Collective PME

#KYR: Fiji - Military

By The Cove September 10, 2021


The Know your Region’ series is designed to support unit and individual professional military education on the South East Asian region. It’s important for all serving members of our military to have a foundational knowledge of the countries and issues in the Indo-Pacific.

If you want to learn about other facets of Fiji, here are the other KYR: Fiji pages: Diplomacy, Information, Economy, The Vuvale Partnership.

FIJI – MILITARY

On this page:

  • Military information
  • Military coups
  • RFMF peacekeeping missions
  • Fiji - Australia peacekeeping and military cooperation

Military information

The Republic of Fiji Military Force (RFMF) was established in 1920. It is responsible for the defence and security of the nation and the wellbeing and prosperity of its people, in line with the Ministry of Defence and National Security’s vision and mission. The Commander RFMF is currently Rear Admiral Viliame Naupoto. The RFMF comprises of a land force command and a strategic command. The former includes three regular and three reserve battalions and a naval unit. For a brief period following the 1987 coup d’etat, the RFMF had an Air Wing through the support of the French Government; however, it was disbanded in 1997.

Structure of the RFMF

The RFMF has approximately 4,000 regular and 6,000 reserve members. As at 2019, there were only 464 women within the force. Fijian women were allowed to join the Army from the 1980s and deploy on peacekeeping missions from the 1990s; however, joining the naval unit was only permitted from 2018. The RFMF now seeks to increase the number of females in the organisation, particularly for peacekeeping missions, in support of UN recommendations to increase the number of female peacekeepers. Participation in missions is also one of the main sources of revenue for the Fijian military.

For more information on the RFMF, see the resources below:

RFMF Peacekeeping Missions

The RFMF has participated in UN peacekeeping missions for over 40 years. Its contribution to UN missions is significant and is a source of national pride. According to research by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), Fiji was the first Pacific Island nation to support UN peacekeeping missions, and it has since deployed military personnel on 26 such missions – more than any other Pacific island nation. The map below shows the nations to which RFMF has deployed on UN peacekeeping missions since its first deploymet to Lebanon in 1978.

Source: ASPI

There have been over 40 RFMF peacekeepers killed while on duty as part of UN missions. During a 2014 peacekeeping mission in Syria, over 40 RFMF peacekeepers were held captive by militants for two weeks. They were all released unharmed.

The RFMF’s support to peacekeeping missions fell dramatically in the year prior to the 2006 military coup. While engagement steadily increased in the years following the coup, the support to peacekeeping did not see a significant rise until 2014 when electoral democracy returned to Fiji.

For more information on the RFMF’s peacekeeping missions, see the resources below:

Military Coups

Since independence, Fiji has experienced four coups, three of which were military: two in 1987 and one in 2006. Up until the 1987 coup, the RFMF role was mostly ceremonial or engaged in support to humanitarian and peacekeeping roles. The first and second military coups of 1987 were led by LTCOL Sitiveni Rabuka who removed the government by force. The first coup in May 1987 was largely based upon discontent over the newly elected labour government under the leadership of an indigenous Fijian, Dr Timoci Bavadra. His coalition party (the National Federation Party) was perceived to be dominated by Indo-Fijians. Tensions regarding socio-economic concerns for indigenous Fijians under a perceived Indo-Fijian influenced party fuelled the coup. When demands from the first coup were not met, LTCOL Rabuka led a second coup in September 1987 and announced Fiji as a republic in October that year. The coup of 2006 was a result of the tension between the government of the day and the military, brought about from a civilian-led coup of 2000.

For more information on Fiji’s military coups, see the resources below:

Fiji - Australia Military Cooperation

The RFMF and the ADF have a shared history of cooperation on UN peacekeeping missions. The most recent co-deployment was to Golan Heights in support of the UN Disengagement Observer Force between Israel and Syria.

The recent Fiji-Australia Vuvale Partnership agreement has cemented continued Joint peace-keeping deployments as well as supporting continued growth in bilateral and Defence relationship between Fiji and Australia. This year, Ex CORAL SOLDIER brought soldiers of the RFMF and members of 8/9 RAR together at Gallipoli Barracks to enhance mutual military training skills and continue fostering bi-lateral cooperation.

Fiji and Australia have provided support to each other in times of natural disasters, including extreme weather incidents. For example, in 2020, the RFMF deployed military personnel in support of Operation BUSHFIRE ASSIST following the bushfires in Victoria and NSW. In previous years, the ADF supported Fiji following Cyclone Winston’s devastating impact on the country.

The ADF has provided support to the RFMF under an MoU to redevelop ‘Blackrock Camp’: a Peacekeeping and Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief camp. It is expected to be completed at the end of 2021. The camp’s facilities and equipment will support training for peacekeeping and enhance the ability of the RFMF to respond to the broad range of regional humanitarian crises such as those that follow from the impact of earthquakes and cyclones.

For more information on Fiji – Australia peacekeeping and cooperation, see the resources below:

Discussion Questions:

  1. The RFMF holds a place of pride amongst Fijians, and joining its ranks is considered prestigious within society. How might this military influence within Fiji affect the diplomatic relationship between Australia and Fiji?
  2. The ADF and RFMF have significant recent history in assisting each other during natural disasters. Should Australia increase the levels of bilateral training for the RFMF with a focus on humanitarian crisis response? What sort of activities should occur? What are the biggest risks that both nations face in the next 50 years that may require a mutual military response?
  3. The ADF and RFMF frequently conduct bi-lateral training exercises and exchanges, across all services. With China expanding its influence across the Pacific region, is it time to increase the level of military cooperation between the two or three nations? What opportunities should be capitalised on to enhance the bilateral or multilateral relationship(s)? What role should the RFMF take amongst the other Pacific Island forum nation’s militaries?

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The Cove

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.



Comments

A great opportunity to commemorate a brave Fijian soldier Trooper Talaisi (Laba) Labalaba VC who died protecting his mates at the Battle of Mirbat 19 July 1972. Trooper Labalaba is a name known to all Fijian military. Prince Charles recently enveloped a statue in his honour.

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