Thinking about the future of Pacific security

Aerial view of a village located at the CoralCoast on Fiji’s main island Viti Levu. Image by Tom Vierus

The recent launch of the Pacific Regional Security Outlook 2023-24 by the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat and the Pacific Fusion Centre forecasts an increasingly complex security environment dominated by intersecting strategic challenges, both national and regional (p6). Concurrent traditional security flashpoints in various regions are deteriorating the international security environment and straining multilateral systems. As former PIF SG Henry Puna has noted, geostrategic uncertainty is “driving partners to increase military spending, contrary to Pacific interests in seeing global attention focused firmly on addressing climate change and our development challenges.”   

It was therefore timely that, academics, uniformed and regional officials, national policy makers and national security advisors and coordinators from around the Blue Pacific region gathered in Suva, Fiji from 24-26 June 2024 to discuss a shared vision of the future for Pacific security. Through the regional security conference facilitated by the Pacific Security College, we identified three key takeaways important to helping us all maintain a region of peace and security today and tomorrow.    

  1. Harmony – this is more than a term used in the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent; it is central to the way we must engage moving forward. The future ahead of us is uncertain and crowded with people who are a part of us and those who are not. With people who know the value of our cultures and Pacific ways of life and those who do not. Therefore, if we do not advance in harmony to safeguard what we cherish, we will be lost, and we will sink. Regular interaction amongst us here in the region is, therefore, a MUST. It need not be formal; it can be virtual, but ultimately, it maintains our close networks and harmony. 
  2. Thinking as a village – Our Pacific island countries and peoples are all part of a shared village, and as in a village setting, the sharing of information, best practices, policies, and legislations is a must to have in our region to ensure that collectively we have a robust security regime and system. We do not make meeting appointments in a village, we simply turn up and storian and get on with it. We beat the drums or the tamtam or blow the bubu (conch shell), and people gather to meet. The critical work of the Pacific Fusion Centre in providing informed, relevant strategic security assessments for Pacific security coordinators and advisors and the work of the Forum Secretariat in supporting countries to set our regional security agenda is central to ensuring we continue to think as a regional village.
  3. Our culture is our security. It is absolutely essential that we integrate culture into security. In Vanuatu, when we can do no more, we hand over to our chiefs to help resolve issues. Consider the yam (Dioscorea sp.), a highly valued traditional Pacific root crop that undergoes several stages of preparation, planting and care before a good harvest, when it is then used for a multitude of reasons including as food, in trade and for ceremonies. Yams keep us healthy, yams allowed Vanuatu to freely trade with our Kanaky and Solomon Islands brothers and sisters prior to colonially-imposed travel interdictions. Cultural ties ensured we travelled freely, without GPS or borders, to other countries, and we could trade food to help each other through disasters. But we have inherited a colonial legacy that complicates security approaches. This is now our challenge. We know that our histories and cultures have much to offer by way of safeguarding peace and security. We need to start recognising that cultural security is a critical element in Pacific human security. Future Pacific Security Outlook Reports should include this accordingly.  

In Vanuatu, last year our government developed a saying that is “Yumi talem, yumi mekem, yumi luk” (We say it, we do it, we see it). This month, our government launched the first National Foreign Policy underscoring the commitment to “promote a stable, secure and prosperous region as a responsible member of the Blue Pacific Continent.” The security challenge is on us all. We must continue to storian and talanoa to achieve our vision for a Region of Peace.  

*Adapted from remarks made at the Pacific Security Futures session by Roline Tekon, National Security Adviser, Vanuatu with input from former PFC Associate Director Anna Naupa 

Pacific Regional and National Security Conference 2024, Suva, Fiji

Delegates of the Pacific Regional and National Security Conference 2024, Suva, Fiji. Photo by Michael Southam

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