Fri | Feb 23, 2018

Editorial | Think through JDF use

Published:Wednesday | June 1, 2016 | 12:00 AM

We have noted, and appreciate, Prime Minister Andrew Holness' proposal to tap "the reservoir of talents" at the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) for membership to the boards of state agencies to help, as he puts it, in the efficient implementation of economic projects. But we are wary.

We understand why Mr Holness, and others, may be seduced by his idea. In a range of surveys on governance in Jamaica, with most agencies of the State and the political and business elite scoring low, the military has consistently had the highest rating for trust. Individual members may, from time to time, be accused of bad things, but the JDF, unlike the constabulary, political parties and the Parliament, is not deemed to be institutionally corrupt.

Moreover, its leadership corps is, for the most part, highly educated and well trained. The JDF has a reputation for efficiency, although some might argue that that claim has not been subject to robust examination.

This is the backdrop to Mr Holness' remark of "great minds" existing at the JDF headquarters and in need of being "connected with great minds elsewhere, thinking about the same problems and finding solutions" as part of a strategy of utilising "our army in the advance of our economic and social security".

The idea, on the face of it, is worthy of being pursued. Yet, this newspaper believes that it should be subjected to the kind of robust analysis, philosophical and otherwise, of what ought to be the appropriate role for the military in a liberal democratic society, which, it is apparent from Mr Holness' statement, has not happened.

Armies - militaries more broadly - are democratic states, subject to civilian control and oversight, with the primary role being to provide the State with security, usually against external aggressors, but sometimes, too, internal ones. They are expected to be non-partisan and willingly accept changes in political administrations that express the will of the people.




While military personnel have the right, as citizens are allowed, to engage in civic activities, this must not be done in a manner that undermines the integrity of the institution. Indeed, militaries maintain rigid command-and-control structures to ensure their organisational discipline, which is often at odds with the expectations of civil engagement. There is a danger, it seems to us, of placing pressure on these structures, or calling into question the institution's non-partisan position, if its members are called to sit on the boards of agencies to implement the favoured policies of the government of the day.

There are, of course, specific programmes and projects, especially during national emergencies, when the core competencies of the JDF can add value to civil efforts. These we encourage.

We know, too, that there are countries where the militaries operate almost like parallel states, running enterprises for their own benefit and hardly subject to civil oversight. But this happens in states that are, at best, nominal democracies, or ones in which there is an absence of separation of powers, or in circumstances where the military is exercising blackmail for a nominal civil authority. Moreover, when militaries presume the civilian state to be incompetent, and this is reinforced by civilian leaders asking for their help in management, they might be enticed to leave their barracks to do more.