AUSTRALIAN STRATEGIC POLICY INSTITUTE
5th SEPTEMBER 2011
CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
PRINCIPLES AND PRIORITIES FOR THE PACIFIC IN THE ASIA PACIFIC CENTURY.
Thank you for that kind introduction, Lloyd. And I would like to thank UNISYS for sponsoring these Defence and Security Luncheons, which successfully facilitate engagement, debate and education on a range of Defence and security issues.
I would also like to thank the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) for the invitation to speak to you today. It is my great privilege to be here today to discuss what I believe is a strategic imperative for whole of government national security policy.
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
The strategic importance of the Pacific toAustralianow seems axiomatic. But was not always so. In both world wars we sent our armies off to fight in Europe and theMiddle East. It took the double shock of Pearl Harbor and the fall ofSingaporeto bring home to us thatAustraliais strategically located in the Pacific. The stability of the Pacific region is paramount to our national security. We had to learn that lesson the hard way inNew Guinea. It is not a lesson we are about to forget.
Today, our strategic geography as an island nation among other island nations is explicitly acknowledged in the 2009 Defence White Paper. It remains true that our most basic strategic interest is the defence ofAustralia– and that means we have a fundamental interest in securing the air and sea approaches to our continent. This has obvious implications for our capability and force structure plans, but it also has implications for regional engagement and cooperation, with the South West Pacific in particular.
Yet geography is not the sole determinate of strategic importance. The strategic importance of any region is also shaped by the circumstances and realities of the day. These realities that exist in any given period shape our strategic assessments and our response to those assessments.
Asia Pacific Century
The Twenty First Century, or Asia-Pacific century, presents a myriad of economic, political, military and strategic challenges to the sovereign states of the Pacific. Booming Asian economies with new found hunger for natural resources, markets and political influence have the potential to offer huge opportunity or create enormous problems to the emerging nations of the Pacific.
Resource availability and security, food security, terrorism, transnational crime, fragile governance, small arms proliferation, threats to biosecurity, environmental changes, and shifting power relativities are but some of the risks that face Pacific nations in this new century.
In addition to these risks, conventional disputes over sovereign borders and strategic competition between emerging and established powers continues to simmer below the surface requiring careful ongoing assessment.
All of these challenges - political, strategic, economic, criminal and environmental exist right here on our doorstep in the South West Pacific.
This region contains countries at the wrong end of the Failed State Index and the Human Development Index. The factors combining to put them there, have the potential to create lasting cycles of poverty, instability and economic stagnation.
Ethnic tensions, demographic pressure, deterioration of public institutions, human rights violations, endemic corruption or profiteering by ruling elites or other actors, unstable governments and civil violence all threaten the peace, stability and development of many Pacific nations.
In 2003, after serious bloodshed, the Parliament of theSolomon Islandsinvited the specially created Regional Assistance Mission to secure peace and lead efforts to disarm opposing ethnic militias. Today, while stability prevails in theSolomon Islands, there is still considerable work to be done to reconcile past grievances and build the state’s capacity to deliver services and maintain law and order.
Since 2001, theRepublicofVanuatuhas weathered numerous constitutional crisis, near coup events, ethnic violence and most recently in 2007, a police mutiny.
Fijihas had a history of difficult civil-military relations, and coup-installed governments have prevailed in the last twenty years. The people ofFijiare today subjects of a military regime which curtails their freedom of expression – political and religious – effectively prohibiting any say in the shape and future of their country. It is a country facing economic uncertainty. The promise to hold an election in 2014 is yet to be supported by practical action.
PacificIslandnations need to manage considerable Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ). These zones are huge in relation in land areas and present significant challenges to both sovereignty and resource security. For example, the EEZ of Kiribati covers 3 million square kilometres compared to its land mass of 811 square kilometres. The economic loss suffered byPacificIslandsnations, as a result of illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing alone is estimated at approximately $500 million per annum. Whilst thePacificIslandsregion is home to the richest and last remaining healthy Tuna stocks in the world, most of the catch is taken by non-regional parties. This resource, increasingly needed to feed the Pacific nations themselves, is at serious risk of depletion.
Whilst the ephemeral mineral and forestry resources present a significant opportunity in some Pacific States – such as PNG and the Solomon Islands- for medium term economic growth, there are also significant risks that such development may create devastating long-term environmental damage, and return minimal benefit to the local population.
Most Pacific populations are growing at a rapid pace, and the lack of employment opportunities is creating a phenomenon of youth bulge accompanied by urban drift. Young people are becoming increasingly isolated from their familiar social structure, kinship groups and traditional obligations. Their frustration can lead to involvement in gangs and illegal activities and the sort of political disillusionment which contributed to the Chinatown riots in Honiarain April 2006.
Our region not only contains a number of neighbours struggling with stability, but it is also faced with the challenge of rising sea levels and resultant fresh water degradation. The existence of many states in Polynesia andMicronesia– particularlyTuvaluandKiribati- is under threat.
Conflict, crime, environmental degradation, resource plundering and declining standards of public health and education are just some of the effects being felt by many of our near neighbours.
These internal factors are further complicated by the interests of existing and emerging powers in the Pacific as they compete for resources, influence and market access.
The Unites States has been a stable, positive influence in the Asia Pacific for the past 60 years. TheUSwill continue to be the strongest and most constructive actor in our region, alone and in partnership with its friends and allies, for the duration of the Asia-Pacific Century.
New Zealandalso plays a significant stabilising role in the South West Pacific and is a trusted partner ofAustraliaas it is to Pacific Island Countries.
Yet, the potential ofChina,India, andIndonesiais presently being demonstrated across the Pacific in various forms. Much has been written in the media and in academia regarding dominant and rising states and the shifting structure of the international system. Regardless of what is written, I believeAustraliahas an opportunity to work together to create sustainable, quality outcomes for the people of our region. This will require commitment and transparency from all players if we are to achieve positive lasting results.
The challenges we face in our immediate region are complex. Yet they can be faced, managed and overcome if we carefully assess our engagement in our region, define our priorities, and develop principled and practical policy initiatives.
The challenges, risks and strategic environment I have described reach into every facet of the daily lives of people living in Pacific Island Countries. Law and order, governance, health, education, environmental protection, unemployment, economic development and major power competition. All of these factors create a need within Pacific Island Countries for whole-of government solutions coordinated with allies and donor partners.
Whole of Government is a term that is bandied aroundCanberrawith a casual disregard for its true meaning, so let me be clear. Securing the nations of the Pacific requires collaborative solutions from all agencies.
Defence has some of the expertise to meet these challenges. Military training and patrol boats solve some of the problems. However, Police cooperation, Customs and Border Protection assistance, administrative reform and more traditional education and health focussed aid programs are essential to enduring security in Pacific Island Countries.
Today I will briefly mention what I consider to be the top four priorities for policy makers to secure our region.
Firstly, it should be made absolutely clear that stability is our greatest priority for the region. Put simply this is our neighbourhood - the Pacific is our home. There can be no exit strategy from our own region. Indeed, it is clear there are compelling reasons why we should be deeply engaged with our own region. I have briefly mentioned both the strategic and the humanitarian.
This means in the extreme that when called upon we are prepared to assist our regional neighbours to restore peace and order. The success and continued achievements of RAMSI – a truly regional response – demonstrates our commitment to regional stability. Our commitment to stability is also demonstrated by our continued investment in a range of “preventative” programs, including the Defence Cooperation Programs, the Pacific Maritime Security Program which will replace the Pacific Patrol Boat Program, and the Pacific Police Development Program. These are designed to build and strengthen capability and accountability.
The Australian Defence Force should and will continue to focus on a range of operations in our region. The acquisition earlier this year of theLargsBay(HMAS Choules) amphibious ship, the soon to arrive the Canberra Class Landing Helicopter Dock ships (LHD’s) and the development of an amphibious force maintains our focus very much on our region. We are well placed to respond to a range of contingencies from breakdowns in law and order to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
Next, we must continue to promote and support stable, democratic and accountable governments. It has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all the others that have been tried. History has demonstrated that societies function best when their citizens have meaningful input into the political and economic concerns of their county and are free to express their views. Stable and accountable governments also deliver economic development and essential services to their citizens. A better quality of life will provide opportunity for all people of the Pacific to reach their full potential.
As policy makers we must also ensure that Australia remains the first partner of choice in the region – for cooperation on a range of matters, which include law, governance and trade. Importantly from a security perspective this means we must remain the Defence partner of choice for our regional neighbours. Greater interoperability means that we can capitalise on our shared geographic proximity to respond to events in our region with precision and effect. Clearly this supports our fundamental interest in being able to effect our strategic interests in our air and sea approaches.
We must also prioritise measures to ensure that as a region, we have the strength and resilience to assist each other when required and to withstand international events or even internal events. This means we need to work with our alliesNew Zealand, theUnited States and France to build and strengthen the capability of indigenous institutions and establish or broaden regional initiatives, such as the ANZAC Regional Response Force and Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre.
How do we progress these priorities? Through principle based policy, because principle based policy works. I believe these are the principles we should rely on when developing our policies. And these are also the principles we should promote within the region.
The fundamental basis of our engagement in our region has to be, and will continue to be, based on mutual respect, friendship and co-operation. Our current engagement in the Pacific – whether it be through Defence Cooperation, AUSAid programs or of a diplomatic character – is intrinsically based on well respected personal relationships. People-to-people links are fundamental to the success of the Pacific. Educational exchanges, in-country training, and in-line advisers are all examples of where we currently have opportunities to develop people to people links and gain a greater understanding of issues. We need to build on these efforts and continue to seek mechanisms where cooperation is maximised.
Policy should also be firmly secured in shared responsibility – between states and also between agencies. At an agency level this means that we must clearly define who is the lead in any particular activity, if that is appropriate, and work collaboratively to support whole-of-government objectives. This is and should continue to be robust, creative and cooperative. No one agency is responsible for the success or failure of a whole of government action.
On a national level this means we accept that the parties to any activity – be they two sovereign governments or any other formulation – each have a vital role to play in the success of the activity and each accept the range of implications that that responsibility implies.
Our policies should seek to achieve sustainable and equitable outcomes – from environmental, economic and demographic perspectives. We must build capacity in a way which is appropriate and sustainable for our partners in the region, and we must only hand over full responsibility at a point that our partner can sustain.
Our policies must remain transparent. We need to ensure that we are transparent in our actions and we will continue to encourage others to act with similar transparency. This will ensure greater co-ordination, collaboration and ultimately success.
Finally, our policies should be strategic. That is they should be developed to not only contemplate long term consequences but also to address or mitigate those consequences. This has implications not only for Defence capability planning but for our broader engagement in our region.
I would like to mention briefly one opportunity to implement these priorities and principles. That opportunity is the whole of government policy for the Pacific Maritime Security Program (PMSP). The PMSP will replace the Pacific Patrol Boat program from around 2018, as the first boats reach the end of their life. This Program is essential for maritime security in our region.
We know, from past experience and from talking to our friends and partners that the program will be a clear demonstration of our commitment to the region, its security, and the strength of our friendships. The new program will be focussed on security, stability and resource protection. It must be strategic and sustainable. Some aspects of the program may need to be regional, some may need to be tailored to the specific requirements of individual states. It will require expertise from a variety of Australian Government agencies to develop and implement. We have an opportunity with the PMSP to broaden existing structures such as the Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre, and to build regional capability in a range of disciplines.
This Government is determined to build a focussed and strategic approach to our Pacific region. I believe we are superbly supported in this task by the Chief of the Defence Force and the Chief of Army - both experienced officers with a great understanding of the Pacific - and by officials such as those present who I trust will approach the task ahead with energy and optimism.