Speech delivered to the World Bank, Fragility Forum,”The Pacific Way? Mobilizing SDGs for Peace and Security”
March 3, 2016, Washington, D.C., by invitation of the Pacific Island Forum Secretariat. Speakers included: Sarah Mecartney, Pacifc Urban Specialist; Ashwin Raj, Governance, Democracy and Human Rights Specialist; Jane Sansbury, Country Program Coordinator, the World Bank; and Arnie Saiki, Coordinator, Moana Nui Alliance.
Moderated by: Timothy Bryar, Conflict Prevention Advisor, Pacific Island Forum Secretariat.
I’m going to be speaking about regional integration and self-determination in the Pacific Island region in the context of both States and Territories. It may sound strange to speak about a kind of self-determination in this context, because it usually just applies to territories that are still bound by the tethers of Administering Powers. But after yesterday’s conference on the changing landscape of negotiation and dialogue—a discussion that looked at Boko Haram and ISIS as being examples of the changing state and strategic landscape, I’m sure that what I’ll be speaking about will fit right in.
Most of the independent Pacific Islands gained their independence after 1970, and many of the territories with strong decolonization campaigns are seeking routes away from the various special administrative statuses that they’re in. Some campaigners are seeking to be relisted onto the UN decolonization list, and some territories that are already on the list, are seeking full independence.
But regardless of their status, all Pacific Islands share in the fragility of the region. Issues over the loss of fresh water, land, ocean acidification, fisheries depletion, radioactive waste, militarization and a slew of other degradations that many of the larger economies refuse to take responsibility for, add to the disparities unique to Pacific Islands. I would argue that the survival of Oceania is dependent on regional self-determination and that inequitable trade agreements, occupations and whatever special statuses that the Administrating Powers maintain will be better addressed when regional ecological and economic integration is attained.
The 24 members of the UN Statistical Division, assigned to developing an indicator framework for the monitoring of the goals and targets of the post-2015 development agenda at the global level are broken down between regions: Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, and Western Europe and the other States—But if you notice, there is no Pacific.
Generally speaking, the Pacific gets lumped in with Asia as “Asia-Pacific” as if there was some kind of fraternal historical bond between Asia and these distant island archipelagos.
Small Pacific Island Countries and Territories (PICTs) have tremendous statistical equity in their own right, looking at fisheries for example. The UN Statistical Division—by failing to separate PICT indicators from Asian indicators, are excluding the particularized equity and concerns of the region. As it is now, the economic and ecological mapping necessary to approach regional statistical analysis, will require a significant level of data disaggregation to ensure that PICT peoples and countries do not get left behind, and perhaps more importantly, that our interests and needs are appropriately valued and accounted for.
Also, one of the major concerns is violence and insecurity resulting from the intersection between trade and militarization. During the Spanish-American War, World War 2 and the Cold War years, many Pacific Islands were on the front lines, and faced tremendous casualties for a region that was not at war with anyone. And when you include atomic testing and the ensuing health impacts on some Pacific Islands caused by radiation for example, these are impacts that are still going on and need to be accounted for. Further, when you add other health impacts like diabetes and cancer into the mix, very strong arguments about trade and access to traditional food and health reveal how important these Pacific determined indicators are.
In Hawaii– I just want to remind everyone that the bombing of Pearl Harbor was not an attack on Hawaiians but on a U.S. territory military base– Hawaii is even more vulnerable now with Pacific Command being at Pearl Harbor. In terms of a fragility index:
- Native Hawaiian disparities in health, housing, prison and access to jobs, native food and water security and the continued desecration of land and resources for military training is really a front line issue;
- in West Papua both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have recognized the genocide that has been going on by Indonesia’s occupation of West Papua;
- in Rapa Nui there’s a land and resource grab by Chile has led to several bouts of violence between Chilean security forces and the native Maohi population;
- Guam and the Northern Marianas Islands are struggling against military base building, to the point where the people of Pagan and Tinian are being evicted from their island homeland to make room for military training and bombing practice.
The definition and fragility indicators would look very different if Pacific Small Island States and Territories were able to integrate and measure their own statistical data. On Tuesday’s Governance and Law session, one of the speakers argued that a Good Governance agenda was built upon this structure of security, growth, and equity. Strong credible states, would create better governance with more prosperity following this structure, and the speaker concluded that this would be accomplished through Cooperation and Capacity Building.
But what happens when there are nested and overlapping forms of authority and conflicting narratives? Is good governance predicated on state-sanctioned violence and authoritarianism? In the examples I gave above, the Administering Powers would offer conflicting narratives to this data, despite the evidence of reporting on social media by people on the ground, which is often the only way information is disseminated.
For PICTS, these challenges are both climate related and asymmetrical when it comes to the demands of trade and militarization by dominant economies. Another example of what is happening in the Pacific that has not made the headlines is that the US just recently annexed several hundred thousands of kilometers of Pacific Ocean territory, which now amounts to about 2 million square kilometers. Here is a map of the new Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument (PRIMNM) co-managed by the Departments of Defense and the Interior. The US has nearly 400 military outposts, structures and bases in the Pacific and is using those militarized areas as justification for annexing this area, despite objections by Pacific Island Countries. Going through these various narratives, Pacific Islands should assess the risk as to whether this ocean grab and base-forwarding really helps to make the region more resilient to vulnerabilities, or more fragile.
The Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights proposes a definition and method for measuring these indicators based on population and inequality measurements, and this includes a proportion of international trade/investment agreements with explicit human rights safeguards which include many of the other goals that make up the SDGs.
For the PICTS, the frame of how we measure fragility, conflict and violence is embedded in our history, through deep economic and political asymmetry, a disparity that is rooted in colonialism and continues with the imposition of neoliberalism in general.
Recognizing that Fragility, Conflict and Violence is a systemic issue, a development goal that by and large is regionally determined, with deep casuistic legal, economic and moral conditioning, I don’t want to spend any more time disparaging the roots and causes, and want to quickly propose a way forward for the Pacific and talk about sovereignty in the context of self-determination and development.
A Regulatory Monitoring Agency would embrace already existing regional regulatory institutions to build upon an accounting of equity that is based not only on the commodification of resources, but also on the value-added customary stewardship and the protection of resources that are sacrosanct of our regional health and biodiversity.
Recognizing that for the first time in our history, we are between two systems competing to define the global rules for investment and trade in the 21st century, we cannot afford to remain situated within the unipolarity of 20th century neoliberal structures. New multipolar opportunities demand that we embrace what is unique to Oceania and unfold the path necessary to pursue policy changes that will benefit the health, environmental and economic priorities that we seek.
A Pacific regional integrated ecological monitoring agency can implement revisions to the data standards that are being proposed for State-level statistical information. The purpose of establishing a regional monitoring agency is not to highlight competition among the PICs, but rather to highlight the value of shared resources that account for regional cultural and statistical data.
A regional monitoring agency can move towards fulfilling a regulatory mandate that can insert itself, for example, within investor-state agreements, and develop the technical advisory to implement an ecological and human rights based methodology that places greater emphasis on Pacific peoples, bio-diversity and climate related factors.
Small economies should be the drivers of globalization. They may not be the leaders in financialization, where all roads lead back to investment markets. Small economies can be the leaders in a regulatory approach that raises the value of biodiversity as a value-added indicator in the global economy. This is where new propositions in the Statistical Division can help to achieve the ideals in the SDGs. Rather than centralizing economies, the development of new routes and markets will spur investment to encourage small developing economies with new opportunities for participating in global markets, and the Pacific with its beautiful deep blue economy needs to have an equitable place at the table.