Stick with Solomon Islands peacekeeping - study

01:43, Jan 31 2009

A leading American political philosopher and economist is warning that a peace-keeping mission to the Solomon Islands - which includes nearly 100 New Zealand soldiers and police - cannot end any time in the foreseeable future because of social conditions there.

The alert came in a paper by Professor Francis Fukuyama of John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

His controversial 1992 book "The End of History and the Last Man" argued the struggle between ideologies globally was over.

The Solomons plunged into ethnic violence in 1999 as the indigenous people of Guadalcanal fought rivals from neighbour Malaita Island.

A coup followed in 2000 and as the country disintegrated an Australian lead peacekeeping force, the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) went in and effectively took over the country in 2003.

They have remained there and Professor Fukuyama in a World Bank study says an exit strategy is not possible.


RAMSI had made short term progress.

"The militias responsible for the violence earlier in the decade have been disarmed and disbanded, and the formal criminal justice system has been functioning to identify and punish those responsible for serious crimes," he wrote.

"On the other hand, the social conditions that led to the violence persist in ways that make it impossible to consider ending RAMSI's presence any time in the foreseeable future."

A very large Malaitan population remained on Guadalcanal and there was a significant population of jobless and disaffected young people in the settlements around the capital Honiara.

Professor Fukuyama said the most troubling indicator of potential future problems was the Solomon's police which, in the short term was RAMSI's chief success.

The militias had grown out of the Solomon's Police as they were more loyal to their ethnic group or wantok (extended family) than to the Solomons as a whole. 

"It is not clear that any progress has been made in changing this mindset," he wrote, adding there were still many officers in the police who were involved in the conflict and have not yet been purged.

New Zealand has 35 police officers in RAMSI.

Professor Fukuyama said one of the striking gaps was "the absence of any sense of national identity" in the Solomons.

"In the absence of a long-term nation-building project owned and promoted by the country's political leadership, I am at a loss to understand how the country will ever overcome the divisions that led to the 1999-2003 violence. 

"Ethnic and wantok loyalties will never disappear, but they can be held in check by a national elite that is loyal to a larger concept of nation.  At the moment, I don't see any dynamic that would lead the country in this direction."

Few people were willing to admit to actively thinking about an exit strategy or are able to contemplate even a rough date for termination of the mission and handing back the currently shared state functions.

"RAMSI is thus operating under rather fictional premises, namely that at some point the country's capacity will improve across the board to the point that RAMSI can be withdrawn."

Professor Fukuyama argues that the region needed to give up the idea that RAMSI was a crisis response and should move to sharing sovereignty over the state and keeping the current monopoly it has on lethal use of force.

While RAMSI had dealt with the immediate issues, "there is no dynamic process that that will permit RAMSI to wind down at least a residual security role any time in the foreseeable future".

Fairfax Media