Liberia cannot Afford to Take its Stability and Security for Granted

By Cecil Franweah Frank


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

November 27, 2003


Over the pass few weeks I have been following with interest the argument surrounding the issue as to whether post-war Liberia needs an army or not. This all began with the statement of the SG Special Representative to Liberia, Mr. Jacques Klein, which was reported by the UN Integrated Regional Information Network published online on November 5, in which Mr. Klein stated that Liberia does not need an army. Since then there has been statements and counter-statements made on this issue. A lot has been mentioned about this and in particular I would like to draw attention to the positive observations made by Ezekiel Pajibo in his article piece under the heading 'Does Liberia Need an Army? A Rejoinder to NTLA's Speaker Pronouncement." Therefore, I don't think there is a need to go deeper into this, except as to express my view as it relates to some issues of a strategic nature, which I consider should be or are of importance in dealing with this matter.

The relevance of the question of whether Liberia needs an army cannot be more pressing especially in view of the fact that Liberians are preparing to make what should be a transition from the old failed order that came of age in 1944 to a new order, in which we, Liberians, will have to define everything anew, including who we are, what we intend to achieve as a people, how we intend to build and protect our statehood, and not the least, how we intend to live with our neighbors. Mr. Klein was quoted by the UN regional information agency as saying that the transitional government should abolish the National Army, as according to him, soldiers only "play cards and plot coups."

One might not beg to differ with this observation as it became even more true since April 12, 1980. Since the April coup d'etat Liberian soldiers were transformed from a dormant force in the hall of power to an active one with an ever increasing appetite for political power. This appetite grew even more as Liberia became engulfed in civil wars.

I should not fail to take notice of those well-meaning Liberian patriots who point to the fact that the turbulent era of Liberia, particularly since events of December 24, 1989, signified the end of the policy of 'good neighborliness" as was propounded by successive Liberian governments how albeit one sided, and made more manifest during the Tolbert administration and that there is now a need for a more robust Liberian army that would serve as a deterrent to future civil wars and large-scale displacement of the population, and such an army should be prepared and well equipped to take the offensive if and when Liberian territorial integrity becomes threatened. Supporters of this point of view accused the Doe administration of eroding the national security of the country by weakening the army, which made it impossible to invade Sierra Leone in the late 80s during the time of a dispute with President Siaka Stevens or Cote d'Ivoire after the NPFL invaded Liberia in 1989. Certainly, the reason for such was that the Doe administration had not properly equipped and build-up an offensive looking army despite having received upwards of $500 million from the US and the administration was constrained by the deluded doctrine of 'good neighborliness.' Moreover, Doe and his military chiefs miscalculated the potential of Liberia's neighbors to wreck havoc and mischief and Doe was only focused on safe-guarding himself against coup d'etats and the internal opposition, hence creating and heavily financing only the Special Anti-Terrorist Unit (SATU). This argument certainly has elements of truth.

In concluding, I will like to focus on the following specifics: as Jacques Klein correctly noted, Liberia has got no quarrels or territorial disputes with neighboring Sierra Leone, Guinea and Cote d'Ivoire. Before the crisis of the late 80s and 90, few would disagree that though on paper Liberia had a standing army, but the reality was that the army had become an instrument of political intrigue and was nothing less or more than a hapless duck, which could have best been described as a police force. The army was being used to resolve internal issues such as flogging students on the university campuses and in the streets because they rightly or wrongly opposed the policies of one president or another, and this in essence is not what armies are traditionally meant for: protecting the territorial integrity of the state. Therefore, few Liberians, including this author would disagree that a new Liberia will not need "armies that sit around playing cards and plotting coups," as Mr. Klein said, but a force that will be strong enough to protect the state borders against smuggling, illegal migration, cross border combatants and deterring aggression, to put it in the words of Jacques Klein.

But given the checkered interstate relations and security in the Mano River Basin, Liberia cannot afford to take its stability and security for granted and leave it to such tyrants as Lassana Conteh of Guinea. We cannot live any longer under the illusion that there is good neighborliness when such is not adequately backed by a strong physical element of security. History has shown that for good neighborliness to work there much be a strong a credible element of deterrent. In this regards, I would call for the creation of a Liberia Defense Force numbering not 600 to 700 men as Mr. Klein had proposed, but as much as 2,500-3,000 troops, backed by sophisticated air, sea and ground components. 1,000 of these should no doubt comprise border guards equipped with electronic, air and sea capabilities. Another 700-800 must account for a rapid reaction force, 300 - cost guard personnel and the rest of the troops should comprise auxiliary corps with specialization in such areas as medicine, engineering and so forth.

Mr. Klein's proposal of 600 to 700 man police force will make Liberia a weakling. It will amount to undue disarmament of the country, especially when we are still unsure about our neighbors' intentions. No doubt, giving the size of Liberia we need a decent police force that will number not more than 5,000 personnel. Its strength should be based on technologies and mobility. The transitional government should tread carefully when deciding the structures and composition of a future Liberian military and paramilitary force. This is also expected to be an issue in the 2005 elections - defense. Also, serious attention should be given to raising the recruitment standards both in the Liberian Defense Force and the National Police Force.

Cecil Franweah Frank is a political commentator with the Ukrainian News Agency in Kyiv, Ukraine, and is a security policy specialist.