Sat | Nov 27, 2021

Letter of the Day | States of emergency are strategic, not tactical measure

Published:Monday | November 22, 2021 | 12:05 AM


Once again, the subject of states of emergency (SOE) has justifiably taken centre stage. Unfortunately, much of the debate relates to its necessity or imposition. Furthermore, a law-and-order enforcement measure has descended, like so many national topics, into the tribal party/political party positions. The usual Jamaica Labour Party versus People’s National Party lines have been drawn, and constructive debate gets dismissed based on party political allegiances or biases.

Nevertheless, let us try and rise above the party political biases for the national interest. I believe one must determine first what is a state of emergency, and, in fact, whether we need such a measure. The Jamaica Defence Force’s (JDF) Manual of Military Law devotes its Chapter V1 to the subject of the ‘Employment of the Defence Force in Aid of the Civil Power’. The section on the Constitution and Other Enactments states, “…The 1962 Jamaica Constitution recognises that there may be circumstances in the life of the State when it may be necessary that fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed thereunder should be curtailed or suspended and that, while such conditions last, the executive through its various agencies including the Defence Force may be authorized to take measures which would otherwise be unlawful. These circumstances are compendiously described in the Constitution as a ‘period of public emergency.’ This expression means any period during which Jamaica is engaged in any war or there is in Force a Proclamation by the Governor General declaring that a state of public emergency exists….”

Several military colleges throughout the world devote instruction to SOEs as a strategic and not as a tactical measure. They teach about strategy, not as opposed to tactics, but rather that strategy is the goal or aim of the plan, and the tactics must be applied to achieve the goal or aim/mission of the plan. These elements are, in fact, two different sides of the same coin, both very necessary to achieve the aim. “All men can see the tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory evolved” – Sun Tzu, Art of War.


The declaration of a SOE is a strategic measure which the JDF’s Manual of Military Law tells us could result in fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed by the constitution being curtailed or suspended, and authorising of the security forces to take measures that would otherwise be unlawful. I am sure that any such recommendation by leaders of our security forces for the imposition of a SOE is on equal footing with that of recommending the launching of troops into armed conflict. It must have been that many hours are spent studying all aspects of a SOE before a recommendation is made, in our case, to the Hon Prime Minister (PM).

One might ask, what should the heads of our security officers do if the PM directs a SOE to be declared without such a recommendation being made by them? I can’t imagine that any PM would take such action, essentially putting the cart before the horse, so to speak. But let us assume that this does happen, in which case I would respectfully urge that they accept the PM’s directive, but request time to conduct a thorough study to present a workable plan.


In any case, the duty of the leaders of our security forces must be satisfied if there is a breakdown in law and order, to the extent that it cannot be restored by the civil power (JCF) using the ordinary powers as provided by the law. Based on extensive and thorough intelligence reports from their existing intelligence services, these security forces leaders would have performed assessments (in the military, referred to as ‘appreciation’ or ‘estimate’, and in civilian language as a ‘SWOT analysis’).

They would have studied carefully the situation/background, which examines what is happening where, when, by whom, along with strengths of the groups in question. No doubt, they would have also looked at their respective forces’ strengths, weaknesses, commitments, and morale. After this thorough or comprehensive study, they would select an aim or other objective to be accomplished. One suggests that, in Jamaica’s present situation, for instance, the aim would be to restore law and order’. The selection itself may be subject to certain limitations, like a time frame or a geographic area.

Such an aim would imply that there has been a breakdown, or collapse, of law and order. Here, the estimate/appreciation mentioned earlier must be exhaustive, detailed, and thorough. Every single factor that could possibly affect the successful attainment of the aim should be studied and logical deductions arrived at regarding the actions taken to ensure that all bases are covered. In effect, these deductions, with consideration for the factors involved, must certainly produce the plan.

The plan will contain the tactical measures to be implemented.

These on-again-off-again SOEs suggest two possible errors we are making: we are either confusing strategy with tactics, or our planning of a state of emergency is hopelessly inadequate and hence a failure. If ‘restoring law and order’ is the mission of our SOEs, who or what determines when that mission is accomplished? Assuming that such a mission of our SOE is accomplished, the logical next step is to revert to maintaining law and order using the lead government agency, the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF). Is the JCF incapable of maintaining law and order, and if so, should that not be a major factor in our plans, or will we be forever in the mode of restoring law and order through our overused and abused SOEs?

National leaders, please be reminded that “…the frequent intervention by the military in maintaining order in a society is against fundamental democratic traditions”, and the police are charged with the duty of maintaining order in Jamaica. If it is incapable of doing so, shouldn’t this be addressed as a matter of urgency?


JDF Retired Colonel