Policing a Clash of Cultures Part 26: A Comprehensive Security Review - or was it?
Excerpt from my memoirs.
The change of government created a better political environment where one could believe that the window of opportunity to turn a leaf in the book of events and open a fresh chapter had arrived.
My aim was still to get the kind of help for the police force from Australia, which I had failed to get from the British. After all we were on Australia’s doorstep and within their strategic defence area where there were regional concerns which Australia needed to address for long term stability.
I had in mind Uluf’ala’s speech in which he had said his government would work to restore regional relationships.
The Australian Deputy High Commissioner approached me, by the hinting of support for a security review. Ah… I thought. A door is opening now. So I went ahead and briefed the Island’s government about this offer.
One thing led to another; the results were positive to the extent that a Strategic Review of the Solomon’s security needs was conducted by Professor Steward Woodman, a military specialist of international renown, on the staff of the Strategic Studies Department of the Australian National University and who had also overseen a Masters programme with the Singapore Armed Forces Training Institute.
Although a substantial investigation of the nation’s security needs had been evaluated in mid-1998, Professor Woodman’s work culminated in a comprehensive security document which was presented to Prime Minister Uluf’ala in February 1999.
The document set out what was envisaged as the then current and future security challenges facing the Solomon Islands; establishing a policy framework to meet the challenges in the most effective and resource efficient way, and providing a detailed, phased plan, for enhancing the nation’s security force.
At first reading this came across as an excellent review however there were certain incidents and situations which were either totally ignored or for some reason considered unimportant.
Consider these omissions:
• Omitting comment regarding the rise of militancy on Guadalcanal since September the previous year.
• Omitting comment regarding the shootout that had taken place on Bungana Island in December 1998.
• Omitting comment regarding the theft of police weapons from the Yandina police armoury.
• Omitting comment regarding the increasing evidence of attacks on settlers from other islands, notably on those from Malaita.
• Omitting comment regarding the increasing evidence of migrant plantation workers fleeing from their homes and making their way towards Honiara.
These omissions were all the more surprising, since the happenings and incidences of militancy listed above, all made headlines in the local and international press, particularly in the Australian press, and Professor Woodman would surely have read them, or have been informed of the changing situation by the Australian High Commission in Honiara.
One assumes that as a consultant adviser he would have made reference to the worsening security situation in his Review; so why were there not any references made: or maybe an addendum reference?
This Review could be considered a whitewash, to a large degree, of the reality of the situation as it was in February 1999.
Was this Strategic Review edited?
However, it did note that there were some worrying signs for the future, citing the state of the economy, unemployment and increasing social problems.
The Executive Summary in the Review (Para: 5) said: “In the medium to long term, the more serious challenges relate to the nation’s ability to manage development and provide for a rapidly growing population. The national economy is facing difficulties. Problems are already emerging in relation to unemployment, dissolution amongst young people, and a distinct shift of population into Honiara and the major towns. Drugs, alcohol abuse, and crimes such as assault and theft are increasing.”
Hmmm… rather bland one thought. Remove the name Honiara and it could be generic for numerous other countries or even taken from any relevant teaching project.
Another aspect of the Review commented that the Solomons were fortunate, apart from recent tensions on its maritime boundary with Papua New Guinea, to have favourable external security prospects.
PNG was still simmering, Indonesia and Fiji had ongoing histories worth watching and the Solomon Islands had numerous little islands…
The principal initiatives that were recommended to be taken in reshaping the nation’s security capabilities would take time – five years at least – and there was no hint of funding from Australia. All in all a rather cautious step tiptoeing over the ‘Looking Glass,’ so to speak.
The Solomon Islands conflict attracted little International attention despite the damage it caused and perhaps the unrest on Guadalcanal was viewed as trite and wholly domestic; as suggested by well known academics such as Jon Fraenkel.
An interesting attitude – were we now considered an academic classroom?
The Strategic Review, was supposed to provide the basis for helping the Solomons combat its security challenges, promote development and maintain stability.
However, it was to take four more years before a significant shift in Australia’s strategic defence policy, related to its regional Pacific neighbours, to consider a classification change to an ‘Arc of Instability,’ in its backyard.
The evidence of the unfolding security and humanitarian crisis was already there in February 1999.Subsequently, the initial follow-up efforts to help from Australia consisted of two female project advisers from Australia – one an ex Assistant Police Commissioner from Victoria. They advised on institutional strengthening of the then existing police personnel, including the senior executive members.
Another academic exercise.
The reality was that the police institution was crumbling from a lack of resources; facilities, equipment and money, plus the entire senior executive had already declared their intention of leaving the force as soon as they could get a retirement package.
I could see little, if any, point in institutional strengthening for obvious reasons.
One thought, what is the point of putting paint on the outside of the building while the inside supports are decaying?
Australia did, however, later on second three army warrant officers to help out with our administration, including stores and supplies, and also a Lt. Commander from the Australian Navy who had oversight of the Pacific Patrol Boats donated by the Australian Government.
They all did commendable work, especially in regard to the reorganization of the police stores. In addition, following a request, another Australian Defence Force officer was seconded, briefly, to advise on strengthening the security and safekeeping of the arms in the main police armoury at Rove – an area of ongoing concern.
Indeed, the reasons for RAMSI’s subsequent intervention were not surprisingly different from those identified in the Review, but were also practically identical to what I had outlined when addressing a Pacific Armies Management Seminar (PAMS) in Manila in early 1998 and a couple of months later in May when stating the Solomon’s security needs in talks with visiting Australian Defence officials in Honiara.
Australia and perhaps to a lesser degree New Zealand, kept their heads down and merely monitored the worsening security and humanitarian crisis on Guadalcanal, an intelligence failure on the part of Australia’s security services which was highlighted in an official Australian Government report released in later years.
Today, the estimated population of the Solomon Islands is around 600,000 but in 1997 the population figure was quoted at around 450,000 with an authorized police establishment below 1000 and a then deficiency in the numbered ranks of about 250 members. And that number excluded the dead wood percentage.
We had a strict moratorium on recruitment because of the state of the government’s finances.
The population and the security threats were growing but the police strength and our capabilities and available resources were going in the opposite direction.
The scope of the police task and the inadequacies in the police ranks were plain to see, but much more was going on as I was soon to discover.
To be continued…
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this letter are those of Frank Short, CBE and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Solomon Times Online.
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