A modestly successful decade of intervention
Jul 20th 2013 |From the print edition
NOT all foreign adventures are doomed to fail. July 24th marks the tenth anniversary of the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI), an Australian-led intervention in the remote Pacific archipelago of nearly 1,000 islands. Soldiers were deployed as part of an effort by the Pacific Islands Forum that quickly disarmed rival militia groups and destroyed most of their guns.
For most of the time since, the peacekeepers have been out of the limelight, apart from a brief deployment to quell riots in April 2006. RAMSI became primarily a civilian outfit aimed at restoring public finances, prosecuting militants and restructuring the police. Now its mission is winding down. The military component ended on July 1st, and most other help will shift to bilateral schemes led by aid agencies from Australia and New Zealand.
RAMSI will remain, working mainly on creating better police. The Royal Solomon Islands Police Force was deeply compromised during the civil war, and was implicated in a coup in June 2000. Many officers have since retired or been sacked, but its reputation remains poor. By contrast, RAMSI’s police force, made up mainly of Australian officers, is well received. Trouble might return if they departed.
Among those attending the tenth anniversary will be leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum, including New Zealand’s prime minister, John Key, and Australia’s foreign minister, Bob Carr. A notable absentee will be Fiji’s Frank Bainimarama. His 2006 coup led to Fiji being ejected from the Pacific Islands Forum. Yet Mr Bainimarama is not exactly out in the cold. On July 7th-8th he was guest of honour at the Solomon Islands’ 35th independence-day celebrations. His vast retinue, of over 200 Fijian soldiers and police, was perhaps intended to embarrass Australian and New Zealand diplomats.
Mr Bainimarama, who doubles as Fiji’s military commander and prime minister, is an ambitious sort. He has long sought overseas roles for his officers in far-flung places such as Iraq and Lebanon. In June 180 more Fijian military officers were sent as UN peacekeepers to the Middle East.
In his speech at the Solomons’ independence celebrations, Mr Bainimarama claimed to have freed his country from “outside influences”. He said his security forces stood ready to help the Solomon Islands in any hour of need. Australia, at least, may worry that a country it has spent ten years rebuilding may now team up with the region’s rogue state. Yet that is unlikely. Mr Bainimarama’s cash-strapped government cannot afford a big deployment. No other regional actor, including China, is likely to step in to bankroll an operation that would upend the status quo in the Pacific. So only briefly did Mr Bainimarama manage to grandstand.