Regional security in the South Pacific : the quarter-century 1970-95

Author/s (editor/s):

Ken Ross

Publication year:

1993

Publication type:

Policy paper

Canberra Papers on Strategy and Defence No. 100

The island states of the South Pacific constitute one of the world's least important strategic regions which, during the Cold War, rarely rated international headlines and provoked little international interest, though nuclear testing by the French at Moruroa was strongly opposed by the region. A long-awaited intrusion by the Soviet Union barely materialised. In 1987 the Libyans provoked a brief flurry of regional concern, but otherwise the appearance of new external interests was welcomed. The political turmoil which most seriously affected the island states of the South Pacific occurred during a two-year period in the 1980s. Then there were two coups in Fiji, nationalists in New Caledonia resorted to and were targets of violence as they sought independence from France, and in Papua New Guinea an armed secessionist struggle started on Bougainville island. This turbulence temporarily disrupted the region's political tranquillity and prompted increased international interest, but did not supersede the deserved reputation for stability, which now again characterises the security circumstances of these island states.

This monograph's three essays consider how to understand what lies behind the substantial stability and limited turbulence of the South Pacific island states' recent past and why these states were so immune from the Cold War. The first essay proposes an analytical perspective for appreciating what regional security means for the island states of the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean, these islands were the area of slightest importance to the superpowers during the Cold War. The second essay outlines the significant events, developments and trends the island states of South Pacific experienced during the 1970s and the early 1990s. The third essay concludes that in the mid-1990s strategic interest by the external powers is likely to be minimal, but the internal politics of Fiji and Papua New Guinea and renewed pressure for independence in New Caledonia are likely to be major issues affecting the region's security.

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