REPORT FROM THE CONFERENCE ON
ISLAND STATE SECURITY
JUNE 22-24, 1999 HONOLULU, HAWAII
|Executive Summary: The vast Pacifics security
challenges represent, in many ways, a microcosm of the multidimensional problems facing
the Asia-Pacific region in the post-Cold War era. Island states are grappling with issues
ranging from good governance, political transition, and environmental degradation, to
nuclear testing, ethnic conflict, and migration. Due to forces such as globalization and
shifts in major power relations, traditional problems are exacerbated by further
complications for these struggling states. These complex challengesand the desire to
explore possible policy solutionsserved as the impetus to the Asia Pacific Center
for Security Studies (APCSS) to sponsor a conference on Island State Security on 22-24
June 1999. Held in Honolulu, APCSS invited over forty official and unofficial
representatives from Pacific Island countries, leaders of regional institutions and NGOs,
senior level government officials and policymakers from Washington, and scholars to
participate in the two-day conference. The conference was organized into four sessions:
"Pacific Island Perspectives of Security," "Regional Resilience and
Regional Cooperation," "The Pacific Islands and the Major Powers," and
"The United States and the Pacific Islands." This report highlights key issues
that emerged from the program.
The greatest external threat to Pacific Island states security stems from globalization. The external threat today does not come from a single state source, but rather from the often diffuse pressures of globalization. Globalization has exacerbated traditional and contemporary problems such as rapid urbanization, international migration, rural poverty, social disintegration, unemployment, rising crime and other anti-social activities such as substance abuse.
It was clear from discussions that security concerns among the Pacific Islands are transnational and comprehensive in nature. Consistent with the challenges faced by the rest of the world, the bipolar tensions of the Cold War era have been replaced by a more complex set of security and strategic concerns. Internal conflicts and violence within states are more prevalent than conflicts between states.
From domestic governance, regional cooperation and tensions, to economic development and the environment, challenges to internal stability are top security priorities for Island governments. The running theme throughout the broader discussions, however, was that the forces of globalization have introduced or exacerbated many of these new security concerns, and complicated the challenges faced by the Pacific Islands. The following key points identify the opportunities and obstacles posed by globalization in the region.
The greatest external threat stems not from a single source, but from the multiple pressures of globalization. The external threat today does not come from a single state source, but rather from the pressures of globalization. With the introduction of technology, new wealth and opportunities created by globalization, problems are also exacerbated, such as rapid urbanization, international migration, rural poverty, social disintegration, unemployment, rising crime and other anti-social activities such as substance abuse have changed many island societies. Participants discussed specific fears about globalization and particularly its ability to undermine traditional societies. At the same time, it was noted that the heavy rural nature of South Pacific societies limited the negative impacts of globalization.
Despite debate about whether globalization was a positive or negative force for the Pacific Islands, there was a general perception that globalization would need to be faced and addressed on terms beneficial to Pacific island country interests, and that the region could not isolate itself from these trends. A plea was made that denial and negativism about globalization must give way to creativity.
Accommodating Indigenous Interests is Key to Managing Internal Stability. Many Pacific island countries face the issue of accommodating indigenous or minority interests as part of national resilience. Minorities who feel passionate about certain issues should have a forum for expression that is sanctioned and protected by the government.
For example, Fijis policy which embraces the paramount rights of ethnic Fijians has engendered great debate in the Pacific, but such rightssuch as the terms of land ownership, veto power over certain changes, and customary titles and privilegeswere approved to protect and respect these minority interests. Fiji adopted a broadly inclusive, non-discriminatory constitution which respected indigenous interests. If these interests are not folded into national resilience and interests, they could spark domestic instability.
A difficult challenge for the Pacific Island states is when two indigenous groups are in conflict with one another, such as recently experienced in the Solomon Islands. It was suggested that governments need to play the role of mediator or honest broker, being careful not to take sides. In the case of the Solomons, an outside negotiator from Fiji was very useful.
Wealth inequality and rural to urban migration disrupts traditional society. Globalization has also led to growing wealth inequality between rural and urban communities, causing massive population movements to towns and cities in search of employment and a release from semi-subsistence endeavors such as fishing and agriculture. Overcrowded shanty towns are prevalent in some parts of the South Pacific. One academic participant noted that real unemployment figures are between 30-60% among the younger people in most urban centers of Oceania. When social conditions assume an ethnic dimension, they have the potential to undermine societal harmony.
Ethnic conflict, whether it is between majority races and indigenous populations or between two indigenous populations threatens to destabilize already fragile states. Some attribute the current violence and atrocities in the Solomon Islands between the Malaitans and the Guadalcanal people as an example of what could be triggered by rapid changes in society; one participant observed that the reduction in the structural adjustment package imposed on the Solomon Islands and the downsizing of government have resulted in disgruntled elements, compounded by alienated youth, creating a major security problem.
Regional Resilience and Regional Cooperation
Globalization Exacerbates Pacific Island Capacity-Building Problems. Capacity building is a critical element for island states to work with each other as a group. There was considerable concern that the Pacific countries do not have the capacity and resources to fully implement obligations taken on through membership in international agreements and organizations. Some participants called for "creative engagement" on the part of the South Pacific in dealing with the forces of globalization. This might include maximizing the advantages of retaining and building on preferential arrangements for trade and gaining leverage through collective negotiations. Capacity-building is also critical for internal stability, especially in the form of strengthening law enforcement agencies such as police and customs agents to manage new challenges such as drug trafficking, smuggling, and other forms of illegal activities.
Concern was also expressed that certain regional institutions were pushing the globalization agenda to the detriment of South Pacific country interests. Others disagreed, pointing out that mechanisms such as the Forum Free Trade Area served as a means to achieve preferential treatment for the region in the context of the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Collective Voice is Critical in a Globalized Era. Some Pacific Islanders described globalization as encouraging a kind of general decentralization: economic liberalization, the breakdown of barriers, and the creation of a more borderless world. This decentralization, however, only underscores the importance of establishing a collective voice by strengthening regional institutions and allowing Pacific Island states to negotiate collectively on behalf of the regions interests.
Important interests such as preferential treatment on trade and aid may benefit from a unified Pacific voice. The South Pacific Forum, for instance, recently decided to create the regional infrastructure for a regional trade bloc, despite opposition from some major powers such as Australia.
Islands Must Reexamine Relations Among Migration, Boundaries and National Resilience. Participants noted that national resilience was critical to assuring regional resilience. In this context, it was observed that many of the regional country populations live outside the territory of their home countries. For instance, although the population in Niue today is about 1600, the population of Niueans residing in New Zealand exceeds 20,000.
Migrants who choose to live abroad, however, continue to view their home as the island country of their origins. Thus, while governments define the concept of "boundaries" in relatively narrow legal terms, migrants define their boundaries much more loosely. It was argued that to buttress national resilience, countries could draw on their migrants for economic support and expertise. Remittances, for instance, constitute a major source of support for Pacific Island state economies. Migrants believe that they are doing more for their home country abroad, but in some cases are not currently acknowledged as citizens of their home country. The issue of the benefits of offering some Pacific Islanders dual citizenship was debated at length by conference participants as an interesting option for governments to consider as another alternative source for capacity building and resources.
Alliances Between States and Institutions Are Recognized as the "Phantom Menace." There was a strong perception that the relationship between particular developed countries and major international and/or regional institutions such as the WTO, APEC, and even non-official organizations such as the WWF are very powerful in shaping the options available to Pacific Island states. One Pacific Islander noted that one concern is there is not enough transparency in the decision-making process. Often, international institutions establish alliances on particular issues with developed countries, whose positions are often detrimental to Pacific Island interests. The opaque nature of the negotiation process and the sometimes negative impact on the Pacific Island community suggest that such alliances are the "phantom menace" to the region.
Pacific Islands, the United States, and the Major Powers
Potential Exists for "Strategic Neglect" by the Major Powers. There was widespread agreement that there are no military threats to the region arising from the role of external powers. In fact, the central tension in the Pacific Islands relations with the major powers, such as the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and France, is the latters relative loss of interest in Pacific issues and problems after the end of the Cold War.
While the lack of a threat is welcome to Pacific Islanders, they also worry that it has led to a kind of "strategic neglect." Specific Island countries worry that this strategic neglect will exacerbate problems of access to resources and markets. The competition for development assistance has heightened due to a combination of factors like the Asian financial crisiswhich constrains major donors in Asia, shifts in major power relations, and the increased number of problems and countries which require funding.
There was general agreement that Pacific Island countries must strengthen methods for increasing their self-reliance. One participant also suggested that major powers define security differently from Pacific Island countries. Thus, small states may want to "connect" their own interests with those of the major powers, in an effort to place island state concerns "on the radar screen" of the major powers.
U.S. Rhetoric Does Not Match Resources. Concerns were expressed that U.S. rhetoric in support of the Pacific Islands does not match with the resources currently being provided; examples are the embassy post closure in Honiara and the removal of the Defense Attache office in Port Moresby. Although senior American policymakers acknowledged these concerns, they cautioned against judging U.S. interests, presence in, and support for the island nations by assessing only "traditional resource transfers." U.S. diplomatic post closures and resource cutbacks in the Pacific are part of a larger, unfortunate post-Cold War trend occurring throughout the Asia-Pacific, and one that is motivated in part by a changing U.S. domestic context.
For instance, the emergence of several new countries in the former Soviet Union has forced the United States to adjust its resources and official representation elsewhere. Aid levels to countries around the world have been reduced during budget debates going back well over a decade. Foreign assistance levels have been under attack in both political parties and in both houses of the U.S. Congress. These trends have forced the United States to seek alternative tools to demonstrate its commitment to the Pacific. Trade, investment, and the encouragement and mobilization of the U.S. private sector is one major alternative for supporting resource transfers.
In addition to the continued presence of US Peace Corps volunteers, whose numbers are likely to be increased, one resource that remains consistently committed to the Pacific Islands is the US military. Resources directed to the Pacific remain relatively robust.
There was great debate about what tools are needed to assist the Pacific Islands in becoming self-sufficient economies. As part of the "aid v. trade" debate, Pacific Islanders argued that aid is not the answer to solving the islands problems, but this realization has been slow to take hold among governments in the sub-region. Another Pacific Islander supported American and other initiatives to emphasize the private sector and trade as an alternative means toward self-reliance, but then called for assistance in capacity building through the establishment of institutions, commissions, and joint projects.
It comes as no surprise that managing internal stability remains the key security concern for Pacific Island governments. Not only has this challenge remained constant problem for Pacific Island governments, but the difficulties of managing these internal issues have become more profoundly complex with the erosion of social, cultural, and economic barriers at the hands of external forces such as globalization, technological development, and the rapid emergence of regional and multilateral institutions. Although these new forces threaten to destabilize traditional societies by way of economic inequality, rising crime, environmental degradation and thus the destruction of semi-subsistence living, governments armed with a response to these external forces are best prepared to fend off the negative impacts of globalization and reap its potential benefits.
As one Pacific Island participant succinctly noted: "The world has changed, but how do we adjust to this change?" Some of the tools identified are clearly a good place to start: bolster the voices of each island state by establishing a collective bargaining strategy for everything from trade preferences, to fisheries negotiations, to greater representation in regional and/or international organizations. Although their populations are small, their country membership in multilateral organizations are relatively high, and this can be used to their advantage. In order for these governments to operate effectively, they must first strengthen their capacity building efforts by working with regional institutions such as the South Pacific Forum, UNDP, and others.
As the trend toward Pacific Island development and assistance is likely to be more trade and less aid, some Islanders called for a change in thinking among their policymakers, asking governments to embrace the potential of private sector development. Lastly, in order to ensure that major powers remain committed to the Pacific Islands, emphasis should be placed on commonality and mutual interests, not on what is disparate about the regions needs and outside powers interests.This report was authored by Jin Song, Research Fellow of the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies. For more information, please contact her at 808-971-8959.
Mr. Richard Baker
East West Center
Admiral Dennis Blair
US Pacific Command
Mr. Ralph Boyce
US Department of State
Dr. Jenny Bryant-Tokalau
UN Development Programme
Ms. Alice Cawte
Office of the Australian Consulate General
Rep. Eni Faleomavaega
US House of Representatives
Acting Commander Toni Fonokalafi
Tonga Defence Services
Dr. Dru Gladney
Dr. Sitiveni Halapua
East West Center
Hon. Ieske Iehsi
Department of Foreign Affairs
Federated States of Micronesia
Prof. Izumi Kobayashi
Osaka Gakuin University
Dr. Brij Lal
Australian National University
Dr. Satu Limaye
Mr. Iosefa Maiava
South Pacific Forum Secretariat
Mr. Philipp Muller
Mr. James Naich
Prof. Vijay Naidu
University of South Pacific
Amb. Max Rai
Department of Foreign Affairs
Papua New Guinea
Mr. Ramon Rechebei
Bureau of Foreign Affairs
Amb. Charles Salmon
Mr. Emil Skodon
US Department of State
Ms. Jin Song
Mr. Hank Stackpole
Ms. Peleni Talagi
Office of the Attorney General
Amb. Richard Teare
Rep. Robert Underwood
US House of Representatives
Mr. Veali Vagi
Papua New Guinea
Mr. John Wasi
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
ABOUT THE ASIA-PACIFIC CENTERThe Asia-Pacific Center (APC) is a regional study, conference and research center funded by the U.S. Department of Defense. The Centers mission is to foster understanding, cooperation, and study of security-related issues among civilian and military representatives of the United States and other Asia-Pacific nations. The Center provides a focal point where national officials, decision makers, and policy experts can gather to exchange ideas, explore pressing issues and achieve a greater understanding of the challenges that that shape the security environment of the Asia-Pacific region. APC occasionally publishes articles on Asia policy issues written by APC research, staff, and fellows. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Asia-Pacific Center, the Department of Defense, or the United States government.
Jin Song is a research fellow with the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Hawaii. She specializes in political and security issues of Northeast Asia, with an emphasis on the Korean Peninsula. She received a B.A. from Columbia University and a M.P.A. from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs of Princeton University.