Excerpt from DevPolicy Blog
The withdrawal of the five Micronesian members from the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) may be seen by pessimists as the beginning of a further erosion of regional cooperation institutions. Others point to the only conditional importance of the PIF, positioning the bar for withdrawal very low. Still others accuse Australia, and some Australia in cooperation with New Zealand and France, of constructing a horizontal dividing line between Melanesia, Polynesia and the Micronesian states.
Strikingly often, a certain kind of sympathy for the Micronesian island states’ behavior is expressed in the comments. This is justified by the fact that the five had announced beforehand that if their candidate for Secretary General, Gerald Zackios, was not elected, they would all leave the PIF. They also indicated that they felt and still feel marginalised in the PIF in general. Nevertheless, this does not absolve the Micronesian states from the responsibility of having taken the first step toward escalation themselves.
If one chooses tactics of intimidation in the run-up to an important decision, one should consider that pressure always produces counterpressure. Complaints that one’s own confrontational tactics have not worked, and that this is unfair, are frivolous in a democratic secret ballot, regardless of whether one insists on a gentlemen’s agreement or not. In any case, a diplomatic, well thought-out approach looks different.
But perhaps the cause of this confrontational development, which is unpleasant for everyone, lies somewhere else entirely, namely in the changed culture and dynamics of discussion. As a scholar looking from outside the Pacific at the island nations with great sympathetic interest, I have always seen regional traditional conflict resolution mechanisms as impressive, meaningful, and often a model for other areas of the world. Respectful conversation and consensus-building have been and are a major reason why the nations of Oceania are among the more peaceful in the world.
But this PIF meeting and the election of the Secretary General was the first in the Forum’s history to take place entirely online.
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