Academic journal article Flinders Journal of History and Politics

Fault in the Mandate and Flaws in State-Building Logic: The Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands

Academic journal article Flinders Journal of History and Politics

Fault in the Mandate and Flaws in State-Building Logic: The Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands

Article excerpt

This article has been peer reviewed

Since its deployment in July 2003 the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) has oscillated between extremes of praise and criticism. In its first year RAMSI attracted acclaim as it quickly quelled the violence, although by 2006 and 2007 there was criticism over tensions with the Solomon Islands Government under the Prime Ministership of Manasseh Sogavare. In the most recent changes in 2013 there was an overhaul of RAMSI's mandate, announcing a transition to a policing-only mission pending RAMSI's proposed withdrawal in 2017. RAMSI's initial successes in the police-led stability mission were labelled a potential model for future interventions, however as Fullilove's article came out just before the 2006 riots in Honiara it seems this period was far from well understood by at least one commentator.1

With police in the frontline and the military force keeping a low profile, the RAMSI presence was bolstered by a large development assistance program. RAMSI drew international attention for its effectiveness in establishing authority and peace, however in the longer term, a shift in the boundaries of the intervention led to RAMSI altering from a purely security-based mission, to one with an agenda of capacity building and development. The mission has attracted criticism both for the methodology of its capacity-building strategy, and its approach to leaving issues that it has considered too 'culturally sensitive' to the Solomon Islanders to sort out, although this criticism may in fact say less about the scope of the mission than about the construction and expectations of aid delivery through state-building activities. RAMSI's experience illuminates the reality that rebuilding objectives are often ill-defined and vague concerning the strategies and programmes that will pave the road forward towards achievable and lasting state development. This raises the question of whether state-building provides measureable assistance to the populations of affected states. Conversely, do the boundaries set by inherited state roles and responsibilities reflect more about the expectations of developed states regarding stability and security? The latter question is particularly pertinent in the post 9-11 security situation, as stabilisation missions such as RAMSI are expected to achieve much more than merely to restore law and order-there are a raft of new responsibilities relating to development and sustainability of the state that are based on western definitions of what makes a state a 'success'.

One problem RAMSI faced in the implementation of its mandate in Solomon Islands was the impact of prioritising security before humanitarian issues. This led to a sentiment among local people that RAMSI should be doing more, and that it failed to adequately 'give-back' to the wider community in a substantive manner. This article will argue that RAMSI, while flawed, does contain some important lessons for future stability missions, including the necessity of localising a mandate and implementing adequate adaptation or adjustment of the mandate given existing socio-cultural circumstances so as to tailor it to international 'best practice' in state-building. This will be shown by considering the characterisation and construction of RAMSI's mandate centrally by explaining the difficulties of drawing a line in the sand to determine the boundaries of state-building activities. This argument will centre on the linkage between Australia's interests in stabilising the region, to create a security-focused intervention, and the related necessity of including 'tangible' and assessable programmes to demonstrate success. Through arguing RAMSI's mandate was constructed based on a western contextualisation of conflict, and a rigid separation of 'private' and 'public', it will become clear that socio-cultural issues were considered both too difficult to manage, in terms of demonstrable success, and outside of the Australian-interest orientated remit of a state-building activity geared heavily towards a western approach to developing stability in processes of governance. …

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