Two comments in last week’s Guardian particularly interested me. The first concerned the role of the BDF and the other, the situation in Lesotho.
The first questioned; what real role the BDF is supposed to play when its supposed role, defending the nation, is in reality no role at all – because none of the country ’s neighbours are likely ever to attempt an attack, let alone an invasion. The second article in a sense, answered the questions previously raised. Will President Khama, as the new SADC Chairperson be able to solve the Lesotho crisis and in doing so will he, for the second time around, need to deploy the BDF in an interventionist role? I have to assume that when it first made that extraordinary dash across South Africa, the BDF was appropriately equipped for the task it had been given. My obvious follow up question is to ask if the BDF is today, as well equipped as it was then, to carry out such a very tricky role? That question was implicitly raised by the Guardian’s correspondent – what is indeed the BDF’s role and what kinds of equipment might it need to carry out? I have long marvelled why we need tanks and fighter-bombers, and then having obtained them, realised that when the BDF had to be deployed in Lesotho or Somalia or wherever, those vastly expensive assets proved to be no assets at all. They sat somewhere unused, unwanted and irrelevant.
I relate such issues to the amazing scenarios in Europe which so many of us are now able to see on TV - the biblical-like migration by land of thousands and thousands of people. And then there are also those other thousands who try to get across the sea – the point being well made that for them the risks involved on the sea are less than they are on the land. And then there is Hungary, blocking off the migrants from hell, and then tear-gassing them, citing the EU protocols that justify them in doing so. And the extraordinary scenario of warships being used to rescue women and children from drowning and to destroy the bits and pieces of boats that the people smugglers currently use. Knock out the people smugglers, seems to be the theory, and the mass movement of people will be brought to a stop. Then convince the migrants that it really is in their best interests to stay in their countries of origin to be killed rather than risk drowning in the Mediterranean which, where possible, is being used as a barrier rather than a means of transit. It’s all horribly unconvincing and inhumane. But then the use of killing machines to help save life, instead of destroying it, is an irony in itself. Was nothing else available? When it came to the crunch, 350, 000 allied troops in 1940 were rescued from the beaches of France by hundreds of small British civilian owned, unarmed craft. There was then a humanitarian (and military) need on a scale that had never previously been experienced.
Incredibly, the job was done. But now, for the British in particular, a similar situation to 1940 has unfolded but this time around, much further afield and without the small privately owned craft that were then deployed. Probably, and understandably, it never foresaw that a Dunkirk scenario could ever repeat itself which would need something other than an aircraft carrier. Similarly it may not have occurred to our own government to wonder if the BDF is suitably equipped for dealing with the ever-recurring problems in Lesotho.
If Lesotho represents a specific problem it should be obvious that this country also should be playing its part in meeting the more generalised needs of the region – safeguarding and protecting a coastline stretching from northern Mozambique to northern Angola, the huge land mass and the vast airspace. No single country, going it alone, will achieve anything. The need is not only for inter-country cooperation about which we are periodically informed but for complete regional integration about which we hear nothing. Self evidently, it should be a priority to develop a coordinated strategy, effective communication at all levels and agreements about the specific military equipment needed by each country, if it is to carry out its agreed role.