Please pardon my many letters. I had hoped to generate some thought and discussion with my first letter regarding the TDS. It is apparent that some folks did the latter without the first part.
Having spent over twenty years in the military and owing much of what I am today to the wonderful training and experiences I received, I believe I know enough about the military and its role in society to discuss this topic.
First I agree with much of Sione Fifita's argument regarding the excellent opportunities that the TDS provides young people. I also agree that the TDS has represented Tonga well in peace keeping missions and the war in Iraq.
I used Fiji and Samoa because they face about the same level of external threat as Tonga (basically none). They are in the same geographical region and share many similarities. I threw in the USA, who is a major super power engaged in a war, to demonstrate the absurdity of the size of the TDS. I used published numbers on population, GDP and military size to add facts to my argument. The contrast between the problems in Fiji and the relative stabile Samoa are also interesting.
The heart of my argument was not whether Tonga needed a military, but rather the size of the TDS. Rather than 1500 troops, why not 500? Can someone justify the need for 500 or 1500 troops? If the force was capped at 500 troops, the money that would have been spent by the TDS could be put to better use. Just some rough math, but lets say the average annual cost per troop is $5K, quite conservative, the savings would be $5M per year. Please remember that out of a 1000 troops that many are officers and sergeants that make more money than recruits.
Having a large military can have a few drawbacks such as the recent breakdown in discipline when the TDS assaulted Fe' loaki he Lotu Ngungutau, a Tongan national serving in the Armed Services of the United Kingdom who was vacationing in Nuku'alofa when he stopped at a checkpoint and asked for permission to pass. Such acts bring discredit upon the TDS. The recent Government press release warning citizens against the use of weapons is a perfect example of the military being misused for civilian law enforcement. While the military can get the job done, they are not trained in law enforcement. This lack of training and experience can often cause tension with the civilian community.
Maybe the true reason for the large military is that the King and his supporters fear the Tongan people. Does a large military solve this problem? If the King and his government dealt with the underlying issues they would have no reason to fear the people of Tonga.
If the goal of the large TDS is to teach men and women engineering, electrical, plumbing and construction skills, discipline and to provide international support maybe the solution could be better solved by using examples from other countries. One such organization is the THW (Technisches HilfsWerk), the official disaster relief organization of the Federal Republic of Germany. Another example is the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) used by President Roosevelt during the depression to put people back to work doing public works projects. These types of organizations are not threatening to the civilian population.
The bottom line is: where can Tonga get the best value with the limit funding available?
utahpalangi [at] msn [dot] com