The Army is Costly; disband it

By Kolec E. Jessey


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

November 27, 2003

In a recent remark that has sparked a major debate, the head of the United Nations mission in Liberia, Jack Klein, called for the abolishment of the national army arguing that soldiers only “play cards and plot coups”.

If Liberia is to break with the circle of continuing violence for the past 14 years, then Liberians need to listen to Mr. Klien and others calling for the elimination of the army and demilitarized the country. In fact a few weeks ago, I suggested that that the decision to reorganize the army should be deferred until after the elections because organizing the army under the present military (warlord) leadership will create an army that will be saturated with rebel fighters of LURD, MODEL, and NPFL that have no respect for human rights and the rules of law.

There are those who will argue that Liberia is in a fragile region with porous borders with Ivory Coast, Guinea, and Sierra Leone for the country to not have an army to defend itself. They will also argue that the constitution of Liberia provides for the creation of an army to defend the nation. Therefore, disbanding the army is a breach of the constitution.

To the first argument I would like to ask, since when did the ethicized Liberian army in the best of time defended Liberia and the citizenry? In fact, it was the army that created the monster called Charles Taylor when they overplayed their hands by becoming very repressive in their bid to bring down the 1989 incursion that led to the success of Taylor. On the second argument, the constitution can be amended through referendum to accommodate the country’s changing political, economic and social realities.

In fact, a strong police force and border patrol agency instead of an army can be trained to perform dual functions of military and other tasks to prevent the abuse of the country borders. The country can also develop good intelligence capacity within the region to track elements that are bent on engaging in criminal and banditry enterprises. This will adequately address those that are concern about disbanding the army at this time when the country is in a very volatile region.

But there is a financial and economic argument that can be made against organizing the army at this point or under the elected government in two years time.

According to World Bank and other international agencies, Liberia external debt grew to about $3 billion from $813 million in 1981. As the result of Liberia’s default on this international commitment, new international aid to Liberia (other than humanitarian) remained suspended. And the country is not creditworthy to borrow to meet pressing needs. Besides, the government will have to service these debts to keep in line with international and debt covenants, and prevent it from ballooning because of compounding.

Amnesty International also reported that when the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and donor community representatives visited Liberia in August of last year to assess the framework for aid, they insisted on improvements in microeconomic reporting, fiscal discipline, and respect for human rights as the conditions for restoring aid. Even the European Union (EU) which has been the principal donor to Liberia during the war has insisted on good governance, including the macroeconomic management, democratization, and respect for human rights as precondition for aid relationship.

In light of all the international community insistence on macroeconomic management and fiscal discipline as a precondition for assistance and our country daunting debt situation, it would be prudent if the we can disband not just the military but other institutions of government that are not relevant and use the resources to meet our external obligations and address pressing social issues such as rehabilitation, resettlement, healthcare, and education.

It is estimated that by eliminating the army the government would reduce its annual expenditures by 25% which translates into substantial government saving. Such a move will demonstrate to the international community our government’s commitment to fiscal discipline and sound financial management.

Given the constraints and challenges on the interim government and the elected government that will follow in two years, it does not make any fiscal sense to create an army. To organize an army that is not paid on a regular basis invites a condition in which the government becomes a sitting duck for rebellion and military coups. It is time to demilitarize the country by focusing our limited resources on activities for the rebirth of our country. An army is not a litmus test for sovereignty.