Take the politics out of it and save the regiment
As we understand it, the Bermuda Government is about to announce legislation that would abolish conscription once and for all. In our long-considered opinion, that will be a serious error in judgment.
A survey analysis done by Global Research in December 2017, five months after the election, found the following:
• 86 per cent of the sample surveyed supported the need for the Royal Bermuda Regiment
• 88 per cent believed that it was important for Bermuda to have a regiment compared with 10 per cent who felt it was unimportant
• 51 per cent believed the regiment should fill its ranks through a combination of conscription and volunteering, and 42 per cent felt it should fill its ranks through volunteering
• Among the survey group, 52 per cent of blacks supported conscription to 48 per cent whites — if this means anything to our politicians
• 65 per cent felt that conscription should be retained in the event that the regiment is unable to recruit enough through volunteers. Sixty-six per cent of blacks supported retaining conscription, while whites were at 64 per cent
Based on the survey results, it is clear that the majority of Bermudians, both black and white, support our view that conscription should be retained as a last recourse if volunteering does not maintain the unit at sufficient strength. They feel that is in Bermuda's national interest.
But the Government is determined to abolish conscription because it was in the Progressive Labour Party's election platform.
Since the last election, the Government has more information than it had when the PLP wrote its platform, which we feel should lead it to reconsider:
1, There were only 40 volunteers for the January 2018 recruit camp; not the 100-plus it needs to maintain its strength
2, Of the 40 volunteers, a number had limited talent
This raises the questions: where will the regiment's future leaders come from? Who will make the complex decisions that need to be made if those volunteering do not have basic skills for the tasks?
These factors should have our political leaders asking if volunteerism is working despite all the regiment's efforts to recruit. Our political leaders should be brave enough to say: “Wait a minute, we need to look at this again.”
They need to think more about the national interest and not as much about their political interest.
The Nine Colonels group has had two meetings with the Minister of National Defence. We have given him a copy of the survey. He seems unmoved despite public opinion being against him.
We believe that most of the electorate would understand why new evidence has led to the Government reconsidering its original promise. We believe most of the electorate understands that if political self-interest prevails, the consequence will be to throw the regiment under the bus.
The minister knows in his heart of hearts we are correct. He can say what he likes about the Nine Colonels being relics. Actually, we are Bermuda's experts on matters concerning the regiment.
Mr Caines told us of his intentions and plans for a redesigned Defence Force. He thought he would restructure the regiment to reduce its size to as few as 80 full-time personnel, down from an established strength of 400 part-time.
But it is obvious that he has not thought through the cost and other implications of such a move, and we doubt he will get it past square one — it sounds good, but the devil is in the details.
His back-of-the-envelope plan was undoubtedly created to forestall public reaction to the mess that will be made of the regiment in two or three years because of political interference with its strength and ability to sustain itself. Make no mistake, if the Government fails to fix this situation, the regiment will die.
We have no objection to redesigning the regiment to keep it relevant; to cut its coat to suit its cloth. But it cannot be done by working off the back of an envelope. Further, there is no new design planned and financed, ready to go. There is nothing except a plan to abolish conscription to tick an election box.
That is a plan to satisfy the Government's political interest, not the national interest.
As for the abolitionists who shout that conscription abuses their civil rights, they have defeated themselves, in a sense. They have lost every legal argument they have contrived. And they have lost morally because theirs is the cult of self-interest over national interest.
The survey strongly suggests both the Government and abolitionists are out of step in their quest to abolish conscription.
In the cold, hard light of day, a change is needed in the best interests of the country. We pray the Government has the courage to make that change.
•Colonel Allan Rance is writing on behalf on the Nine Colonels Group