Thursday, 5 February 2015

Watch Out Australia (and New Zealand)

Look out Australia, the Pacific mood is shifting
By Online Editor
10:00 pm GMT+12, 03/02/2015, Australia

By Nic Maclellan

Next month Foreign Minister Julie Bishop will host a meeting of Pacific leaders to discuss Pacific regionalism and the future of the Pacific Islands Forum. The key subtext of the meeting will be the re-integration of Fiji into regional economic, security and political structures, following its 2009 suspension from the Commonwealth and the Forum.

Fiji's September 2014 elections have opened the way for re-engagement with the FijiFirst Government led by Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama. Officials from Canberra and Wellington are eagerly re-establishing links with the Fiji Military Forces (officer training in Canberra, participation in joint exercises, an invitation to the next South Pacific Defence Ministers' Meeting, an RNZAF Orion aircraft to patrol Fiji's EEZ...the list goes on).

But anyone who expects the Fiji military to come kowtowing to the ANZUS allies may be in for a shock.

One straw in the wind is Prime Minister Bainimarama's 30 January speech at a ceremony for the surviving Fijian military personnel who were deployed for the UK's Christmas Island nuclear tests in 1957-58. The text is worth reading for its insights on contemporary Pacific attitudes towards great and powerful allies.

Successive British governments have refused to provide compensation to Fijians soldiers and sailors exposed to hazardous ionising radiation during the development of the British H-bomb. A 2004 legal case lodged in the UK by British, New Zealand and Fijian veterans has been dragging on for a decade, with the UK Ministry of Defence fighting liability every inch of the way.

In his speech to veterans and families on 30 January, Bainimarama noted: 'Fiji is not prepared to wait for Britain to do the right thing. We owe it to these men to help them now, not wait for the British politicians and bureaucrats.'

He added: 'We salute you for following your orders at the time, the orders of a colonial power pursuing its own agenda in the world. You are living testament to our determination to never again allow our pristine Pacific environment to be violated by outside powers in such a destructive and terrible manner.'

The issue is personal for the Fiji Prime Minister: his late father Ratu Inoke Bainimarama led the initial Fijian contingent of 39 sailors to witness the first UK test on Malden Island in May 1957. It seems Fiji's PM will not be handing out knighthoods to the British monarchy any time soon!

But the speech was not just about historical injustice. Bainimarama said the spread of nuclear weapons is 'a form of madness that we in the Pacific — the ocean that takes its name from the word “peace” — find incomprehensible': “This is why we will always be on the side of those nations pressing for the dismantling of the world's nuclear arsenals...As one, the Pacific nations stand and say: Never again. Just as we implore the industrialised nations now to stand with us in the battle against rising sea levels caused by the carbon emissions they cause, we also implore them to join us in our commitment to make the Pacific nuclear free.”

With Prime Minister Bainimarama playing the nuclear-free Pacific card, don't expect Fiji to fall into line with Australian support for extended nuclear deterrence, a policy beloved by most Canberra 'realists.'

Attitudes to great and powerful friends are changing in Pacific Commonwealth countries. Fiji's 2011 membership of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and 2013 role as chair of the 'G77 plus China' has transformed its foreign policy outlook. And Fiji is not the only island nation taking independent foreign policy initiatives. The current crop of Pacific leaders — Joe Natuman, Manasseh Sogavare, 'Akilisi Pohiva and more — have perspectives that don't mesh with Canberra's worldview. There may be some interesting discussion at next month's regional gathering.

Around the region, people are questioning where the Pacific fits into Australia's priorities. A series of government decisions have been noticed by our neighbours: the gutting of Radio Australia; the $12 billion cut from the projected aid budget over the next four years; Australia's active opposition to the AOSIS agenda at UN climate negotiations; the reallocation of funding for climate adaptation; the sacking of Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs Brett Mason...the list goes on.

The last time an Australian prime minister attended a Forum leaders' meeting was 2012. It will be interesting to see if Prime Minister Abbott can spare some time this year for regional engagement. Last year, I lost $50 betting that Abbott would turn up for his first Forum meeting in Palau. Having doubled the bet, I'm hoping there's time in his busy schedule for a trip to the 2015 Forum in Papua New Guinea!..



  1. Well done Croz. Nothing better than a bit of public masturbation!

  2. Yes ,,, everyone but pacific islands nations should bring their comes the talkfest on how much THEY need MY tax dollars to prop up their infrastucture and provide services pacific island nations should be providing and paying for themselves and why we should just pay up and shut up ...i have had a stomach full of this...

  3. such an astonishing sense of entitlement in the region...there isn't a meeting where pacific leaders don't come with a wish list where some else is expected to pick up the bill. No sense of dignity or pride.

  4. Fiji leads the way when it comes to issues regarding the South Pacific at least we not sucking anyones thumb for crumbs.

  5. leads the way in South Pacific??? this is a measure of what?, thsat would be like zambia crowing about being better than mozambique!! certainly not in stability, governance and accountability?? Fiji shops around for whoever will pick up the bill.whether it be EU, China, Japan or anyone else..Fiji has a bloated military for a country this size and the consequent miltary budget that the military appear to approve themselves for whatever they want...

    1. Leads the way in guts for standing up to the 2 want to be Super Powers in the South Pacific we not licking bums . It has a cause if not George Speight would have a massacre or were you going to be the one to stop him & his nut cases!

  6. Given Fiji's commitment to peacekeeping duties your description of "bloated military" does look light-weight. Yes, given the size of the population you are right but the advantages of participating in various peace-keeping duties does out-weigh the disadvantage. It is a "trump-card" for Fiji when it comes to Foreign Affairs dealings and given Fiji's size it certainly "punches above its weight". Militarily speaking Fiji needs a larger military in proportion to its country size to sustain its peacekeeping commitments.

    1. You've got it the wrong way round. Fiji needs a larger population in proportion to its military. Hence the long overdue increase in Chinese immigration (a year's waiting list for citizenship, so I hear)

    2. Yes, how much is enough? At a guess we have more than 1,000 men and women serving in various PKO at any one time.

      Isnt this sufficeint commitment to demonstrate that we wish to be seen as being a good international citizen?

      What percentage of the budget is taken up by the RFMF?

      Couldnt that ammount of money be better elsewhere on providing better health care, improving education, fixing up deteriortaing infrastructure like the recent sewerage pipe disaster at the 4 Mile bridge etc?

      Where do we draw the line and say, enough is enough? Where should we put the cap on military expenditure? At say, 2% of GDP? Or do we keep on increasing the military budget infinito?

      Students of strategy will tell you that there is such a phenomenon that they refer to as 'imperial overstretch' - where military forces are streched all over the place that they come to serve no useful strategic purpose. We need to be mindful of this.

      The other issue that i would like to throw into the debate is an idea advanced by John Baledrokadroka in a paper her presented at the ANU titled "The Unintended Consequences of International Peackeeping" (Google it to read the paper). In it, he argues that the unintended consquences of Fiji's involvement in PKO is that it has emboldened the RFMF to intervene in politics on the several occassions it has done so over the years. In other words, it has become the master of the State, not the servant of it.

      Va'cava that?

    3. @Taxpayer-

      I am not entirely sure whether there is "pun intended" in your statement in regards to Fiji wanting larger population to justify the size of its military or whether you are serious? If its the latter, I am happy to engage in a talanoa session with you (or any other interested contributor).

    4. Yes - I did intend the pun, but with serious overtures. In brief I believe Fiji's population is too small to properly take advantage of the land available for all sorts of enterprises - agriculture and mining to name but two. And because of that overseas people, in particular the Chinese, are seeing an opportunity that is unable to be grasped by locals.

      I see serious problems in an over-large military if all it is going to be used for is as a means to train soldiers in order to garner foreign exchange as peacekeepers and to enable Fiji to punch 'above its weight' diplomatically. Which, as an aside, is something that I believe to be a fallacy.

      Conversely, I don't believe that the concept of 'National Service' is a bad one. In general I feel it would be a positive development if most youths (male and female) were obliged to give a year of their lives straight after high school in National Service that both provided meaningful contributions to the societies from which they came (eg building houses, electrification, roadworks, child care - anything really) and also gave them the rudiments of training which would assist them to find employment, or become self employed afterwards.

      Thanks for your offer of a talanoa session but I don't have the time to be able to reply fully and in a timely fashion to thoughts and comments that you'd provide. Cheers.

    5. I have long argued--as I continue to--that Fiji needs to expend every effort to consolidate, refine and strengthen its military machine. by improving the quality of its personnel across the board and to find ways to enhance the working conditions of its women and men in uniform.

      One important reason for this is that Fiji needs always to be in a position, in a dangerously precarious world possessed of multiple uncertainties, to defend its territorial integrity and its sovereignty from potentially aggressive and interventionist inclined states like Australia and New Zealand, Australia especially--and its proxies.

      Fiji urgently needs to cultivate, enhance and refine its preparedness to engage in peace keeping operations wherever it can serve the causes of peace with dignity, efficiency and good sense. Fiji also needs, as a more pressing priority, to have a well oiled military machine at home--to keep the peace, protect the vanua and make it clear to friends and actual or potential foes that its armed forces will brook no nonsense from those possessed of ambitions driven by the interventionist impulse. Fiji must never forget Australia's clumsy attempt to intervene in its domestic affairs in November/December 2006.
      By the same token Fiji should keep a close eye on any expansion of New Zealand's military machine, particularly its expanded RDF capability. In the real, brutal world of international politics a country as small and as vulnerable as Fiji is, one fact should stand out: international politics is not a game where there is a primacy of making friends or creating enemies. The only primacy is that of protecting interests. And the primacy of protesting national interests is tricky business at which it is not so much a matter of working hard but working smart that is important.

    6. Vinaka Jim -need i add more?

    7. Bill Wadely aka 'Vili the Kid'Sunday, 8 March 2015 at 12:38:00 GMT+13

      Fiji urgently needs to cultivate, enhance and refine its preparedness to engage in peace keeping operations wherever it can serve the causes of peace with dignity, efficiency and good sense. (Jim Anthony).

      Comment: I think we already have that and with the opening up of the peacekeeping training Centre at Blackrock, and with links with the Indonesian Peacekeeping Centre, UAE etc Fiji will achieve much of what you are advocating above.

      Fiji also needs, as a more pressing priority, to have a well oiled military machine at home--to keep the peace, protect the vanua and make it clear to friends and actual or potential foes that its armed forces will brook no nonsense from those possessed of ambitions driven by the interventionist impulse. (Jim Anthony)

      Comment: Being "well oiled" - how big/large is enough? what military capabilties are required? (refer to my earlier posting above in reposnse to Ratu Naita.)These are crucial questions we have to ask if we are to discuss this issue in a rational and objective way. Hopefully the Defence Review led by Teleni will do this. Just another comment on the proposed Review - it seems that it will be a 'closed shop' review by so-called experts with no opportunity for public participation/submissions. The strategic capabilities of regional powers like Australia (I know Jim Anthony will cringe at this), NZ and the USA (the ANZUS powers) will have to be factored in. In today's interdependent world, Fiji would be silly to try and develop an independent and self-reliant defence posture in isolation. A regional approach to defence and security is the more sensible way to go.

      Those are my thoughts.

      Vakanuinuivinaka vei Ratu Naita

  7. Naita that would be too simple n explanation for some to grasp?

  8. Bill wadely aka 'Vili the Kid'Tuesday, 17 February 2015 at 10:17:00 GMT+13

    @ Ratu Naita,

    Ni bula vinaka. Au nanuma sara na qaqa ni sere oya 'sa dede ko yali mai vale' !


    1. @Bill wadely aka"Ratu Vili the Kid'-

      Wara na gone cidroi hahaha nite! Ni bula saka nai taukei ni qele mai Rockampton.


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