Tonga's Afghanistan deployment completed - what's next?
Tonga's soldiers end their deployment to Afghanistan and now attention turns to how they might be employed now.
The Tonga Defence Services has marked the end of a nearly 4 year deployment to Afghanistan but questions are being asked about what the army will do now.
Tonga provided sentry duty, mostly at Britain's Camp Bastion, and the last of the five contingents of 55 arrived home last week, ending a sequence of half year tours going back to late 2010.
Don Wiseman asked the Pasifika Director at New Zealand's Massey University, Malakai Koloamatangi, whether the deployment achieved its objectives.
MALAKAI KOLOAMATANGI: Yes, of course, there were several objectives that directed employment in the first place, and perhaps beginning in the two world wars Tonga has always tried to play its part. Not only in regional affairs but also, of course, internationally.
DON WISEMAN: This was more about the government making some money though wasn't it?
MK: That's right, yes. But in the guise of being a good international citizen, but Tonga has tried to do that and of course it's gotten revenue in the process and training for the military, and of course the question becomes: what do you do with a standing army that has seen action overseas and that is used to being in warring areas? So, what do you do with a large standing army in peace time?
DW: Did the army increase in size during this period? Because I know that was one of the aims wasn't it? To grow it.
MK: Slightly. Not only that, but of course the army personnel got money which was sent back to their families - that was a good thing. But now we're in the situation where we don't know what to do with the army. I mean, do they go back to play civilian roles? What do you do with them? Because there's a problem, not only in Tonga, but in other parts of the Pacific, particularly with standing armies such as in Fiji. And there were some claims in Tonga made by the democracy movement some time ago that the vote for the military actually is too big and it should be better spent on social reforms and so forth. So that debate, I think, will carry on.
DW: As you say, what do you do with a large, or a largish standing army that's got nothing, really, to do?
MK: Of course there's civilian roles that armies normally play during peace time. Things like cyclone relief, that kind of thing. It's good, I mean all armies do that, all military forces do that during peace time. But within these small, constrained environments, there is actually quite a limited number of things that the army could get involved in. Of course, there's the periodic exercises with other armed forces and so on, but really there's nothing to justify paying for a large standing army.
DW: So is there any talk of downsizing or...
MK: Well that talk has been on the table for quite some time and pro-democracy activists they've always argued that there's no justification for Tonga to have a large military force. In fact, so the argument goes, if they're not looked after properly, if there are no checks and balances in place then there could potentially be problems. But having said that, the military in Tonga and the military commanders have always tried to stay out of civilian politics and the feeling is that they're not a part of that equation.
DW: As an analyst, what do you think is likely to happen from here?
MK: Well I think the army will remain as it is, I don't think there will be a downsizing exercise, there's no appetite in the Tongan government or in the military hierarchy. In fact, the opposite will probably happen, that is that they will look to increase the numbers, perhaps develop the Navy some more and try and justify it in terms of the growth of the army, perhaps further deployment overseas but also of course try and justify it in terms of the military's involvement in civilian relief efforts.
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