New Zealand latest in Pacific shift

New Zealand has announced it will reshape its defence ties with Pacific nations, making it the third major power to announce a shift in regional security policy with potential implications for Samoa this year. 

Released on Tuesday, Advancing Pacific Partnerships 2019 is a development of the Government’s broader “Pacific Reset” policy and outlines how the New Zealand Defence Forces (N.Z.D.F.) will further the Government’s regional goals.

It states that New Zealand’s military  intends to build more people-to-people ties, but also to work with Pacific countries’ militaries, in particular on gender, leadership development and military justice reform and legislation. 

It follows the announcement in June of Australia’s “Pacific Support Force” and the July unveiling of the American Coast Guard’s “Operation Aiga”, both of which are designed to build closer security relationships including with Samoa. Both of those newly formed forces have already sent deployments to Samoa. 

Climate change, transnational crime and maritime resources competition are among the challenges the Pacific faces, and New Zealand anticipates more will be expected from its Defence Force on all fronts. 

“Countering these disrupters is significant for the maintenance of regional security,” the report states.

N.Z.D.F. says it will “lean into Pacific partners’ visions and priorities, where they align with our values,” and “undertake more deliberate efforts to enhance our cultural awareness.”

On the state of the region and implications on security, Defence said it has an “imperative” to safeguard New Zealand and Pacific security interests, “and to be present.”

In August, a high level delegation from N.Z.D.F., including Secretary of Defence Andrew Bridgeman, came to Samoa to attend the Women, Peace and Security Summit hosted for the region, where he signalled that New Zealand sees itself as a natural partner to the region.

The Pacific has become the centre of diplomatic interest from around the world, leading even Indonesia to announce a ‘Pacific Elevation’ policy in which it revealed it plans to give aid to its regional neighbours (while being Australia’s second largest aid recipient itself). 

The paper states N.Z.D.F. “welcomes all partners that take account of the Pacific’s security priorities and act transparently,” adding it will continue to work with partners “on those terms.”

Mixed in with the challenges before the region, including up to 11 predicted cyclones hitting the Pacific before 2020, Defence said “external actors” may look to take advantage in order to have greater influence in the region.

“More broadly, the pace, intensity, and scope of engagement by external actors, who may not always reflect our values across their activities, are at the heart of a growing sense of geostrategic competition that is animating many nations’ renewed focus on the Pacific.”

The report highlights the Boe Declaration, signed by the Pacific Island countries, Australia and New Zealand in 2018 and its statement that climate change is the single greatest security threat to the region. It states Defence will use the Boe Declaration as a guide where relevant.

In assessing how to advance partnerships, the report uses the Vaka Tahi Pacific Partnership Model, devised by N.Z.D.F. for this purpose.

It uses key cultural and regional references like talanoa, the Maori proverb ‘he tangata, he tangata, he tangata’ (from: what is the most important thing in the world? It is people, it is people, it is people) and Kapasa, N.Z.’s Ministry of Pacific Peoples Policy Analysis tool.  

The report also analyses the region’s security architecture, meaning the political and organisational arrangements in the Pacific.

Using a diagram, the report highlights how complex this architecture currently is, and suggests the region should “temper inclinations” to form any new bodies, and to look into maximise the structures that currently exist. 

Besides the Pacific Islands Forum, there are four maritime security and defence meetings, three regional customs and law enforcement groupings the FRANZ+ disaster response body of France, Australia and New Zealand. 

The report suggests Defence will be looking to strengthen connections between all those groupings, including better information sharing to make all their work more efficient. 

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