World without armies
Historically, the purpose of armies has been to wage wars (or defend) against external enemies or groups within the country who took up arms against the government. In the contemporary world, howev...
If you guessed that this essay was inspired by the recent overthrow of the elected government of Myanmar (formerly Burma), you are entirely correct. And if you think that the conjecture of a world without armies is harebrained that too is entirely understandable. However, there are contemporary examples that point to that possibility.
In contrast, the Central American country of Costa Rica disbanded its army in 1948. That is in one of the regions of the world where military coups were rife. The gamble has paid off. Costa Rica is today one of the most peaceful and prosperous countries in Central and South America. It competes with Europe, the US and Canada on indices of democracy such as press freedom and civil liberties.Read more: Punch Newspapers »
Kindly Share This Story Minabere Ibelema Historically, the purpose of armies has been to wage wars (or defend) against external enemies or groups within the country who took up arms against the government. In the contemporary world, however, the purpose in many countries has been to usurp political power or help to suppress dissent. And that raises the question of whether civilisation will ever progress to the point where all nations deem their militaries superfluous and accordingly disband them. If you guessed that this essay was inspired by the recent overthrow of the elected government of Myanmar (formerly Burma), you are entirely correct. And if you think that the conjecture of a world without armies is harebrained that too is entirely understandable. However, there are contemporary examples that point to that possibility. Of the 195 countries of the world, 36 do not have standing armies. Sure, they are all small countries. In fact, several of them are so unfamiliar that the brightest geography students will have difficulty locating them on a map. Still, their examples point to global possibilities. Among the more recognisable ones are Costa Rica, Dominica, Liechtenstein, Mauritius, Micronesia, Monaco, New Caledonia, Panama and St. Lucia. These countries have only police forces that maintain law and order and protect their borders. Of course, they are exceptions to the rule. But then, the kind of audacity exhibited by Myanmar’s army is also increasingly an aberration. Myanmar is one of the few countries in the world where the military still seems to believe that it has a divine right to govern or dictate governance. On that, it shares a fraternal bond with Egypt. In contrast, the Central American country of Costa Rica disbanded its army in 1948. That is in one of the regions of the world where military coups were rife. The gamble has paid off. Costa Rica is today one of the most peaceful and prosperous countries in Central and South America. It competes with Europe, the US and Canada on indices of democracy such as press freedom and civil liberties. In Reporters Without Borders’ Index of Press Freedom for 2020, for example, Costa Rica ranks 7th out of the 180 countries surveyed. It and Jamaica (6th) are the only non-European countries in the Top 10. Myanmar in contrast is among the lowest ranked countries at 139th. Just for the curiosity, the US is ranked a not-very lofty 45th and Nigeria an embarrassing 115th. Back to Costa Rica, its pre-pandemic per capita GDP in 2019 was $12,244. This is 32 times its per capita GDP of $381 in 1960, and it dwarfs that of most countries in Central and South America, including Mexico and Brazil. Myanmar’s per capita GDP is merely $1,407. Economic indices aside, Costa Rica is a phenomenal success because it has channeled its resources to human development. That includes a recent boost in health expenditures to address the pandemic. So, not only are Costa Ricans relatively well-off, Costa Rica is an oasis of tranquility in a turbulent region. While Costa Rica was abolishing its army, Myanmar (then Burma) was instituting a decade-long military rule that lasted from 1962 to 2011. The military bowed to internal and external pressures in 2011 and conducted a national election. It was won by a landslide by the National League for Democracy (NLD), whose leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, became prime minister. Before then Suu Kyi had been jailed or kept under house arrest for years. Apparently, 10 years on the sideline was too much for the military, so they arrested Suu Kyi again before formally announcing her overthrow. The ostensible reason was that Suu Kyi’s government rigged the last election. The allegation lacks credibility because Suu Kyi won by the same landslide by which she won the military-supervised election in 2011. The reality is that the coup was all about the generals’ ego. “I think a feeling in the officer corps is that the NLD and Suu Kyi had disrespected them, and they were not paying any attention to their views and concerns,” CNN quotes a Myanmar-based analyst as saying. “The military commander justified his coup via a manufactured crisis. But it tapped into genuine grievances among the top brass.”According to the analyst, the military had fielded a party that it would control, but the party lost badly in the election. The coup leaders promise to return power to an elected government in about one year, after probing the supposed rigging. Speculation is that they would use that time to lay the groundwork for positioning their leader to run for office himself—and probably do the actual rigging. With such meddling of military ego, it’s not surprising that Myanmar remains one of the most conflict-ridden countries in southeast Asia. The army’s campaign against its Rohingya Muslim minority has been one of the most noted cases of ethnic cleansing in contemporary times. The campaign was triggered by Islamist militancy among some Rohingya. Rather than focusing on the militants, the military started a campaign to expel the Rohingya in general. The rationalisation is that they are not native to Myanmar in the first place, though most of them have no place else to call home. As prime minister, Suu Kyi was internationally criticised for not asserting herself to protect the Rohingya. Her ambivalence may have resulted from her own fears of the Muslim militancy. More likely, she acquiesced to the military to avoid giving them a pretext to overthrow her. The recent coup demonstrates that they can find a pretext when they want to. Myanmar allocates 2.7 per cent of its budget to the military. The global average is 2.2 percent, according to statista.com . Thus, Myanmar’s allocation is about 23 per cent higher than the global average. To put this in perspective, Switzerland allocates about 0.7 percent, Nigeria 0.5 percent, and the U.S. 3.4 per cent. What is interesting about the Swiss allocation is that though Switzerland is known as a neutral and pacifist country, it is actually one of the most militarised in the world. But its army is also one of the most democratised. Most of its members are reserves in the civilian workforce and the people are required to keep arms. The latter dimension would be a recipe for disaster in Nigeria, of course. But where it works, it neutralises the element of impunity in the military. That could be one route to ultimately disbanding national armies. It could happen. Copyright PUNCH. All rights reserved. This material, and other digital content on this website, may not be reproduced, published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in whole or in part without prior express written permission from PUNCH. 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