Mapping regional security cooperation in the Pacific


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 organizations has been brought together and mapped, thanks to researchers at the University of Adelaide, Australian National University and Massey University.

In the 2018 Boe Declaration on Regional Security, leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) acknowledged that the region faces “an increasingly complex regional security environment, driven by multi-faceted security challenges.” This raises the question of how Pacific island states will respond to these far-reaching but frequently interconnected challenges, including the role that regional security cooperation can play.

Security cooperation takes place in the the context of “a dynamic geopolitical environment leading to an increasingly overcrowded and complex region” – involving Pacific states, regional organizations, partner states and international bodies. The forms that security cooperation takes and the targeting of the resources devoted to it are determined both by the partners and by the governments of the Pacific Islands themselves. Security cooperation frequently involves the assembly of state, bilateral and multilateral initiatives, as well as meetings, work programs and informal communities underway or in the event of a crisis.

Unlike the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) or other Formal security architectures across the world, no formal regional collective security agreements exist in the Pacific Island region. Rather, it is a combination of bilateral arrangements between Pacific island states and their security partners, as well as multilateral forums. This means that the Pacific Island security architecture is a patchwork of interactions that fluctuate depending on the geopolitical dynamics and priorities of individual Pacific states.

Because of this loose style of security cooperation, when we mapped such initiatives for our recent research report we found that there was no study bringing together regional security organizations.

In conjunction with CartoGIS we’ve created an interactive map that does.

This map only covers official regional government-to-government cooperation and does not cover bilateral security cooperation, informal cooperation, or cooperation with civil society.

We use Boe’s statement “Extended security concept” to distinguish the many organizations that contribute to the patchwork of security cooperation in the Pacific region: economic security, human security, environmental and resource security, transnational crime and cybersecurity, in addition to military security and more traditional homeland security.

The tabs at 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 organizations in that space. You can then click on the organizations to show which states are members of that organization, indicating the geographic orientation of each thematic area.

Some areas, such as the prevention of transnational crime, are covered by a number of specific regional organizations ranging from Asia-Pacific Group on Money Laundering (APG), Pacific Island Police Chiefs (PICP), the Oceania Customs Organization (OCO) to the Pacific Immigration Development Community (PIDC) and the Joint Chiefs of Pacific Security.

Conversely, other areas, such as human security, rely on international organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and large regional scientific organizations such as the Pacific Community (SPC ) to support health security.

By clicking on each state or territory, a pop-up window will open with membership in the regional security organization. Membership is broad – the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Program (SPREP) includes both French and American territories as well as a range of international partners, while membership in advocacy organizations climate outside of the Pacific Small Island Developing States (PSIDS), such as the Alliance of Small Island States, is more selective.

Geopolitical dynamics and state interests often take precedence in regional organizations. More recently, Micronesian Member States have expressed their intention to leave the BIP. It’s a reminder that different Pacific island states have divergent ideas about how regionalism serves their interests successfully, and that regionalism may not always be strong enough to contain such differences.

Membership of partners in these organizations is also indicative of the interests of external States. In some areas, such as cybersecurity, partners like Australia – for which the issue is a priority – are very active, supporting the PICPs Pasifika cybersecurity program.

Although there are attempts to coordinate regional organizations through the mechanism of the Council of Regional Organizations in the Pacific (CROP), chaired by the Secretary General of the PIF, this only represents nine regional bodies, including SPC, the SPREP, the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency and Pacific Aviation Safety Board.

Other key security sectors, including law enforcement and border security agencies, are not members of CROP. PICP, OCO and PIDC rather have a 2018 Declaration of Partnership, breeding 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 on Regional Security (FSRS) sub-committee was established in 2019 to maintain accountability for the implementation of the Boe Declaration, and includes security officials and practitioners, tasked with developing a dialogue on regional security more inclusive. Regional technical bodies working on security issues participate in the FSRS, including many CROP agencies and regional law enforcement agencies. However, there remain other multilateral agreements, institutions and initiatives outside this structure that are involved in security cooperation.

We hope that this interactive map and the research report, will provide insight into the breadth and depth of security cooperation in the Pacific Islands, which spans a patchwork of agreements, arrangements and institutions. This patchwork seeks to respond to a range of security priorities and ambitions as identified by Pacific island countries and territories and their partners.

This research was 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. This was made possible by the Department of Defense Strategic Policy Grant 2020-106-040.

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