Does Botswana need a standing army? (Part 2)

In view of the fact that we already have a military establishment in place, I will become the devil’s advocate and argue for, and not against.

Botswana already has a standing army with an assortment of infrastructure that needs maintenance.

Botswana Defence Force (BDF) has had five different Commanders so far, and for every one of them including the current one, they have requested their officers to do a restructuring exercise. When General Fisher was in power, we thought he had come with a structure that will last the military organisation for a long time. Many thought that was going to be his lasting legacy.

Restructuring exercises are costly because they determine the type of equipment the military is going to adopt. And as we know, military equipment does not come cheap. With General Fisher, the French ACMAT all-wheel-drive vehicle came to replace the Israeli M325. The latter had served BDF diligently and was retired gracefully.

The French deal became a serious blunder because the vehicles are now coming apart before the end of their lifespan. The M325 had never faltered at any moment. During the 1997 Palapye floods that claimed lives, the Land Rover which is BDF’s choice of light utility vehicle was reduced to a donkey cart by the M325. The BDF depended entirely on the M325 on land, Bell helicopters in the air while American Airboats did the rest in the water.

The Palapye floods became a significant turning point to indicate that Botswana needs a standing army for such eventualities. It was here that the role and the posture of our future military was defined. From that experience, it became very clear that Botswana needed a lightly equipped military. That was a defining moment for our military. From that time going forward, BDF should have focused on reequipping itself with the necessary tools for future national emergencies.

The three items that became crucial in saving lives during the floods could have been doubled after that experience. All the three are equally critical in the anti-poaching operations that BDF is now preoccupied with. By this I am not suggesting that BDF should do away with the Land Rover. It has served the military well in the past and in the present.

It has now become a trend for world militaries to go light. And that is the direction BDF should be going. The equipment that took part in the rescue of human lives in Palapye could play a role in three different arenas. While they remain on standby for any eventual national emergencies, they could play a role in anti-poaching operations. Furthermore, this could be used in the United Nations Peacekeeping operations.. That is literally killing three birds with a single stone. I argued in the past that BDF needs to rethink its position in participating in peacekeeping mission. When they did peacekeeping in the 1990s, they did not have the air transport reach and equipment that they now possess.

Re-defining the role of our military will determine how it will be equipped in future. One important aspect to look at when doing this introspection exercise is to determine the threat level in this part of the world. As a developing country, we must lay ahead our economic conditions and what we can afford for the military in our GDP. We should never at any moment spend more than 2% of our GDP on military equipment until such a time that we can boast of a thriving medical care system in the country.

I argue that we cannot continue to have a good part our population wallowing in abject poverty and be proud of procuring fighter jets from a developed country such as South Korea. We cannot entertain ideas of purchasing tanks because of two important factors. One is the level of poverty in our country while the other is the threat level in southern Africa.

When considering how to equip your military, the two most critical considerations must be poverty and threat level. There is a significant relationship here.  This has not been the practice in the past; politicians and military leaders only consider threat as singularly as a factor. I will however bring in a new dimension of poverty as a security consideration. For any country, the procurement of any military hardware, domestic security considerations are always at the forefront and poverty levels are the least of such considerations.

My argument here is that since Botswana already has a standing army, any further development in that regard must take into account the fact that we still have plenty of the poor in our own demographic setting. And mind you, the poor can in fact become an internal threat and this has happened in many third-world countries where such situations have manifested themselves in the form of insurrection.

 According to the latest United Nations Human Development Index, India is the number one country with a single largest number of the poor within the confines of its borders. Unlike Botswana, India’s security needs far much outweigh her need to arrest poverty. The eternal enmity between India and Pakistan call for very drastic measures in military spending.

India’s security needs supersede those of her population needs when placed in the economic scale. If India is not prepared to have a reasonable defence expenditure, then Pakistan can at any given time walkover the border and conduct attacks and raids at will. For Botswana, such threat levels do not exist and are not even forecast in future.

India’s existence is entirely dependent on her military. Without that in place, India would cease to exist. Like Israel, India’s immediate security environment calls for drastic defence spending while overlooking the factor of poverty. In the case of Botswana, poverty eradication should by all standards take precedence over military spending. This leaves us as a country with a very marginal reason to have a standing army.

Editor's Comment
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