United States Policy toward the Pacific Islands

Article excerpt

[The following are excerpts of the remarks presented to the Georgetown University's Asian Studies Program and Center for Australian and New Zealand Studies, Washington, D.C., February 24, 2004.]

I am pleased and honored to be here tonight to deliver the Peter Tall Coleman Lecture. Beyond being a four-time governor of his native American Samoa, Peter Coleman also served as administrator of the Marshall and Mariana Islands, and Deputy High Commissioner of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. His decades of service to both the United States and the peoples of the Pacific Islands should be a model for us all.

I am substituting for my boss, Jim Kelly, who had to travel to Beijing for the Six Party Talks. I definitely got the better end of the deal! Not only do I expect you to be an easier audience to work with than the North Koreans, but I get to talk about a much more upbeat subject: U.S. policy toward the Pacific. The relatively small size of the Pacific island countries and territories means that they are often overlooked when the pundits and policy wonks develop their grand strategic visions. But I am here to affirm that the Administration deeply appreciates the support it has received from the Pacific island region, not just in Iraq, but on all of the fundamental foreign policy issues of the day.

Year after year, when we face the most difficult votes in the U.N., we know we can count on the island countries to stand with us. When our sailors and ships need a chance to rest and refit, we know the Pacific island countries and territories offer a warm welcome and a safe harbor. And in times of war, sons and daughters of the Pacific are there in uniform, serving with our armed forces. No other region of the world provides this kind of support and I reiterate: it is deeply appreciated and I suggest that you ignore the ill-informed editorial commentary inside the Beltway that discounts the contribution of the Pacific countries. More than a few of you were present when President Bush met with fourteen island leaders at the Pacific Island Conference of leaders in Hawaii last October. President Bush and the Pacific leaders covered a variety of topics, but I want to focus on two in my presentation tonight: enhancing mutual security; and promoting economic and social development.

Enhancing Mutual Security

In discussing security, we recognize that the island states and the United States at times have different priorities. But the overriding reality is each country in the region, and that includes the U.S., is mutually dependent upon the others for achieving its essential security needs. This follows from the interconnectedness of the U.S. and the Pacific island region. Ships and planes are constantly moving goods and peoples into and out of our harbors and airports. Less visibly, money, information, and communications are being exchanged as well. While all these movements are essential to our well-being, they also feature an element of risk: that they might be exploited by people who wish to do us harm. Managing that risk responsibly, while still facilitating the free movement of people, goods, and information, is a mutual obligation for everyone involved.

His Royal Highness Prince Lavaka Ata of Tonga, served as Chair of the Conference of Pacific Island Leaders and represented the islanders point of view. He observed that any country may be a target of terrorism and terrorists are likely to focus on soft targets. This point is well taken and the analysis is confirmed in the interrogation of captured terrorists from al Qaeda and, closer to home, Jamma Islamyiah. These organizations are not far in time or space from the Pacific. Jemmah Islamyiah can be found in Mindanao today in the areas associated with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. It is an organization that has a strategic focus that transcends national boundaries and a timeframe that extends over not weeks and months, but decades. …