Island State Security 2001

(June 5-7, 2001)

Executive Summary

The island states of the Pacific are continuing to find their place in the post-Cold War world. Many feel threatened by the potential of rising seas due to climate change, even more feel swept away by forces of globalization that make the world smaller and may be squeezing them out. In the face of these forces, many feel helpless, believing there is little interest from others in their concerns. The second Island State Security Conference on 5-7 June 2001 sponsored by the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies (APCSS) provided a forum for discussion of these concerns. The success of the Island State Security Conference in 1999 sparked interest in holding a regular set of discussions on island state security, an interest that was given form with the 2001 session. The 2001 conference was organized into four sessions: Island Security—Perceptions and Priorities, Regional Security in the Pacific (Non-Island Actors), Workshop Sessions (Climate Change, Business/Economic Development, Fisheries, Transnational Crime, and Compact Negotiations), and Regional Security and Cooperation: Island States. This reports highlights key issues that emerged from the program.








Island State Security 2001

The 2001 Island State Security Conference sponsored by the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies (APCSS) opened with a Native Hawaiian Welcome by Halau Hula o’ Maiki. This set the perfect tone for the conference to follow, highlighting the connections between the United States and Oceania, with Hawaii as the crossroads.


The overwhelming security concerns for the island states are at the level of human security. Concerns about freshwater access, economic issues (from control over Exclusive Economic Zones, financial provisions for Freely Associated States), law and order, and violence against women were among the issues discussed as security problems in the discussions.


The overall perception from the island states was a sense of helplessness, that they were forgotten states. Despite the rhetoric about a major emphasis to be placed on the Asia-Pacific region, the conceptualization and discussion of that region has been focused upon the Pacific Rim. The island states of the Pacific Basin feel very much that they are the “hole in the doughnut.” Further, the forces of globalization that are making the world a smaller place have left many island states feeling squeezed out or left behind. Partially in response to these feelings of insecurity, there have been expressions of concern that the traditional cultures of many island states are being eroded and are in danger of being erased.


Human security may be the broadest conceptualization of security we have. It may be so large a definition that it may be meaningless, but it is hard to see how the issues in human security could really be ignored in the security agenda. Certainly, the discourse of human rights has expanded the question of security into the human security dimension. It is no longer acceptable to simply hold up the shield of sovereignty and states’ rights as an impenetrable shield behind which to abuse its populations. While human rights abuses in Oceania may not be as rampant here as in other areas, while Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch do not spotlight the region significantly, this is no reason for complacency.


            The Cold War gave a unifying paradigm in thinking about security; an “us or them” situation where most of the island states supported the Western powers generally and the United States in particular. The end of the Cold War has meant that other issues of concern, such as environment and economic development, are now becoming more visible in the policy arena. However, it is argued that the end of the Cold War has in fact led to a turning-inward on the part of policy makers in the United States. Many expressed significant concern over the possibility of strategic neglect. Security concerns of island states and U.S. today coincide only occasionally and collide more frequently without the overarching bipolar conflict to mask these schisms. Human security issues that are the main priority of most island states are not the focus of the U.S. security picture. Examples such as the Bush Administration’s position on National Missile Defense (NMD) and the Kyoto Protocol highlight the points where interests are inimical.


The nation-state is young and fragile among many Pacific islands. The concerns of the island states are not new, but the extent to which they are considered security concerns is a reflection of the change after the end of the Cold War. The potentially unifying structure of the nation-state is still young and fragile in many Pacific Island states, and the process of building a nation within these colonial constructs is still a major hurdle they have to face. In this endeavor, many feel they are being pulled in competing directions. The forces of globalization generate a sense of insecurity that traditional cultures are being erased; while at the same time identities below the level of the state (clan, tribe, etc,) continue to exert a strong emotional pull on the loyalties of the populace.


There is an absence of consensus on what constitutes a viable nation for many island states.  Should a society be constructed where every citizen has equal constitutional rights, or does being part of the indigenous population confers upon its members certain prior rights not allowed to settler populations. Despite arguments that appeals to ethnicity (such as those expressed during the May 2000 coup in Fiji) are only camouflage for grabbing power, there can be no doubt that such calls remain a powerful force for political action. Due to the lack of a sense of nationhood for many island states, the principle threats come internal rather than external forces.


            There is a need to strengthen the basic institutions of society, so they can uphold the rule of law. This is especially true of the military and judiciary. Both must be seen as professional, legitimate, and politically neutral. In Fiji, the military failed the test when it really mattered to uphold the constitution. The military, to be legitimate, must be seen as reflective of the society it defends; it can help create and augment the legitimacy of the nation. The legitimacy of the judiciary, in contrast, exists in symbiotic relationship with the society it encompasses. Without enforcement capability, the judiciary must be seen by its society as politically neutral and independent to enforce the rule of law.


            With the goal of building a sense of nationhood and respect for the rule of law, education is critical. Simple solutions, such as those proposed by coup leaders, do not exist. As a participant noted, “people have to realize that coups don’t solve problems, they merely compile them.”


The overall evaluation of the United States’ role in the region is generally favorable. There was a general recognition that the U.S. presence contributed to the stability of the region. In regards to its special relationship with its Freely Associated States (FAS), the United States was given credit in helping to move those states towards independence. However, it was felt that the U.S. had not done enough for the FAS in fostering economic self-reliance in the first 15 years of the free association relationship, a situation which all parties hoped will improve with the next financial arrangement between the U.S. and both the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of the Marshall Islands, both of whose financial agreements with the United States expire in 2001.


While the U.S. presence was generally praised, there was a feeling that when it came to the Oceania region, the U.S. was resting on its laurels earned over a half century ago in World War II. Concerns were expressed, particularly on NMD and a sense of tone in regards to the Bush Administration’s statements towards China that sectors in the U.S. government were attempting to create a “new Cold War” with China. It was felt that significant gaps in agreement existed on these security concerns and/or policies between the U.S. and the island states. A cautionary was raised that both China and the U.S. needed understand that while certain actions may be routine, this does not necessarily mean that those actions are not perceived as provocative by the other side.


Collective voice remains critical for international action. Cooperation is especially critical for amplifying the influence of the island states in international negotiations. The general concern over climate change as a security threat for island states make their cooperation in the form of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) not only logical but essential as well. The theme of cooperation was pervasive throughout the conference, but caveats as to the limitations of the many existing and proposed networks and organizations were also articulated.


Cooperation is essential for many issues, but resource availability hamper initiation or enhancement of these networks.  The lack of resources for implementing the many proposals for domestic, regional, and international action was highlighted. Lack of resources remains a major obstacle in enhancing cooperation among island states and larger actors to address problems such as transnational crime (arms, drugs, and human smuggling through the region) and enforcement of the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) of the island states. The issue of cooperation dealing with transnational crime problems was indicated as a clear point where interests of all nations concerned coincided. The joint efforts by the U.S. Coast Guard, Drug Enforcement Agency, and Federal Bureau of Investigation working with police and/or military forces in the island states was praised.


There was clear recognition that resource limitations severely hampered the island states’ ability to monitor the EEZs. The contribution of patrol boats from Australia was praised, but there was a clear feeling that more needed to be done. Also noted was the irony that some major aid donors to the region are also among the more guilty parties in violating the EEZs of the island nations.


Much of the cooperation rhetoric exceeds the reality.  There were reiterated proposals for a regional peacekeeping force, as well as an increased cohesion in fisheries management and climate change negotiation. Many of these proposals, however, seemed to extend too far from the possible. A regional peacekeeping force is questionable given the lack of trust in the political neutrality by citizens in some island states in their military forces. It was recognized that even if other countries did not, Australia and New Zealand would clearly have roles to play in the region, but what those roles would be was difficult to reach agreement on. Much of the discussion regarding resource limitation and aid assistance sounded very much like, as a participant noted, a message from island states to donor countries to “send your money but leave your ideas at home.” None of the participants seemed to seriously think such a policy would be likely to come to fruition.