Showing posts with label Pacific Defence Ministers meeting in Tonga. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Pacific Defence Ministers meeting in Tonga. Show all posts

Sunday, June 09, 2013

X-Post: PACNEWS - Australian Defence Encounters New Pacific Realities.

By Michael O’Keefe,

  Canberra has turned its attention back to the Pacific. No more potent a symbol of this renewed interest could be found than the Australian Defence Minister Stephen Smith’s visit to Tonga on the eve of releasing the Defence White Paper ‘Defending Australia and its National Interests’.

The fact that Smith was convening the inaugural annual ‘South Pacific’ defence ministers meeting is certainly significant. But there is also substance behind this symbolism. The minister foreshadowed the new Pacific Maritime Security Programme, which replaces the Pacific Patrol Boat Project and forms the centrepiece of Australia’s new Pacific strategy.

Canberra has some catching up to do after years of benign neglect. For over a decade, Australia and its US ally have been focused on Iraq, Afghanistan and the ‘War on Terror’. Operations in Afghanistan are winding down and the White Paper is sensitive to the implications of this major shift in tempo.

Australia’s other large and enduring operation in the Solomon Islands is also winding down. RAMSI has been a major bridge to the region and ending this link will have an impact on the Solomons and on Australian defence engagement. The second principal task of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) identified by the White Paper is to “contribute to stability and security in the South Pacific and Timor-Leste”.

Naturally this comes second to providing for the direct defence of Australia. However, it is widely acknowledged that a direct threat is highly unlikely to develop for a generation and therefore the focus on the Pacific gains priority. While the US is pivoting to Northeast Asia to focus on China, Japan and the Koreas, Australia is pivoting back into the Pacific. The challenge for both is that the seascape has changed dramatically in both areas since their attention shifted to the Middle East over a decade ago.

One key strategic shift that links this ‘pivoting’ is that the Pacific is becoming an arena for geopolitical contest between the great powers. Australian and US’ strategic interests may very well overlap in this regard, but Australia is apt to view the Pacific as its backyard rather than simply a venue for strategic competition.

A major stumbling block preventing re-engagement is the continuing diplomatic standoff with Fiji. A key plank in the sanctions regime is a ban on defence cooperation. Historically, Fiji has been Australia’s largest defence cooperation partner in the Pacific and the key to broader regional defence cooperation. This is not simply because of the size and capability of the Fiji Military Forces, but also because of Fiji’s place as a hub for the region.

When an Australian defence attaché arrives in Suva after the elections in 2014, he will find a radically different diplomatic environment than when his predecessor left. The Fijian government has a new-found confidence in its diplomatic affairs and Australia is no longer the dominant military cooperation partner. Countries such as China, Indonesia and Russia have filled the gap in defence training and logistics.

This situation is largely of Australia’s doing and it will be its responsibility to play ‘catch up’. It’s clear from the tone of the White Paper that Australian defence planners are sensitive to the changed dynamics of the region. The aim is not to “control” but to “contribute” to the maintenance of regional security.

Furthermore, the emphasis is on regional security challenges that more reflect the interests of the Pacific countries rather than the orthodoxies underpinning the rest of Australia’s strategy.

Michael O'Keefe

" One key strategic shift that links this ‘pivoting’ is that the Pacific is becoming an arena for geopolitical contest between the great powers. "
Seeing the Pacific through Pacific eyes means that the focus is on maritime security (such as fisheries management and protection), transnational crime (such as human trafficking, people smuggling and drug smuggling) and disaster management (humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and stabilisation).

The new maritime security boat programme neatly captures Australia’s intentions and the potential role Pacific leaders have in shaping it to suit regional interests.

This programme will be the centrepiece of defence cooperation. We have no idea what the boats will look like but the intention is clear.

At one point, the White Paper highlights the role of the Royal Australian Navy amphibious ships in humanitarian assistance, etc, in the Pacific. In contrast, the maritime security boats will be gifted to Pacific Islands states to assist islands nations in protecting their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs).

The capability of these boats will be defined in the year ahead and there is an opportunity to shape the project to meet the maritime security needs of Pacific Islands states for the next generation. Furthermore, whether the boats gifted to individual islands nations are connected into an integrated regional surveillance network supported by Australian assets (such as maritime patrol aircraft) remains to be seen.

To realise its potential, the gulf that has opened up between supporters of Fiji and supporters of Australia isolating Fiji will need to be bridged. Pacific and Australian leaders will have to navigate their way through the turbulent waters created by the ongoing diplomatic tension.

A significant gap in all the White Papers is that they don’t include implementation strategies and the most challenging issue will be how the defence cooperation with the region can be rebuilt.

The maritime security boat programme is one possible bridge. Another could be in relation to peacekeeping. Only last month, a new arrangement linking the training of Fijian and Papua New Guinean peacekeeping forces was announced.

Peacekeeping is a costly and admirable endeavour and one in which the FMF and ADF have some experience. It would be natural for Fijian participation in operations to expand after 2014 and much work could be done to prepare for this eventuality.

Similarly, military forces have the best training and expansion capacity to respond to complex humanitarian contingencies and coordinating the development of a regional capacity to act swiftly to natural disasters is long overdue.

There is great potential for the White Paper to support enhanced regional defence cooperation, but it has to be
acknowledged that the strategic seascape has changed. Whether it achieves its promise depends on the regional buy-in. Probably more than at any time since the Pacific Islands states gained independence, regional leaders have the capacity to shape the scope of defence cooperation.

• Dr Michael O’Keefe is a Senior Lecturer & Convener at La Trobe University, Victoria, Australia


Viewpoint in Islands Business magazine,  June 2013 Edition

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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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