15th May 2009. When launching the Pacific Partnerships scheme, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd stated: “It’s in Australia’s national interest for us to help build long-term political and economic stability in this neighbourhood.”
The first half of this paper assessed the success of Australia’s nation-building in contributing to these elements of regional security. Taking a broad view of the significant challenges facing the region now and into the future, this paper has shown that, although Australia’s nation-building thus far has had mixed success, it nevertheless can continue to improve over time to contribute significantly to regional security. Australia’s experience in Timor Leste, PNG and the Solomons over the last decade demonstrates a maturing and necessary understanding of the region, its security challenges, and how Australia can assist to best advantage. Each of its nation-building endeavours featured a rapid restoration of local security, with varying degrees of success in strengthening the institutions of state, democratic government and economic development. However, lasting gains remains to be realised in these higher order elements of statehood.
Nation-building is a complex, long-term and difficult undertaking: it is expensive, difficult to justify both domestically to a public preoccupied with its own national concerns, and overseas to island nations mindful and perhaps resentful of a new Australian colonialism. But if Australia was not prepared to cooperatively and proactively intervene, it is unlikely that, alone, the nations of the Pacific could meet the broad range of security challenges that they will face in the future. Neither ODA, nor home-grown interventions will be able to redress the breakdown of law and order prevalent in the region, the poor delivery of public goods in the provinces, illegal traffic in weapons and contraband, and the impending social upheavals associated with urbanisation, diseases such as AIDS and unemployment. Leaving the field would allow China a greater strategic and economic influence in the region—an influence that is unlikely to see a coordinated, effective approach in assisting the nations of the Pacific to meet these security challenges. The Pacific as a region will continue to look to Australia for assistance, and Australia needs to develop new modes of interaction which address the limitations of conventional aid to demonstrate and deliver on Australia’s deep commitment the stability and prosperity of the Pacific. Hence the urgent need for a national policy that helps prevent regional crises occurring, as well as responding to them.