Wednesday, December 19, 2012

G77 Group Executive Secretary's Press Conference on Fiji.

Press Conference at Fiji Government Building by Mr Mourad Ahmia - Executive Secretary of G77 Group, the largest group of nations within the U.N. Mr Ahmia touched on the changing leadership and the 2013 agenda of the group. Ahmia further expressed confidence in Fiji in chairing the group and pledged his support. (Video posted below)

Fiji's Permanent Representative to the U.N, Peter Thompson addressed the Press Conference and outlined some background and explained the genesis of Fiji's decision to chair the G77 group. (Video posted below)

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Saturday, December 08, 2012

Not Just Ayes and Nays-Pacific Island Votes in UN Resolution on Palestine.

The recent UN resolution to accord Palestine a Non member Observer status and the results of the vote in the UN General Assembly has been widely reported. The votes of Pacific Island nations at the UN General Assembly were dispersed between the votes- in favor, against and abstentions from the resolution; undoubtedly outcomes derived from the political calculus determined at their various capitals.

The Pacific 4 were reported to have been personally thanked by Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu according to a PINA article. Israel's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Yigal Palmor outlined the lines of diplomatic tact and estimation:
“Voting at the UN General Assembly is always the result of complex and intricate sets of pressures and interests. Whoever takes a country’s vote at face value and thinks that a vote accurately reflects a country’s true opinion on the issue at hand doesn’t know much about international diplomacy.”
Australia's surprising decision to abstain, was dissected in an opinion post by Daniel Flitton.

However, the rest of the smaller Pacific island nations have other factors to consider. New Zealand, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu voted in favor. Voting against were Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru and Palau. Abstaining Pacific island states were Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu.
Equally interesting was the fact that, Israel's Non-Resident Ambassador to the Pacific region, Michael Ronen had admitted to spending a lot of time lobbying in the Pacific region, prior to the the resolution vote and under girds how the region is being wooed for votes in the UN General Assembly. 

Post resolution vote, Israel appears to be doubling down in the Pacific Aid programs. Israel's Non-Resident Ambassador to the Pacific, Ronen recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in Suva, with the multi-nation funded University of the South Pacific, to cooperate in areas of Agribusiness Development, Public Health and Women's Empowerment over a period of 3 years.

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Friday, November 30, 2012

X- Post: The Strategist - Suva Comes In From The Cold – But Canberra Feels The Chill

Source: The Strategist

30 Nov 2012
41st Pacific Islands Forum, 2010
special meeting in Port Moresby on Wednesday has ended Fiji’s exclusion from the deliberations of the Pacific group of the European Union’s ACP (Asia Caribbean Pacific) association. That mightn’t sound like the biggest news story around, but it was front-page news in Suva. It scarcely rated a mention in Australian newspapers but it was bad news for Canberra, whatever the government might try to make of our neighbours’ action.

The Pacific Island states agreed to shift the secretariat functions on trade negotiations for the Pacific ACP group from the Pacific Islands Forum to Papua New Guinea. The decision weakens both the Pacific Islands Forum and the influence that Canberra has long enjoyed through it. Since early 2009, Australia and New Zealand have used their influence in the Forum to extend Fiji’s exclusion from important regional affairs like the Pacific ACP meetings, manoeuvring to deem Fiji’s suspension from the Forum to include joint activities with the Forum, even where the corresponding body had imposed no such sanctions on Fiji.

We need to be careful to avoid looking like the South Pacific is an afterthought to Australia’s broader strategy. While Canberra continues to talk of the ‘Asian Century’, the Pacific Islanders are certain that it is an ‘Asia–Pacific Century’.

Our Pacific Island neighbours know that their place in evolving global geo-politics depends on effective relations with Asia. That’s why they’re extending and expanding these relationships while strengthening compatible traditional arrangements. The ACP group has been important for trade and aid relations with all the EU member states’ former dependencies. It has become critical as the EU and the ACP states adjust to changing global economic conditions.

Richard Herr

" Our Pacific Island neighbours know that their place in evolving global geo-politics depends on effective relations with Asia [...]

The Forum does vital work for the region and is much valued for that but it is verging on a crisis of legitimacy. By entangling sanctions and its wider program of work, it has overplayed its hand politically. "
Australia is a foundation member of the Forum but isn’t a member of the ACP; a point unlined by the Fiji Sun in its editorial on the Port Moresby decision. Managing elements of these ties for the Pacific group through the Forum had been a significant gesture of faith in the Forum as well as a useful connection for Canberra. But Australia was outflanked when PNG took the Forum Secretariat out of the regional game by offering to host and to pay for the Pacific ACP group’s secretarial functions on trade negotiations.

Fijian Interim Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama wasn’t alone in seeing the PNG gesture as working to build up the Melanesian Spearhead Group’s (MSG) influence within the region at the expense of the Forum. This plays to Fiji’s advantage, which is why it has been active in promoting the MSG (which includes neither Australia nor New Zealand) over the Forum. This play was made possible by the ill-advised use of the Forum as a vehicle for sanctions. The MSG member states—Fiji, PNG, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu—comprise the largest and most significantly resource rich part of the Pacific Islands region. It is by far the area of most interest to Asia.

Others have lined up to support this move. Solomons’ Prime Minister Gordon Darcy Lilo described the decision in Port Moresby to establish a Pacific ACP secretariat in Papua New Guinea as a major breakthrough. This is part of a trend. Since the Bainimarama coup in December 2006, various Australian governments have also watched impotently as Australia’s Pacific Island neighbours have moved away from the Forum towards the Pacific Small Island Developing States (PSIDS) group, which has taken on the role of regional leadership at the United Nations. These states, all members of the Forum, have done so on the same grounds as the Pacific ACP leadership. Like the MSG, PSIDS excludes Australia and New Zealand and has been accepted by many UN member states as the more authentic face of the Pacific Islands.

The Forum does vital work for the region and is much valued for that but it is verging on a crisis of legitimacy. By entangling sanctions and its wider program of work, it has overplayed its hand politically. Virtually all the blame of this can be laid at the doorstep of Canberra and Wellington. For example, the failure to readmit Fiji at this year’s Forum Leaders Meeting was a serious error of judgment. Foreign Minister Bob Carr’s view of ‘too soon’ contrasts glaringly with President Obama’s recent remarks in Myanmar. Obama didn’t say that his visit was ‘too soon’, but that it was intended to strengthen the return to democracy in a country that reportedly still has hundreds of political prisoners.

The Pacific ACP decision is a direct consequence of Canberra’s timidity and hesitancy with regard to Fiji. This continues to work against our own regional interests and those of our neighbours, at a serious cost to our place amongst them in the Forum.

Richard Herr is an honorary research associate at the University of Tasmania’s School of Government.

Further Reading:

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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Papua New Guinea in the Asian Century - Peter O'Neill, PNG Prime Minister

PNG Attitude covers Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister, Peter O'Neill's speech at the Distinguished Speaker Lecture aptly titled "Papua New Guinea in the Asian Century" hosted by the Lowy Institute.

Full audio of speech (Click here)

PNG Attitude describes O'Neil's speech:
In his quiet, understated way he showed not only a firm grasp of the demands of political leadership and how they must be met, but also a sophisticated understanding of the geo-strategic position of Papua New Guinea and what it will take to steer a steady course towards the nation’s goals.
Jenny Hayward Jones also briefly covers the contours of the speech, in a recent post in The Interpreter.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

X-Post: Island Business - Pacific Next Battleground for Superpowers

Source : Islands Business

‘Many of the Pacific Islands countries have already cast their lot with China and by extension most things that China has to offer, including telecommunication technologies. If the standoff between the west and China on the issue of telecommunications security continues, it could quite easily lead to a trade war or even worse, if wiser counsels don’t prevail. On its part, China will have to be forthcoming on opening its doors to western scrutiny’

Political observers in recent years have often discussed the possibility of the Pacific region turning into the next battleground of the superpowers. The obvious reasons for their speculation are the race to increase the superpowers’ influence in a bid to establish geopolitical hegemony in the world’s largest single geographic feature and to gain access to the substantial natural resources that lie within the sovereign boundaries of islands nations—big and small—that dot the region.

In the past few years especially, the world’s superpowers have made announcements about their plans for the Pacific islands region with greater vigour and frequency and followed them up with firm action. For instance, the United States has followed the People’s Republic of China’s many initiatives to build up its diplomatic presence in the islands with bigger embassies and more personnel, as well as new assistance programmes.

Given these developments, some regional developments, particularly such as those in Fiji, have changed the complexion of geopolitics in the region with the Pacific islands’ long-time allies New Zealand and Australia having serious competition from around the world for the attention of islands leaders over the past few years. This is borne out by the fact that there has been a lengthening beeline of countries from around the world at successive annual forums of Pacific Islands leaders over the past few years. Earlier this year, international geopolitical analysts and experts even said that the next arms race might well take place in the Pacific, what with the United States waking up to the fact that China had made great progress in extending its circle of influence around the islands region while it was busy waging pointless wars in the Middle East for more than a decade.

The conspiracy-minded among analysts find the Pacific an excellent place for the superpowers to kick-start an arms race with a view to reviving their global financial crisis-ravaged economies. The Pacific also seems attractive for believers of this line of reasoning because of the relatively low potential for collateral damage.
While all these scenarios lurk on the edge of possibility, it is equally possible that the next big conflict might be triggered by completely different factors: trade and technology, for example. And even then, the Pacific Islands region might still have to bare the brunt of the pain. A taste of how this might pan out began to unfold earlier this year and reached fever pitch last month in several countries around the world but most notably in the United States and Australia.

At the centre of the controversy is Chinese telecommunications giant, Huawei, which has a presence in nearly a hundred countries around the world including many of the Pacific Islands. While it is not primarily a telecommunications service provider, it has grown to become one of the world’s biggest suppliers of information and communication technology (ICT) hardware and systems in the world.

Islands Business: We Say

"[S]ome regional developments, particularly such as those in Fiji, have changed the complexion of geopolitics in the region with the Pacific islands’ long-time allies New Zealand and Australia having serious competition from around the world for the attention of islands leaders over the past few years "
The United States House Intelligence Committee has classified Huawei as a security threat because of a number of reasons ranging from the fact that it was formed by a former Chinese military official to rumours that it is actually financed by soft loans from the Chinese government to the tune of some US$30 billion. There is even belief in some quarters that it is an arm of the Chinese government. There are fears that Huawei’s equipment, when plugged into a country’s network, can transmit sensitive data back to its masters in China.

While there is no evidence this has happened, the fears have spread to a number of nations where Huawei either has already bid or is in the process of bidding for billions of dollars worth of projects to establish and upgrade broadband networks. These range from Canada, the United Kingdom, several countries in Europe and Australia, which also has said it would bar Huawei from bidding for its nation-wide fast broadband network.

One of the few western nations that so far has not made any noises is New Zealand where the company has had a far deeper presence than Australia. Much of the hardware used by cellphone companies in New Zealand is Huawei’s. The company has also bid and partnered with an indigenous business group to provide a link between Australia and New Zealand—which will be up in the air if Australia sticks to its guns and prevents Huawei or its constituents from tapping into its network in Australia.

A couple of months back, Pacific Fibre—co-promoted by New Zealand millionaire and founder of well-known auction website TradeMe—which sought to connect Australia, New Zealand and the western United States fell over, citing its inability to raise some $400 million to complete the project. Such a figure is not an insurmountable one in international ICT projects of this scale.

Speculation is now rife that the reason for the falling over could well have been the refusal by both Australia and the United States to terminate the undersea cable at both ends because of the heavy involvement of Chinese companies in the project. This raises the question whether countries that align themselves with Chinese technology companies, especially in the ICT space, will be disadvantaged because of the paranoia—justified or not—of several western countries ranging from the United States to Australia. Most Pacific Islands nations like New Zealand have opened their arms to cheap technologies that Huawei and companies like it offer. That is one of the reasons why telecommunications and data tariffs have continually fallen in New Zealand and many countries of the region.

Will these mean they will have difficulty in aligning with western economies? Simplistic as it might look, the problem has the potential to blow into a crisis, especially if the security threat perception escalates for any reason. In any case, cyber attacks on government websites as well as utility networks have been on the increase and there has been general agreement in the western world that such attacks can be traced to Chinese sources. Some sources have gone to the extent of contending that these may even be sponsored by the Chinese state. Many of the Pacific Islands countries have already cast their lot with China and by extension most things that China has to offer including telecommunication technologies. If the standoff between the west and China on the issue of telecommunications security continues, it could quite easily lead to a trade war or even worse, if wiser counsels don’t prevail. On its part, China will have to be forthcoming on opening its doors to western scrutiny.

So whether it is for geopolitical hegemony, the race for natural resources or the tug of war over communications technology, the Pacific and Pacific Islanders will soon find themselves at the epicenter of developments. And there is little they or their leaders can do about it.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

X-Post: Stop NATO - Pentagon Eyes More Military Bases In Australia

Source:  Stop NATO
November 13, 2012 

News Analysis: U.S. eyes Australian military bases
By Christian Edwards Xinhua News Agency
A U.S. presence in the Pacific has been the bedrock of Australia’s security posture, and in return Australia has participated in every one of the U.S. foreign military adventures, from the Korea Peninsula, through Vietnam into Iraq, the “war on terror” and Afghanistan. By 2016 there will be 2,500 U.S. marines at Darwin, U.S. air force elements based in Katherine, and an increased presence in Australian ports.
In an unnerving development the Gillard government is reportedly considering making the Cocos Islands available to the U. S. as a base for both drones and troops.
“The Americans wanted Australian soldiers in Iraq, and they got it. They wanted a defense trade controls treaty that shackles Australian research, and they got it. They wanted marines based at Darwin, and they got it.
“We suspect they want an expanded presence at HMAS Stirling naval base, access to air bases in the north of WA, and basing facilities for drones in the Indian Ocean – what’s next?”
PERTH: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is now in Western Australia’s capital Perth for an important annual Australia-U.S. Ministerial Consultation (AUSMIN). Tonight Australian and U.S. officials dine in the splendor of a state reception, tomorrow Clinton and Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr will meet to ponder the future of the alliance of Australia, New Zealand and the United States.

Since 1951, the Australia, New Zealand, United States Security Treaty, or the ANZUS Treaty, has bound these two countries (far better than ANZUS has bound New Zealand) in military and strategic mutual arrangements. A U.S. presence in the Pacific has been the bedrock of Australia’s security posture, and in return Australia has participated in every one of the U.S. foreign military adventures, from the Korea Peninsula, through Vietnam into Iraq, the “war on terror” and Afghanistan.

Officially, the U.S. describes these so-called AUSMIN talks, held annually since 1985, as “a valuable opportunity for Australian and U.S. officials to discuss a wide range of global, regional and bilateral issues.” Unofficially it is difficult to know exactly what the U.S. wants out of Australia and even less about how it will set about getting it.

Undeniably it has been an exciting year for the moveable feast that is the Australia-U.S. military relationship.
President Barack Obama’s announcement in Canberra last November of the stationing (or “rotation” as Carr emphasized to Xinhua at the time) of 2,500 U.S. marines in Darwin caught analysts off guard. Suddenly and startlingly for Australia, the U.S. shifted its strategic gaze from the Middle East to the Asia Pacific and has begun to scratch the growing itch produced of the rise of the twin superpowers in China and India.

AUSMIN 2012 will be an opportunity for the Americans to get down to brass tacks on Obama’s “pivot to Asia,” and what it means for an Australia looking to strengthen ties with its neighbors in the “Asian Century”.
Peter Jennings, executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, says it will be money or the lack of it in Australia’s defense policy that will be foremost in the mind of Clinton and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.

According to Jennings, “Based on recent visits to the U.S., I can confirm that a wide range of current and previous administration officials and others watching the relationship are worried about Australian policy.”
“Americans are dismayed that there has been such a quick reversal of Australian defense spending plans from 2009 to now,” he said. Jennings suggests that the U.S. is worried about the tone of Australian commentary, led by analysts like Professor Hugh White who has championed the concept of shared power within the Asia Pacific by the U.S. and China.“They worry about Australian commentary saying we should distance ourselves from the U.S. in order to get closer to China and are concerned that the Asian Century White Paper, with its cursory treatment of the U.S., is a big step in that direction.”

There is good reason for hesitation in Australia. Despite a Lowy Institute Poll that almost three quarters of Australians were in favor of U.S. military deployments in Darwin, there is concern that such a deployment could become a slippery slope. By 2016 there will be 2,500 U.S. marines at Darwin, U.S. air force elements based in Katherine, and an increased presence in Australian ports.

Just three months ago, Australia’s Defense Minister Stephen Smith found himself deflecting reports of a U.S. nuclear carrier fleet basing in Perth. Last month, it was revealed that an unmanned American Global Hawk spy drone had been flying in and out of the Royal Australian Air Force base at Edinburgh in South Australia since 2001.In an unnerving development the Gillard government is reportedly considering making the Cocos Islands available to the U. S. as a base for both drones and troops. Australia’s neighbors have so far chosen not to respond to what is clearly a growing U.S. military presence Down Under.

When President Obama announced the use of Darwin as a training base for U.S. marines, Chinese and Indonesian officials expressed dismay, citing that such a build up could easily trigger a regional “circle of mistrust and tension”. Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa called for “transparency of what the scenario being envisaged is”.

The problem for Australia is that the true nature, extent and objectives of the U.S. “pivot to Asia” are largely unknown. Like the Hawk spy drone operating in Australian territory for over a decade, negotiations are held in secrecy and little has been made public about what Prime Minister Julia Gillard described as the ” medium-term cooperation on ships and aviation.”

The Australian Greens today demanded the release of the legal agreement underpinning the increased U.S. military presence in Australia. Australian Greens spokesperson assisting on defense, Senator for Western Australia (WA) Scott Ludlam, said that U.S.-Australian defense deals were oblique and had been “a one-way street” for too long. “The Americans wanted Australian soldiers in Iraq, and they got it. They wanted a defense trade controls treaty that shackles Australian research, and they got it. They wanted marines based at Darwin, and they got it,” he said. “We suspect they want an expanded presence at HMAS Stirling naval base, access to air bases in the north of WA, and basing facilities for drones in the Indian Ocean – what’s next?”

Ludlum said the 2010 deal that outlines the rights, role, and responsibilities of U.S. forces in Australia is “being kept secret ” from the Australian public. “For two years the government denied it existed, now they won’t tell the Australian people what’s in it,” he said. “The agreement that governs this militarization is to be withheld, presumably until such time as it is leaked in the public interest – it’s an extraordinary insult to Australian sovereignty. “

Meanwhile Defense Minister Stephen Smith will be preparing to face some tough questions from Clinton and her team when the AUSMIN discussions begin in Perth on Nov. 14. According to Peter Jennings, the Australians will be expected to do their bit. “Although they may not bluntly say so, many of the Americans knowledgeable about Australia think that we are ‘off the reservation’ on strategic policy right now,” he said.

With the release in Australia of the Asian Century White Paper last month, Australian officials may not have too much of an appetite at tonight’s state reception – between the concerns of their neighbors, the Australian public and an American ally determined to ensure things go their way in the Asia Pacific there is very little room for compromise.

More information: 
SMH article
US Secretary Of State speech at Perth USASIA Centre

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X-Post: WSWS - Australian Government Prepares “Transition” for Solomon Islands Intervention

By Patrick O’Connor
13 November 2012
Source: WSWS
The Australian Labor government is preparing to modify its flagship neo-colonial intervention in the South Pacific, the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI). Nearly 10 years after first dispatching hundreds of troops, federal police and government officials to take over the impoverished country’s state apparatus, Canberra is winding down RAMSI’s military component. The “transition” is aimed at ensuring the continued domination of Australian imperialism over political and economic life in the Solomon Islands.

RAMSI involves personnel from different Pacific countries, but is controlled by Australia. There are currently fewer than 100 Australian soldiers on Solomon Islands, nearly 200 Australian Federal Police (AFP) and more than 100 civilian personnel, including officials working in key positions within the legal system, finance and treasury departments, and other parts of the public service. All have immunity from local laws.

The RAMSI operation commenced in July 2003, with the former Australian government of Prime Minister John Howard intervening in violation of international and Solomon Islands’ law. Cloaked in humanitarian claims about putting an end to civil conflict, the predatory operation was centrally aimed at bolstering Canberra’s hegemony in the South Pacific and shutting out rival powers from its “patch”, amid heightened geo-strategic rivalries across the region. The Australian government disarmed the Solomons’ police force and took control of its prison and judicial systems, central bank and finance department, and the public service.
Now, in the most significant recasting of the operation since its inception, RAMSI’s military component will be withdrawn in the second half of 2013. Also next year, RAMSI will no longer have its own “development” agenda. Instead, aid and other programs will be run bilaterally, via the Australian High Commission in Honiara. RAMSI’s policing component, the Participating Police Force, will continue operations at least until 2014, and likely for much longer than that.

The “transition” is being accompanied by rhetoric from the Solomon Islands government of Prime Minister Gordon Darcy Lilo about the need to prepare for the eventual withdrawal of the entire intervention force.
In reality, the Australian government has no perspective of ever leaving the Solomons. Foreign Minister Bob Carr visited RAMSI headquarters in August and declared: “Australia is going to be here to help Solomon Islands and its people for as long as they need our help ... We’re not going to withdraw. And RAMSI’s police function is going to continue for a long time after the military function is phased out.”

None of the underlying strategic issues that triggered Canberra’s decision to intervene in 2003 have been resolved. China enjoys closer diplomatic, economic and military ties with many South Pacific states than it did a decade ago. Moreover, the Obama administration’s “pivot” to the Asia-Pacific, involving an aggressive drive to contain Chinese influence, has placed further pressure on Canberra to fulfil the task assigned to it by Washington ever since the end of World War II—that of shutting out rival powers from the region.
The modifications to RAMSI are aimed at making the intervention force more cost efficient. For some time, RAMSI troops have comprised mostly reservists, and their Solomons’ deployments have functioned as expensive training exercises.

Patrick O'Connor - On RAMSI

" Cloaked in humanitarian claims about putting an end to civil conflict, the predatory operation was centrally aimed at bolstering Canberra’s hegemony in the South Pacific and shutting out rival powers from its “patch”, amid heightened geo-strategic rivalries across the region. "
The AFP has long been Canberra’s primary enforcer on the ground in the Solomons, including its heavily armed paramilitary wing, the International Deployment Group. The federal police were centrally involved in the Australian government’s 2006-2007 regime change operation against Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare that included the persecution of his attorney general, Julian Moti. Sogavare and Moti were targeted after being perceived as threats to RAMSI’s untrammelled dominance in the country.
Australian Defence Minister Stephen Smith, touring the Solomons in April, said the “orderly drawdown” of soldiers would leave “the very strong presence” of the AFP, which would “continue to be on the ground for any required response.” Smith added that the Labor government was looking to a new “defence cooperation program” in the Solomons, potentially involving regular Australian military visits or exercises.
Contingency plans are no doubt in place for a renewed military intervention in the event that Canberra regards its strategic position under threat.

It remains unclear how many, if any, of the Australian officials now implanted in different parts of the Solomons’ state apparatus will be withdrawn as part of the “transition”. So-called development assistance, which has included the lucrative salaries of AFP officers and RAMSI personnel—classified as Australian “aid”—will be removed from the intervention force’s brief. But RAMSI Special Coordinator Nicholas Coppel indicated this would allow for greater control from Canberra. “It’s been difficult to do very long term development assistance work when its horizon has been limited to a four-year budget cycle in Australia,” he stated. “Moving development assistance across to our normal AusAID bilateral program enables us to do much more long term planning for Solomon Islands.”

One of the aims of the RAMSI “transition” is to boost Australian corporate investment. Coppel told the Australia-Solomon Islands Business Forum in Brisbane last month that the changes marked “a clear signal that Solomon Islands is back in business” and demonstrated that the country’s economy would no longer be dominated by “an interventionist, post-conflict model of development assistance.”

Mining activity is being stepped up across the Solomons. A small Australian mining company, Allied Gold, now operates the Gold Ridge mine on Guadalcanal Island. Another Australian company, Axiom Mining, plans to soon begin work in Santa Isabel on one of the world’s largest nickel deposits, worth an estimated $60 billion. Mining companies from Britain, South Africa and Japan are exploring for gold, nickel, copper and other reserves, including on the seafloor. From the beginning, RAMSI was developed with an eye to ensuring that Australian transnational corporations received top priority in plundering Solomon Islands’ natural resources.

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Thursday, November 08, 2012

X-Post: The Australian - Asian Century's Tunnel Vision

Source: The Australian
6 November 2012

The government's white paper on Australia in the Asian Century displays an extraordinary tunnel vision in its focus on the "Asian-ness" of the Asian Century. This narrow view will prove more revealing to Australia's Pacific island neighbours than Canberra could, or should, have intended. There's not a single substantive reference to our critical security interests in our near neighbourhood, not even in passing. This sends an odd message to the Pacific islands: they also want to participate in the Asian century.

At a minimum, the Pacific islands might have rated a mention as a sensitive outlet for some of the excess energy from Asia's economic and geo-political dynamism. Certainly the key Asian players have not shared the white paper's myopia in overlooking the importance of Australia's small island neighbours. Asia is increasingly interested in Pacific resources, particularly the region's tuna stocks, the richest in the world.
Given the overwhelming economic focus of the white paper, Papua New Guinea might have expected some notice: PNG's world-class resources of copper, gold and natural gas are of significant interest to Asian investors, as well serving to some extent as a competitor to Australian minerals in Asian markets.

Richard Herr & Anthony Bergin

" There's not a single substantive reference to our critical security interests in our near neighbourhood, not even in passing. This sends an odd message to the Pacific islands: they also want to participate in the Asian century [...]

A national Institute for Pacific Islands Studies would refresh the focus on our neighbours and their relations both with us and Asia. "
The security stakes in PNG were raised significantly last year when Hillary Clinton declared the US to be in strategic competition with China, and she underscored US interest by attending this year's Pacific Islands Forum. China seeks to downplay the competition aspect publicly, but it very much wants to preserve and extend its options in the Pacific islands region.

Chairman Wu Bangguo, China's top legislator, recently paid a five day visit to Fiji as part of a swing through Asia to reassure a number of states that the forthcoming change in the Chinese leadership would not portend a change in policy toward them. He made a point of condemning the bullying of Fiji by members of the international community, with a finger pointed implicitly, but clearly at Australia.

In a remarkable symbolic demonstration that Asia wants the Pacific islands included in their Asian century, the UN's Asian group, under Chinese leadership, changed its name last year to include the Pacific islands.
While there's lots in the paper on the need for Asian literacy, there's no mention of the fact that there's very limited teaching programs on the Pacific islands at Australian schools and universities. A national Institute for Pacific Islands Studies would refresh the focus on our neighbours and their relations both with us and Asia.

Economic integration in Asia cannot be compartmentalised from Australia's economic integration with the Pacific islands, especially with those of Melanesia. Our island neighbours are pursuing their own take on the Asian century, with new and expanding relationships with China, ASEAN, Russia and India.
It would be more than a pity if their vision of the Asian century and ours took Australia and the Pacific on separate paths.

Richard Herr and Anthony Bergin are co-authors of Our near abroad: Australia and Pacific islands regionalism, Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

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Friday, November 02, 2012

X-Post: Pacific Scoop - The Diplomacy of Decolonisation 2 – Siding with France in the Pacific.

Source: Pacific Scoop

Oscar Temaru
French Polynesian leader Oscar Temaru … slow but growing support for decolonisation. Image: Cook Islands News

Australia has remarkably strong ties with France in the Pacific – and they are stifling the drive toward independence of countries like New Caledonia. The second report of a special two-part series.
Pacific Scoop:

Analysis – By Nic Maclellan

As Australia prepares to take up a seat on the UN Security Council in 2013, the UN decolonisation agenda will affect Australia’s relations with neighbouring Pacific countries. However, recent actions by the Gillard Labor government suggest that Canberra has chosen sides with France and the United States on this often-ignored agenda at the United Nations.

From 1946, the United Nations has maintained a list of non-self-governing territories seeking political independence. Just 16 territories remain on the list, including five Pacific islands, though others are seeking to be relisted. Twenty five years ago, at the height of the conflict between supporters and opponents of independence, Australia supported New Caledonia’s successful bid for re-inscription on the list of countries to be decolonised.

This French Pacific dependency has been scrutinised by the UN Special Committee on Decolonisation ever since — the governments of France and New Caledonia even invited the UN committee to hold its regional seminar in Noumea in 2010. In French Polynesia, the coalition government led by long-time independence campaigner Oscar Temaru has been seeking the same sort of international support.
In spite of tough economic times at home — with falling numbers of tourists and changing French subsidies after the end of nuclear testing — Temaru has been seeking regional and international support to be relisted with the United Nations decolonisation process.

Significant shift

Since Temaru was first elected President in 2004, there has been a slow but significant shift in local opinion.
Last year, the Territorial Assembly in Pape’ete narrowly voted for the first time to support Temaru’s call for reinscription.

In August 2012, the synod of the Eglise Protestante Maohi (EPM) — the Protestant church that is the largest denomination in French Polynesia — voted for the first time to support reinscription. The Pacific Conference of Churches (PCC) and World Council of Churches (WCC) have also supported the call.

In spite of this, Australia has sided with Paris to reject French Polynesia’s call for increased UN scrutiny.
Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs Richard Marles, in an interview published in Islands Business magazine, recently said: “We absolutely take our lead from France on this.”

In recent years, Australia and France have signed a series of agreements that cement relations on defence, aid co-operation and joint exploration for oil and gas reserves in the waters between Australia and New Caledonia — culminating last January in a Joint Statement on Strategic Partnership. For many years, Australia and France have expanded defence cooperation in the Pacific, through port visits, joint military exercises, arms deals and meetings between senior military officers.

Military exercises

The Southern Cross military exercises held every two years in New Caledonia are a key part of regional military cooperation, with US marines joining Australia and French troops in the latest wargames in October.
Since 1992, the France-Australia-New Zealand (FRANZ) agreement has provided a mechanism for joint humanitarian and maritime surveillance operations in the South Pacific. The 2009 Australia-France Defence Cooperation Agreement (DCA) strengthens the defence partnership, but is underlined by French efforts to increase arms sales to Australia: by 2006, Australia was the second largest purchaser of French armaments in the world.

Eurocopter, a subsidiary of the giant European Aeronautic Defence and Space company (EADS), is successfully competing with American arms manufacturers to sell helicopters and other equipment to the Australian Defence Force (ADF).

France and Australia are also co-operating in joint exploration of the waters between Queensland and New Caledonia. Geoscience Australia and French research agencies have conducted joint surveys of the ocean floor near the Capel and Faust Basins, looking for sediments that would indicate deep water reserves of oil and gas.

In March 2010, the signing of a “Declaration of Intention between Australia and France (on behalf of New Caledonia) over Coral Sea Management” signalled increased joint operations over reef ecology and maritime resources in these waters. For some, the sight of France as the administering power making decisions over New Caledonia’s resources brings back memories of Australia’s deal with Indonesia over the oil reserves of the Timor Gap.

A further sign of Australia-France relations is a partnership agreement signed in July 2011 between Australia’s aid agency AusAID and the French equivalent Agence française de développement (AFD). This agreement opens the way for co-operation in Africa and Afghanistan, but also allows for joint programs in the Pacific.

Strategic partnership

All these agreements culminated in the signing of the Joint Statement of Strategic Partnership in January 2012. At the time, Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd and his French counterpart Alain Juppe signed the agreement in Paris, which highlights joint commitments on Afghanistan, nuclear non-proliferation, terrorism, global economic reform and the Pacific.

Australia’s global partnership with France seems to be affecting  its policies in the islands region. Even though many Pacific states have publicly stated their support for French Polynesia’s bid for re-inscription at the United Nations, the August 2012 meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum reaffirmed the Australian position, calling for further dialogue between Paris and Pape’ete.

A month later, however, many Pacific leaders lined up at the UN General Assembly to publicly support French Polynesia’s right to self-determination. The leaders of Fiji, Samoa, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu explicitly called for action on decolonisation.

Vanuatu’s Prime Minister Sato Kilman said: “I call on the independent and free nations of the world to complete the story of decolonisation and close this chapter. At this juncture, I urge the United Nations not to reject the demands for French Polynesia’s right to self-determination and progress.”

The same month, with Fiji’s Foreign Minister in attendance, the 16th Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Tehran issued a new policy on decolonisation, which noted: “The Heads of State or Government affirmed the inalienable right of the people of French Polynesia — Maohi Nui to self-determination in accordance with Chapter XI of the Charter of the United Nations and the UN General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV).”

With the other French Pacific dependency of New Caledonia scheduled to hold a referendum on its future political status after 2014, the question of France’s role in the South Pacific isn’t going away soon.

This is part two of Nic Maclellan’s series on Decolonisation originally published in New Matilda. Part one can be found here.

Part 1: Plenty of Pacific flashpoints to challenge officials

More information:
Overseas Territories Review
SiFM post : Scratch a Lover, Find A Foe - The Current Geopolitics of Decolonization.

Club Em Designs

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

X-Post: IPS - Fiji’s Leadership of G77 a ‘Rare Opportunity’ for the Pacific.

Source: Inter Press Service 

BRISBANE, Oct 15 2012 (IPS) - For the first time in 48 years, a Pacific Small Island Developing State (PSIDS) is gearing up to assume chairmanship of the Group of 77 developing nations plus China.

In 2013, the Republic of Fiji – located between Vanuatu and Tonga in the South Pacific and currently under a military government led by Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama – will take leadership of the largest intergovernmental coalition within the United Nations, replacing the incumbent chair, Algeria.
“Fiji’s election to the Chair of the Group of 77 and China (G77) for 2013 demonstrates the international community’s (confidence in us) to preside over the 132-member organisation in its endeavour to advance international matters that are of great importance to all developing countries,” Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, Fiji’s minister for foreign affairs and international cooperation, told IPS.

The G77 was formed in 1964 with 77 founding member states, representing a collective ambition by developing nations to advance their international voice and influence on world trade. Since then, the G77, now comprising 132 member states, has championed South-South cooperation as a key strategy to boost standards of living and economic fortunes in the global South.

Catherine Wilson

" Fiji’s chairmanship of the G77 will give the country’s leadership a chance to reach out to the rest of the region by way of consultation in order to make sure a regional voice can be heard on the international stage "

The intergovernmental group, which has identified the eradication of poverty as one of its greatest challenges, was also influential in developing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). According to a United Nations report last year, South-South cooperation has boosted development and investment between developing countries and is a formidable driver of economic growth.  Between 1990 and 2008 world trade expanded four-fold, while South-South trade multiplied more than 20 times.

Fiji’s rising role

Fiji’s new role within the U.N. was confirmed at the G77 foreign ministers’ meeting in New York on Sep. 28. The island state, with a population of about 868,000 spread over more than 330 islands, has an economy dominated by the sugar and tourism industries, as well as the highest national human development ranking within the Pacific sub-region of Melanesia.

However, an ongoing struggle for political power between indigenous Fijians and Indo-Fijians – descendants of nineteenth century Indian immigrant labourers – has fuelled four military coups since 1987. During the most recent one in 2006, Bainimarama, commander of Fiji’s military forces, took over the presidency and dissolved parliament in an alleged attempt to stifle corruption. His declared aim is to reform the race-based electoral system and draft a new constitution, following nationwide consultations, ahead of planned democratic elections in 2014. But Fiji’s refusal to hold democratic elections by 2010 led to international sanctions and its suspension in 2009 from the Commonwealth and the Pacific Islands Forum, a regional intergovernmental group of independent and self-governing states.

The government of Fiji currently receives significant economic aid and political support from China.  It also remains politically engaged in the South-west Pacific as an active member of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG), an intergovernmental group comprising Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji and New Caledonia.

Nikunj Soni, board chair of the Pacific Institute of Public Policy (PIPP), an independent regional think tank based in Port Vila, Vanuatu, told IPS that with the emergence of a range of advocacy platforms, such as the MSG and the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), the Pacific Islands Forum was no longer the sole organisation through which the islands could coordinate a voice.

“Fiji’s chairmanship of the G77 will give the country’s leadership a chance to reach out to the rest of the region by way of consultation in order to make sure a regional voice can be heard on the international stage,” Soni told IPS. “The Pacific will have a rare opportunity to represent itself on the global stage…”
This is becoming increasingly important for the Pacific Islands as neighbouring superpowers like China and the U.S. set their sights on the archipelago as a crucial geo-strategic location.

China is increasing its investment and presence in the islands, while the U.S. has made moves to renew its engagement with the Pacific region in areas ranging from aid to security, and has deepened defence ties with Australia. The Pacific Islands are also rich in mineral, forest and marine resources. The PIPP emphasised that increasing the region’s international voice on issues of security and resource management in the context of climate change was a top priority.

“With the Pacific Ocean covering half of the world’s ocean area and one third its total surface area, the region contains some of the largest unexploited natural resources and some of the most climate vulnerable nations on earth,” Soni explained. “It remains important that small island developing states are not used by larger powers as proxies for their own geopolitical battles. At the same time, we must be able to protect our natural resources for the benefit of our own peoples.”

The global influence of the G77 will only increase as developing countries, especially Brazil, China and India, emerge as the new leaders of world economic growth. According to this year’s U.N. global economic outlook, developing countries will grow an average of 5.9 percent in 2013, while developed countries are likely to average only 1.9 percent growth.

But this year’s G77 Ministerial Meeting in New York also highlighted many challenges ahead for the coalition of developing nations, including the impact of the global financial crisis on world trade, food security, the fight against poverty, technology transfers and efforts to combat the severe effects of climate change.
“More recently, the G77 has taken on negotiating positions in areas of climate change and sustainable development, the two areas which PSIDS focuses on in New York,” Kubuabola stated.
“These are the two areas Fiji wishes to place emphasis on to ensure that the interests of all developing countries, including those of PSIDS, are effectively addressed.”

During a speech at the G77 meeting in September, U.N. Under-Secretary-General for economic and social affairs, Wu Hongbo, pointed out that the G77 also had an influential role to play in drafting the global Sustainable Development Goals, one outcome of the Rio+20 Earth Summit held in Brazil in June.


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Thursday, October 04, 2012

Top-level Chinese delegation visits Fiji

A four-day top level Chinese delegation by visited Fiji late last month in an effort to strengthen relations with the small Pacific island state and to counter efforts by the Obama administration to undermine Beijing’s influence in the region. (Read more)

Saturday, September 29, 2012

X-Post: Gateway House- The Geo-strategic Pacific Islands

By Tevita Motutalo

Source: Gateway House

Traditionally, the South Pacific islands have been considered strategically insignificant. However, the need for resources, and the geopolitical shift towards Asia-Pacific have prompted nations to realize that these small island states control large resource-rich ocean areas and are increasingly geostrategic.

“Five trillion dollars of commerce rides on the (Asia-Pacific) sea lanes each year, and you people are sitting right in the middle of it.”
(USPACOM chief Admiral Samuel Locklear, Pacific Island Forum, Cook Islands, 2012.)

From August 27 - 31, leaders from countries as far afield as India, China and the U.S. converged on the tiny Aitutaki Island in the South Pacific to meet members of the 16-country Pacific Island Forum. The need for resources and geopolitical rebalancing has raised the profile of the region so much that, for the first time, a U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, attended the Forum — a clear demonstration that the U.S. is serious about its Pacific “pivot” to Asia.

The reason is China. In March last year, Clinton told the U.S. Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee about the region: “Let’s just talk straight realpolitik. We are in a competition with China. China is in there every day in every way, trying to figure out how it’s going to come in behind us, come in under us.”

Last weekend, U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta passed by New Zealand reinforcing Clinton’s Forum debut, and China’s Secretary of National People’s Congress, Wu Bangguo returned from Fiji after inking several economic cooperation pacts with the military government there including Chinese assistance for cultural and educational development and teaching the Chinese language in the Fijian national curriculum.

According to Wu, Sino-Fijian trade was worth $ 172 million last year, up from 34% in the year prior.
India’s delegation to the Forum was high profile, led by Minister of State for External Affairs E Ahamed. Apart from resources, and strategic positioning, the Pacific also controls a relatively large number of votes in international fora, and India is keen to secure support for its bid for a seat for the United Nation’s Security Council.

But one of India’s strongest allies in the region wasn’t invited – Fiji. A key item on the Forum’s agenda was whether or not to readmit Fiji. Fiji has been central to Indian interests in the region. Following the 2006 coup, at the urging of Australia and New Zealand, sanctions were brought against Fiji and, whilst also suspended from the Forum in 2009. When India attempted to assist, it was warded off by Canberra. Consequently, the Fijian regime fell in deep with the remaining alternative active player in the region, China, one of the biggest investors in the region thereby receiving generous economic and military cooperation from Beijing.

The sanctions are of PIF-origin, and as China is not a member of the Forum, it is not bound to obey. These sanctions, issued by Australia, New Zealand, and the EU, resulted in the reduction of their aid assistance, a restriction on visas or transit for any member of the Fijian regime, and of course on trade.

The welfare of the more than 300,000 Fijian Indians in Fiji, and more amongst the Pacific states, is a core interest for India: a united, stable region decreases complications for region’s bloc support for India.
Fiji’s continued suspension is fragmenting the region. Isolated, Fiji shepherded a more consolidated, mineral-rich, Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG)- though created in 1983 it remained docile within the Forum until, following Fiji’s lead, it was formalised in 2007 taking on a “Look North” foreign policy cline.

This sub-regional grouping includes the majority ethnic Melanesian nations of Fiji, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu, and is backed by China (which has built the MSG secretariat in Vanuatu). In response, last year, as relations continued to deteriorate, New Zealand by proxy, helped create a competing “Polynesian Leaders Group.” comprised of majority ethically Polynesian nations.

This use of racial politics – the attempt to pit against each other the normally friendly Melanesians and Polynesians – was spurred and sponsored by Australia and New Zealand because it seemed to suit their short-term political goals. Instead, it is creating regional instability, something that ultimately benefits China. China itself is also bringing volatility to the region, with increasing cases of crime and drug and human trafficking linked to Chinese nationals.

Australia and New Zealand can reverse this trend. Just before and since after this year's Forum, both country’s leaders have started echoing reintegration of Fiji into regional bloc, lifting sanctions, and also even further to incentivize positive developments that will lead to elections in 2014, as promised by the Bainimarama government. The U.S. understands the implications and, before the Forum, expressed its expectation that Fiji be reinstated into the Forum. In spite of wide support, Australia and New Zealand blocked the move.

This raises questions about the priorities of some policy makers in Australia and New Zealand. They cite two reasons for the continued marginalisation of Fiji:
  1. If Fiji relations are normalised, it may grow as a more important regional political and economic hub (given its central location even now most of the regional organisations’ headquarters are located in Suva), challenging Canberra and Wellington’s role as the go-to places for Pacific investment and regional insight.
  2. While most in Wellington and Canberra undoubtedly value their strong relationship with the West, some policy-makers seem to be tempering that with a desire to have stronger economic and—as a result increasingly political–ties with China.
The second point is raising the most concerns in global capitals. Recently, former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating called on the U.S. to “share” the Pacific with China. And New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister Bill English declared that “Australia is a province of China, and New Zealand is a suburb of Australia.”

While Australia’s stated reason for the exclusion of Fiji from the Forum is its abolition of democracy, some influential figures in Canberra seem to have no problem engaging with even more autocratic governments that, unlike Fiji, have no plans to reintroduce democracy. In August, for example, Keating justified engagement with China by writing: “If we are pressed into the notion only democratic governments are legitimate, our future is limited to action within some confederation of democracies.”

Australian and New Zealand foreign policy is going through an internal civil war, with one side willing to sacrifice values and the trust of its traditional allies for the perception of economic gain from China (Wikileaks exposed that Australia pushed Nauru to derecognise Taiwan in favour of Beijing), and the other solidly part of the West.

Myopic and petty regional policies of Fiji’s marginalisation threw the door wide open for, and only benefits, China. Challenges to the region are heightening and so apparent, the U.S. now has to intervene directly to try to reinvigorate a West-friendly Pacific. Clinton declared the region “strategically and economically vital and becoming more so,” yet “big enough for all of us.” But her presence was signal intent to counter Chinese inroads. Beijing already assumes it has neutered Australia (and, presumably, doesn’t even bother about New Zealand).

 An editorial in the state-run People’s Daily—on 30th August in response to the US’s aircraft carrier presence at the Forum—stated that, in the Pacific, “The U.S. may have evaluated that Australia alone is no longer enough to hold China at bay.”

 For all the inroads created by inept policies in Fiji, Wu is reported to have taken a swipe at sanctions imposed on Fiji, and with a symbolic gesture, as guarantor of Fijian national interests, will oppose countries that are trying to “bully” Fiji. It effectively means China does not owe Australia and New Zealand any favours for misplacing their cards. Secondly, as China thinks its interests are linked with those of the island countries, this gives China opportunities for wide justification to intervene in South Pacific security – especially given the expectation afforded to it as a global power.

The divisive politics on show at the Forum need to stop. A first step, something that India can assist with, is welcoming Fiji back to the family, and helping it through its democratisation.

Tevita Motulalo is a Researcher at Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations. He is the former Editor of the Tonga Chronicle. He is currently pursuing a Master's Degree in geopolitics at Manipal University.

Related: The visit to Fiji of H.E. Wu Bangguo - Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National Peoples Congress of the Peoples Republic of China (video posted below)

Club Em Designs

Monday, September 24, 2012

X-Post: PacificUS - With Panetta’s Visit, US – NZ Defense Relationship Evolving Amid Pacific Rebalancing.

Last Saturday, US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta left for his third trip to the Asia-Pacific this year, scheduling stops in Japan, China and New Zealand.  Panetta’s visits to Japan and China are attempts to smooth relations between the states, and the trip to New Zealand is a follow-up from the visit earlier this year to Washington, DC by NZ Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman.  The trip will be the first time in 30 years that a US Defense Secretary has visited New Zealand, and marks a change in regional strategic dynamics.  

A critical part of the Obama Administration’s rebalancing in the Asia-Pacific includes repairing and deepening strategic relationships with New Zealand (among other smaller and medium-sized states) and to sustain opportunities for regular, high-level dialogue.  While New Zealand does not have a sizeable defense force to contribute to US-led operations, the small democracy is a valuable ally that can serve as an ‘honest broker’ and voice of legitimacy in the Asia-Pacific.

Pivoting for the Pacific’s Sake? Not Likely. 

Recently, New Zealand has received undue attention from American diplomats and cabinet secretaries because the US has much to gain politically and economically (if not militarily) from the bilateral relationship.  Whether the National or Labour Party is in government, New Zealand has a reputation both regionally and internationally as a state with a strong pacifist orientation that advocates for its values and the wellbeing of its Pacific neighbors.  As a founding member of and voice within the Pacific Islands Forum, New Zealand can be a significant agent for American interests during the leaders’ meetings.  Moreover, New Zealand’s promotion of US naval patrols, development assistance, trade relations, diplomatic connections and so forth would enable the US to exercise greater power projection in the region.

The 1984 Labour government’s nuclear-free announcement reflected in part New Zealand’s continuous desire for an independent foreign policy based on “conflict avoidance and resolution, humanitarian assistance, human rights, and environmental defense.”  The declaration prohibiting American nuclear ships from their ports was a policy move that was necessitated by public opinion and new Labour supporters and representatives.  Since its proclamation, the nuclear-free policy has been largely nonpartisan. 

While the strategic dimension of US-NZ relations faltered from the 1980’s, it never disappeared, and was supplemented by intelligence collaboration.  In addition to a strong commitment to special forces training and deployment (particularly the New Zealand Special Air Services), the intelligence-sharing between the US and New Zealand has remained significant since 1946. Despite disagreement with the US government over the invasion of Iraq, intelligence sharing remained consistent.  In fact, after 2001, New Zealand increased its intelligence budget by 30 percent while decreasing its overall defense budget.

Maritime defense, domain awareness, and disaster rescue operations are essential areas of mutual concern for New Zealand and the US in the Pacific, particularly given the Christchurch earthquake, China’s soft loans to Pacific island nations, and overfishing.  For the first time in 28 years, the New Zealand Defence Force participated in the Exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) in July-August, the largest international maritime exercise.  Interoperability is a key component of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy in the Pacific, and as Nathan Smith writes, the exercises served both diplomatic and more practical purposes for New Zealand and Australia.  

Security concerns for New Zealand focus on the sea lines of communication due to heavy reliance on maritime trade; the country’s small blue-water navy is primarily geared for search and rescue and maritime interdiction.  Despite not being allowed to berth ships in Pearl Harbor due to the nuclear-free policy (in contrast to former foes Japan and Russia), Kiwi sailors did not seemed fussed, and took advantage of the nightlife offered by Honolulu.

As we have seen through the signing of the Wellington and Washington Declarations, the current National Government is in agreement with the Obama Administration’s Pacific rebalancing.  Moreover, the close relationship between US Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell and NZ Ambassador to the US Michael Moore, and the work US Ambassador to NZ David Huebner has done in Wellington are examples of peoples and governments that seek mutual benefits and understanding.
Improving understanding rather than compromising on ideals

A question that NZ Defence Minister Coleman will face in meeting with Secretary Panetta is how much more New Zealand will be able to commit to the bilateral relationship without sacrificing its ideals.  There will almost surely be a small demonstration in Wellington during Secretary Panetta’s visit about the TPP, or anti-US policies led by local anarchists from Aro Valley, as there is during most high profile visits.  However, in most cases it seems that the New Zealand government knows when and when not to compromise on foreign policy issues, with bipartisan support for free trade agreements.

New Zealand can leverage an improved defense relationship with the US to secure better terms for the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) and other future trade agreements (including a potential US-NZ FTA as sought by New Zealand).  The latest negotiation terms for the TPP are not public; however controversial public issues being debated concern intellectual property rights and copyright law, both of which have been met by public protests and contestation from New Zealand and Australia.  If the US gets what it wants in terms of defense initiatives, it may soften some of the demands of the TTP and open a path to a US-NZ FTA.

Setting the nuclear-free policy aside, both National and Labour governments have been fairly amicable to US defense relations.  So what more could New Zealand gain from a “stronger and deeper bilateral defense relationship” as set out in the Washington Declaration?  With both sides facilitating the establishment of “regular, senior-level, strategic policy dialogues between the US DoD and NZ Ministry of Defence and NZDF,” New Zealand can not only legitimate the US strategic involvement in the region but can continue to bolster its own authority.  Welcoming perhaps the strongest ally with shared values and democratic ideals can serve to boost Kiwi clout and spur domestic confidence

Development assistance in the Pacific is another area of mutual interest with opportunity for growth.  Australia provides half of all official development assistance to Papua New Guinea and Pacific island countries (AUD$1.17 billion) and New Zealand spends more than half of its country programs budget on Pacific island countries. At the latest Pacific Islands Forum, the US showed that it is ready to lift a portion of the development aid load in the Pacific; US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton announced $32M in new aid programs 18 years after ending such programs in the Pacific.

As former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Secretary Panetta should be attuned to the value that New Zealand provides as a voice and ear in the Asia-Pacific.  One Kiwi commentator wrote that New Zealand should be weary of his arrival in the country, and that the US will ask too much from Kiwis.  However, the RIMPAC ship porting issue notwithstanding, strategic and diplomatic relations between the US and New Zealand have moved forward since 2007.  

Leadership of both states are keen to return to an era of stronger defense ties to help guarantee their security and to enhance stability in the Pacific.  Having met already this year in Washington, DC, the meeting this week between defense bosses is likely more of a touch point to ensure regular high-level dialogue occurs.  With the Washington Declaration in place and successes to build on from the past year, the additional avenues for deepening defense cooperation may be limited but may be milestones nonetheless.


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Friday, September 21, 2012

X-Post: 36th Parallel - Analytic Brief: A Romney Foreign Policy in the Southwestern Pacific.

Source: 36th Parallel

Analysis – By Dr. Paul G. Buchanan.

Introduction: 36th Parallel Assessments Founding Partner Dr. Paul G. Buchanan has been traveling in the US for a month. He has had an opportunity to observe the US election campaign from both coasts, and in this brief discusses the implications for foreign policy of a successful Mitt Romney presidential bid.

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The 2012 US presidential election is focused on economic policy and management, but foreign policy issues have crept into the campaign. The US relationship with Israel, Iran, China, the Arab Middle East and Russia have become the subject of debate between President Obama and the Republican challenger, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. Although Mr. Romney trails in the polls less than two months from the election date, it is worth considering what his election could mean for the US approach to the South and Western Pacific. In this brief 36th Parallel Assessments outlines the conceptual strands informing the Romney foreign policy perspective, then moves to analysis of what it means for future US-Pacific relations.

The core foreign policy approach of the Republican Party has traditionally been realism. Because of the exigencies of the Cold War and its aftermath, Republican realism in practice has had “soft” and “hard” as well as neo-realist variants (in the latter economic power takes precedence over military power in the promotion of national interests). During the Cold War the soft and hard realist versions were applied by presidents Eisenhower and Nixon according to strategic circumstances and diplomatic necessity so that nuance could be achieved in the conduct of US foreign affairs.

Hard realist approaches involve the application of power based on self-interest. Soft realist approaches mitigate the application of power with non-interest based concerns, such as through the provision of humanitarian assistance to non-strategically important countries. For the Republican Party in the late 20th century, the key was to balance the hard, soft and neo-realist approaches to world affairs.  Notable Republican realists include Henry Kissinger, George Schultz, Brent Scowcroft and more recently the strategist Robert Kagan and economist Robert Zoellick.

Paul G. Buchanan

" Compared with other regions, the approach to the Southwest Pacific will be less effected by a change to a Romney administration, but there will be changes nevertheless. The US will take a stronger line on Chinese influence in the Pacific, which will include reassertion of US naval dominance in the South Pacific waterways and sea lanes of communication used by the Chinese for trade and the prioritization of US defense ties to the countries surrounding China. "
Beginning in the 1970s, a line of thought emerged in US politics that came to be known as neo-conservative. Not be confused with neo-liberalism, which is an economic school that follows the monetarist prescription of Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, neo-conservatism is an ideology that extols the moral superiority of  ”American” values and with that the necessary role of the US as the world’s diplomatic arbiter and systems regulator. This requires US preeminence in economics, diplomacy and international security affairs. The vision is eminently idealist in that it speaks to a higher purpose behind American exceptionalism, but is not equivalent to the idealism so often associated with pacifists and traditional political liberals. Prominent neo-conservatives include the late Jeanne Kirkpatrick, Dick Cheney, Richard Perle, Dan Senor, Paul Wolfowitz, John Bolton and Elliot Abrams.

Neo-conservatism gained ground within the Republican Party during the Reagan presidency but saw its influence reduced under the George H. Bush administration (the first president Bush was a committed realist who had an extraordinary amount of experience in international affairs and US foreign policy. He was particularly unimpressed with the neo-conservative desire to re-shape the world in the preferred American image).

In the late 1990s neo-conservatism came back with renewed vigor under the auspices of the Project for a New American Century, which provided the foundations of the George D. Bush foreign policy, particularly after September 11, 2001. Believing that the US continues to be the world’s greatest nation and that its decline is relative, can be arrested and is the product of political failures by Democrats, the neo-conservative approach to foreign policy is interventionist and uni- or bi-lateral in focus. It places great emphasis on asserting US “exceptionalism” via military diplomacy, moral supremacy and economic self-reliance.

Like president Obama before his election, Mitt Romney has virtually no foreign policy experience and is considered to possess a cautious, pragmatic, results-oriented personality. But the similarities end there. Mr. Obama understands the constraints on US power in an increasingly multipolar world (where complete national economic self-reliance is difficult to achieve), whereas Mr. Romney adheres to the belief in American exceptionalism and its continued powers of moral authority on the world stage. He has reconciled his beliefs in the field of foreign policy by appointing a mixture of realists and neo-conservatives to his advisory team. The former include Zoellick, Kagan and William Kristol (and to a lesser extent John McCain), while the latter include Bolton, Wolfowitz , Senor and former ambassador Richard Williamson. Although not working on his campaign, Romney is believed to seek the occasional counsel of Henry Kissinger and Condoleeza Rice (a Sovietologist by training) when necessary.

The general consensus is that Mr. Romney is less evangelical than his neo-conservative advisors, but less pragmatic than his realist counsels. His foreign policy stance is formally based on “American leadership and peace through strength.” However, during the election campaign he has genuflected to the Tea Party movement and conservative Christians in the electorate who are now the core of the Republican base by adopting neo-conservative rhetoric on issues such as Iran, Israel and China.

Paul G. Buchanan

" The US will continue to engage Fiji as it moves to elections in 2014, but its main objective will be to counterbalance Chinese inroads in that country under the Bainimarama regime. This effort will be given additional priority due to the expanding Russian ties to the Fijian regime. Likewise, the US will seek to counter improved Sino-Samoan ties by increasing its engagement with the latter (this will include addressing issues of Western Samoans working in and with American Samoan firms) "
This is not uncommon, as presidential candidates often take more extreme positions on issues of policy while campaigning, then moderate those positions once confronted with the pressures of office (as was the case with president Obama). The question is whether Mr. Romney will jettison the neo-conservative approach if he is elected (which many believe will be the case), or whether the neo-conservatives will be given pride of place in his foreign policy team as a reward for their work in shoring up the Republican base during the campaign.

The bigger issue is that in the words of journalist Bob Woodward, the Republican Party is “at war with itself.” It may be impolitic to say, but the Tea Party tail is wagging the GOP dog, and moderate Republicans–that is, those who were economic and social liberals but security conservatives (hence their realism)–are not only a dying breed but increasingly unwelcome in their traditional party of choice. This forces candidates like Mr. Romney, who is an economic liberal but perhaps more of a social and security conservative than the old “Rockefeller Republicans,” to bow to the nationalistic, isolationist yet internationally messianic Right (a contradiction, to be sure, but that is what the Tea Party movement is). Should he win the election, Mr. Romney will find himself trying to arbitrate the internecine war within the GOP by balancing his cabinet choices. One way of doing so is to have a neo-conservative as Secretary of State and a realist as Secretary of Defense (since Pentagon realism could provide a check on the State Department’s evangelical and interventionist ambitions).

If elected it can be expected that Mr. Romney will continue to advance the US “pivot” towards Asia announced by President Obama. He will, however, have a more militaristic edge to his agenda vis a vis the PRC, as he appears to tie trade and security relations much more tightly than  Obama has done and has spoken of confronting China as a trade cheat and military rival. He will re-focus US attention on Russia, which in a Cold War throw-back he has called the “greatest geopolitical threat” to the US. He will reaffirm US support for Israel, to include its position on occupied territories, negotiations with Palestinian authorities and dealing with Iran (in fact some analysts have suggested that Romney’s personal friendship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has essentially allowed the latter to dictate the candidate’s approach to the Middle East).

Should individuals like John Bolton or Dan Senor be given senior cabinet positions, the possibility of armed conflict with Iran will increase significantly (Bolton, who was US UN ambassador during George W. Bush’s first presidential term and Dan Senor, who was a senior advisor and chief spokesman  in Paul Bremmer’s Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) administration of occupied Iran, are both staunch hawks with regard to Iran and have called for pre-emptive strikes on it to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons).

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It should be noted that Mr. Romney does not have any high profile (ex) military leaders publicly working with his campaign, which leaves it to his civilian advisors to define his security policy. Since the neo-conservatives he is surrounded with are known as “chicken hawks” due to their aversion for military service but advocacy of military interventionism, this places him in the unfortunate dilemma of not having experienced military people vetting some of the more risky policies his advisors advocate.

Because Republicans are not as enthused about multilateral institutions and approaches in international affairs, and because the conservative Right in the US views them with hostility, a re-emphasis on bilateral initiatives and relations can be expected under a Romney presidency. His administration would not abandon multilateralism entirely, especially in the case of ongoing initiatives such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations or International Security Assistance Force draw-down in Afghanistan. If elected, Mr. Romney will reverse the Obama defense cuts currently under discussion, as both sides of his foreign policy team foresee an increased military nature to the competition with China along with the emergence of new state-based security threats in an age of rapidly evolving lethal technologies. He will continue to employ the

Obama’s counter-insurgency strategy against irregular threats, which consists of a “drones and bones” approach where unmanned aerial vehicles and small teams of special operations troops are used to track and hunt down Islamic militants world-wide with or without the cooperation of local governments.
Two areas of agreement between Romney’s foreign policy advisors are the myth of America’s decline and and with regard to the increasingly multipolar nature of the international community. Republican realists and neo-conservatives do not see the US as being in irreversible decline and do not see the rise of middle powers such as those encompassed in the so-called BRICs coming anywhere close to a true multipolar balance of power. They note that the US is still the world’s greatest manufacturing power, the largest trading nation, the core of the world financial system, a leader in aerospace, telecommunications and robotic technologies, and the preferred trade and security partner for a majority of nations, to include some of the newly emerging regional powers. They all concur that unlike the Obama administration’s purported “leading from behind” approach (where the US supports and encourages international endeavors but does not attempt to take the lead in every foreign policy situation), the US is at the very least duty-bound to lead the international community, if not chart the course of international affairs.

Compared with other regions, the approach to the Southwest Pacific will be less effected by a change to a Romney administration, but there will be changes nevertheless. The US will take a stronger line on Chinese influence in the Pacific, which will include reassertion of US naval dominance in the South Pacific waterways and sea lanes of communication used by the Chinese for trade and the prioritization of US defense ties to the countries surrounding China. This ramping up of regional security ties will be aided by the recent US-Australia and US-New Zealand security agreements, which have bolstered the US military relationship with both countries while promoting greater burden sharing by them. As part of its enhanced commitment to bilateral defense ties in the Western Pacific, the US will continue to work to cement its chain of security partners throughout the region, which now include Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines, Brunei, Singapore and Indonesia as well as Australia and New Zealand (the US is also pursuing improved security ties with Malaysia and Vietnam, both of whom have their own concerns about Chinese regional expansionism and in the Vietnamese case a history of enmity with its larger neighbor).

The US will continue to engage Fiji as it moves to elections in 2014, but its main objective will be to counterbalance Chinese inroads in that country under the Bainimarama regime. This effort will be given additional priority due to the expanding Russian ties to the Fijian regime. Likewise, the US will seek to counter improved Sino-Samoan ties by increasing its engagement with the latter (this will include addressing issues of Western Samoans working in and with American Samoan firms). The biggest objective for the US and its main ally, Australia, will be to increase US and Australian influence in the Solomons and Papua New Guinea now that those countries’ on- and off-shore mineral resources are fully exploitable. The scramble for resource sector investment supremacy is on, and since Chinese firms already are involved in resource extractive ventures in these countries as well as other Pacific Island states, Romney’s priority task will be to promote US and Australian commercial interests as the chief competitors to Chinese firms. All of these initiatives are already in place under the Obama administration, but a Romney presidency can be expected to reinforce and accentuate them.

Under a Romney presidency the US would place more emphasis on its individual relations with Pacific countries and less emphasis on regional organizations such as the PIF and SPC. Republicans have questioned the utility of developmental assistance to non-strategic or chronically under-developed nations, so it can be expected that those questions will reverberate in Romney’s foreign policy approach to the South Pacific.

Depending on whether neo-conservatives or realists dominate foreign policy decision-making in a Romney administration, there is the possibility of tensions with China increasing within the region. Neo-conservatives will attempt to reassert the preeminence of US values and US interests  using a harder edged approach than that preferred by the realists, who will continue to emphasize a soft power approach in a region where the PRC cannot yet compete militarily but in which it has much diplomatic and economic clout. The neo-conservatives will drive a harder bargain on Pacific Island Countries when it comes to aid and developmental assistance, although this may prove counter-productive given the inroads the Chinese have already made in the region.

The larger point is that with neo-conservatives at the US foreign policy helm, overall tensions within the region will likely increase as the US toughens its unspoken containment policy vis a vis the Chinese. Should realists control US foreign policy under Mr. Romney, than a continuation of the Obama administration’s “smart” power approach is likely to continue without much alteration, albeit with an increased military emphasis.

Summary. Although it is looking less likely that Mitt Romney will win the 2012 presidential elections, his foreign policy positions provide a good indicator of current Republican approaches to the subject. This is useful for charting future trends should the GOP control Congress for the next four years and/or mount a successful presidential bid in 2016. The important aspects of Republican foreign policy before and after the Romney presidential campaign will be a commitment to unsurpassed world leadership based on military supremacy, moral authority and economic might.
A Romney foreign policy will be less multilateral in its perspective on and engagement with the outside world than that of the current Obama administration, and should neo-conservatives dominate the decision-making process, will be more confrontational and interventionist in nature, to include advocacy of the doctrine of unilateral pre-emption against perceived adversaries and using military diplomacy as the leading instrument of strategic power balancing.
For the Southwestern Pacific this means the possibility of increased US-PRC tensions spilling into regional politics, with a Republican-led US putting more pressure on nations that are attempting to balance US-Sino relations in their own foreign policy approaches. Besides geopolitically important Pacific island states such as Fiji, the main focus will be on Papua New Guinea and New Zealand, with the US and Australia accelerating development of their bilateral military ties in pursuit of better joint force integration and inter-operability.

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