Boe: a confluence

| September 18, 2018

Pacific Islands Forum leaders gather for a group photo ahead of their retreat. Photo – Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat.

The Pacific’s new security agreement, signed by 18 Pacific Island Forum leaders on 5 September in the Boe district of Nauru, provides an effective framework to holistically address regional security concerns.

Following the decolonisation of the Pacific nations in the 1970s, the South Pacific region has seen a cleft in the prioritisation of the Pacific security perspectives and priorities.

External states with a vested interest in regional stability, such as Australia and New Zealand, have sought to press the seriousness of addressing traditional security concerns, while the Pacific nations themselves have and continue to prioritise focus on non-traditional forms of security, such as human security, resource sustainability and the ‘Blue Pacific’.

Emerging transnational crime threats of drug trafficking, money laundering and human trafficking, and the addition of the threats of terrorism, while constituting tangible threats, have been of lesser concern than the day-to-day live threats of climate change, food security and the protection of natural resources. Pacific Island leaders have been focused more on threats that directly affect the sustainability and survival of the Pacific nations, leaving regional security negotiations with a classic ‘immovable object’ paradox.

It is true that efforts have been made over the years to try and address the ANZAC concerns, however, little evident progress has been made in establishing national security policies and national security cooperation between the Pacific Island states.

The 2000 Biketawa Declaration was considered a breakthrough in regional security cooperation and prioritisation; however, in reality it effected little change, other than to involve and participate in regional joint policing and military peacekeeping operations. Concern rapidly grew as the political instability that preceded and followed Biketawa seemed to result in the ANZACs being progressively excluded from Pacific cooperation, with favour turning towards Asian partnerships.

Eighteen years later, like the confluence of two rivers coming from completely different directions and finally meeting, it appears that the agreement to a framework that holistically addresses the security needs in the Pacific has finally been reached and it includes the priorities of both the Pacific Island leaders and the ANZAC’s.

The Boe Declaration, or ‘Biketawa plus’ as many refer to it, is a declaration by the Pacific Island nations that not only reinforces the Islands’ priorities of human security but acknowledges the traditional security threats as being of real concern, providing a framework of cooperation between nations to effectively deal with them.

But Boe is more than that – it establishes the bona fides of the Island leaders to recognise holistically the regional security priorities and take charge of their region. The Forum’s title, ‘Our People, Our Islands, Our Will’, reinforced the will of the Island nations to be leaders of their own destiny and establishes the context of this and all future agreements.

The Boe Declaration is a well thought-out and planned agreement of regional cooperation that holistically contributes to the security and sustainability of the region, its people, its culture and its resources.