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  • The Region in Review:International Issues and Events, 2004
  • Karin Von Strokirch (bio)

What ails the Pacific and what are the remedies? These are perennial and much debated questions for Islanders and their principal aid donors. A conventional diagnosis focuses on the tyrannies of distance and small economies of scale. This perspective has prompted the Pacific Islands Forum ( PIF ) to revisit the merits of deepening regionalism as a means to overcome national weaknesses. To this end the past year has seen agreement on wide-ranging reform of the Forum to facilitate regional integration and cooperation.

Another long-standing school of thought attributes blame for contemporary ills on the economic and political structures imposed by departing colonial powers and their uneasy coexistence with tradition. One way of rectifying, or at least mitigating, negative aspects of this legacy is the donor-inspired agenda to promote good governance, notably to tackle corruption. The ubiquitous practice of corruption is an ongoing preoccupation of aid donors, Pacific leaders, and civil society, yet policies to combat it have delivered variable outcomes. A recent study of corruption in the Pacific recommends a change in strategy.

In the security domain, violent conflicts have arisen in the Pacific for a range of reasons (see von Strokirch 2001), but there is no doubt that the impact of these conflicts has been more profound and their duration prolonged as a result of access to guns. The proliferation of small arms and their illicit use has to date been most marked in Melanesia. Nevertheless, throughout the Pacific the potential for conflicts involving arms must be prevented with effective regional action rather than just reaction to crises after they occur. The scope of the problem, lessons from past conflicts, and the merits of emerging international strategies are assessed here.

Developments concerning health trends are rarely addressed in any depth in this annual review, but the pandemic of HIV/AIDS warrants an exception to the rule. Current trends and risk factors suggest that the catastrophic impact of HIV/AIDS in Africa and Asia could be replicated in the Pacific. Unlike the recent tsunami in Asia, HIV/AIDS is not a natural disaster beyond human control. Rather it is predominantly a sexually transmitted infection, control of which is highly amenable to concerted prevention strategies. Notwithstanding delays in responding to the problem in the Pacific, the regional anti- HIV/AIDS campaign has recently gained momentum and substance at all levels of politics and civil society.

Regardless of ideological perspectives and associated whole of government prescriptions, there is widespread agreement on the profoundly negative impact of corruption, small arms, and HIV/AIDS on Pacific societies [End Page 416] and economies. These trends are worsening and inexorably undermine—indeed cancel out—efforts to promote peace and development. All three issues have recently been addressed with varying degrees of commitment in global, regional, and donor strategies to enhance human security and development. The nature and efficacy of these strategies provide a thematic focus for analysis of this year in review. First, however the latest attempt to reform the preeminent regional institution warrants analysis.

On the initiative of the PIF chair, New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, the 2003 leaders' meeting in Auckland mandated an Eminent Persons Group ( EPG ) to review the Pacific Islands Forum's role, function, and Secretariat. The Eminent Persons Group reported in April 2004 to a Pacific Islands Forum Special Leaders' Retreat, which in turn adopted its key recommendations in the Auckland Declaration and Leaders' Decisions ( PIFSLR2004 ). Most of the sixty-page EPG report provided a broad overview of diverse challenges facing the Pacific Islands region and as such was not stating anything controversial ( EPG2004 ). The same could be said of the resulting "Pacific Vision" to guide forum actions and policies. The vision was essentially a "motherhood statement" by leaders, typical of multilateral organizations, emphasizing the pursuit of security and prosperity, valuing of cultures, and promotion of good governance, sustainable development, democracy, and human rights ( PIFSLR2004, paragraph 1).

The EPG report made reference to the Pacific Way's acceptance of diversity and parallel commitment to unity and consensus, yet simultaneously asserted the need to openly and respectfully deal with problems of governance ( EPG2004, 20). In doing...