Much like the region itself, the security infrastructure in the Pacific Island region is vast and diverse, and for the first time this complex patchwork of organisations has been collated and mapped, thanks to researchers at the University of Adelaide, The Australian National University, and Massey University.
In the 2018 Boe Declaration on Regional Security, Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) leaders recognised that the region is facing ‘an increasingly complex regional security environment driven by multifaceted security challenges’. This raises the question of how Pacific Island states will respond to these wide-ranging, but frequently interconnected, challenges, including what role regional security cooperation can play.
Security cooperation is occurring in the context of ‘a dynamic geopolitical environment leading to an increasingly crowded and complex region’ – involving Pacific states, regional organisations, partner states, and international bodies. The forms that security cooperation takes, and the targeting of resources devoted to it, are driven both by partners and by Pacific Island governments themselves. Security cooperation frequently involves the piecing together of state, bilateral, and multilateral initiatives, as well as ongoing or crisis-responsive meetings, programs of work, and informal communities.
Unlike the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) or other formal security architectures around the world, no formal, region-wide collective security agreement exists in the Pacific Island region. Rather there is a combination of bilateral arrangements both between Pacific Island states and their security partners, as well as multilateral forums. This means the security architecture of the Pacific Islands is a patchwork of interactions that fluctuates depending on geopolitical dynamics and the priorities of the individual Pacific states.
Due to this loose style of security cooperation, when we mapped such initiatives for our recent research report we found that there was no study that aggregated regional security organisations.
In conjunction with CartoGIS we have created an interactive map that does.
This map only covers official government-to-government regional cooperation, and does not cover bilateral security cooperation, informal cooperation, or civil society cooperation.
We use the Boe Declaration’s ‘expanded concept of security’ to distinguish the many organisations that contribute to the security cooperation patchwork in the Pacific region: economic security, human security, environmental and resource security, transnational crime, and cyber security, in addition to more traditional military security and domestic security.
The tabs across the top reflect some of these thematic areas – regional governance, environmental and resource security, military, and transnational crime and cybersecurity. A click on a thematic area will bring up all the organisations in that space. You can then click on organisations to show which states are members of that organisation, showing the geographical focus for each thematic area.
Some areas, such as transnational crime prevention, are covered by a number of specific regional organisations ranging from the Asia Pacific Group on Money Laundering (APG), Pacific Islands Chiefs of Police (PICP), Oceania Customs Organisation (OCO) to the Pacific Immigration Development Community (PIDC), and the Joint Heads of Pacific Security.
Conversely, other domains, such as human security, rely on international organisations like the World Health Organization (WHO) and broad-ranging scientific regional organisations such as the Pacific Community (SPC) to support health security.
Clicking on each state or territory will open a pop-up box with their regional security organisation membership. Membership is wide-ranging – the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) includes both French and American territories as well as a range of international partners, whereas membership of climate change advocacy organisations outside of Pacific Small Island Developing States (PSIDS), such as the Alliance of Small Island States, is more select.
Geopolitical dynamics and states’ interests often come to a head in regional organisations. Most recently, Micronesian member states expressed their intention to leave the PIF. It is a reminder that different Pacific Island states hold competing ideas about how successfully regionalism serves their interests, and that regionalism may not always be sufficiently robust to contain such differences.
Partner membership of these organisations is also indicative of external states’ interests. In some areas, such as cybersecurity, partners like Australia – for which the issue is a priority – are very active, supporting PICP’s Cyber Safety Pasifika program.
While there are attempts to coordinate regional organisations through the Council of Regional Organisations in the Pacific (CROP) mechanism, chaired by the PIF Secretary-General, this only accounts for nine regional bodies including SPC, SPREP, the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency, and the Pacific Aviation Safety Office.
Other key security sectors, including law enforcement and border security agencies, are not CROP members. PICP, OCO and PIDC instead have a 2018 Declaration of Partnership, raising the ‘urgent need for border control agencies to collaborate and meet in regional and national security forums to promote cooperation and general understanding of security issues in the Pacific’.
The PIF Forum Sub-committee on Regional Security (FSRS) was established in 2019 to maintain responsibility for the implementation of the Boe Declaration, and incorporates officials and security practitioners, tasked to develop a more inclusive regional security dialogue. Regional technical bodies working on security issues attend the FSRS, including many CROP agencies and regional law enforcement bodies. However, there remain other agreements, institutions and multilateral initiatives outside of this structure that are involved in security cooperation.
We hope that this interactive map, and the associated research report, will create a better understanding of the breadth and depth of security cooperation in the Pacific islands – which extends through a patchwork of agreements, arrangements, and institutions. This patchwork seeks to meet a range of security priorities and ambitions as identified by both Pacific Island countries, territories, and their partners.
This research has been undertaken by researchers Joanne Wallis (University of Adelaide), Henrietta McNeill (ANU), James Batley (ANU), and Anna Powles (Massey University), in collaboration with Sandy Potter, CartoGIS and ANU Scholarly Information Services. It was made possible by Department of Defence Strategic Policy Grant 2020-106-040.