Monday, May 06, 2013

A Tale of Two Summits in the South Pacific.

Attendees to Pacific Defence Ministers meeting in Tonga (Image: Matangi Tonga)

On May 1st 2013, Defence Minister's of Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and representatives from US, UK, France and Chile met for a regional Defence summit in Tonga, a tiny monarchy in the South Pacific.
This inaugural meeting in Nukualofa, discussed aspects of defence and security issues, including maritime security, peacekeeping and disaster relief in the region.
Some bilateral meetings were also conducted between the attendees. One notable agreement of particular interest, which eventually panned out, is the Defence Agreement, signed by Tonga's Prime Minister, Lord Tui'vakano and New Zealand's Defence Minister, Dr Jonathan Coleman.
The Tonga-NZ Visiting Forces Agreement gave clearance on a temporary basis, for the New Zealand Defence Force to stay in Tonga and increase joint operations. Among the objectives, was to improve inter-operability links with the Tonga Defence Service.

French Ambassador to Tonga- arriving in Nukualofa (Image: Matangi Tonga)

Australia Defence Secretary, Steven Smith confirmed some assistance to Tonga Defence Services (TDS) in the form of military equipment and support, amid the looming shadow of budgetary constraints in the Australian Treasury:
“Australia would support the reinvigoration of Tonga’s dedicated sealift capability through the provision of a new Landing Craft. This Landing Craft will enable Tonga to transfer stores, people, and equipment to its outer islands, and will be essential in helping the TDS provide rapid relief in the event of natural disasters. [...]refurbishment of the TDS Naval Base at Masefield, and the reconstruction of TDS Headquarters facilities on the islands of Ha’apai and Vava’u [...]comprehensive support to Tonga’s maritime security through the Pacific Patrol Boat Program. Tongan Navy’s three patrol boats will receive ongoing advisory, training, maintenance, and operational support[…] Australia will maintain its extensive program of training and education support, including through continued officer training at the Australian Defence College and Australian Defence Force Academy, scholarships, single-service courses, and joint training.”

This military assistance and the Defence agreement between Australia, New Zealand, nascent member of NATO global partnership (PDF) and Tonga, a contributor to the (ISAF)International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, only underscores what many observers of NATO had long foreshadowed.
Richard Longworth opinion piece “Beyond NATO” in the American Review magazine highlighted the new global security frameworks:
“Ever since the Cold War ended 20 years ago, NATO has been an alliance without a mission, making itself useful in places like Libya and Afghanistan without the overarching challenge that the Soviet Union provided. The search for that new mandate continues, and the emphasis on partners, including Australia, indicates where NATO may be looking. If the Chicago summit is any guide, NATO is becoming more of a global alliance and less of a European bloc […] As the world’s most successful military alliance, NATO remains a useful umbrella and will no doubt be called upon to bless American forays far from Europe […] This is where the partners come in. The United States will try to get the formal authority of NATO for out-of-area missions, but it will mostly ask the partners to join in the real fighting.”
Rick Rozoff, a longtime observer of NATO, outlined the Pacific dimension:
“ The North Atlantic Alliance in fact has a Pacific strategy. Most of the most recent additions to NATO’s Troop Contributing Countries in Afghanistan have come from Asia-Pacific nations: Malaysia, Mongolia, Singapore, South Korea and Tonga. Japan has dispatched military personnel, medics, as well. Australia and New Zealand have had troops, including special forces, engaged in combat operations in Afghanistan for years. With 1,550 soldiers assigned to the International Security Assistance Force, Australia is the largest troop provider to that NATO operation of any non-NATO country. “
 A report (PDF) from the think tank, Atlantic Council, also envisions a Pacific footing for NATO:
“A new Pacific Peace Partnership would bind NATO to important US allies with shared values and common interests [...] Such a relationship would further the important goal of multilateralizing the US alliance system while permitting NATO to strengthen interoperability with like-minded, capable allies and increase collaboration on shared challenges of borderless scope, like cybersecurity. Furthermore, closer European linkages with key US Pacific partners will help ensure that European allies retain the capacity to shape security in a region toward which the global balance of power is rapidly tilting. It would be better for NATO proactively to build stronger links with like-minded and capable Pacific partners rather than be caught flat- footed in a future contingency.”
G77 summit attendees
G77 Summit attendees (Image: MoI)
An hour or so flight Northwest from Tonga is Fiji-which laid out the welcome mat to a multi-nation summit of a different sort. The diametrical opposing diplomatic approaches taken by the NATO global partners and the G77, to the Pacific region could not be more of a contrast.
President Evo Morales about to drink a bilo of Yaqona  (Image: MoI)
Fiji hosts the G77 and Bolivian President, Evo Morales, is in attendance as chief guest. The G77 being a political-economic bloc, has its core values inextricably linked with South-South cooperation, in which technical and economic development is one of the UN organization''s guiding principle.
President Morales presence in Fiji, is entirely unique because it appears to be the first Head of State from the South American continent and one of an indigenous extraction, to visit the region.
In addition, President Morales celebrated anti-imperial stances (a non-nonsense characteristic, that is devoid in most spineless Pacific island leaders) and whose well grounded assessments of United States foreign policies have been widely documented: 
“Bolivian president Evo Morales criticised US government early today, labelling Obama’s foreign policy as interventionist and authoritarian[...]The empire is no solution, capitalism is no solution for humanity either […] that’s why social movements have to think about new policies to save humanity from imperialism and capitalism.”
President Evo Morales inspects the guard of honor in Fiji. (Image: Moi)
Morales' latest action was capped off last week by expelling the USAID from Bolivia, allegedly for interfering in the country's domestic politics. Bolivia also has some international disagreements with Chile, regarding maritime access to the Pacific ocean. It is certainly not missed by some acute observers, that Chile was also attending the recent Defense Ministers meeting in Tonga.
All things considered, the South Pacific region is rapidly undergoing a re-configuration of the geo-political order. What can be determined of this New Zealand's deployment of troops in Tonga coupled with Australia's garrison of US marines in Darwin?
Undoubtedly, the pre-positioning of military resources in the South Pacific region, dove tails with the overall objective of a global Full Spectrum Dominance of the US and it has become increasingly clear, the magnitude and scope of the 'Great Game' in the Pacific region at large.

(l-r) G77 Chair, Voreqe Bainimarama, President Evo Morales, G77 Executive Secretary (Image : MoI)

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