National security strategies will make the Pacific safer, provided they are realistic, the product of broad consultation, grounded in local culture and implemented effectively, writes Tim George.
The development of national security strategies is now firmly on the Pacific regional agenda. Four countries have completed such strategies – Papua New Guinea (2013), Samoa (2018), Vanuatu (2019), and The Solomon Islands (2020) – while a number of others are well advanced.
The region was quick to embrace a broad concept of security – articulated by leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum in the 2018 Boe Declaration on Regional Security – which goes well beyond traditional notions of security such as sovereignty, territorial integrity and the maintenance of internal stability. The seriousness of the global threats posed by “ problems without borders ”, such as climate change, the spread of infectious diseases and cyber attacks, is widely recognized and that human security and a just society are fundamental to national security.
Typically, a national security strategy provides an overarching framework that includes a vision and goals for national security and a series of other elements, including a contour national, regional and global security environment, and an overview of the capabilities needed to meet challenges and maximize opportunities.
There is no single model that can be applied across the region. However, countries in the region on the whole face the same challenges. So it makes sense that they work together, especially since most are small and have limited resources. The region has shown that it can have a loud voice globally on some issues, such as climate change, and also has a strong network of regional organizations and development partners to draw on. These strengths must be highlighted in national security strategies.
These strategies describe an action plan for specific initiatives, a more general statement directions the government proposes to take to strengthen national security in the short and long term, and described the government apparatus and other measures proposed to implement the strategy.
When designed effectively, national security strategies enhance the security of Pacific states by providing clear direction to the country’s security efforts. First, a well-designed and implemented strategy enables Pacific countries to better prioritize security threats and allocate Resources. This has the effect of enabling countries to make better security decisions, especially in times of crisis, and to collect more specific and relevant data on current and future threats.
A widespread problem in the region, collaboration and information sharing among government agencies on national security issues is poor and, more generally, the lack of a deeply rooted whole-of-government culture. These are issues that national security strategies can begin to address.
Developing an effective national security strategy requires both a strong whole-of-government focus and a comprehensive program of consultations with the public, private and community sectors. Broad consultation is essential to gain a full understanding of the most pressing security issues across the country, strengthen national ownership of the strategy, raise awareness and take full advantage of the important role traditional institutions play in maintaining cohesion , social security and harmony.
In many cases, the most important outcome of a national security strategy developed by Pacific island countries will be implementation measures, especially those relating to new or strengthened government mechanisms. Most countries in the region currently have a very modest national security system, if at all, and only a few staff members specifically assigned to cover national security issues.
The key component of the new machinery of government will likely be a high-level national security committee or council, empowered to make decisions and make recommendations to Cabinet. The Samoan National Security Committee, which was the first offers in 2018. The essential requirement is that all relevant agencies be represented in such a body in order to ensure that all voices are heard and to avoid inefficiencies created by a lack of coordination and duplication of efforts.
Another important element of a national security strategy concerns the country’s assessment capacity, which is essential for sound decision-making on national and regional security issues. Overall, the region is weak in this regard.
MIn general, the lack of good quality data is a problem In the region. Now is the time to strengthen national evaluation capacities, taking advantage of the growing amount of information and analysis available from open sources, as well as regional organizations and trusted bilateral partners.
Forum leaders took the far-sighted step in 2018 to embrace the concept of national security strategies, and the COVID-19 crisis has reinforced the importance of sound decision-making more generally as countries are faced with the plethora of security challenges ahead. National security strategies, if effectively implemented, will give governments a major boost in dealing with the tough decisions that are becoming all too common in an increasingly complex world.