Distinguished representatives of Forum Member
countries and Associate Members
Distinguished representatives of observer organisations
Ladies and gentlemen
Good morning and welcome to the 2016 meeting of the Forum Regional Security Committee. The Secretary General sends her sincere apologies for not being here.
Although the Secretary General cannot be with us today, she has noted that in the 18 months since she has been in this role, her discussions with many representatives of governments and communities have highlighted to her our many shared security concerns. And they have confirmed the reason why security features as one of the four key objectives of the Framework for Pacific Regionalism. As I am sure you are all aware, the Framework was endorsed by Forum Leaders in 2014 as the Forum’s overarching commitment to, and strategy for, deeper regionalism.
As is clear from the terms of the Framework, regionalism is not an end in of itself. Rather regional action provides a way of complementing national efforts and overcoming common constraints to achieve our region’s common goals. This includes the goal of ensuring ‘stable and safe human, environmental and political conditions for all’.
Our Pacific Islands region is largely, and thankfully, protected from many of the security threats that plague other parts of the world, such as armed conflict and the heightened risks of terrorist attacks. However, our security is threatened in other serious ways. In the past fifteen months, we have experienced many natural disasters. Tropical cyclones have affected many of our countries, as have droughts. These events have generated greater attention to ways in which we as the Forum can come together to support our individual Members in times of natural disasters. This is an important and timely development as we become increasingly vulnerable to natural disasters as a consequence of climate change.
As with natural disasters affecting individual countries, the Forum has also recognised the value of regional action to support Members experiencing internal security crises. The Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands is arguably the Forum’s most ambitious regional security response to date. As you will hear from representatives of Solomon Islands and RAMSI during this meeting, the mission is close to completion and will fully withdraw in 2017.
Transnational crime continues to present threats to the security of our region. The 2016 edition of the Pacific Transnational Crime Assessment – which has been circulated to all of you – identifies current regional issues in transnational crime and describes a number of disturbing trends. These include the increasing incidence of illicit drug use, organised crime, financial crime and environmental crimes. The PTCA also identifies reasons why these kinds of crimes may be increasing. We have long recognised limited resources at the national level to enforce criminal laws and limited sharing of intelligence as a constraint – but there is now growing awareness of the links between poor governance and increased vulnerability to transnational crime.
The report also discusses the threats posed by cybercrime. In 2015, Forum Leaders identified improved access to ICT as a regional priority, while also recognising the many challenges that might arise from this, such as increased exposure to cybercrime. Many of our Members rely on fibre optic cables for connectivity which, unlike satellite communications, give rise to more opportunities for criminal groups to exploit our communications networks. Many of you here today will be instrumental in advising your governments as to how national and regional actions can strike the right balance between the benefits and threats presented by better ICT access.
In 2015 Forum Leaders also focused on four other issues: climate change; fisheries; the human rights situation in West Papua; and cervical cancer. Each of these issues present different security implications, not least the issue of fisheries. As the PTCA reports, maritime security continues to be a significant issue for this region; and it is an issue intrinsically linked to the economic potential and environmental integrity of our Pacific Ocean. I am pleased that time has been dedicated this morning for you to have a substantive discussion on the security implications of Forum Leaders’ current priorities.
Since the FRSC last met, there have been some wider developments within the Forum which have a bearing on this Committee. These include the Leaders’ agreement to establish a standing meeting of Forum Foreign Ministers, and the Secretariat’s commissioning of a review of Forum meetings, in response to a request by Forum Leaders in 2014.
Leaders have established the standing meeting of Foreign Ministers to ‘assist and inform Leaders of relevant regional and international issues facing the region’. In our consultations with Members, there is a clear expectation that Forum Foreign Ministers will bring political-level attention and momentum to issues that have been traditionally discussed by the FRSC.
Last year, this Committee proposed that the FRSC’s effectiveness and modalities could be improved, and identified the Leaders’ request for a review of Forum meetings as an opportunity for this. As it turned out, the broader review did not commence until early this year. We were conscious of the FRSC’s interest to have a discussion on this issue at this meeting, and so we sought your views on options for improving the FRSC, in parallel to the analysis commissioned for the broader review.
We welcome the considered responses prepared by a number of Member countries and observer organisations to the FRSC. You will have the opportunity to learn more about the draft report on the broader review of Forum meetings in Session Two, and to also discuss in more detail the opportunities you see for effectively advancing regional security cooperation through the Forum.
Colleagues, it has been the practice of this Committee to refer relevant issues to the Forum Officials Committee for their recommendation to Forum Leaders. However, we propose that this Committee now consider referring issues which warrant political-level attention to Forum Foreign Ministers. In saying this, I want to stress the general principle of prioritisation that is emphasised by the Framework for Pacific Regionalism. As officials we all have a responsibility to exercise rigour and discipline in what we refer for Ministerial and Leaders’ level consideration, so as to enable more focused and politically significant discussions on the key issues affecting our region. On the same note, we encourage you all to discuss in detail key security priorities and identify tangible outcomes for the attention of this Committee and the Secretariat moving forward.
Colleagues, I am keeping my comments brief so that you have ample time for your discussions. I encourage you to all use this time for an active discussion and debate on the opportunities and challenges of pursuing our objective of improved regional security through deeper regionalism.
Chair, we know that you will ably guide these discussions. The Secretariat of course stands ready to assist.
I wish you well in your deliberations.