(o) Tit-for-Tat Doesn't Work:'Smart' or Dumb Sanctions


Why ANZ Sanctions for Fiji Suck 
Or Elevating Inflexibility

Scott MacWilliam, formerly USP, currently ANU

The most recent development in ANZ-Fiji relations shows clearly why the model of sanctions being imposed on the South Pacific nation-state encourages tit-for-tat, ill-conceived moves by all parties. While one view is that ANZ governments have been deliberately egging on the Fiji military government to become ever more extreme, this seems a less likely explanation than another possibility. I favour the view that none of the three countries’ governments have much idea of how to resolve the current break-down in relations.

Australia and New Zealand are following an internationally favoured sanctions template, which has the virtue that it reduces the need for tactical thinking based in local knowledge. The Fiji military too, understands this template and is in a no stronger position to understand why the ‘super-powers’ of the South Pacific seem only to be capable of punitive actions.

Sometimes flattered as representing ‘smart sanctions’, like all templates this one is rather rigid, a one-size- fits-all model which passes for a strategy and from which certain tactics automatically follow.  It is an especially easy model to follow for politicians, diplomats and their advisers who have little local knowledge. In particular, a prescribed set of sanctions makes it possible to avoid thinking whether these advance or retard the cause of bringing democracy to Fiji. Far easier to bar people in any way serving the Fiji government and administration from travelling to or through ANZ.

A clue to why it is vital to consider whether such sanctions are ‘smart’ or ‘dumb’ can be gauged from interim PM Frank Bainimarama’s response to the latest ANZ efforts. Advice from an Australian official to a Sri Lankan travelling to Fiji to take up a judicial appointment has led to a further major breach of diplomatic relations. Fiji’s PM and the Chief Justice Anthony Gates have both pointed out that this behaviour is a breach of Fiji’s sovereignty. The way both men have framed their objection provides the key to what is missing – a regard for  indigenous nationalism, particularly among the educated elite, which is on the rise across the South Pacific. Friends and associates from across the region regularly make the point: ‘we appreciate Australian aid, scholarships, study opportunities etc but we are Papua New Guineans/Solomon Islanders, ni-Vanuatu/Fijians first’.

An earlier generation of Australians and New Zealanders understood the power of the sentiment and often were the most vociferous anti-colonial nationalists. But this knowledge has been lost across the years. When the current Australian PM Kevin Rudd calls ex-Commodore Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama ‘this guy’, he is regarded as showing disrespect not only to the interim PM but also to the people of Fiji. Rudd should know this, had he any awareness of Fijian nationalism. But he does not even though he regularly pulls on the trappings of Australian nationalism to justify his own behaviour.

Unfortunately it is not simply PM Rudd who has no understanding of the region. When an editor of one of the leading newspapers cannot tell Papua New Guineans Sir Michael Somare and Sir Rabbie Namaliu apart for a front page caption, then the lack of awareness clearly is deep in the Australian elite. This insensitivity, this lack of regard for the foremost representatives of South Pacific peoples, rankles across the region. It is not only Sir Michael Somare who has been deeply offended, and who in turn has retaliated on various occasions.

The current sanctions template encourages this insensitivity, makes it possible to avoid trying to understand what motivates people in power in each country. No need to think when steps 1, 2, 3 and so on are in the play book. The sanctions model also makes it possible for politicians and other officials in each country to take advice only from the people who agree with their ‘line’. It is not only Fiji where dissident voices are given no serious consideration, even if in Australia and New Zealand they are occasionally allowed to ventilate concerns.

It is time for the Melanesian Spearhead Group, with people who represent both the first generation of anti-colonial nationalists and the new generation of post-colonial nationalists to find a way of showing what the Australian and New Zealand governments do not, and probably can not, know. As long as they are wedded to the sanctions model of non-diplomacy, certainly the ‘super-powers’ will be do more harm than good.

Comments

S.O.E. said…
Scott McWilliam 'has got it'! Why have so many others placed with you 'NOT got it'? Is it not obvious this breach in understanding, this failure to impart "A PARITY OF ESTEEM"? So fundamental.

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