PiPP partnered with the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies (APCSS) to co-host a conference (4-8 August 2014) on Advancing Pacific Islands Regional Security Cooperation. The five day event brought together over 48 security practitioners and subject matter experts from 21 nations and territories and six regional international organisations in Port Vila to examine the effectiveness of regional security cooperation and the broader regional security architectures that exist in the Pacific Islands region. The conference was opened by Hon. Joe Natuman, Vanuatu Prime Minister and, via video, U.S. Ambassador to Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, H.E. Walter North.
Attending were security practitioners and experts from Australia, China, the Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, France, Guam, Indonesia, Japan, Kiribati, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Papua New Guinea, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Taiwan, Tonga, Tuvalu, the United States, and Vanuatu. Also attending were representatives from the Pacific Islands Forum, Secretariat of the Pacific Community, the Melanesian Spearhead Group, United Nations Development Programme Regional Pacific Centre and and FemLINKPACIFIC, an important regional non-governmental organizations addressing work related to United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security.
Although ‘architecture’ was the starting point, it was primarily an attempt to highlight ongoing conventional and non-conventional threats to regional security and explore the growing nexus between development and security.
Some key themes emerged:
- The basic framework of regional security architecture exists (e.g. the Biketawa Declaration)
- There is growing co-ordination by officials at the national, sub-regional (such as MSG) and regional level (such as the Forum) to deal with humanitarian and natural disasters as well as possible peacekeeping interventions in the event of conflict.
- Problems remain at the national and local level to better manage cycles of payback violence, tribal war, resource exploitation and personal security issues such as stemming domestic violence.
- RAMSI, the peace operation in Solomon Islands, while not actually dealing with the ‘root causes’ of the ethnic tension did stabilise a situation that was spinning out of control and provided needed space to rebuild respect for governing institutions.
- The peace process on Bougainville might be seen as the gold standard – using unarmed troops to oversee a rapid demilitarisation and using kastom (custom) reconciliation processes to maintain peace.
- Many countries in our region have not invested enough in the idea of maintaining peace and internal cohesion – preventative measures – leading to perhaps too much crisis management when tensions do flare.
- Approaches to regional peacekeeping and national peace-building are important if the Pacific is to better manage its periodic disasters – natural and human made. Both the MSG and others in the region are examining the possibility of creating a permanent regional peace keeping / disaster response force that can mobilised quickly.
- Conventional threats and flash points were identified – such as tension in the South China Sea and the ongoing conflict in West Papua, but many speakers were keen to highlight non-conventional threats to the Pacific, ranging from climate change impacts to the epidemic of obesity and non-communicable diseases (NCDs), to community policing and domestic violence concerns.
- What was interesting to note is the growing acceptance in the security sector of civil society engagement and a more holistic approach to national security.