Australia and its Region

Is Indonesia’s next Marty Natalegawa … Marty Natalegawa?

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Indonesian Foreign Minister Dr Marty Natalegawa hold a media conference at Gedung Pancasila in Jakarta, 5 December 2013

Indonesia has just had its third presidential debate in which both Joko Widodo and Prabowo Subianto outlined their respective foreign and defence policies (you can watch the English-dubbed version here). As Michael Bachelard has observed, Australia hasn’t featured in particularly favourable terms. While that might seem ominous for diplomatic relations, the president is just one part of Indonesia’s foreign policy machinery—other parts matter. How Australia fares, for example, will also depend on the kind of foreign minister the new president appoints. But who might that be?

The current minister, Dr Marty Natalegawa, is an enthusiastic practitioner of Indonesia’s foreign policy objectives. The perfect wingman for President Yudhoyono’s ambitious agenda for Indonesia, he’s personally chased down agreements between ASEAN states, and by no means has he been a shrinking violet on Australia and spying. Marty will leave big shoes to fill. With a new Cabinet to be sworn in, who might replace him? Read more

The most obvious answer is Marty himself. Being a technocrat with no overt political affiliations, Natalegawa’s track record of success makes him an ideal candidate to bring experience and continuity to the role. That would suit either president, though lingering questions about Prabowo’s involvement in the kidnapping of student activists could undermine Indonesia’s ability to push human rights agendas. Natalegawa has been instrumental in positioning Indonesia as a partner for Myanmar and fostering the latter’s political changes. Under a Prabowo presidency Indonesia’s ability to act as a third party between Myanmar and other partners like the US, might be constrained. With a relatively sedate Vice President in Boediono, Natalegawa has emerged as one of the more prominent figures in Yudhoyono’s Cabinet (though a more active Vice President like Jusuf Kalla might change that dynamic).

Another option might be the former Indonesian Ambassador to the United States, Dino Patti Djalal. Djalal recently stepped down from his role in Washington in order to run as a presidential candidate for the incumbent’s Democrat Party. With the race now between Prabowo and Jokowi and the Democrats out of the running, Djalal could also be considered for the role of foreign minister. An old hand in foreign relations and son of influential international-law-of-the-sea expert and UNCLOS architect Hasjim Djalal, he was also President Yudhoyono’s speech writer for major international addresses in English. With his Washington stint commencing in August 2010, he’s been around for the US rebalance and has, arguably, a good understanding of Western states’ policies.

The last figure is Arif Havas Oegroseno, the current Indonesian Ambassador to Belgium. Instrumental in negotiations that led to the conclusion of a maritime agreement between Indonesia and the Philippines, Oegroseno has been actively writing about South China Sea issues in the media in recent months, even going so far as to clarify Indonesia’s position as a ‘claimant state’ (which makes him sound more like a foreign minister than ambassador).

Of course, there are other possible contenders (including Retno Marsudi, Mahendra Siregar and Rizal Sukma) but these are just some examples of the kind of foreign minister Australia might expect. An ideal Indonesian foreign minister from the Australian perspective would be one that shares our desire to strengthen ties with Jakarta and with ASEAN states across a number of realms. In an era of Snowden revelations, an ideal counterpart would be one that looks for creative ways to add ballast to the relationship, to better weather diplomatic shocks. Key to that would be the personal rapport between foreign ministers. Despite his posturing, Natalegawa has worked towards the Code of Conduct between Australia and Indonesia which provides the foundation for future crisis management.

Looking more broadly to Indonesia’s role in international affairs, the ideal candidate would maintain a commitment to consolidating Indonesia’s place as leader and third-party mediator in ASEAN; prioritise mechanisms to diffuse tension and mitigate conflict in the South China Seas through a negotiated Code of Conduct; and create opportunities for diplomacy and cooperation between major regional players, particularly, the US and China. Australia and Indonesia might also look to harmonise and reinforce the importance of international law in the resolution of South China Sea disputes.

Under SBY and Marty, Indonesia has shaped its reputation as a good international citizen and active diplomatic player. A successive administration would be hard-pressed to deviate from such a sound framework.

Personalities will be key to continuing that legacy. The three named above all come from a cohort known as ‘Hassan’s boys’, referring to a generation of Indonesia’s ‘youngest and brightest’ diplomats groomed by Hassan Wirajuda, who served as foreign minister from 2001 and 2009. If nothing else, that shows the influence of individuals on Indonesia’s foreign policy. It’ll be interesting to see who follows.

Natalie Sambhi is an analyst at ASPI and editor of The Strategist. Image courtesy of Minister for Foreign Affairs, The Hon Julie Bishop MP.

Regional order building in the Indian Ocean Region – evolving opportunities, enduring challenges

Australia and IndiaNarendra Modi’s election as India’s Prime Minister has fired the hopes of Australian India-watchers keen to forge a stronger strategic partnership between Canberra and New Delhi. As Canberra has recast its strategic geography in Indo-Pacific terms, Australia’s interests in nurturing a stable regional order in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) have grown. And India’s unique combination of demographic weight, geographic centrality and gargantuan military and economic potential makes it the IOR’s natural fulcrum. Seen in that light, Modi’s aspirations for a more strategically extroverted India ostensibly auger well for an Australia keen to work with New Delhi to build a more robust Indian Ocean regional order. Read more

But boosters of the bilateral relationship must be careful not to downplay the obstacles that may yet frustrate collaborative efforts at regional order building. In particular, the IOR’s distinct historical evolution radically distinguishes it from East Asia, and presents correspondingly different challenges for aspiring regional order-builders. Likewise, Australia and India’s histories have bequeathed them different—even dissonant—order-building traditions. Those divergent traditions quash hopes of converging on a common vision of regional order any time soon.

Since 1945, Australia’s attention has overwhelmingly centered on the Asia-Pacific. That preoccupation is unsurprising, given the traumas of the Pacific War and the Cold War. But it’s worth recalling the distinctive features of the Asia-Pacific that distinguish it from the IOR.

For over six decades, American hegemony preserved regional order in the Asia-Pacific. Washington upheld the peace by maintaining a ‘hub-and-spokes’ alliance system and an extensive forward deployment of conventional (and at times, nuclear) forces. Economically, Washington’s sponsorship of export-oriented industrialisation meanwhile resuscitated erstwhile rivals (Japan and later the People’s Republic of China), while energising dependent allies. In brief, the United States constructed a deeply institutionalised hierarchical international order, which regional security multilateralism later supplemented rather than supplanted.

By contrast, America’s involvement in the IOR is far more recent, and has been markedly less multi-dimensional and institutionalised. Following Britain’s 1971 retreat from east of Suez, the US assumed Britain’s traditional responsibilities of maintaining the freedom of the seas, as well as successfully guarding against the threat of Soviet encroachment. But for all their importance, those achievements were the unilateral product of American naval supremacy, and didn’t rest on a bedrock of local collaboration. The epicentre of Third World non-alignment, the IOR never supported the dense networks of alliances, forward-deployed US troop concentrations, or globally integrated production networks that underpinned the US-dominated hierarchy in the Asia-Pacific. Bitter regional splits (most notably the Indo-Pakistani rivalry) moreover retarded the development of regional security multilateralism, both during and after the end of the Cold War. 

Having been engaged in starkly different primary strategic theatres, Australia and India have evolved radically divergent strategies of regional order building.

Australian traditions of order building have centered on two pillars—alignment and enmeshment. Since 1951, the ANZUS alliance has been the cornerstone of Australian security, underwriting everything from Australia’s preference for coalition expeditionary warfare, to its decision to forego nuclear weapons in return for promises of American extended nuclear deterrence.

More recently, as the region’s multilateral security architecture has matured over the last two decades, Australia has actively sought enmeshment in regional institutions, at times even embarrassingly over-reaching itself in its sponsorship of the rapidly orphaned ‘Asia-Pacific Community’.  

By contrast, India’s order building strategies have centered around two different pillars—non-alignment and exclusion. Historically a champion of Third World non-alignment, India has traditionally repudiated alliances as mechanisms of entrapment and escalation, rather than guarantors of regional stability. New Delhi’s allergy to alliances contrasts profoundly with Australia’s reflexive reliance on ‘great and powerful friends’.

India’s longstanding sponsorship of regionalism as a device aimed at insulating the region from superpower involvement provides a further contrast with the Australian experience. Whereas Australia has historically feared exclusion from its home region, and since the early 1990s has sought enmeshment in regional security architectures wherever possible, India has fretted more about the prospect of neo-colonial encroachment, and attempted to shape its immediate region primarily with that negative goal in mind. The result has been an anemic, under-developed and largely atrophied regional security architecture, which remains woefully unsuited to managing the security challenges IOR states now confront.

The foregoing differences by no means preclude meaningful Australia-India security cooperation. But recognition of the countries’ disparate order-building traditions is essential, both to manage expectations and also to guide policy-makers’ approach to strengthening IOR security.

To seek a convergent vision of regional order between Australia and India would be a Sisyphean enterprise. Instead, regional order building between Australia and India must occur from the bottom up, around an incrementally expanding web of cooperative habits focused around managing shared non-traditional security challenges. Such an enterprise will hardly fire the imaginations of anyone yearning for a super-sized Australian grand strategy to match its expanded Indo-Pacific outlook. But it recognises the real and enduring contrasts that differentiate the two regions—and promises a surer route to successful Australian-Indian strategic cooperation in future.  

Andrew Phillips is an Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Research Award fellow and senior lecturer in the School of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Queensland. Image courtesy of iStock.

Supporting Australia’s Antarctic interests

Aurora Australis anchored off Macquarie Island.Earlier this year, I cited the case of the tourist expedition ship Akademik Shokalskiy, which became entrapped near Commonwealth Bay in the waters of Australia’s Antarctic Territory, as showing up serious limitations of Australia’s weakening search-and-rescue capabilities down south: our one polar vessel couldn’t reach the Shokalskiy. Nor was it carrying helicopters that could.

In the recent federal budget, the government announced that it will request tenders for a new icebreaker to replace the ageing Aurora Australis. It’s a welcome move: Aurora Australis is approaching the end of its serviceable life. A decision was needed to commit to a replacement to ensure our ability to conduct marine research anywhere in the Southern Ocean at any time of year, and to provide a heavy-lift capability for efficient delivery of station cargo and refuelling.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt said two Europe-based firms had been shortlisted to build the vessel, to be delivered by 2019. Hunt told reporters that it will cost ‘hundreds and hundreds of millions’, but he wouldn’t comment further due to an ongoing tender process. The new ship will be a significant capability enhancement over the Aurora Australis, in terms of its icebreaking and cargo capacities. Read more

In announcing the decision, Minister Hunt linked it directly to our polar sovereignty claim:

It is absolutely critical under international law for Australia to maintain an active presence in Antarctica so as to maintain our claims. We have about 42 percent of the Antarctic land mass which is covered by Australian claims and if we were to abandon that … then that would be a deeply irresponsible action for future generations.

But while the Minister’s decision to replace Aurora Australis is welcome, it’s only one part of the story when it comes to the maritime capabilities required for our southern backyard.

The Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee is currently inquiring into Australia’s future activities and responsibilities in the Southern Ocean and Antarctic waters. In a joint submission to the Committee, Sam Bateman and I argue that Australia requires ships capable of operating in the Southern Ocean and off the coast of Antarctica for surveillance, patrol and response (for sovereignty protection, law enforcement and search and rescue); marine scientific research; and the logistic support of Australia’s Antarctic program. In the longer term, a requirement may arise for warships with the necessary capabilities.

Response requires a surface vessel and that’s where we’re most seriously lacking at present. The requirement for the task will increase in the future: apart from our own national interests, the Southern Ocean contains valuable living resources including the largest underexploited fishery in the world, the Antarctic krill fishery.

Our current capability to respond to a safety-of-life-at-sea issue in southern waters is limited to three principal vessels: Ocean Protector, Ocean Shield, and Aurora Australis, and only the latter is ice-capable. RAN ships may be available, but none are ice-strengthened and only the fleet replenishment ships, HMAS Choules and the LHDs about to enter service, could undertake an extended search without the support of a tanker.

As noted above, in terms of marine research and logistics, with only one ageing Antarctic research vessel, we’re being left behind by other nations: China, Japan, the Russian Federation, South Korea and South Africa have each launched or announced new icebreakers.

And it’s over two years since we’ve had a patrol vessel in the Southern Ocean. We’ve relied on assistance from France, but that’s only available off the Territory of Heard and McDonald islands.

The concept of a ‘national fleet’ offers a possible approach to building the required capacity: rather than each agency doing its ‘own thing’ with blue water capabilities, there’s scope for a ‘whole of nation’ approach to address national requirements for those capabilities other than naval war-fighting. Along with the Senate Committee’s report, it might be useful to have an independent study into Australia’s requirements for blue-water capabilities for maritime policing, patrol and scientific research, including in the Southern Ocean and off Antarctica.

The national fleet concept might be considered in both the project to replace the Aurora Australis and Defence Project SEA 1180 to provide a class of around 20 Offshore Combatant Vessels (OCVs). Regarding the OCVs, the 2013 Defence White paper noted (at paragraph 8.56): ‘in the shorter-term, Government will seek to replace the current Armidale Class patrol boats with a proven vessel to ensure that Defence can continue to provide a patrol capability’ while a longer-term solution is considered.

It’s probable that the Armidale Class replacement will be an updated version of the Cape Class vessels being acquired by the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service. Such vessels would be unsuitable for operations in the Southern Ocean and off Antarctica. The requirement for operations in those waters should be considered in selecting the longer-term solution for the OCV.

Anthony Bergin is deputy director at ASPI. Image courtesy of Flickr user Natalie Tapson.

Our gold-plated intervention in Solomon Islands: expensive but essential and unfinished

Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) military personnel destroy weapons at a ceremony at Marua, south east of Honiara on the last day of the Solomon Island gun amnesty on the 21 August 2003. The weapons at Marau were destroyed in front of hundreds of locals as well as representatives from RAMSI.

A week after its publication, Jenny Hayward-Jones’ forensic and provocative Lowy paper Australia’s costly investment in Solomon Islands: the lessons of RAMSI has been widely reported but hardly stirred a peep from commentators I expected to leap to the mission’s defence. That’s a pity since Solomon Islands is approaching a critical period and RAMSI holds important lessons as the Australian government works through precisely what ‘better aligning our trade, aid and diplomacy to promote regional peace and prosperity’ means in practice.

Jenny’s analysis of Australia’s $2.643 billion spent on RAMSI from 2003-13 (two servicemen also died) leads her to conclude the price of success has been excessive. Notwithstanding its achievements, she assesses RAMSI’s lack of an exit strategy led to ‘mission drift’. She argues that our interests in the Solomons were insufficient to justify RAMSI’s cost and length; that the mission transformed Solomon Islands into one of the world’s most aid-dependent countries; that we must avoid building parallel bureaucracies while working with regional partners in future missions; and that we should’ve tried harder from the outset to promote genuine political change. As a result, our investment in regional stability and development—initially good—became ‘much more questionable’. Read more

Our national interests in the stability of nearby countries, however, are far from limited. True, the risks of organised criminals or terrorists setting-up in the Solomons were probably overstated in the post 9-11 / Bali-bombings atmosphere preceding the invasion of Iraq. But avoiding ungoverned spaces, or the possibility that others might intervene across our direct approaches, are enduring requirements. We rebuffed pleas to rescue Solomons for four years, during which 250 people were killed, so intervening was discretionary. Still, although our interests in Solomon Islands before the conflict were ‘similar to our stake in Vanuatu’, that changed once acute violence arose. Reputational and other interests were also engaged once we’d gone in. The decision by John Howard and Alexander Downer to act against official advice ‘with a spirit of state-building until the job was done, without any exit timetable’ reflected their conviction that there’s no exit strategy from our own region and that it’s worth paying some premium for regional leadership.

The ‘only thing all assessors agree on’ when evaluating RAMSI is that getting the guns off the streets of Honiara, Malaita and Guadalcanal was essential and well done. Yet it’s unlikely stabilisation would’ve been nearly as quick or durable without the prospect things would get better under a longer-term state-building program.  Even in the security realm, the unanticipated flare-up of serious violence in 2006 reinforced anxieties, long after calm returned, about drawing-down the security force precipitously. Jenny’s revelation that the security pillar accounted for 83% of the cost of RAMSI suggests less ambitious state-building pillars would’ve yielded only limited savings.

A key concern from the outset that RAMSI would create dependency, weaken the impetus for Solomons leaders to address challenges themselves, and introduce perverse incentives that entrench dysfunction, has been partly borne out—as seen in aid’s continuing importance to Honiara’s budget. But is that a valid criterion by which to judge RAMSI? Tobias Haque, among others, argues economic self-sufficiency ‘is not a useful goal’ given the Solomons’ immutable economic geography as a small and isolated market recovering from collapse. Dependency doesn’t diminish RAMSI but demands further innovation.

RAMSI established some unnecessary, duplicative administrative mechanisms that probably weakened Solomon Islands Government processes, and it missed opportunities to promote real political change. RAMSI’s state-building focused on rebuilding broken institutions via technocratic efforts to create economic and governance conditions conducive to growth. But its social licence to do so was built on an understanding—partly tacit, partly reflecting RAMSI’s mandate—that the mission wouldn’t interfere too much with unsustainable logging or associated localised, money politics.

If harvestable logs were inexhaustible, continuing that approach might be logical to buy time for the country’s political settlement to bed-down. But a crunch is approaching—logging’s contribution to the economy decreases about 8% per year, and income from mining will only slowly replace this, if it can at all. Mining can’t take logging’s place at the heart of the patronage state. Mining revenue will be more narrowly spread, obliging elites to scramble for new spoils, and introducing a fresh wave of social tensions Solomon Islanders have limited experience managing successfully. True, those disruptive effects might lead to good as well as ill, forcing a break with corrupt practices. But the World Bank and others warn we should ‘expect turbulence’ either way, as pressure on local patronage networks was a key ‘driver of conflict’ when logging cash dried up during the Asian Financial Crisis before the 1998-2003 troubles.

Australia retains both the motive and the capacity to promote positive Solomons responses to that political and economic transition. Honiara’s election preparations and response to last month’s floods (including unrest by residents of some evacuation centres and nearby settlements) show traditional capability-building efforts are still useful. Scholars are also designing innovative approaches to economic, migration, aid, land and other challenges likely to be intensified by the end of logging. Any successes will be relevant to fostering peace and prosperity both in and beyond the Solomons.

Karl Claxton is an analyst at ASPI. Image courtesy of the Department of Defence.

Australia–Fiji defence cooperation can be ‘win-win’

Fijian Army Private Qiri desembarked from Lighter Amphibious Resupply Cargo (LARC) at Canala Bay

In a recent op-ed I suggested that as we’re now normalising our relations with Fiji we shouldn’t just go back to the ‘same old, same old’ when it comes to defence cooperation.

The great advantage of military relationship-building is that much of it can be done without attracting too much political attention. The new Commander of Republic of Fiji Military Forces (RFMF) is a graduate of the Australian Defence Force Staff College, and he’ll likely be receptive to engagement with his Australian counterparts. Early resumption of places for Fijian officers at our training establishments, along with participation in joint exercises should be part of a normal Fiji–Australia relationship.

But I also suggested that one new idea we might consider would be ADF training courses in Fiji or Australia to prepare young Fijians to be, at the same time, Australian permanent residents and ADF recruits: after they’d performed sufficient loyal service, this would lead to Australian citizenship. Fiji would benefit from the remittances. Alternatively, if there were concerns we were ‘cherry- picking’ the best and brightest, they could go back under a return-of-service obligation and strengthen the RFMF (Fiji now allows dual citizenship). Read more

The rule now is that you have to be an Australian citizen before you can enlist, or—in certain circumstances for ‘high priority’ jobs—you can be a permanent resident nearing citizenship and your application can be fast-tracked. Most of our overseas military recruits and lateral transfers come from the UK, US, NZ and Canada.

We should be taking a closer look at the UK model of Commonwealth recruiting to see the justifications and modalities, and get away from any notion that this would be some kind of ‘guest worker’ scheme: Fijians serving in the UK armed forces aren’t called ‘guest workers’.

The UK’s Commonwealth recruitment scheme advertises vacancies in the relevant country, interviews in those states, and selection is based on skills.

Certainly equal conditions with Australian personnel would be essential, (as in the UK model). They’d not be in separate units and nor should navy and air force personnel be excluded.

Currently there’s no evidence that the ADF’s facing massive recruiting shortfalls. (The applicant-assessment-enlistment ratio’s around 10:3:1—that is ten applicants test for three to be assessed for one to enlist.) So the idea of incorporating Fijians into the ADF is an idea that can and should receive careful preparation to ensure its success.

Still, it shouldn’t be that hard to find a winning formula here. Fijians and Australians have a long history of getting along with each other through tourism, sport, education, and commerce. Moreover, Fijian military cooperation with Australia has a long and positive history.

If it was successful, such a scheme might be extended by bilateral agreement to other island states. But I’d guess that the overwhelming majority of recruitment would come from Fiji: the country’s long exported security personnel and Fijian expertise is highly-regarded in UN peacekeeping missions (Fiji’s now got over 500 troops in UNDOF’s delicate mission in the Golan). For every RFMF vacancy advertised in Fiji, there’s a huge response from would-be recruits.

If properly instituted the proposed scheme may well prove to be a positive strand in the ties that bind Australia and Fiji.

Anthony Bergin is deputy director of ASPI. Image courtesy of Department of Defence.

Boats to patrol the Pacific

Karl PPB

Calls to fast-track the construction of new patrol boats to replace Navy’s hard-working but troubled Armidales, partly to help forestall the valley of death facing the nation’s naval shipyards, occur amid continuing debate over the cases for and against paying a premium to produce advanced vessels in Australia. Make-work programs to preserve ship-building job and skills are particularly controversial.

Given the complexity of the arguments now swirling over whether to replace the Armidales early (the youngest is barely six years old) it’s nice to be able to point to a naval manufacturing opportunity that’s warranted on strategic grounds alone, irrespective of any industrial or other benefits: Canberra should move to implement the Pacific Maritime Security Program. The PMSP is due to start replacing up to 22 old Pacific Class Patrol Boats (PPBs) in 12 countries from 2018 but isn’t funded in the forward estimates. Read more

On the surface, the prospect of gifting boats to replace vessels that haven’t always been well-used might appear extravagant with the Defence budget so tight. Current PPB performance varies greatly across the fleet but problems have included non-security related tasking (such as for VIP transport), some rough-handling including periodic runnings-aground, erratic routine maintenance, and disappointing rates of effort. By 2011, the PPBs were achieving 66 sea-days per boat per year, up from just 36 in 2008, but far fewer than the over 200 for the RAN’s patrol boats (which have two crews). PMSP wouldn’t be inexpensive either. Shadow Assistant Defence Minister David Feeney—an enthusiast—estimates 20 or so steel-hulled boats purpose-built in Australia for regional conditions would cost just under $300 million to deliver. Total costs could reach $1.5 billion over 35 years.

Yet the PMSP isn’t just ‘defence aid’. It’s more accurately viewed as a form of forward-defence and regional conflict prevention, which will be good for regional countries but also profoundly in our own national interest. Although far from cheap, it represents a cost-effective investment in being able to help shape, rather than merely react to, regional events.

For Australia, PMSP will preserve regional capabilities to police a vast area we’d otherwise have to look after ourselves. Working with local militaries, police maritime elements, and customs services to support their effective self-help is preferable to us asking (or being called upon) to act in other peoples’ jurisdictions. Supported by a small network of posted RAN personnel, PMSP will also promote a continuing welcome for the ADF’s, low-key but visible, enduring strategic presence across our maritime approaches. Familiar and valued cooperation delivers both direct benefits—such as extra reach for our search and rescue efforts or deterring drug-smuggling aimed at Australian markets—and indirect value, such as situational awareness, influence, and opportunities to engage traditional regional partners—the US, France and NZ. It may also moderate any adventurism by actors from outside the region, whether ascendant powers, marginalised states, or investors.

For participating countries, PMSP will modernise cooperative efforts to protect marine resources, enforce sovereignty, and counter transnational crime. The program should include enhanced surveillance, coordination, and technical-legal collaboration to make the most of the new boats. The absence of a follow-on to PPB would heighten vulnerability to socio-economic sources of instability. Fishing is critical to regional countries, but they are hard-pressed to protect their resources, having mostly small populations and large EEZs. Illegal fishing already plunders a billion dollars from regional coffers each year. And economic pressures could contribute to the need for lengthy, costly and risky stabilisation missions.

PMSP could also be progressed without a large one-off spend. Introducing a couple of boats per year as the current PPBs reach their maximum extendable lives from 2018 to 2027 would spread acquisition costs. Enhanced aerial surveillance and other potentially expensive components of PMSP could also be added gradually as economic circumstances and operational tempo permit.  Cheaper, potentially suitable, foreign patrol boat designs are available, though with some symbolic and practical downsides. NZ could chip in (it already provides PPB personnel) given its Cook Islands and wider responsibilities. And wealthier recipients may value PMSP more if they make a contribution in return for some say in capability specifications. A proportion of costs for non-military vessels might be deemed aid-eligible for non-strategic tasks such as food security. Hand-me-down Armidales would be prized for their sleek lines—they aren’t your grandfather’s PT boat—and might fill a short term gap, but could also be uneconomical and unsustainable over the longer term.

Whatever option Government chooses, PMSP deserves some numbers against it in next month’s budget alongside the much larger figures for grander investments in our maritime security.

Karl Claxton is an analyst at ASPI. Map (c) ASPI 2014.

Police cooperation can help restart the relationship

Indonesia's police

While the political relationship between Australia and Indonesia is going through a tough time, the close relationship between their two police forces continues. That’s good for Australia and Indonesia because this relationship supports both countries’ national interests in promoting the rule of law and practical cooperation against crime and terrorism.

As our recently released report, ‘A return on investment: the future of police cooperation between Australia and Indonesia’, explains, the relationship between the Australian Federal Police and Indonesian National Police (POLRI) would benefit from some new thinking. That’s because their relationship is at an inflection point: in addition to the freeze in cooperation on cyber crime and people smuggling caused by the current rift, a number of joint initiatives have either matured (and require revision) or are becoming less relevant. Some others—like people smuggling—mightn’t be as relevant in the future either. The rift might have also created a trust deficit in intelligence sharing and the cyberdomain.

The close police relationship can help Australia and Indonesia navigate their way to the ‘new normal’—a new state of bilateral relations that the foreign ministers are in the process of negotiating. Both countries can leverage the past achievements and current, low-key collaboration of the two police forces in some new ways. This will also help shift the focus onto less politically-charged issues like cooperation on transnational crime. Read more

One golden opportunity to mark the success of this relationship will be upon us soon. July 2014 marks the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the highly-successful Jakarta Centre for Law Enforcement Cooperation (JCLEC). This small school located in Central Java has seen over 15,000 law enforcement officers attend over 600 training activities in the last decade. It’s also bought a number of regional police force officers to Indonesia to discuss common threats like terrorism, people smuggling and organised crime. It’s been an outstanding success that should be marked, and used to promote the clear benefits of Australia–Indonesia cooperation.

Another opportunity might be to address absent parts of the bilateral cooperation. Currently, there’s no counterpart meeting for Australia’s Justice Minister, who’s responsible for the AFP. This is partly because the Indonesian system is differs to Australia’s, with the POLRI Chief reporting straight to the President. Still, a broad-membership forum focused on law enforcement could bring ministers and officials together to discuss cooperation and future capacity building projects. Its broad membership could also encourage a whole of government perspective among Indonesian law enforcers.

The Australian government could also request the Indonesian government to provide some policing experts for the G20 conference in November 2014. This conference will require Australia’s police forces to pool much of their specialist capabilities for a short period, and to hold more on stand-by in case of an incident. It’s a good time to recoup some of the investment Australia’s made in POLRI over the last decade by inviting some of their specialists to work in Canberra during this time. It’s also a great way to demonstrate the partnership between Australia and Indonesia, which are both G20 states.

Turning to medium-term opportunities, the next Commonwealth budget needs to restore the Law Enforcement Development Program (LEDP). This program provides the AFP with an ability to fund small cooperation projects with its partners, such as training courses, visits and gifts of equipment. In effect, the LEDP allows the AFP to respond quickly to new opportunities as they emerge. This level of flexibility will be needed as the ‘new normal’ for the bilateral relationship won’t emerge for some time yet, unless political conditions change for the better.

Beyond that, it’s also time to think about the longer-term police-to-police relationship. This will be important because an increasingly wealthy Indonesia, and increased links between the two countries, will likely be accompanied by an increase in transnational crime. Both forces should be thinking about how the investment of the last decade can be leveraged for mutual benefit. Building stronger people-to-people links through a police alumni organisation and new capability initiatives against cybercrime will help.

Finally, both forces could do more to spread the focus of cooperation beyond Indonesia by encouraging more activities in Australia and in the broader Southeast Asian region. This should include some long-term attachments for POLRI officers in Australia.

There’s also a great opportunity for the AFP and POLRI to work together in Myanmar, where its police force is emerging from military control and is in need of professional training. Such cooperation would promote both Australia and Indonesia’s interests in promoting democracy and change in Myanmar, and provide a tangible demonstration of the benefits of international police cooperation.

David Connery and Natalie Sambhi are analysts at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. Michael McKenzie is a PhD scholar at the Australian National University. Their report, ‘A return on investment: the future of police cooperation between Australia and Indonesia’ was published by ASPI and is available for download here. Image courtesy of Flickr user Luther Bailey.

Mr Abbott goes to Port Moresby—what to expect?

Lieutenant Aaron Swanson from A Company, 2nd Royal Australian Regiment speaks with Colonel Mark Goina Chief of Personnel, PNG Defence Force and Lieutenant Colonel Vince Gabina, Commanding Officer of 2nd Battalion Royal Pacific Island Regiment, PNGDF in Wewak, PNG during Exercise Olgeta Warrior.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s visit to Papua New Guinea will occur at a complex time in a complex relationship with a complex neighbour.

Although warnings that forecasting is a ‘mug’s game for strategists’ are doubly ominous in ‘the land of the unexpected’, Abbott’s scheduled to arrive in Port Moresby this evening, so I’ll recklessly hazard a few observations, some predictions, and even make a suggestion or two.

The idea that PNG is at a ‘crossroads’ has been applied to various issues at several points over the years—most memorably by David Hegarty in 1989 as the Bougainville crisis escalated, economic woes deepened, and the still fairly upbeat ‘post-colonial twilight’ faded into the past. PNG has experienced resource booms every decade from the 1970s on, but it’s still hard to think of another era when the country has simultaneously stood tantalisingly close to really taking-off but also to taking a nasty fall. While there’s probably some life yet in another old trope, that ‘PNG will always muddle through’, the current situation seems more a case of ‘crash-through-or-crash’ than just bumbling along. Read more

So why do Port Moresby’s prospects appear at once so promising and fragile? And given our stake in a stable, prosperous, confident and active PNG, how might Mr Abbott help it soar rather than stumble?

Let’s start with Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, whose own position partly mirrors PNG’s. He retains a seemingly unassailable 100 or so of the 111 seats in Parliament and has a year left to run of his 30-month freedom from votes-of-no-confidence. He easily accomplished a recent muscle-flexing exercise by sacking the heads of major parties in his governing coalition; his talented and ambitious Treasurer and his hitherto powerful Petroleum Minister. The immediate catalyst for the dismissals were quarrels over a billion dollar loan to reacquire PNG’s stake in resource bonds previously hocked to purchase equity in another resource project. This episode raises concerns that O’Neill may be making double-or-nothing wagers against future national revenue that will pay-off handsomely if events fall his way but leave PNG highly exposed if things unfold badly. The show of strength in sacking both ministers also suggests he feels the sharks are starting to circle.

PNG’s economic outlook actually appears pretty positive, but again there are causes for concern. ExxonMobil’s $19 billion LNG project is a case in point. It’s several months ahead of schedule, and should start supplying gas to Asia by midyear. This’ll provide modest revenue to Port Moresby shortly thereafter and very substantial income a few years from now. The plant has substantial expansion capacity and major international firms are seriously pursuing other large gas projects. But at the same time, a combination of low global commodity prices, natural events, and fears that economic nationalism and sovereign risk is re-emerging (notwithstanding widespread acceptance that the nationalisation of Ok Tedi mine was a special case) have led to weaker mineral exploration and a large revenue shortfall.

The situation for PNG’s seven million citizens has bright spots. A decade of strong economic growth has allowed the Government to start implementing free education and health policies, but these are huge, difficult and expensive initiatives. Inequality is high and growing, as prices rise and rapid population growth exacerbates social pressures in urban and rural areas. In 2011, 40% of Papua New Guineans were judged to be poor. PNG won’t meet any of (and is actually going backwards against) its millennium development goals. And high levels of violence continue to impede economic growth and blight lives, especially for women.

So where does Australia fit in? The Abbott and O’Neill Governments’ instincts are similar on channelling Australian aid toward PNG priorities for building societal and governance as well as physical infrastructure to boost the economy. But while most would agree that preventing poverty is better than alleviating it, Port Moresby will need some help meeting sovereign responsibilities to deliver health, education and other vital services, and to assist the most disadvantaged, in addition to aid-for-trade, for a while yet.

In the security realm, military ties are growing, as agreed last December. PNG’s new national security policy and defence white paper provide a framework for prioritising growing cooperation. Abbott could usefully assure O’Neill that new vessels to replace its Pacific patrol boats are really coming and will meet PNG’s needs. Without this assurance, Port Moresby will continue to waste time window-shopping for frankly unaffordable vessels. (PNG may value Australian-provided boats more if it makes a financial contribution in return for greater input to their specifications.) For most Papua New Guineans, though, security means law and justice. Here, O’Neill values the visible AFP presence agreed last year. Australia’s also providing advice in the thorny area of anti-corruption, and we’ve made a start reinvigorating Bomana Police College. Yet the greatest help we could provide would be to deploy training-teams to generate large numbers of capable and disciplined PNG cops.

The PNG and Autonomous Bougainville Governments have made some progress advancing the peace process this year. However, while outcomes that might be acceptable to all—for instance, some form of independence-in-free-association—are conceivable, they’re far from assured and daunting practical challenges remain. Good communication between Port Moresby and Buka will be vital to ensure all parties prepare for, and can live with the results of, the coming referendum. Mr Abbott might usefully reiterate that Australia stands ready to assist such dialogue, and to help with any support the ABG requests, given our stake in avoiding renewed violence. As many Bougainvilleans rightly or wrongly consider that Australia was a party to the 1988–98 conflict, he could also indicate we’re ready to symbolically reconcile.

Finally, issues surrounding the Manus asylum-seeker facility will take centre-stage in public attention to the visit. Stephen Howes and Jenny Hayward-Jones have warned that Canberra’s focus on this matter could distort or damage interactions with Port Moresby. In fact, PNG’s centrality to ‘stopping the boats’ has had upsides as well as drawbacks up to now. Some in Port Moresby have valued the sense of a more equal partnership attached to ‘helping a friend’ rather than only ever being helped. This has probably contributed to friction points, such as PNG’s purchase of counterfeit drugs and Edward Snowden’s allegations being addressed calmly and mainly behind closed doors, as in grander ‘special relationships’. Even PNG’s suspension of visa-on-arrival arrangements hasn’t sparked noisy recriminations. However, the cost to O’Neill of helping Canberra is rising on a number of fronts: the issue of potential resettlement of asylum seekers in PNG approaches; a previously-stalled constitutional challenge is proceeding; and multiple inquiries into the killing of an asylum seeker on Manus sharpen neo-colonial ‘Pacific hellhole’ language. O’Neill and Abbott may need a clever formula to sustain this game of bluff.

Australia and PNG have some tricky issues to work through, but both PMs are strong communicators. Current bilateral relations seem as well placed as ever for frank, productive, discussions.

Karl Claxton is an analyst at ASPI. Image courtesy of Department of Defence.

Indian Ocean regionalism – picking up the pattern of connectivity

The members (dark green) and dialogue partners (light green) of the Indian Ocean Rim Association

It’s fair to say that, despite the existence of initiatives and organisations such as the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) and the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), Indian Ocean regional architecture is under-developed.  This reflects a lack of shared interests relative to some other regions, including limited economic and strategic integration, great socio-economic disparities, and modest people-to-people links.  Yet there’s benefit in seeking to address Indian Ocean transnational issues by regional means.

I recently attended a workshop in Mauritius organised by IORA, in association with the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, on ‘IORA and Strategic Stability in the Indian Ocean’. I was asked to address the question of what IORA can do to build trust, confidence and effective security cooperation. Here are the key points of what I said in Port Louis. Read more

IORA is the only body with a broadly-based agenda that spans the region and meets at ministerial level.  But it has struggled to find common ground among its diverse membership and suffered from institutional weakness (its secretariat has fewer than ten people). This has led to narrow project-focused agendas and an absence of strategic focus.

Australia (as chair for the next two years), India, (the immediate past chair), Indonesia (the current vice chair), and South Africa (which intends to nominate to succeed Indonesia in two years), should drive a more productive IORA agenda.   South Africa’s intention to nominate for vice-chair is welcome, as it’s keen to strengthen IORA’s work program and practices.  But these four countries need to avoid any sense of dictating to IORA’s smaller members.

IORA has agreed to work on six priority areas: maritime safety and security; trade and investment facilitation; fisheries management; disaster risk management; science and technology and academic cooperation; and tourism and cultural exchanges.  The ‘Perth Principles’ Declaration on the peaceful, productive and sustainable use of the Indian Ocean and its resources was issued at IORA’s annual meeting in Perth in November last year and should guide IORA’s future work.

IORA should be using projects on oceanography and meteorology as a base for exploring more systematic work on the ‘blue’ economy. The Indian Ocean remains one of the least studied and understood of the world’s oceans, so IORA should support projects such as the ambitious International Indian Ocean Expedition 50th Anniversary Initiative (PDF).

Climate change is a huge issue for countries like Bangladesh, Seychelles and the Maldives. IORA should have a wider agenda on risk mitigation and humanitarian assistance arrangements in the Indian Ocean region. For example, an IORA protocol on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief could be useful.

lORA’s work on maritime security should complement any IONS initiatives. If IONS were to develop operational ‘pointy end’ type working groups, like the Western Pacific Naval Symposium has done, then  IORA should make sure it didn’t duplicate work on maritime affairs and was more strategic than IONS.

Ministers and senior officials need to be more involved in IORA’s work. For example, fisheries ministers could be engaged in work on fisheries management or science ministers in fostering collaboration on oceanic research. IORA should get regional buy-in by establishing regular senior officials meetings in each of the priority areas. Ad-hoc working groups could address thematic areas and facilitate strategic discussion in areas such as maritime cooperation.

The Perth communique noted the possibility of a formal post-meeting dialogue between lORA member states and Dialogue Partners. That’s a good idea and Australia should encourage Dialogue Partners to engage with lORA through association with and contribution to specific lORA initiatives, either financially or by in-kind support. An lORA Dialogue could be established after each annual meeting along the lines of the Pacific Islands Forum Post Forum Dialogue.

There’s an lORA Business Forum, but there are limited opportunities for senior business representatives at the annual IORA ministerial meeting for them to gain access to Ministers. To boost private sector engagement we need something like an Indian Ocean event, which could be held alongside IORA’s Ministerial meeting, equivalent to the Africa Down Under conference and designed to attract business and government officials.

lORA has an Academic Group as part of its structure, but it would get greater traction if it were a genuine Indian Ocean second track body focussing on IORA’s current concerns, just as CSCAP engages closely with the ARF.

The Indian Ocean is the ‘great connector’ between Asia and Europe and countries around the rim.  IORA’s core priority should be to keep the Indian Ocean as a peaceful maritime highway, where all can prosper.  IORA should have strategically focused meeting agendas to maximise discussion, driven by ministers, on core Indian Ocean regional cooperation issues.

My key message in Port Louis was that IORA needs a comprehensive engagement strategy with Indian Ocean government officials, academics and business. We want Indian Ocean elites to pick up the pattern of connectivity.

Anthony Bergin is deputy director of ASPI. Image courtesy of DFAT.

Ranking Fiji in Australia’s South Pacific interests

Fourth place

Canberra is offering Fiji a promotion in the hierarchy of Australian interests in the South Pacific.

Ranking how Australia sees the South Pacific gives some regional context for the bilateral play as Canberra tries to hit the reset button with Suva. This column offers an ordering of the relative importance and status Australia gives its relationships in the South Pacific. It follows the thoughts offered in previous columns (here, here, and here) on the clash of competing visions for the region between Canberra and Suva and on the range of goodies Australia is offering Fiji for normalisation.

Pecking orders are always problematic in foreign affairs because the range of issues and interests are so diverse. Being a hack, not a High Commissioner, I can ignore such concerns. But Australian governments have occasionally been so blunt as to do league ladders: the Howard government’s 1997 Foreign Affairs White Paper and the Gillard government’s Asian Century White Paper, for example. Read more

Taking advantage of that tradition, here’s the hierarchy of Australian interests in the South Pacific and what I’ve called the Australian Arc. Money always talks in such matters, so beside the Island countries you’ll find Australia’s aid spend for 2013-14, using the revised figures issued by the Abbott government in January.

  1. Papua New Guinea and New Zealand
  2. Solomon Islands Vanuatu and Timor Leste
  3. Pacific Islands, Samoa, Tonga
  4. Fiji
  5. France and its Pacific territories
  6. Nauru, Kiribati, Other Small Pacific Islands
  7. The Pacific Community and other regional organisations

1. PNG ($448.5m) and New Zealand. The two at the top are the easiest pick because this is unchanged since the 19th century. PNG was the colony that mattered to Oz. But now Australia sees the Pacific through the lens of PNG; see this ASPI paper describing PNG as more of a success than Australia had any right to expect.

The Kiwis, of course, still have the option of coming to their senses and joining the Australian Commonwealth, under the terms of our constitution. (Clarification: the constitutional option for New Zealand to convert to Oz is correct but the rest of the sentence falls into the category of poor jest—on both sides of the Tasman.)

2. Solomon Islands ($90.4m), Vanuatu ($40.9) and Timor Leste($70m). These three, along with PNG, are members of the Australian Arc or Australia’s Arc of Responsibility (PDF).

By its actions and words, Australia has given Solomons, Vanuatu and Timor security guarantees equal to the treaty assurance we’ve given PNG. The five countries in these top two categories are all recipients of Australian security promises via treaties (PNG and NZ) or declarations in successive defence white papers. The nature of that guarantee has expanded beyond protecting external security to a range of commitments to maintain their internal stability. In an ad hoc manner, Australia has expanded its role as security guarantor to match its position as the region’s largest aid donor.

3. Pacific Islands Forum ($20m approx), Samoa ($23.1m), Tonga ($17.2m). Now it gets interesting. In years gone by, Fiji would have ranked well ahead of the Forum. Hell, the Ratu Mara view was that Fiji created the Forum. By kicking Fiji out, Australia and New Zealand greatly elevated the Forum’s importance and caused huge offence to Fiji; the see-saw in recent years has been importance up, effectiveness down. The stoush with Fiji has had the Forum in a holding pattern that has trended downwards. Helping the Forum is part of what Australia wants from helping Fiji. The Australian view of the Forum as the preeminent regional organisation plays to Australia’s desire to have a major role in regional groupings as an expression of its insider rights as a South Pacific nation. For Australia, the Forum’s, not just a vehicle for regional consensus, but a mechanism to impose and police norms, with Fiji as the greatest example of this power.

The pushback from Fiji has been fierce. Suva has been talking up the Melanesian Spearhead Group and has now created the Pacific Islands Development Forum (unofficial motto: Kick the Kangaroos, Kiss off the Kiwis!). With that motto in mind, here’s Bainimarama speaking at the inaugural PIDF summit:

Why do we need a new body, a new framework of cooperation? Because the existing regional structure for the past four decades—the Pacific Islands Forum—is for Governments only and has also come to be dominated only by a few. In too many instances, it no longer genuinely represents our interests and needs.

Samoa and Tonga are on level three because of their standing in the region and their friendship and connections with Australia and New Zealand, confirmed over decades. On the aid measure and their positions beyond the Australian Arc, they need to be on the third rung, not the second. On the matter merely of how they treat Australian High Commissioners, they rank above Fiji in the Oz hierarchy—for now, anyway.

4. Fiji ($34.2)

5. France and its Pacific territories. Putting Fiji nearly on the same level as France is just as cheeky as putting Fiji below the Forum. Anthony Bergin has these thoughts on what France is contributing to the region and how Australia could lift the relationship, while Peter Jennings delivers this summing up of the remarkable change in the way France is viewed:

In the Pacific, France’s position has gone full circle from the unhappy nuclear-testing, insurgency fighting 1980s to a point where the French territories are now the model of stability and the envy of the region. France is a net contributor to Pacific Island security and one of very few countries prepared to do more to support more regional cooperation.

Australia has plenty of reasons to look beyond the old aches of Francophobia to see a France that can be a power of the Pacific.

Now some thoughts on the country on the fourth level: Long years of diplomatic nastiness and disappointments out of Suva have impacted the way Australia thinks about the region. Once, Fiji would have sat naturally on the second level, certainly ahead of the Forum and any contenders from Polynesia. This league ladder suggests that Australia will do what it needs to get some normalisation with Fiji, but it doesn’t have to accept Suva’s assessment of where it sits in the firmament. As a revisionist state seeking to change the regional system, Fiji deserves plenty of attention, but not undue weight in the regional hierarchy it’s attacking.

The interests of other players should encourage Australia not to fret too much about the Melanesian Spearhead Group or Fiji’s new version of the Forum. PNG and others in the region have plenty of selfish reasons not to accept Fiji’s view of its central importance.

In offering normalisation and seeking a relaxation of the fight over the regional system, Australia wants to see Fiji take a higher spot on the prestige/precedence ladder (as seen from Canberra, of course). The shift doesn’t have to be discussed using the language of hierarchy or relative importance. That’s the beauty of the ‘family’ image Julie Bishop used in Suva, while acknowledging Fiji’s right to broaden its diplomatic options:

Australia, likewise, is always seeking to develop new friendships, new networks, new alliances, new partnerships around the world. And we would expect a strong regional power like Fiji to develop relationships with other countries. But of course, Australia and New Zealand have longstanding relations with Fiji. We have very strong historic ties, military ties, trade and investment ties. Hundreds of thousands of Australians come to Fiji every year as their choice of a tourism destination. So while all countries should be seeking to forge new relationships in the interests of peace and greater prosperity, at the end of the day your friends and your family are what count. And Fiji, and Australia and New Zealand, should consider themselves as family.

Using that metaphor, it has been a family argument of Freudian fury or Shakespearean temper. And there’s no going back to what was before. Beyond Fiji’s election, though, there’s a chance for some calming of the clash of interests.

Graeme Dobell is the ASPI journalism fellow. Image courtesy of Flickr user Stephanie Keeney.

Fiji: end sanctions now

Commander Land Force Colonel Mosese Tikoitoga briefs Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama. It's been reported that Colonel Tikoitoga  will take over from Prime Minister Bainimarama as Commander of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces.Improved relations between Australia and Fiji would benefit Canberra, Suva, and the region. Such ties would bolster Australia’s regional leadership credentials, assist Fiji’s dealings with its largest trading partner and donor, and prevent further collateral-damage to the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF).

According to the Fiji Ministry of Information, Prime Minister, Commodore Voreqe ‘Frank’ Bainimarama, will step down as head of the Fiji military today. Australia should respond by lifting sanctions right away.

In 2012, Graeme Dobell noted that the debate between pro-sanctions ‘hawks’ and pro-engagement ‘doves’ had become an arid argument. The strong points on each side of the debate, friction between key personalities, and mutual distrust had created an impasse. Those who suggested continuing isolation was only deepening regime intransigence and harming Canberra’s influence and interests were sometimes branded ‘appeasers’ by others who argued abandoning fundamental regional values would have significant practical as well as moral repercussions. Read more

That stalemate is easing thanks, firstly, to the circuit-breaker provided by the election of a new Australian government committed to trying to normalise relations (as one of just eight pre-election foreign policy priorities) and, secondly, to Suva’s concrete steps towards proper elections. But while that combination of factors means neither side had to capitulate, and allows each to move on, Richard Herr is probably right to warn the diplomatic breakthrough is as fragile as it is welcome.

Writing about the recent PIF Ministerial Contact Group visit to Suva, including Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s apparently successful Valentine’s Day meeting with Bainimarama, Elke Larsen from the CSIS calls reengagement ‘the right policy at the right time’ but cautions that regional powers need to ‘keep up pressure to ensure elections are genuinely free and fair’. I’d normally agree it’s sensible to hold some policy levers in reserve and to make any concessions progressively, but in this case I’d suggest that we’re presented with the opportunity and the need to be a bit more audacious than that.

That’s partly because retaining travel sanctions in principle serves only as an irritant and an insult when they’ve already ended in practice (as Dobell notes, only one out of the last 56 requests for compassionate, humanitarian or national interest exemptions has been rejected—and that on technical grounds). Whereas Bishop reportedly told Bainimarama the sanctions policy was under review and the next opportunity to take it to cabinet would be after he’s stepped down as army chief, setting-aside any conditionalities was a key ingredient in the success of her meeting with him. We’re likely to get further by trying to totally re-set the relationship than if we seem tricky or inclined to haggle over trading concessions on frustrations such as the non-accreditation of our High Commissioner designate. If things go badly, new measures might be preferable to reviving the old ones that helped delegitimise the coup but did little to change Fiji’s behaviour. Let’s instead try to avoid reaching that point by signalling that Bainimarama’s willingness to do the right thing will be rewarded.

Rowan Callick suggests Bishop’s highlighting the prospect of renewed defence ties was probably crucial to demonstrate that Canberra’s ready to go forward in partnership with Suva. But, as Anthony Bergin suggests, it’ll be useful to look beyond just the barracks for areas of mutually beneficial security cooperation. ASPI identifies opportunities in areas such as maritime security, enhanced peacekeeping cooperation, disaster resilience, and law enforcement and justice.

Once Bainimarama steps down as military chief, we’ll have little to lose and much to gain by positively reinforcing that move. A leap of faith now would entail some risk, but not acting carries the greater risk that we’ll miss building sway we might need later. Moving forward boldly and in good faith would increase the likelihood of further positive outcomes eventuating. If things go badly, it wouldn’t leave ‘egg on our face’, rather we would have strengthened our moral and practical sway. It’s time to move from the principle of ‘first, do no harm’ to ‘seize the day.’

Karl Claxton is an analyst at ASPI. Image courtesy of the Fijian Government

Sweet and sour goodies for Fiji (part 2)

Sweet and sour?

All change for Fiji. The Supremo is hanging up his uniform and becoming a civilian leader to give his New Order vision democratic credentials. For Canberra and Suva, this is the time to change the script as everyone prepares for elections. This series started by discussing the systemic struggle between Australia as the status quo power in the South Pacific and Fiji as the revisionist power.

My previous column discussed the sweet and the sour of the diplomatic goodies Australia is deploying as it pursues normalisation. Now I’ll turn to the range of mutually beneficial goodies on offer. Read more

First up is a public service ‘twinning’ arrangement so that Fijian officials can work in Canberra and Australians in Suva. This is a major break from a long history of distrust and argy bargy. In her Suva visit, Australia’s Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, was upbeat about how quickly the ‘twinning’ idea could be made to happen:

I believe that we will see more Australian engagement in Fiji. We have offered to send our public servants over here in areas such as the Treasury, Finance, Foreign Affairs—that was well received. Likewise, we’ve invited representatives of the Fijian public service to Australia in various areas and that seemed to be well received. So the steps will hopefully transform into reality over the weeks ahead.

The struggle between Australia and Fiji over the regional system will have to be calmed before Australian public servants are launched into Fiji’s bureaucracy. And it’ll be a strange look if Oz public servants head to Suva to start ‘twinning’ ahead of Australia’s High Commissioner to Fiji, Margaret Twoomey. After all, she has been waiting to be admitted to Fiji since her appointment was announced in 2012.

Also on the agenda is defence cooperation, which was suspended after the 2006 coup. The resumption of defence contacts involves myriad steps, such as the exchange of defence attaches, officer training and the entry of Fiji’s Defence Minister to the annual South Pacific Defence Minister’s Meeting, which started last year. The eventual return to joint training will be helped by the fact that a certain Fijian Commodore will no longer be in uniform. As Anthony Bergin wrote last week, restoring defence cooperation means Australia can support Fiji’s UN peacekeeping efforts and explore wider national security cooperation in maritime affairs, disaster resilience, law enforcement and cyber security. The ‘twinning’ model opens new avenues.

Fiji will also be invited to be part of Australia’s Pacific Maritime Security Program. Fiji has a standing defence pledge that it will be readmitted to the Pacific Patrol Boat program ‘upon a return to democracy’. Suva got that nod in the Australian Defence White Paper last year, which promised to replace the existing Pacific Patrol Boats as they come to the end of their service from 2018 to 2028. The three boats Australia gave Fiji are due to reach their end of service life in 2024-25, so the replacement counts as a long term promise. (See the paper by Anthony Bergin and Sam Bateman on the Pacific Patrol Boat program here.)

Other avenues of increased cooperation include:

  • Australia’s seasonal workers’ program, bringing Islanders to Australia for seasonal jobs, could be extended to Fijians
  • Fiji could be a target in 2015 for the New Colombo Plan, to send Australia’s ‘best and brightest young people’ to study in the Asia Pacific
  • Re-establishing the Australia-Fiji Government Industry Working Group, which last met before the 2006 coup, to generate more trade and investment. In Suva, Bishop said Australia would look at Fiji’s concerns about the working of their double taxation agreement.

The normalisation involved in Australia’s bilateral goodies feeds through to a set of multilateral gifts/rewards, such as the end to Fiji’s suspension (since 2009, after Bainimarama’s failure to deliver promised elections) from the Pacific Islands Forum and the Commonwealth.

The Forum Ministerial Contact Group, concluding its visit to Suva on February 15, announced that the door would soon be open for Fiji to participate in PACER Plus negotiations (the free trade talks between Australia, New Zealand and the Islands) and also to attend Forum Trade Ministers’ Meetings at ministerial level.

In laying out the goodies, Australia is seeking normalisation ahead of the election. And Canberra’s effectively offering Fiji a promotion in the hierarchy of Australia’s regional interests—even if Bainimarama’s New Order can cement its hold in the election. My next column will consider how Australia’s past actions demoted Fiji from the second to the fourth level of its regional hierarchy and what changes to that order would mean.

Graeme Dobell is the ASPI journalism fellow. Image courtesy of Flickr user libraryman.