Haitian former soldiers demonstrate why Haiti probably shouldn’t have an army

Last year, Haitian President Michel Martelly announced plans to recreate the country’s military. The army had been disbanded in 1995 after a decade that included its killing of some 3,000 people. Given that military coups have traditionally been more of a threat to Haiti’s security than foreign invasion, a number of critics questioned whether a ...

BOB PEARSON/AFP/Getty Images
BOB PEARSON/AFP/Getty Images
BOB PEARSON/AFP/Getty Images

Last year, Haitian President Michel Martelly announced plans to recreate the country's military. The army had been disbanded in 1995 after a decade that included its killing of some 3,000 people. Given that military coups have traditionally been more of a threat to Haiti's security than foreign invasion, a number of critics questioned whether a new army was really a good use of Haiti's scarce resources, rather than improving its regular police force so that it could take over policing responsibilities from the unpopular U.N. peacekeeping force. 

The recent actions of a renegade group of former army officers, who are essentially attempting to take the elected government hostage in order to get their old jobs back, aren't exactly reassuring: 

A rogue band of armed men pushing for revival of Haiti’s military are refusing to disband and clear out of old military bases, the leaders of the group said Tuesday, despite repeated orders from the government.

Last year, Haitian President Michel Martelly announced plans to recreate the country’s military. The army had been disbanded in 1995 after a decade that included its killing of some 3,000 people. Given that military coups have traditionally been more of a threat to Haiti’s security than foreign invasion, a number of critics questioned whether a new army was really a good use of Haiti’s scarce resources, rather than improving its regular police force so that it could take over policing responsibilities from the unpopular U.N. peacekeeping force. 

The recent actions of a renegade group of former army officers, who are essentially attempting to take the elected government hostage in order to get their old jobs back, aren’t exactly reassuring: 

A rogue band of armed men pushing for revival of Haiti’s military are refusing to disband and clear out of old military bases, the leaders of the group said Tuesday, despite repeated orders from the government.

In a news conference at an army barracks just outside Haiti’s capital, several veterans of the defunct army said Haitian officials broke a promise by failing to appoint them to the helm of an interim force until the military is officially reinstated.[…]

The Haitian government has repeatedly ordered the former soldiers and their followers, which number about 3,500, to vacate the old bases they seized several months ago, but it has taken no concrete action. Since then, the rogue force has paraded around the country in pickup trucks and carried weapons as if on patrol.

Last week, about 50 men in military fatigues, some of them armed, disrupted a legislative session when they showed up to speak to lawmakers about the government’s plans for them.

Jeff Frankel recently wrote for FP about why more countries should consider going without a standing army:

It’s hard to quarrel with the need for a permanent military establishment in many countries. But in many others, a standing army is a bad deal all round. It doesn’t make borders any more secure if neighbors respond by raising armed forces of their own. It creates the permanent threat of a military coup — or, at very least, limits the range of policy options of civilian government. And of course, it costs resources, diverting money, foreign exchange earnings and manpower from conventionally productive activities (like making stuff people want).

Such arguments haven’t carried much weight, though; once an army is created to meet a threat (real or imagined), it’s almost impossible to get rid of it. But two developing countries have managed to remain military-free for generations. Costa Rica abolished its army in 1948 after a bloody civil war — a decision made in part because the United States believed its interests lay in blocking a return to power of the losing side. And Mauritius chose not to create an army after it was granted independence by Britain in 1968.

Obviously, it wouldn’t work for every country. But Haiti seems like a textbook example of a place where an army would create more dangers than it prevented.

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy  Twitter: @joshuakeating

Tag: Haiti

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