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Costa Rica – a nation without an army

Ask any Singaporean if they thought that every country on Earth has a military force, and the overwhelming answer would be yes. Everyone has been taught in school that a military is essential in the protection of its borders, its citizens and the exertion of its sovereignty since the dawn of time.

The surprising answer for the above-mentioned question though is no - there are in fact several countries that have no military as they entrust their national security to other nations; for example the defence of Micronesia is the responsibility of the United States.

In this short article, we look at Costa Rica, a Central American nation. But an introduction to the country is necessary to explain why this country is the topic. Costa Rica, along with its neighbours, declared independence from Spain on 15 September 1821. Unlike its neighbours which endure political unrest and violence, Costa Rica enjoyed a peaceful democracy until 1917-1919 under a dictatorship and 1948 when it was caught in a bloody civil war that lasted 44 days following election fraud.

The civil war ended with the drafting of a new constitution and the abolishment of the military by its President, José Figueres Ferrer. Since its election in 1953, Costa Rica held 13 elections which have been peaceful, transparent and include the smooth handover of power.

It is interesting to note that, despite its lack of a military, Costa Rica is regarded as one of the most politically stable country in Latin America, even during the Cold War and the violence suffered by its neighbours. But while Costa Rica does not experience any violence, it has its share of natural disasters such as earthquakes, active volcanoes and hurricanes.

Does Singapore and Costa Rica have anything in common? Some, in fact. Besides being tropical countries, both have a diverse mix of ethnic groups. Costa Rica's population is majority white, with mixed-race (of European and Amerindian descent) and blacks forming the next two largest. Both nations assure the freedom of religious worship.

So, what does having no military mean? It simply means more of a country's resources can be dedicated to other needs, like education and healthcare. Preschools and high schools in Costa Rica are free whilst the country practises universal healthcare.

Granted, it may be impossible for Singapore to abolish its military as it is needed to protect the Straits of Malacca until the shipping of cargoes is replaced by newer and cheaper forms of transport. However, we should review our military, and perhaps professionalise it, so as to free up more resources that can be used for more pressing needs of the populace.

And to conclude, if you are ever told - especially during your reservist trainings - that every country has an armed force of its own, please correct the speaker and perhaps invite him to Costa Rica - it would be good to know that Costa Rica is a pioneer in eco-tourism and is ranked top in the 2009 “Happy Planet Index” to boot!

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By Ajax Copperwater

Recommended further reading - http://www.mssu.edu/international/mccaleb/CostaRica/army.htm

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