Micronesian states' exit could alter Pacific politics

If several nations in Micronesia leave the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat it will “fundamentally change” the nature of Pacific politics, says Derek Grossman, a senior defense analyst and lecturer at the University of Southern California.

Grossman made the comments in response to questions from the Samoa Observer. His comments come ahead of the P.I.F.S. Special Leaders Retreat that will take place in February.

Two key issues on the special retreat agenda are: the COVID-19 global pandemic and the appointment of the next P.I.F.S. Secretary General following the exit of incumbent, Papua New Guinean Dame Meg Taylor.

Lobbying for the top regional position began last year with the different regional sub-groupings as well as countries putting forward their candidates.

Five Micronesian states – Palau, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Nauru and the Federated States of Micronesia – have signed a communique outlining their reasons for backing Ambassador Gerald Zackios, Micronesia’s pick for the position.

They have threatened to walk out of the Pacific Forum if their candidate is not elected.

“If the north Pacific states decide to leave the P.I.F., it is likely to fundamentally change the nature of Oceanic politics in the future,” Mr. Grossman told the Observer via email from Los Angeles, California.

“For many years, the P.I.F. and other cooperative mechanisms have been premised on the ‘Pacific Way,’ and a dissolution of the P.I.F. would signal at a minimum an erosion, if not at all out collapse, of this core value.”

“That said, I’m told that the north Pacific Islands are negotiating hard, but in reality are unlikely to depart the PIF even if Ambassador Zackios does not become Secretary General.”

Grossman is a senior defense analyst at RAND Corporation, a research organization that develops solutions to public policy challenges to help make communities throughout the world safer and more secure, healthier and more prosperous, its website explains.

RAND is based in Santa Monica, California, United States.

Regardless of the Secretary General outcome, experts predict the north Pacific states will remain in the Forum, Mr. Grossman said.

“[T]he experts are betting that the north Pacific states remain in the P.I.F. regardless of the Secretary General outcome. I generally agree though if we look back in history, I believe only one past secretary general has hailed from the north Pacific islands, and so resentment among the north Pacific for south Pacific islands runs deep. Never say never,” he said.

Professor Grossman is a regular contributor to The Diplomat. 

He holds a Master of Arts in U.S. National Security Policy from Georgetown University and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and Asian studies from the University of Michigan.

Dame Meg is expected to remain in the position until her successor is appointed.

She will not comment until the new secretary general has been chosen.

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