Pacific Security Snapshot – June 23, 2022

An agreement to preserve the Pacific Islands Forum was the main security story of the fortnight, while Fiji reminded world leaders of the impacts of climate change.

Pacific leaders have struck an agreement to keep the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) together, heralding a new era of cooperation for the body. More than a year after five Micronesian countries reported their intention to leave the PIF, following the election of current Secretary General (SG) Henry Puna, the top leaders flew to Suva in a bid to resolve the dispute.

According to the contract discussed by Fijian Prime Minister (PM) Frank Bainimarama, Samoan Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown and Micronesian leaders SG Puna will continue in office until 2024. A Micronesian candidate will then be to be named to an unprecedented five-year term. According to the President of the Federated States of Micronesia, David Panuelo, the agreement – which must be ratified in of july PIF Leaders Meeting – signals the end of a “big dark, very dark cloud that hovered over the Pacific”.

In a high-level meeting outside the region, Fiji’s Defense Minister Inia Seruiratu warned world defense leaders at the annual Shangri La Dialogue (the Dialogue) that the greatest threat to Pacific security is climate change, not war. Seruiratu Underline the “assault” of climate change on the region and noted the “extent” of traditional and non-traditional threats to Pacific security. These remarks come in the light of a new report by the group of 20 vulnerable nations (V20). The V20 found that globally, countries have suffered $525 billion in climate-related losses and damages since 2000.

In other Pacific news from the Dialogue, French Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu announcement that Paris will strengthen its presence in the South Pacific, expressing an attachment to the rule of law and individual sovereignty, at the regional level. This includes the deployment new patrol boats in New Caledonia and French Polynesia, alongside a new multilateral defense exercise.

This comes in light of a recent French court ruling dismiss a request for the annulment of the result of the third referendum on the independence of New Caledonia. The result of the third and final referendum provided for in the Nouméa Accord of 1998 was denounced as illegitimate by some following a boycott by separatists. In rendering its decision, the court said that the declaration by the Customary Senate – an assembly of Kanak Indigenous Councils – of a year of mourning in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, did not impact the “sincerity” of the ballot.

In terms of supplies, the Papua New Guinea Defense Force (PNG) has received a new Australian Government landing craft under its Defense Cooperation Agreement. The ship, which should be operational by PNG’s general election in July, will partially replace the two Balikpapan-class landing craft recently retired from the country.

Meanwhile, the Cook Islands have also received a new patrol vessel from Australia. nicknamed the You Kukupa IIhe will replace the 33-year-old Te KukupaCanberra is also providing A$1.6 million to Upgrade Country’s Maritime Surveillance Center in Rarotonga.

New Zealand extended its funding of the Pacific Maritime Security Program for a further four years, with the country providing NZ$12 million to the Cook Islands, Kiribati, Niue, Samoa, Tokelau, Tonga and Tuvalu. Wellington also has shipped two dog trainers in French Polynesia to help customs officers detect illicit drug trafficking.

Looking north, the United States and the Marshall Islands have tenuous their first in-person discussions in nearly three years regarding their Compact of Free Association treaty. With the previous funding agreement set to expire in 2023, the two parties are expected meet throughout the year, with the lingering legacy of US nuclear testing in the country high on the agenda.

EElsewhere in Micronesia, Palau was included in the USA’ Valiant Shield military exercise for the first time. As part of the agreement, Palau hosted joint forces from the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command alongside the Northern Mariana Islands and Guam for a 12-day biennial training exercise.

In environmental security news, the Kiribati government has declared a state of disaster for the whole country due to the drought. This was caused as a result of the increase salinity levels in the water, exacerbating the already below-average rainfall for the country. Citizens have been advised to boil or use bottled water.

Finally, in the Solomon Islands, the government has received World Bank financing to improve the management and sustainability of its fisheries sector.

Melvin B. Baillie