Army Chief General Apirat Kongsompong has been busy this week defending conscription.
While I disagree with him, he’s entitled to argue for its continuation.
But it would help if he got his facts right.
He said: “Every country has soldiers. A country without them is weak.”
Wrong, General Apirat! At least 21 countries do not have armies, including Andorra, Cost Rica, Dominica, Grenada, Kiribati, Liechtenstein, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and Vatican City.
Cost Rica is a prime case that puts the lie to the general’s statement that countries without armies are weak.
Coast Rica abolished its army in 1949. President Jose Figueres knocked a symbolic hole in the wall of army headquarters and it was turned into a national art museum, with defence funds diverted to education, health and pensions. In 2012 Costa Rica invested more in education and health as a proportion of GDP than the United Kingdom. It is a world leader in environmental protection and produces nearly 100 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources.
When foreign dignitaries visit, instead of being met by a military guard of honour, there is a welcome ceremony of schoolchildren dressed in national costumes.
Even more telling is that Costa Rica in recent years has topped the “Happy Planet Index”. While its GDP per capita is less than a quarter that of many European and North American countries, its people have higher levels of well-being than their counterparts in many rich nations, including the US and the UK.
The current Thai military junta came to power claiming it was going to restore happiness to the people. It has, in my opinion, failed to do so. Perhaps what is needed is for Thailand to follow the example of Costa Rica and not only abolish conscription, but totally dismantle its Navy, Army and Airforce.
What a happy day that would be!
One final point. Apirat said: “Why don’t we view becoming a soldier as having a job?” You may have overlooked it, General, but many of your conscripts already have jobs where they are making significant contributions to the economy and welfare of Thailand, as opposed to stagnating in military barracks for two years.