Invasion by Invitation

+ Brandon Fuller

A working economy requires good formal and informal rules as well as an effective system of enforcement. The effective enforcement of laws and regulations feeds off of good informal rules, particularly the norm of lawful compliance even when the threat of punishment is not imminent. The absence of effective enforcement can erode this norm of compliance, leading to lawlessness. In this situation, the leaders of the lawless nation may be able to quickly turn things around if they are willing to partner with other governments.

In a recent working paper for the Center for Global Development, Stanford PhD candidate Aila Matanock analyzes several cases of shared governance in Melanesia. In particular, her analysis of the Solomon Islands illustrates the challenges and opportunities for shared governance.

In the late 1990s the Islands saw conflict between two militias split roughly along ethnic lines—Isatabu Freedom Movement (IFM) and the Malaita Eagle Force (MEF). The militias fought one another as well as the Islands’ government. Violence and lawlessness escalated, punctuated by the kidnapping of the Islands’ prime minister in 2000. A shaky peace agreement in the same year proved ineffective. Law and order deteriorated to a point where militants from the MEF openly expropriated government funds in the Islands’ capitol of Honiara, leading to the resignation of the finance minister. In 2003, amidst government bankruptcy and general lawlessness, the Solomon Islands Prime Minister requested assistance from the Australian Prime Minister.

In 2003, Australia and other pacific island nations deployed over 2,000 troops to the islands under the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI). The RAMSI mandate received unanimous support from the Islands parliament. The mission sought to strengthen government institutions, reduce corruption, encourage economic growth, and, most critically, restore law and order. The mission provides technical assistance on issues such as taxation, the courts, and the provision of public services. On matters of policing and the military, however, RAMSI has autonomous administrative control.

While RAMSI commanders consult with the Islands’ police commissioner, the Islands’ government has no authority over RAMSI forces. RAMSI members are immune from on-the-job civil and criminal charges — a provision of the agreement unanimously supported in the Solomon Islands parliament. However, RAMSI troops and administrators are subject to another form of accountability: the Islands’ government can end the partnership with a majority vote in parliament. This arrangement ensured that RAMSI exercises direct control over the Islands’ security while the Islands themselves remain sovereign.

Like any program imposed on a nationwide scale, the RAMSI partnership has not been without critics — former Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare chief among them. In general though, RAMSI appears to be a success, having restored and maintained law and order. An independent assessment of the mission in 2005 reported that the mission successfully confiscated weapons, arrested militants, and rid the Islands’ police force of corrupt officers. 

RAMSI advisors also appear to be making progress on economic matters, the courts, government services, and the other areas in which the mission provides technical assistance. The Islands’ debt to GDP ratio is down, more airlines service the capital, roads are rehabilitated and maintained, and corrections facilities meet international standards. 90% of Islanders support RAMSIs continued presence, and the program is working to transfer aspects of administrative authority back to Solomon Islanders.

RAMSI’s progress demonstrates the potential for shared governance. The Solomon Islands government is willing to partner with neighboring governments, ceding temporary control of security to external authorities. Neighboring governments are willing to help for the sake of regional security and development. If the partnership continues to make headway everyone will be better off.

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