Development lessons for the security agenda: why local matters in the Pacific

Maima Koro

As Pacific governments seek to integrate their development and security strategies, it is important to consider local contexts, Maualaivao Maima Koro writes.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created enormous disruption and continues to do great damage in the Pacific Island region. However, the crisis has also forced policymakers to reconsider how they approach a range of key issues, and regional development and security are no exception.

As Vani Catanasiga, Executive Director of the Fiji Council of Social Services, said in the Pacific Lockdown documentary: “reflecting on the experiences of [COVID-19] last year, one of the opportunities presented to us both in government and in civil societies is the opportunity to rethink how we do development.”

What opportunities are provided by the current pandemic that could enhance the development agenda and create a more secure Pacific? Given the hit and miss record of development in the region, what lessons can we apply to improve performance?

When considering development in the Pacific, it pays to remember Lord Denning’s famous 1956 oak tree analogy: ‘Just as with an English oak, so with the English common law. You cannot transplant it to the African continent and expect it to retain the tough character which it has in England.’ Whilst Lord Denning’s principle referred to a legal context, the homegrown approach should be a fundamental principle in the development arena.

Fast forward to today and there is an abundance of literature on the importance of context in development initiatives. It seems rational and arguably pure common sense that development initiatives must be designed with local context in mind. Some would argue though, common sense is not common, and it is hard to disagree when we consider findings pointing to the mixed record of development across the board.

There is no shortage of reports on ineffective development interventions in the Pacific. Reasons range from poor design to ineffective delivery methods, including the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to an extremely diverse region. There is also the political will aspect, which can be either a powerful enabler or debilitating hurdle.

Now there is a new kid on the development-security block, national security strategies and their implementation processes — but will they be effective?

In 2018, Pacific leaders announced the Boe Declaration on Regional Security, which includes an more expansive definition of security issues and a commitment to collectively address regional security issues. Prior to the Boe Declaration, Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Fiji had already developed their own national security strategies (NSS), in 2011 and 2016 respectively.

Fiji has been reviewing its NSS for some time and is due to launch the revised version early in 2021. Samoa (2018)Vanuatu (2019), and Solomon Islands all published their NSS, and Tonga and Cook Islands are in the early stages of formulating theirs.

The common objective across all NSS developed to date is to secure and create resilient countries, as well as protect states’ sovereignty. The Boe Declaration expanded and redefined the concept of security, and national threats are defined in the context of each country examining their internal and external risks arising from human, environmental, and traditional security concerns. As a result, the NSS are taking the next step in linking pressing development and security issues.

There are also clear links between the NSS and the countries’ national development agendas. In the Pacific, development and the security agendas are the flip sides of the same coin, and the outcome of one is reliant on the other.

The implementation processes are still in their early stages, but true to the Boe Declaration, the systems being put in place include national security secretariats that allow both security and development agencies to set common agendas. It’s a step in the right direction — the trick will be the effective operation of these bodies.

The integration of security and development issues clearly signals a regional aspiration that the achievement of development goals will support secure and resilient nations. As summarised by former Vanuatu Prime Minister Charlot Salwai Tabimasmas when launching their NSS: “[the NSS will] assist the government pursue its goals and objective under the National Sustainable Development Plan. The Strategy will help to inform prioritisation of our resources and guide government investment in our national security”.

One of the underpinning principles in all NSS is the aspiration for better coordination and collaboration at all levels. Samoan Prime Minister Sailele Malielegaoi stated that “strong and effective coordination is central to successful response mechanisms highlighted in the implementation strategy”.

Implementation strategies focus on the whole-of-government and whole-of-country approaches with improved coordination and collaboration at the regional and global levels. Not only are they about better internal coordination, they also aim to set the agenda more clearly for external engagements on national development-security priorities. The Boe Declaration and the NSS are part of the new Pacific diplomacy and a more assertive Pacific in setting policy agendas.

The success of Pacific Island governments in managing the most recent security threat, COVID-19, supports this. The experience of the pandemic points to a whole-of-country approach for the common good and the need to integrate security and development agendas.

Advancing development and security together is about reflection, learning from experience, and tailoring responses to context. We cannot continue to ignore Lord Denning’s warning that local context is important.

2 comments on "Development lessons for the security agenda: why local matters in the Pacific"

  1. Tiu Koro says:

    Well written and a definite “mind opener”… Malo, proud of you…

  2. Roneima Teumohenga says:

    This article has made me realise that there is so little that I know about the development in the Pacific. It sparked an interest in me and I am eager to learn more.

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