Showing posts with label Fiji Beta Democracy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Fiji Beta Democracy. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

X-Post: Dominion Post - Fresh Policy Needed With Fiji.

OPINION: New Zealand should be asking itself who rebuffed who in its difficult relationship with Fiji, writes Crosbie Walsh.

Our conflicting image of Fiji - popular tourist destination and unpopular military dictatorship - does little to help us unravel the extremely complex issues that confront this group of islands that are the geographic, communications and economic hub of the South Pacific.
We too easily assume that "democratically elected" is good and "military dictatorship" is bad. We seldom ask whether democracy is always the best means of governance for all cultures, in all situations, and in all countries, and we overlook the possibility that in some situations democracy - and military dictatorships, for that matter - may not be as they seem.

In recent weeks there have been calls, in Australia and New Zealand, to revisit what some, including this writer, see as our failed policy on Fiji. Others, including Victoria University Professor Jonathon Fraenkel, say it is "far better to take the longer view, watch progress carefully on the domestic front, and keep up pressure against the harassment of Fiji's opposition parties, unions and civil society activists" because our "concessions" have been "repeatedly rebuffed" (Let's continue to put the heat on Fiji's strongman, August 14). And so it might seem. Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama has called New Zealand's recent lifting of some sanctions "insincere, unneeded and too late". But who first rebuffed who?
Crosbie Walsh

" [T]he policy has failed us and it has failed Fiji. New Zealand needs a new policy, not a slight easement of the same "

New Zealand imposed travel bans on almost everyone connected with the Bainimarama government - even Fiji's soccer goalkeeper chosen to play against us in a qualifying round of the World Cup.
Many Fijians now have close relatives living or studying overseas. They cannot risk being unable to visit them or seek treatment in our hospitals. Unable to recruit suitably qualified civilians, more military personnel were appointed to senior government positions - and a less tolerant approach to those who opposed the government ensued.

We voted for Fiji's suspension from the Commonwealth and the Pacific Islands Forum. Our efforts also led to the EU and Commonwealth withholding assistance to Fiji's vitally important sugar industry. Fiji responded by forming new international alliances, and it now chairs the UN Group of 77 and the International Sugar Organisation. It has revitalised the Melanesian Spearhead Group, and recently hosted the inaugural meeting of the Pacific Island Development Forum. These moves must weaken the forum, and with it, our influence in the Pacific.

Fiji now has a new constitution. It is not the constitution that many government opponents would prefer, but there are sound reasons for the amnesty and transitional clauses to which they object. It is unrealistic, for example, to expect Mr Bainimarama to hand over power to an interim government that could be dominated by his opponents. To do so, would risk losing all that the government thinks it has achieved, and the coup would have been to no purpose.

Mr Bainimarama's opponents give no credit for his promotion of a common national identity. All citizens are now "Fijian" irrespective of race; all can now proudly say they "belong". And for the first time, schools have civics classes to foster inter-racial understanding. One of the old political parties wants Fiji declared a Christian state, and another wants to retain the discriminatory race-based election system. Both want to restore power to ethnic Fijian chiefs who, before the 2006 coup, appointed the president, and dominated senate and most provincial appointments.

The "old political order" that Mr Bainimarama ousted favoured the urban elite and brought few improvements for the urban or rural poor. His reforms have seen much-needed action on a neglected infrastructure, rural and regional development, fair land leases, housing, education, health, work to reduce endemic corruption, and the now improving economy. His critics accentuate the negatives and recognise not one positive.
Not all is well in Fiji. It was not well in 2006. In some human rights areas it is not well now, but it is naive to think Fiji's major problems will be resolved by a partially, or even a fully, democratic government elected in September 2014.

But from my end of the binoculars, things are improving, and they could have been much better much earlier had the Australian and New Zealand governments adopted a more informed and flexible policy towards Fiji.
It is now nearly seven years since the 2006 coup. I see no evidence that the "heat" has produced any positive changes in or for Fiji, and I doubt it will in the future. Quite frankly, the policy has failed us and it has failed Fiji. New Zealand needs a new policy, not a slight easement of the same.

Crosbie Walsh is an Adjunct Professor of Development Geography at the University of the South Pacific, Suva, where he was the founding director of the Centre of Development Studies. Before this, he was the founding director of the Institute of Development Studies at Massey University. He is now retired. 

Source: Dominion Post

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Friday, September 13, 2013

Fiji PM's Interview With Radio Tarana.

Fiji Prime Minister, Voreqe Bainimarama's full interview with Auckland's Radio Tarana.

(Podcast posted below)

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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A New Chapter in Fiji (Updated)

Fiji's new Constitution was unveiled, by the Attorney General, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum in Suva today. 
The Constitution is available for downloads here (PDF).

Grubsheet's recent post, highlights some sections of the new document.

Member of  the Diplomatic corp in Fiji reading the new document (Image: MoI)

Video of Constitution release (posted below)

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Monday, August 05, 2013

X-Post- Dominion Post: NZ Must Take Balanced Approach To Fiji Govt.

 Source: Dominion Post

There has been a significant change of attitude in Australia to Fiji. Last Tuesday Julie Bishop, deputy leader of the Opposition and shadow minister of foreign affairs and trade, recommended re-engagement with Fiji and the restoration of diplomatic ties with the Bainimarama Government.

In a comment that would have done justice to New Zealand's seemingly forgotten traditional relationship with the Pacific, Ms Bishop said: "We will be guided by the Fijian Government on what they seek from Australia".
She pledged Coalition support "in whatever form Fiji requires" to assist them to get to grips with the challenges involved in establishing a workable parliamentary democracy.

Ms Bishop is, of course, the Opposition representative - though that may change after Australia's election in September. The Australian Labor Government is another matter. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has been the poster boy for a hardline approach to Fiji since the coup in 2006. He and predecessor Julia Gillard have focused simplistically on the need for elections. But there is more to it than that.

Since coming to power, Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama has cracked down on the hitherto strong Fiji trade union movement. Inevitably Australian trade unions reacted strongly to the difficulties of their Fijian colleagues, and their position has had a powerful influence on Labor Party policy. The opposition parties in Australia recognise no such trade union influence. Ms Bishop's remarks, though sensitive and well-focused, are off the official agenda. But they must be seen as a signal and an important one.

Since the coup in 2006, New Zealand and Australia have offered little to Fiji in what could be seen as the collegiality expected as characterising relationships within the Pacific community. Both governments have continued to provide some aid but Fiji needed more than that. Post coup, it wanted the sort of support and relationship now outlined by Ms Bishop, especially when she says "there are very valuable lessons to be learned if we stand in each other's shoes and we try to see issues from each other's perspective".

As I noted in a comment piece three years ago, Fiji's internal tensions since before independence have to be dealt with by Fijians and the decisions reached have to be accepted by the Pacific and wider community.
Now there are further developments. Since 2006, Fiji has not stood still.
Gerald McGhie

" I am advocating is that New Zealand take a more balanced approach to Fiji. The Australian Opposition has taken an early lead. The key for New Zealand is to again speak in the Pacific with a New Zealand voice, re-establish positive contact with Fiji "

A range of countries have been welcomed in Suva and Fiji has become an active member of the Melanesian spearhead group - which contains the potentially rich Pacific island states. Fiji has also gained the prestigious position of chair of the non-aligned meeting where it has established a high- profile among delegates.
China-Fiji relations have developed strongly, and Fiji's much-sought-after soldiers are well represented in British and United Nations operations in many of the world's hot spots.

The Australian comments are in marked contrast to those coming from New Zealand. In a speech on New Zealand's place in the world late last year, Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Phil Goff made little reference to the Pacific and in later discussion emphasised his continuing view that human rights were the key to progress in Fiji.

Of course, human rights are important and coups cannot be condoned but, given Mr Goff's persistent concerns about human rights and illegal seizures of power, I might have expected a stiff comment on recent developments in Egypt where what looks very like a military coup has taken place. The New Zealand Government also appears to be remarkably quiet on Egypt.

What I am advocating is that New Zealand take a more balanced approach to Fiji. The Australian Opposition has taken an early lead. The key for New Zealand is to again speak in the Pacific with a New Zealand voice, re-establish positive contact with Fiji and, while not accepting the coup, come up with alternative policies in a context of co- operation.

Negotiations will not be easy. But if understandings can be agreed and adhered to, at least there will be some structure on which to build a better relationship.There may be a sense within the Wellington policy establishment that Suva is simply waiting for New Zealand to welcome them back to the Commonwealth, Pacific Forum and PACER trade negotiations. In fact it may not be quite that clear-cut.

Fiji now has a substantial - but not dominant - grouping that asks why they should bow to New Zealand. They point to Fiji's substantial gains since the coup in spite of Australia and New Zealand sponsored opposition and at times hostility. They consider that they should build on their new structures.

The reality is that New Zealand must undertake a similar repositioning to that of the Australian Opposition.
This means a rethink in terms of policy and, even more important, of attitude - leading to less exhortation and more patient discussion. It is now probably too late but if sufficient goodwill is generated, New Zealand might get Fiji's support in its bid for the 2014 Security Council seat. It depends on the quality of diplomacy.

Gerald McGhie is a former diplomat with many years of experience in the Pacific. He is a former director of the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs.

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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

X-Post: Pacific Sccop - Two Faces Of International Power: Fiji and Egypt.

Source: Pacific Scoop: Commentary – By Dr Scott MacWilliam

Dr Scott MacWilliam (Image: Mary Walta)
The reactions after the 2006 coup in Fiji was very different from the recent coup in Egypt, even though both coups overthrew democratically elected governments. 

In July 2013, a military regime overthrew and imprisoned an elected Prime Minister and government, jailing as well as killing regime supporters. The US, Australian and New Zealand governments have done little more than warn their citizens about the possible dangers of travelling to that country as the protests against army rule escalate.

The Australian Foreign Minister Senator Bob Carr, a USA-phile and most suitable deputy sheriff has been conspicuously silent about a democratically-elected government being overthrown in a coup. Foreign aid has continued from the USA, including military aid despite ostensible bans against such assistance: a get-out clause in the relevant legislation has been invoked to permit the continuing provision of arms and other aid.

Bob Carr On Egypt- (Interview with Fran Kelly- Radio National

" I think it’s got to be considered as a military intervention whether it can be regarded as a coup I think will depend on what happens now[...]We’re not supporting it, we’re not opposing it. We’re saying all sides should show restraint."

No travel bans have been put in place against any of the coup-makers or the new regime’s top officials, even as the death toll among civilian protesters rises.  IMF officials are now more willing to advance a massive, previously delayed dollar loan to assist rebuild the country’s fragile economy.

On December 5, 2006, in another country Fiji, a military regime overthrew an elected Prime Minister and government.  For that coup the international response was and remains quite different, a difference examined here.

The responses to events in Egypt and Fiji will immediately raise the question of how to explain the actions of particular ‘western’ governments: hypocrisy, or two faces of liberal democratic power?

Military action

The first step in constructing an explanation is a rejection of the romantic idea that military action is incompatible with liberal representative democracy. A useful starting point is the recognition that in both Egypt and Fiji, the elections which preceded the coups as well as the governments which were subsequently deposed were military-supervised and backed.

Prior to the 2001 election in Fiji military commander, now PM Frank Bainimarama publicly stated that only the SDL leader Laisenia Qarase would be acceptable as PM. Qarase had himself been installed by the military before the election as the least worse option compared to the initial candidate proposed by the nationalist insurgents who had taken over parliament the previous year. There would be no return to the previously elected FLP Mahendra  Chaudhry-led Peoples Coalition government, an outcome also favoured by foreign governments.

In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood-led government formed after the 2011 elections which followed the ousting of long-term dictator Hosni Mubarak also received initial military support. This was even though the party won a near-majority of seats with only slightly more than 30 per cent of the 60 per cent of the eligible electorate who voted.  That is, the government had simple majority support not absolute.

What followed the Egyptian parliamentary elections and the presidential election in the following year was a government which sought to implement a political platform that was sectarian.

The parallels with the post-election behaviour of the Qarase government deserve consideration. In Egypt, the government headed after the presidential elections by the Brotherhood’s candidate Mohamed Morsi took an Islamist route, whereas in Fiji the Qarase government was suffused with nationalist indigenous zeal, leavened by Methodism and intolerance to other religions.

In both cases the military withdrew its earlier hesitant support, and toppled the elected government promising fresh elections under revised rules, forms of constitutional reform.

Different reactions

However for Fiji, international condemnation of the 2006 coup was immediate: it took just one day for Liberal Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and the Department of Foreign Affairs to impose sanctions aimed at the restoration of the Qarase government and ‘returning the military to the barracks’.
These sanctions were retained by the Kevin-Rudd led ALP government which won the 2007 elections and re-confirmed by the subsequent Gillard ALP -led coalition government.  The increase in Australian aid since 2006 has been matched by deliberate attempts to ensure that the Fijian government’s support throughout the region remains limited.
Scott MacWilliam

" The responses to events in Egypt and Fiji will immediately raise the question of how to explain the actions of particular ‘western’ governments: hypocrisy, or two faces of liberal democratic power?"

It is tempting to describe the differing behaviours of the three foreign governments to mere hypocrisy, what has been described as ‘the state of pretending to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that one does not actually have’. However, there is far more at work here.

The differences between the official government responses to the two coups are so striking that it is worth asking if and what do events in Egypt suggest about the behaviour of ANZ governments to the coup and subsequent military takeover in Fiji. In other words why the appearance of hypocrisy, democracy for Fijians but not for Egyptians, and what does this appearance screen?

While the Egyptian military’s under-pinning of all governments in that country has some similarities with the military’s role in post-independence Fiji, there is at least one major difference.

Successive US governments have bolstered the Egyptian military, and thus a dictator such as Mubarak, because of that country’s crucial role in the region. Access to oil supplies provides a major component of the US and western European foreign policy position, with the fear of radical Islam of increasing importance.
For Egypt , US foreign policy has hewed to the well-established line: ‘we don’t care if there is a dictatorship as long as it is our dictator’.

Democracy and dictatorship

The only comparable role which the Fijian military has played is in providing peace-keeping support, much of it in that same ‘Middle East’ region.

However for Fiji, not strategically significant though becoming more so as the consequence of a growing Chinese influence in the South Pacific, liberal democratic governments have shown the always present other policy face, that concerned with imposing  representative democracy no matter how thin or shallow.

This face suits ANZ governments in particular because of close ties with the people and commercial concerns reduced in importance by the Bainimarama government. Re-installing these particular interests under the banner of bringing economic growth and political stability is, in the eyes of those who hold political power in ANZ, best served in Fiji by representative democracy.

Despite all the defects of the 1997 constitution, with its unelected president, upper house of parliament and Great Council of Chiefs, malapportioned electorates, institutionalised racist identification with citizenship, this remains the bedrock of what ANZ governments see as the appropriate democratic form for Fiji.

In Egypt, however, democratic form is unimportant for the USA and ANZ governments: military power which can bring order, however temporary, is preferable and the flow of international funds can occur.
Which of the two faces will be foremost after the next elections in each country will, of course, be largely irrelevant for the bulk of the people whose impoverishment has been and continues to be a major feature of life in both countries.

For the reductions in living standards have been much longer term in Egypt and in Fiji, with Ratu Mara noting in 1994 the extent of unemployment and impoverishment particularly among the young.  Indeed what is more and more apparent is that neither representative democracy nor military dictatorship has a direct causal connection with improvement in living standards.  The two faces of international power serve other objectives.

Dr Scott MacWilliam is  a Visiting Fellow, State Society and Governance in the Melanesia Programme, School of International, Political and Strategic Studies, Australian National University in Canberra. He is a contributor to Pacific Scoop.

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Friday, April 19, 2013

X-Post: Grubsheet - The Pacific Axis Shifts.

Source: Grubsheet

An outstanding success: Voreqe Bainimarama arrives in Port Moresby (Photo:ABC)
An outstanding success: Voreqe Bainimarama arrives in Port Moresby (Photo:ABC)

There’s elation in Fijian Government circles over the highly successful outcome of this week’s visit to Papua New Guinea by the Prime Minister, Voreqe Bainimarama, at the head of the biggest Fijian trade and investment mission ever to visit another country. The original aims of the visit were ambitious enough – to lay more of the foundation for the creation of a single, integrated market for the countries of the Melanesian Spearhead Group. Yet the results exceeded even the most ambitious expectations of the PM, his Foreign Minister, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, and the trade delegation of 65 Fijian business leaders from 47 companies. 

Commodore Bainimarama described himself as being “on a high”. And the normally ultra-calm and measured Permanent Secretary for Trade and Industry, Shaheen Ali, said he was “overwhelmed” by the “marvelous” outcome of the visit. Within hours, some of the Fijian companies were already receiving orders and entering into agreements with PNG suppliers and distributors. And by day two of the mission, two more Fijian businesses had registered as foreign investors in PNG. This is in addition to the F$180-million investment by Fiji’s national superannuation fund, the FNPF, in Bemobile – a major telecommunications provider in PNG and Solomon Islands – and the management takeover of its operations by Vodafone Fiji.

The Fijian Government sees itself as equal partners with PNG in ultimately leading the other MSG countries into an economic union to improve the lives of every Melanesian. There’s a notable absence of rivalry of the sort we’ve witnessed over the years in Europe, where Germany, France and Britain have consistently maneuvered for advantage in the European Union. As Fiji sees it, Papua New Guinea has the biggest market – seven million people compared to around 900,000 here – plus the massive wealth that flows from its minerals and energy sectors. And Fiji has an established manufacturing base, a skilled and educated workforce and is positioned at the crossroads of the Pacific. 

In other words, their assets are complimentary. Each country has its particular challenges – Papua New Guinea with corruption and lawlessness and Fiji still grappling with finally putting to rest the divisions that have hampered its development since Independence. Yet there’s a strong feeling on both sides that working in tandem in a joint leadership role is the best way to improve the lives of their own citizens and their Melanesian brothers and sisters in the smaller MSG states. 

There’s no doubt that Melanesian solidarity generally was a big beneficiary of this visit. As Commodore Bainimarama put it, PNG -Fiji ties go way beyond the mutual respect and cooperation that is the traditional benchmark of diplomacy. The peoples of both countries genuinely like each other, enjoy each other’s company and share a vision of a stronger Melanesia building a common economic and political future for all its citizens. And of course, both Governments bear significant grudges against the most dominant power in the region, Australia, which they regard as generally arrogant, overbearing and indifferent to Melanesian sensibilities. The same applies to New Zealand, albeit to a lesser extent.

As Grubsheet has written before, Australia’s mishandling of its Pacific neighbours – and especially Fiji – is a mistake of historical proportions. Its failure to fully engage with them, let alone comprehend their challenges, and its propensity to prescribe and even hector, has driven influential Pacific countries like Fiji and PNG further into each other’s arms and the arms of others outside the region. The Australian trade union heavies and their stooge of a Prime Minister who currently determine Pacific policy – and the foreign affairs establishment which implements it – seem to have little concept of Melanesian sensitivities and protocols. 

It’s well known in Suva than even the mention of Australia can trigger a surge of anger in Prime Minister Bainimarama, who feels sorely aggrieved that Canberra chose not to even  sit down with him, let alone try and comprehend his reforms. During this visit, the PM kept his counsel, adhering to the diplomatic convention of not criticising another country on someone else’s soil. In fact, it was the Papua New Guineans who made unflattering public comments about Australia. PNG’s Trade Minister, Richard Maru, accused Canberra of using his country as a “dumping ground” for its goods and said it wasn’t in Australia’s interests for the Melanesian countries to become self sufficient in anything. If that was what was being said publicly, then we can be sure that the language behind the scenes would have been a lot more colourful. The shared grievances of both governments about Australia would have been fully aired.

Certainly, there was general astonishment about the way in which this visit appeared to have been downplayed by Australia’s national broadcaster, the ABC, which also has a significant presence in PNG. Aside from one story that correctly cited a series of “historic” agreements, the rest of the visit was generally ignored. Indeed on the first day, Radio Australia’s current affairs program, Pacific Beat, chose to lead with an item criticising Fiji’s constitutional process rather than give weight to the region’s two biggest and most influential island countries forging closer ties. It merely reinforced the notion in Fijian minds of the ABC’s chronic bias against the Bainimarama Government and Radio Australia as a lapdog of Canberra’s foreign policy. By any normal journalistic standard, this was a big Pacific story of significant interest to the populations of PNG and Fiji and, to a lesser extent, those of Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and the Kanaks of New Caledonia, who make up the rest of the MSG. It was buried. 

Is Australia sensitive about the fact that its so-called smart sanctions against Fiji haven’t turned out to be smart at all? You bet. American diplomats report that far from modifying their policies in the face of defeat, the Australians have stepped up their efforts internationally to isolate Fiji. Was Commodore Bainimarama’s visit a collective two-finger salute to Australia? Well, maybe just a little. Yet the overriding sentiment in official circles in Suva nowadays is that Australian attitudes are irrelevant. In any event, Blind Freddy can see that Julia Gillard’s Government is toast -with a 29 per cent primary vote in the most recent opinion poll – and that Australian policy towards Fiji is bound to be more realistic, if not more favourable, when the Coalition’s Tony Abbott storms into power in the Australian election in September. A full year out from the promised Fijian poll, Abbott and his likely foreign minister, Julie Bishop, will have ample time to end Labor’s vendetta and rebuild the relationship. 

There were many highpoints of this visit, not least the Bemobile signing -Fiji’s biggest foreign investment on behalf of all Fijians through the FNPF in one of the most dynamic sectors of the global economy- telecommunications. The Government’s critics continually harp on about the FNPF putting the retirement savings of ordinary Fijians at risk. Yet with Vodafone Fiji running Bemobile, the potential to grow that investment seems rock solid. In Fiji, there are more mobile phones than people – a penetration rate of 105 per cent. In Papua New Guinea, the penetration rate is 35 per cent. That’s a lot of potential customers and a lot of mobile phones.

Among other highlights of the visit:

  • ·      The announcement that citizens of both countries will no longer require visas to visit each other. This is on top of existing plans to achieve a seamless flow of labour between the MSG countries.

  •  ·      The provision for retired Fijian civil servants – who are obliged to vacate their jobs at 55 – to work in Papua New Guinea to boost the local skills base.

  •  ·      The plan for a permanent Fiji Trade Mission in Port Moresby and the continuation of the joint effort to break down the remaining impediments to trade and investment, with a view to developing a common market.

  • Most important of all – at least in the shorter term – is the financial support Papua New Guinea has offered Fiji to conduct its election in September 2014 and introduce the first genuine parliamentary democracy in the country’s history of one-person, one vote, one value.

According to officials travelling with Commodore Bainimarama, the PM couldn’t believe his ears when the amount of the PNG contribution was announced out of the blue by his opposite number, Peter O’Neill. “What did he say?”, he asked. At first, the Ministry of Information flashed a media release that the amount was 15-million Kina. But it soon became clear that the fifteen was actually FIFTY. A sense of astonishment, delight and gratitude swept the Fijian delegation and text messages lit up in the corridors of power in Suva. More than 40-million Fijian dollars!  By any standards and especially in the Pacific, it is an astonishingly generous amount. 

This contribution has sealed the Fiji-PNG relationship and laid to rest the concerns of some that PNG was more intent on cementing its own interests during this visit than pursuing a genuinely equal partnership. It means that Fiji no longer requires other outside assistance to finance the poll, and especially from those countries or groups of countries like the European Union, which appear more interested in using the money as political leverage than in assisting Fijians to determine their own future. Instead of having election observers from the EU – as happened controversially in 2006 – the Prime Minister wants election observers from PNG and the other MSG countries. He accused the EU observers of endorsing a “flawed” election in 2006 and said Fiji wanted an observer group with “integrity”. This will not be music to the ears of Fiji’s voluble EU Ambassador, Andrew Jacobs, who before the PNG announcement, was telling people that Fiji would need to  approach the EU for assistance and accept certain conditions that are now decidedly moot.

With Commodore Bainimarama having now travelled across the world to New York to chair a meeting of the G77 Plus China and the rest of the Fijian delegation making its way home, it’s clear that this visit has been an outstanding success. History may also judge it as the week that Fiji and PNG cemented their common future and came to realise more fully the potential they have – working together – to establish the MSG as the pre-eminent regional grouping and its integration as the best way to improve the lives of all Melanesians. One thing is certain. The axis of power in the Pacific is gradually shifting, whether Australia, NZ and their Polynesian client states such as Samoa like it or not.  

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Thursday, January 31, 2013

X-Post : The Strategist - Why Carr Needs The Velvet Glove More Than The Iron Fist.

31 Jan 2013
By Richard Herr
"More velvet, eh?"

On my flight home from Fiji recently, I was struck by the continuing negativism of the arguments regarding Australian relations with Fiji. Rowan Callick’s commentary in the Weekend Australian is another example of a tough line on Fiji without any positive proposals. The one element of novelty in Callick’s piece, however, is the suggestion that Carr’s ‘soft’ approach toward the Government of Commodore Voreqe (‘Frank’) Bainimarama is the reason why Fiji has slipped the leash and gone feral recently. But this belies the evidence of the past six years. When has the Bainimarama Government ever been on an Australian leash or even responded positively to pressure from Canberra?

Having viewed the changing events in Fiji fairly closely in a variety of roles over the past six years, I find it difficult to see how the tactics that have failed to have any influence on the course of Fiji’s return to democracy since the December 2006 military coup will work in the 18 months before Fiji is due to go to elections. And this view has been bolstered by a week in Suva talking with a range of people that included participants in the constitutional process, current and former members of Government and academics. More of the same intransigence simply will not to produce a different outcome.

The Bainimarama Government has neither deviated from the roadmap’s timing for the return to democracy that it announced in July 2009 and nor has it altered this timetable since Bob Carr became Foreign Minister. Still, it’s a welcome development that Carr apparently has accepted this—albeit at a fairly low level—but it’s far too late to have the sort of influence that was on offer at the beginning of 2008.

The deepening frustration with Canberra since July 2009 comes from seeing Australian Governments refusing to set incremental steps for returning to a balanced relationship; of being obdurate even to the point of reneging on an agreement. Fiji’s lifting of censorship rules, withdrawal of the public emergency regulations, registering of voters and starting of the constitutional process have all been greeted with ‘not enough’ from Canberra.

The Bainimarama Government nevertheless expected some improvement in relations after the July 2012 tripartite agreement between Australia, Fiji and New Zealand to restore High Commissioners and relax some visa sanctions. However, to its genuine disappointment, many in Government in Suva saw little real change. They smile wryly at Australian critics who interpreted Carr’s expression of understanding over some of the complexities of the drafting of a new constitution as example of unwarranted appeasement.

Understanding scarcely constitutes undeserved compassion in a sanctions regime against Fiji which includes elements that, arguably, would be illegal if applied domestically—such as those against family members of targeted officials. Indeed, within the Fiji Government, the travel sanctions against it are claimed to be more extensive than even those against Mugabe at his worst. Yet, for all their severity, the critics can’t point to a single positive instance where these sanctions have hastened the return to democracy in Fiji by so much as a day.

Richard Herr

" Whether anyone one in Canberra wants to admit it, Australia has suffered a retreat from influence within our region and its institutions; a decline of support from our neighbours in the United Nations; and diminished respect from key allies in the South Pacific on regional affairs."
Seen from the Suva perspective, there hasn’t been a skerrick of public encouragement to mark the passing of the roadmap’s milestones to elections. The most recent disappointment was the denial of a visa to Aisake Taito, the chief executive of the Fiji National Provident Fund (a Government enterprise) and Bainimarama’s brother-in-law, who was to make a business trip to Australia at the end of December. Suva saw this as a clear breach of the July 2012 tripartite agreement. According to one commentator, it’s now highly likely that the Government’s response will be to refuse Margaret Twomey a chance to present her credentials as the first Australian High Commissioner to Fiji since James Batley was expelled in November 2009.

Whether anyone one in Canberra wants to admit it, Australia has suffered a retreat from influence within our region and its institutions; a decline of support from our neighbours in the United Nations; and diminished respect from key allies in the South Pacific on regional affairs. These foreign policy consequences for the contretemps between Australia and Fiji shouldn’t be used to excuse the weaknesses in the political processes of Fiji today but the critics, especially those so vocal in the Australian media, should be consistent in their expectations.

Even supporters of the Bainimarama Government have been disappointed that it hasn’t taken every opportunity to demonstrate the bona fides of its professed reformist goals. This includes, most recently, aspects of the constitutional process and the edict regulating political parties as well as a renewed activism by the Republic of Fiji Military Forces. Nevertheless, the present Government is the only game in town at least until 2014. Canberra needs to recognise this even as its South Pacific allies have already done. Moreover, Canberra needs to recognise and address the fact that Fiji has its own complaints against Australia.

It’s impossible to prove that a gentler, more engaged approach to the Bainimarama Government would have accelerated the return to democracy or made the path to democracy smoother. What’s undeniable is that the hard line approach advocated by critics over the years hasn’t prevented any of the adverse consequences of the toxic political relationship between the two countries. Indeed, it has contributed demonstrably to these outcomes. Failing to reset policy settings with regard to Fiji until ‘after free and fair elections in 2014’ merely demonstrates this ineffectiveness. Worse, where does Canberra go when elections are held under a constitution it regards as flawed by a process it deems biased? Does Australia rail against the result as not ‘free and fair’ and so maintain the sanctions that have had no effect?

It’s far too late to expect any great Australian influence on Suva’s charted course to the 2014 elections. But there’s much to be done to assist technically with the preparations for them, if Bainimarama will accept help now. If not, it’s still essential to prepare the ground for more effective relations after the elections. Hectoring from the bunkers is not only a demonstration of impotence; it is also preparing a grave for future relations.

Richard Herr is honorary director of the Centre for International and Regional Affairs, University of Fiji. Some of these themes will be explored more fully with regards to the broader implications for Australia’s security interests in Melanesia at RUSI’s forthcoming 2nd International Defence and Security Dialogue. Image courtesy of Flickr user Asia Society.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

X-Post: 36th Parallel - Futures Forecast: A “Guarded” Democracy in Fiji.

Source: 36th Parallel

Written by Paul Buchanan on Thursday, January 17th, 2013

Change of Guard Ceremony, Government House, Suva. Republic of Fiji Military Forces hand over guardship to Republic of Fiji Police, January 1, 2012. Photo: RAMA, Fiji Sun (

Revelations that the Fijian military-bureaucratic regime has rejected important aspects of the draft constitution submitted by a panel of international jurists led by professor Yash Ghai has made clear the intentions of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces (RFMF) to continue to play a core role in Fijian politics after the 2014 elections.
That has led observers to question the RFMF’s commitment to democracy, and led some to wonder if the elections will even be held as scheduled. As things stand a constituent assembly selected from a variety of stake-holding groups by current Prime Minister, Commodore Frank Baimimarama, will be convened in March 2013 with a charge to deliver the constitution for ratification by September. Once ratified, that constitution will be the foundational charter under which the September 2014 elections will be held.

There appears to be a consensus amongst foreign observers that the military objections to the draft charter are a sign of its reneging on its promise to restore democratic governance in 2014. Many see this as a sign of bad faith on the part of Commodore Baimimarama and the RFMF. In truth, this view may have neglected what the RFMF had in mind all along when it proposed the 2014 elections and hand-over date. What it had in mind was not a liberal democracy akin to those of its traditional patrons. Instead, what it envisioned, and which it has been pretty honest about when speaking of its vision of Fiji’s political future, is something that emerged in the 1980s and 1990s in Latin America and Southeast Asia: a “protected” or “guarded” democracy as a successor the the military-authoritarian regime. The concept is neither new or novel, and the learning curve derived from the precedent of larger countries is clear in the Fijian case. Fijian use of comparative referents is not unusual in any event.

Before detailing the specifics of “guarded” democratic regimes and the future of such in Fiji, it is worth reviewing some basic issues in constitution-drafting. Constitutions basically outline procedural and substantive guarantees. Procedural guarantees refers to the rules of the political “game:” who gets to vote, how they vote, how the votes are counted, who is eligible for office, how voting is apportioned, the duties and responsibilities of government and its respective agencies, the rights are people entitled to in and outside of the political process, etc.

Substantive guarantees refer to the privileges accorded citizens: free speech, freedom of thought, association and movement, the right to cultural autonomy and identity, and often much more. Some constitutions are drafted along “minimalist” lines in that they refer mostly to procedural rather than substantive guarantees. Others are more ambitious, detailing substantive rights to education, health, housing, welfare, caloric intake, a role in governance and redress for past injustices. It goes without saying that the latter are harder to implement. In most instances constitutions are a blend of procedural and substantive guarantees, usually with an eye to providing the basic foundations for governance in which the rule of law can apply (and in which substantive guarantees can be negotiated).

A “guarded” or “protected” democracy is one in which elected civilian authorities constitute the government, and in which the universal rule of law applies. However, unlike liberal democracies,where the military is subordinate to civilian authority,  in guarded democracies the military as an institution serves as the ultimate arbiter of policy decisions.

Unlike limited democracies, in which the franchise and collective rights are circumscribed, in guarded democracies there are no limitations on individual or collective freedoms, including the right to vote. Nor is the military directly involved in politics. Instead, in a guarded democracy the military serves as an unelected overseer of the political system precisely because it sees itself as an apolitical, autonomous and professional commonweal organization not beholden to partisan interests.

Guarded democracies are not military authoritarianism wrapped in civilian garb.

If the civilian government operates within the operational and policy parameters established by the military in the transition to electoral rule, then the military stays in the barracks and out of politics. It is only when civilian authorities are perceived by the military hierarchy to be overstepping their bounds (as defined by the military), that the armed forces as an institution intervene in the political process. This makes the military the power behind the throne and encourages self-limiting behavior on the part of civilian political elites.

36th Parallel's Paul Buchanan

" what [RFMF] envisioned, and which it has been pretty honest about when speaking of its vision of Fiji’s political future, is something that emerged in the 1980s and 1990s in Latin America and Southeast Asia: a “protected” or “guarded” democracy as a successor the the military-authoritarian regime[...]

The regime’s position is strengthened because large parts of Fijian society support its views on constitutional reform, and it has the support of foreign states [...]

The trouble with the negatively absolutist view is that it offers no incentive structure for the Fijian regime to do anything other than its current course of action. Moreover, the disincentive structure that it favors, sanctions, suspensions and exclusion, simply have not and will not work. Thus those who advocate such a view, be they states or non-state actors, have no leverage in the process. "
From its statements the Fijian military regime has been clear in what it expects of the new constitution. First, it expects that the concept of one adult citizen=one vote will apply. Second, it expects that all ethnic and sectoral preferences in politics will be eliminated. Third, it expects that public service autonomy and freedom from political interference will be enshrined in law (ostensibly as an anti-corruption measure but also as a means of ensuring the positions of the numerous military and ex-military appointees hired into the public service over the last six years). Fourth, it expects that the military will be allocated the role of “guardian” of the nation, including oversight and veto power over the policy decisions of elected civilian political authorities.

The latter, which is a substantive guarantee to the RFMF, is designed as a check on the demagogic and populist instincts of civilian politicians. Coupled with the pro-military bias of the post-authoritarian public bureaucracy, this limits the effective power of civilian government when it comes to making policy or political choices inimical to the military vision of the “proper” role of civilian elected authority in the Fijian context.
Although there are many specific points of detail in its ideal version, the Baimimarama regime prefers a constitution with a broad procedural minimum and selective substantive guarantees that favor military institutional interests.

Leaked copy of Draft Fijian Constitution. Photo: Australian Network News (

That is why the RFMF has rejected the draft constitution. Due to the tone of the rejection and the often personalized nature of the remarks of military spokespeople with regard to the reasons for the rejection, the regime will not request revisions from the international consitution-drafting committee. Instead, the regime will use offer its own revised constitutional template as the basis for the deliberations of the constituent assembly.  This includes elimination of provisions drafted by the Constitutional Committee that give civil society actors a formal place in political decision-making and agenda-setting, and insertion of military guarantees along the lines mentioned above.

The March 2013 date for appointment of the constituent assembly will go ahead on schedule, as will the September 2013 delivery and ratification of the new constitution. Regardless of the concerns of foreign and domestic actors about the nature of the post-authoritarian regime, Commodore Baimimarama and his supporters have the dominant position in the lead-up to these milestones.

The regime’s position is strengthened because large parts of Fijian society support its views on constitutional reform, and it has the support of foreign states, China and Russia in particular, regardless of the final charter or the nature of the post-authoritarian regime. So long as that regime meets its (diplomatic, social and economic) contractual obligations to its supporters and foreign states, it will be seen as legitimate in the eyes of the majority of domestic and foreign actors. This leaves the domestic opposition as well as foreign states that support a complete transition to elected civilian rule in a quandary. Some foreign actors such as Australia and New Zealand have financially supported the constitutional panel’s draft-making, and have tacitly admitted that the previous sanctions regime imposed on the military authoritarians by a group of Western states has failed.

The domestic opposition has been vocal about its opprobrium of Commodore Baimimarama and his colleagues, seeing no role for them, either individually or institutionally, in the post-authoritarian regime. Yet neither set of actors can play a dominant role in, much less set the terms of the negotiations that will determine the final constitutional draft submitted in September 2013.

In light of these factors, it would seem that the best option for “pro-democracy”  interests to regard the constitution-drafting process and subsequent elections leading to a “guarded” democracy as a step forward towards “genuine” democracy rather than as a reneging on a promise by the Baimimarama regime. Given realities on the ground, adoption of the latter posture will be counter-productive and further alienate the Fijian civil-military coalition from foreign and domestic interlocutors.

Adoption of the former stance allows these interlocutors to stay in the game, metaphorically speaking, in order to pursue an incremental gains strategy in which the gradual evolution towards liberal democracy (which includes military subordination to civilian elected authority and institutions) is advanced. That may be a long-term game, but it could well be the only game with a chance of success if success is defined as the end of military guardianship of elected government.

Already, differences in approach are evident between key foreign states. Australia has responded with caution, agreeing with some of the Baimimarama regime’s objections to the draft charter. This appears indicative of an incremental gains approach to the issue of Fijian democratization. New Zealand and Samoa have responded more negatively, arguing that the rejection of the draft constitution is evidence of the military regime’s disinterest in real democratic promotion. The US and other external actors, to include China, India and Russia, have remained largely silent on the matter, which in diplomatic parlance equates to tacit acceptance of the regime’s position.

Foreign non-governmental organizations, including the international union movement, also take a negatively absolutist stance, decrying a dictatorial take-over of the constitution-drafting process. The trouble with the negatively absolutist view is that it offers no incentive structure for the Fijian regime to do anything other than its current course of action. Moreover, the disincentive structure that it favors, sanctions, suspensions and exclusion, simply have not and will not work. Thus those who advocate such a view, be they states or non-state actors, have no leverage in the process. That is why, even if by default or as a second-best option, the incremental gains strategy is the best option for those interested in seeing Fiji progress away from military-authoritarian rule.

Futures Forecast: The Fijian Constitutional Congress will deliver a constitutional draft in 2013 that conforms to the military-authoritarian regime’s preferred vision. This will be ratified and elections leading to the installation of a “guarded” democratic regime will be held in September 2014. The post-authoritarian regime will be recognized as legitimate by the international community. The influence of Commodore Baimimarama and RFDF command will remain pervasive in Fijian politics regardless of whether the Commodore runs for elected office or not.


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Friday, January 11, 2013

You Can't Please Everyone- Fiji's Draft Constitution

Jenny Hayward Jones latest post on The Interpreter on Fiji's draft constitution has some valid points, buttressed by conjecture:
This announcement was the culmination of a campaign from the Fiji regime to distance itself from the Commission it had itself established, which begs the question of why the regime bothered with the expense and effort of engaging international expertise, attracting support from donors and seeking the views of the people[...] It is difficult now to see how the Constituent Assembly, even if it has a fair representation, will have a reasonable opportunity to provide independent advice on the new constitution. It seems likely it will be hounded into rubber stamping the regime's new draft, with only a month promised for consideration.
Grubsheet post addressed some of the reservations Jones had penned:
Some, of course, will accuse the Government of disregarding the advice of the constitutional referee it appointed because what he came up with didn’t suit its purposes. Others who appeared before the Commission or lodged submissions will be aggrieved that the views they expressed are being ignored. Yet as the Bainimarama Government sees it, there are sound reasons for it to take the course it has and also to be aggrieved about many of the provisions of the document bequeathed to the nation by Professor Ghai and his fellow Commissioners.

Croz Walsh latest post, further provides salient points and reminds the astute political observer of the ineffable setbacks on Fiji's path:
The road from December 2006 to the promised elections in 2014 was never going to be an easy one. The potholes and patch-overs have proved to be far worse than those on Fiji roads.  And, as with the roads where cyclones, floods and poor workmanship, have often undone the good work, so also in the political scene.  Promising steps forward have too often been followed by too many steps back.
Jones while seemingly concerned about the democracy in Fiji, however- Jones' florid sentiments on Fiji's future democracy are incredibly disingenuous and misleading:
Fiji may end up with a flawed democracy but it wouldn't be the first flawed democracy to participate in international forums and enjoy stable diplomatic relations with the world's powers. Many flawed democracies have improved over time and even though Fiji has a way to go, there has at least been a public discussion about the future, which cannot be undone.
Croz outlined the benevolent policies :
There is far more to the credit of a government that launched the People's Charter that won the support of two-thirds of the adult population, despite opposition from these self-same critics and others in the old political establishment.  I cannot believe that a government that has placed so much emphasis on racial equality, a shared Fijian identity, national unity, and has done so much towards improving the country's physical and institutional infrastructure, not to mention its efforts to assist rural communities and the poor, is merely in power for self-serving purposes.
It is rather reprehensible of Jones, to gloss over the exceedingly greater flaws of preceding democracies in Fiji, in comparison to the existing path mapped out by the current Fiji Government.

Unfortunately, Jones has some disconcerting history of blatantly flippant analysis on Fiji's domestic politics, as highlighted by a 2009 SiFM post:
Interpreter's Melanesia specialist Jenny-Hayward Jones has got it wrong yet again, along with the biased media reports from ABC. Jones' latest posting, unashamedly uses the talking points of the SDL segment, highlighting the 2 pillars of society, warning of imminent danger to the general public if their dual-pronged influence is permanently removed from the landscape of Fiji politics.
Ironically both pillars were also intimately involved with Fiji's 1987 and 2000 coups and it is rather myopic and repulsively selective for Jones to obfuscate that well documented fact.
Radio Australia host Bruce Hill interviews Brij Lal, the academic from Australia National University on retainer, who cynically (as usual) opines on the draft constitution . Unsurprisingly, Bruce Hill's maker's mark of yellow journalism was underscored in the interview, by the routine absence of alternative perspectives in providing balance. Furthermore, Croz Walsh had highlighted in a blog post, the journalistic bias in Bruce Hill. Croz also posted the defense by Radio Australia of Bruce Hill.

 (Interview of Brij Lal /Bruce Hill posted below)

Brij Lal appears to echo his default reaction to any changes to the 1997 constitution, as addressed in a 2009 SiFM post:
Dr. Lal, later questioned the issue about the consultation phase, regarding this new Fiji Constitution. However the ABC host did not bother to challenge Lal's remarks or even bother to compare the present and continuing consultations, to the diluted 1997 version. Neither did ABC offer any other opposing views, apart from their favorite talking heads, in their so called forum.

A surreptitious version of due diligence; that was formed during Lal's celebrated and at times, over-glorified tenure as 'architect' of the 1997 Fiji Constitution. Irregardless of the glaring failures of the 1997 legal document; in the context of racial equality- a crucial issue which Brij Lal has vacillated on repeated occasions.

Video of Fiji President and Prime Minister's joint address on the draft constitution (posted below).

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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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