Saturday, December 10, 2011

Is Oscar Arias Sanchez Right?

A recent article from the Foreign Policy Blogs website highlighted the desire of Haitian president Michel Martelly to reconstitute the Haitian military. In response to this, former President of Costa Rica Oscar Arias Sanchez, wrote a letter urging President Martelly to abandon these aspirations. He believes that the Haitian people are much better off investing in education, healthcare, technology and communication. He feels that a disciplined police force is all that is needed at this time, considering the state of reconstruction that Haiti is still in following the devastating earthquake. Martelly and others have argued that a national army will provide jobs for young Haitians and bring a sense of national pride to Haiti. One politician said that "there is no sovereignty without an army."

There are several questions brought up by this argument. First of all, does a country need a military to be considered sovereign? Does one of the poorest nations on earth need a military? Should we be looking at these questions on a case by case basis? To answer the first question, I do not believe that a country needs a military to be considered sovereign. This is especially true when those countries have the support of nations like the U.S. or China. The U.S. military acts effectively as the Japanese armed forces. The situation in Haiti is similar. If Venezuela decided to invade Haiti, they would know that they are effectively invading U.S. space and would have to contend with a U.S., not Haitian, response. Likewise, a military does not guarantee that sovereignty will be respected. The special forces incursion into Pakistan by the U.S. to kill Osama Bin Laden was viewed by many Pakistanis as a violation of their sovereignty.

Oscar Arias Sanchez made a valid point when he compared Haiti to Nicaragua and Guatemala. All three have a history of strong military influence within their countries, and all three are ranked lowest on the Human Development Index for the region. Haiti is so poor and without valuable natural resources, there is nothing to defend. The money is much better spent educating and caring for the people of Haiti. This gives them a path toward prosperity. Down the road they may have the luxury of needing a military. Corruption is also an established problem in the region, and a military adds one more bureaucracy looking to extract bribes.

While having a military is an important goal for a country, it is not an absolute necessity, and it is not a top priority when rebuilding a nation from political or natural disaster. The Haitian people will have a military at some point, but they need to address more critical concerns first.

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