NZ should be cautious about supporting Fiji military - academic
A regional security academic says New Zealand should support its Pacific neighbours but be wary of support for the current Fiji military system.
A regional security academic says New Zealand should support its Pacific neighbours but be wary of supporting the current Fiji military system.
Paul Sinclair spoke recently at a symposium held in Wellington on the New Zealand Government's review of its defence policy through the Defence White Paper.
Mr Sinclair, who works out of Victoria University's Centre for Strategic Studies, raised a number of issues as to New Zealand's defence approach in the Pacific.
He told Bridget Tunnicliffe the region faces unique challenges.
PAUL SINCLAIR: One's maritime security and when I use that term I'm really talking about in particular the likely heightened illegal fishing activity that we can expect to see in the years ahead as fishing stocks elsewhere are depleted. That's a really important issue particularly because fishing's a very important part of many South Pacific economies. Another challenge really is one of response to humanitarian disasters of which the South Pacific regrettably faces all too frequently. A third challenge I would sort of describe as I guess is border security, with growing incidence of trans-national crime and the possibility of particularly of terrorism occurring. Now that may seem a little far-fetched but already for instance Islamic State, although there's no indication of it operating in the South Pacific but it doesn't actually now need a physical presence to recruit followers, as it's demonstrated all too ably unfortunately. So those are some of the challenges that I see the region facing and they are the sorts of things that the New Zealand Defence forces will need to focus on, not alone I might add. I think some of these challenges require a whole of government security response, involving our police and involving other elements of the security spectrum in New Zealand, and working in conjunction for instance with countries like Australia.
BRIDGET TUNNICLIFFE: You made a comment along the lines of New Zealand should support its Pacific neighbours but be wary of support for the current Fiji military system - in what sense?
PS: I think my comment, I said that really the Fiji military forces for the past 30 years have undermined rather than underpinned democracy in that country. I know that prime minister Bainimarama sees it differently, or certainly sees it differently in recent years. But I think we just need to be cautious about the resumption of defence assistance. Both New Zealand and Australia have resumed some degree of defence assistance to Fiji but I think that the assistance that is provided needs to be measured to ensure that the right, the most appropriate, the most relevant capabilities are fostered. And to try and help inculcate that democratic instinct, which seems to have been lacking in the Fiji military in recent years. In my previous capacity in the Ministry of Defence I was actively involved in the mutual assistance programme that provided training to Fiji. But I must say that what I've seen in recent years has disappointed me. I think the Fiji Military forces lost their way in a considerable respect, in moving away from activities that support the nation's well being, and pursued a rather different course. I know it's a difficult issue for policy makers. I know there's concern that if Australia and New Zealand didn't resume co-operation that Fiji would look elsewhere for training although to be honest while they might do that and prime minister Bainimarama's talked about that, the options aren't great for any sort of significant training assistance other than in a very general and limited sense.
BT: New Zealand lifted sanctions after Fiji's election last year and earlier this year defence ties between the two countries were resumed. Do you think that was a bit premature of the New Zealand Government?
PS: No, I think we probably had to do that in recognition of the fact that Fiji at least had an election. But I would like to think that that defence assistance is carefully measured against the situation in Fiji. I was very disappointed that Fiji failed to attend the South Pacific Defence Ministers meeting that took place a few weeks ago. I think that's a pity, I don't know why they didn't attend, I know that they were invited. I think their attendance would have been a welcome sign of a greater commitment to work together in a constructive way with others in the region.
BT: Given the size of Fiji and its economy, can the country really afford the military, the size it is at the moment?
PS: In fact the 2005 draft defence White Paper in Fiji actually proposed a considerable shrinking of the Fiji military for the very reason you've mentioned. Regrettably that defence White Paper was bitterly opposed by the Fiji military and it never made it out of the draft stage. One might conclude that it was one of the contributing factors in the coup that followed in 2006. Fiji's economy certainly hasn't improved since then and it is a considerable drain on the country's economy to maintain a force of the size it currently is.
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