andrew Peacock who played a major role in the transition to PNG’s Independence.)

Somare has long had a tenuous relationship with Australia. It should be recalled that one of his early visits overseas after becoming the first post-Independence PM in 1975 was to China. Somare stated at the time that his visit had two main purposes, to see how to extend smallholder agriculture as a means of employing people, and to gain assistance in order to lessen the dominance of Australian aid for his country. In 2002, as PNG faced national elections, Australian officials, academics and others, very publicly supported the government headed by Sir Mekere Morauta. Despite or even perhaps because of this `foreign interference’ Somare replaced Morauta as PM, and in 2007 won again. Now Australia is again backing Somare’s opponent O’Neill but whether this includes military/police support is not yet clear.

While all public policy faces uncertainties, some of those caused by the ANZ sanctions upon Fiji illustrate the incompetence of government officials in both countries. For centuries, governments faced by a sudden increase in the unemployment rate among returning soldiers have adopted measures to lessen the threat these might pose to order. After the Napoleonic Wars, British governments garrisoned permanent army units in major towns to deal with localised revolts of ex-soldiers. After World War I, governments of industrial countries, including Australia, established soldier settlement schemes, many of them as far away as possible from major cities, to limit the possibilities for organised dissent. The potential for anti-government violence by disgruntled unemployed ex-soldiers is always what former US Secretary for Defense Donald Rumsfeld would term a `known unknown’.

Aware of such precedents and having factored in the steps which their particular sanction against Fiji might force PM Bainimarama to take to deal with unemployed soldiers, what did Australian and New Zealand defence, foreign affair and aid officials anticipate would happen?  Did they think the PM would simply allow these highly trained men to roam the country, posing an organised or disorganised threat to his government? [Perhaps in their most fanciful moments the ANZ officials may have hoped such dissidents would overthrow the regime and `return (sic) Fiji to democracy’.]

Have they not seen the growing alliances which the Fiji PM has carefully cultivated in the region and the rest of the world? Did they consider the possibility that ANZ - inspired UN sanctions might force the Fiji military regime to take positive steps, including using recently `surplus to requirements’ soldiers to counter the ANZ influence in the region? The coming PNG election has become even more significant, if this Fiji-based security firm is indeed able to exert any influence at all on the outcome.


Please explain said…
Can you please explain what this pathetic piece of rubbish is trying to say?
Anonymous said…
This piece by MacWiliam is hogwash. He must have woken up one morning with no good stories at hand, smoked a weed, then let his befuddled mind wander and conjure up all sorts of fanciful scenarios. Strewth!

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