Enhanced regional collaboration and cooperation is critical to addressing the common security challenges facing the “Blue Pacific” region – this is the key message to emerge from a Regional Security Information Sharing workshop being held at the Forum Fisheries Agency headquarters in Honiara this week.
In his keynote speech, Solomon Islands Minister for Justice, the Hon. Derek Manuari, noted that the recently concluded and highly successful Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) provides an example of the real benefit that flows when the region works closely together. The Minister challenged the meeting to explore appropriate ways to extend this cooperation to the many security challenges currently being faced across the countries of the Pacific Islands Forum.
These challenges included drug smuggling, transnational crime, illegal logging, people smuggling, Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing (IUU) – as evidenced by the recent ‘Blue Boats’ incursions – and other crucial security and strategic matters.
Bringing together key members of regional law enforcement bodies, together with national representatives of Pacific countries, the workshop examined the operation of the Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre at the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), as a possible model for enhanced information sharing and cooperation.
“Under the Niue Treaty Subsidiary Agreement (NTSA) we have made solid progress in sharing information and acting collectively to address IUU threats to regional fisheries” said FFA Director General Mr. James Movick. ‘What we are now discussing are the practical ways in which we might extend such information sharing and cooperation to a broader range of interests.”
Representatives from Australia described recent efforts to establish Australia’s Maritime Border Command which brings their national authorities under a stronger coordinated centre comprising both military and civilian assets and personnel. This had led, for example, to successful maritime drug interdiction operations and created stronger trust between the relevant participating Australian national and state agencies.
More broadly, New Zealand and Australia were actively supporting crucial areas in the region such as in the customs and policing sectors with support for programs that better enabled cooperation between agencies and between national authorities.
Recalling the 2017 Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Communique, Policy Director with the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Mr Paki Ormsby, told the meeting that Forum Leaders want to build on their Biketawa Declaration (2000) and other Forum security related declarations as a foundation for strategic future regional responses.
“We are looking at how we can build on and enhance the relevance of a Biketawa-plus process – and quite clearly moves to enhance the flow of information and promote cooperation between the region’s relevant peak security and policing bodies would be an excellent starting point.’”
Professor Christian Bueger from Cardiff University in Wales drew on examples from other regions to suggest ways in with the Pacific Islands region could move to enhance their overall ‘Maritime Domain Awareness’ (MDA).
Increasingly MDA is the term used for having more complete knowledge about what is going on over the expanse of both ocean and islands that characterises the Pacific Region. One example was a ‘fusion center’ approach. This could bring together all the streams of information into a single point for analysis and suggested responses back to participating countries and authorities. “We have to find ways that can do so in both a practical and cost-effective sense, noting that many small island countries do not have the resources to do this alone. That is why regional approaches make sense.”
The meeting is being co-sponsored by the FFA, the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat and the Australian Government.