Urban Oceania

Exploring Urban Social Change in Oceania

Journal Article Review of Amin, Watson and Girard (2020). “Mapping Security in the Pacific: A focus on context, gender, and organizational culture”

Lucas Watt, Roxane de Waegh, and Greg Watt

The “security” perspective embedded in the 20th century history of nation-centric warfare and conflict has increasingly become antiquated. Security studies has come to appreciate that various security challenges rest in global processes and phenomena rather than being instigated exclusively by nation states. Security threats can come in the form of severe climatic events, global economic crashes, or mass online data breaches. “Security” has also come to embody additional forms of protection and advancement in addition to purely physically destructive forms. Local livelihoods, ethnic and gendered identities, and our ecological environment, are all domains that are now included in the concept of “security”.  This is primarily because the degradation in each of these domains has the potential to alter our relatively prosperous and stable ways of life. In these ways the idea of “security” has been progressively expanding to consider what is in need of protecting and from whom/what. The impetus of this expansion of the idea of security, and the relinquishing of the old 20th century concept of security, is that the nature of global society has introduced new and interconnected threats to throw our lives off kilter.

Pacific states have been highly receptive to this expanded concept of security. At the 2018 Pacific Island Forum (PIF), Pacific Island governments came together to sign the Boe Declaration on Security in which signing states explicitly recognize an “expanded concept of security inclusive of human security, humanitarian assistance, prioritizing environmental security, and regional cooperation in building resilience to disasters and climate change”. Understanding that security threats are embedded in regional and global processes, the signatory Pacific nations of the Boe Declaration on Security have bound together for a collective regional approach which allow them to pursue security objectives that they would be unable to effectively do as standalone nations.

Pacific academics are starting to analyze “security” within this new paradigm with increased frequency. The Australian National University (ANU) published a special issue development bulletin in 2021 where a large collection of regional academics explore various emerging security threats to the Pacific under this “expanded concept of security”. We have reviewed parts of this development bulletin previously here. In this article we review the edited book Mapping Security in the Pacific: A Focus on Context, Gender, and Organizational Culture by Sara Amin, Danielle Watson, and Christian Girard. Most impressive in its scope, the articles of the edited book not only consider the diverse and emerging threats to Pacific security, but it effectively considers the globally interconnected nature and theoretical underpinnings of these security threats. In this article, members of the Urban Oceania Reading Group review three chapters of this edited book offering their additional thoughts:

  • Chapter 2: Mapping Circumstances in Oceania: Reconsidering human security in an age of globalization, by Paul Carnegie and Victor King – Reviewed by Roxane de Waegh
  • Chapter 14: Insecurity, Policing, and Marketisation: Papua New Guinea’s Changing Security Landscape by Sinclair Dinnen – Reviewed by Lucas Watt

We would love to hear your thoughts on these chapters or any other chapter of this edited book in the comment section at the end of the article.

Chapter 2: Mapping Circumstances in Oceania: Reconsidering human security in an age of globalization, by Paul Carnegie and Victor King

Reviewed by Roxane de Waegh

In this article, Carnegie and King (2020) offer a unique sociological and anthropological perspective on the field of human security, which differs from the popular discourse that tends to be dominated by the disciplinary concerns of international relations, development and security studies. The authors contend that the field of human security needs to engage sociological and anthropological concepts to maintain its relevance on the multiple insecurities facing Pacific Island Countries (PICs) of Oceania in the twenty-first century (Carnegie & King, 2020). By reviewing theoretical and empirical contributions from scholars such as Zygmunt Bauman, Anthony Giddens, Mary Douglas, Olivia Harris, James C. Scott and Edwards P. Thompson, Carnegie and King (2020) are able to situate human insecurities within a conceptual discussion of “safety” and “risk” and their complex relationship to “trust” and “uncertainty”. The aim of this article is to import these theoretical insights to reframe the field of human security so that it encapsulates the contemporary marginality and the range of human insecurities confronting us (Carnegie & King, 2020).

The first section of the article recalls useful concepts in the social sciences of sociology and anthropology and relates these concepts to the field of human security. Concepts such as “insecurity”, “alienation”, “anomie, normlessness, or estrangement”, “trust, risk and uncertainty”, are described in great detail through the lens of various scholars (Bauman, 2000; Beck, 1992; Bhide & Stevenson, 1992;  Durkheim, [1893], 1977; Giddens, 1990; Marx, [1844], 1968). The scholarly work from Olivia Harris further connects these concepts from an anthropological perspective to emphasize the point that in response to uncertainty, social groups “defend continuity, and their rights to claim and express particular links with the past” (Harris, 1996, pp. 1-16). These conceptual links across scholarly disciplines do not solely exist in theory or academia. There is an abundance of historical, contemporary, and current events which clearly illustrate that renewed claims to ethnicity and indigeneity are keenly felt in many PICs, especially over customary and ownership and entitlement (Carnegie & King, 2020). These feelings of ‘’risk and uncertainty’’ develop and become amplified overtime as communities are exposed to various global socio-economic pressures, including the divisive mining and logging operations, migrant Chinese businesses activities (Firth, 2018), rural-urban drift in peri-urban areas and growing resentment towards exclusionary national government policies (Carnegie & King, 2020). The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is potentially the greatest example of a global phenomena that has exponentially augmented sentiments of “risk and uncertainty” across the world. In the face of such great uncertainty, many communities in PICs have turned to their cultural bonds and connection with the past to counter feelings of insecurity. From a human security perspective, these cultural expressions and crystallization of identities are a defense mechanism to the emergence of globalization and modern nation-state practices.

As Bauman (2000) describes, the major task of modernity is to allocate people a place in the division of labour, to rationalize, bureaucratize, categorize, and to follow rules and regulations. However, in this process of order-making, some people are never administered in this way; they remain strangers, or outsiders. In our modern world of bureaucracies and consumers, those who cannot afford to consume, the un-categorizes, and the unemployed are increasingly closed off and marginalized. The disruptive inequalities of globalization’s underbelly and the forces it unleashes have also perpetuated instances of poverty, emboldened criminality and deepened shadow economies in tandem with the upside’s many benefits (Heine & Thakur, 2011; Stilglitz, 2002). Large numbers of humanity do not have readily access to alternative livelihoods and forms of support, nor do they have receptive channels of communication to voice their concerns (Standing, 2011). The high levels of risk and insecurity that the global precariat find themselves living through are the real outcomes of a range of largely unacknowledged sociocultural-economic transformations (Harvey, 2006; Standing, 2016).

Carnegie and King (2020) brilliantly illustrate the relationship between uncertainty, insecurity and cultural rejuvenation in an era of globalization. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic could offer an interesting perspective from which the concepts of risk and insecurity can be further explored within the proposed sociological and anthropological framework. In response to international border closures and sudden stop of people and goods across geopolitical boundaries, many communities in Oceania have demonstrated a strong reawakening of cultural identities, fueled by a desire to go back to traditional livelihoods – to reconnect with their past and strengthen cultural bonds. From a human security perspective, COVID-19 has also demonstrated how the fear of becoming alienated or estranged in your own community can be a potent catalyst for cultural reawakening. As Carnegie (2016) states, ‘’Celebration of tradition and reawakening of cultural identities are often seen in the face of perceived threats and insecurities’’ (Carnegie, 2016, pp. 1- 25). Future research should further investigate the relationship between cultural reawakening, in the face of perceived threats, and the potential of subsequent violent events. Such research can serve to address the complex and deeply rooted types of insecurities that are underpinned by cultural expressions of inter-ethnic identities and competitive struggles over land and identity on a regional and local level.

Chapter 3. Economic (in) security in the Pacific, by Matthew Dornan

Reviewed by Greg Watt

Being involved in developmental research, Matthew Dornan has written extensively about developmental issues faced by the global south, emphasising Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and the Pacific in particular. His past work includes studies of energy poverty and renewable energy (M. Dornan, 2011, 2014, 2015; M. Dornan & Jotzo, 2015; M. Dornan & Shah, 2016),  climate change financing (Robinson & Dornan, 2017; Weiler, Klöck, & Dornan, 2018), and development aid policy and effectiveness (M. Dornan & Brant, 2014; M. Dornan & Cain, 2014; Matthew Dornan & Pryke, 2017; Wood, Otor, & Dornan, 2020, 2021). Dornan has also investigated migration and seasonal work schemes in the Pacific, along with the impact of natural disasters such as the effect of Cyclone Pam on the economy of Vanuatu. His extensive background provides valuable insights into Pacific nations’ economic insecurity and the challenges they face moving forward. He is ideally positioned to provide situational discourse on the topic and possible ways forward for Pacific nations.  

From the outset, Dornan sets out the two contrasting extremities of economic security on what is a long and interwoven continuum ultimately determined by governmental policy. At the positive extremity, economic security is linked to ‘public goods’, manifested by adequate health and education services. There is also the expectation of participating favourably in the national economy and obtaining the benefit of doing so. At the negative extremity, the impact of poor health and limited education has a flow-on effect regarding income opportunities. These are constant aspects that communities living within a stable environment face daily. Dornan notes that “the poor or households that have the lowest levels of economic security, are most severely affected” (M. Dornan, 2020, p. 35). Perhaps insecurity around income makes pacific peoples most vulnerable, with many industries displaying swings of volatility while also possessing high susceptibility to external shocks. When instability is introduced, communities experience additional stresses requiring alleviation through traditional, public or private social protection measures. Short, sharp economic shocks can be introduced through natural disasters such as cyclones, earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanoes, while longer-term economic effects such as climate change, pollution, increasing population, urbanisation, and globalisation cause instability vulnerability. In the article, Dornan investigates the various permutations around how social protection measures are manifested and how they might be manifested in the future. 

Social protection is allied to economic security and concerns the ability of families to have and maintain their livelihoods and way of life. In a monetised formal economy, this is closely associated with receiving income or remittances, while in an informal economy, it relies on subsistence farming, bartering and gifting. In developed nations, social protection is most often provided through public welfare programs that include cash payments and services. However, this is generally unavailable in developing countries, and Pacific peoples have traditionally relied upon the informal safety nets of reciprocity during times of need. Here gift exchange provides “a form of informal insurance, whereby those that experience hardship or economic shocks are supported” (M. Dornan, 2020, p. 37). However, Dornan points out that benefits can be distributed inequitably, with local elites influencing their allocation. Further, when natural disasters affect whole populations, the economic shock affects all community members, resulting in little ability to provide others with relief.      

How Pacific communities socialise is in transition, with increasing population, urbanisation, and more modern lifestyles, traditional networks have been impacted and reduced. A more recent safety net comes through remittances provided by kin, usually from overseas, but this is variable across the Pacific. Tongan communities are the exemplar, with remittances contributing between a third and a half of GDP.

Unfortunately, Dornan stops short of directly recommending a way forward for Pacific nations, although it is somewhat hidden and implicit. This is understandable, as it requires governments to instigate policies that diversify economic activity, introducing industries that are less vulnerable to external shocks and which can recover quickly after disasters. Such strategies may move priorities away from those yielding high earnings and attract outside investment. A central strategic policy of Pacific governments has been to turn their isolation and lack of development into an attractive industry. Tourism has undoubtedly contributed significantly to the GDP of countries such as Fiji, Vanuatu, and the Cook Islands. However, it also suffers inordinately in the aftermath of natural disasters, sometimes taking years to recover. PNG is exceptionally reliant on mineral rents from foreign mining and gas exploration, making it vulnerable to economic shocks such as the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) and the general cyclic demand for commodities. Many Pacific countries have considerable maritime territory and receipts from fishing rights have been easy to administer with relatively little effort. However, like mining, fishing is subject to commodity price fluctuation and external fuel and transport costs. Furthermore, except for tourism, employment of local people is minimal and once the resource is depleted often leaves a black hole for local communities. For countries with a small industrial base and substantial distances to take goods to market, producing goods for global markets is financially unsustainable. Perhaps the reason why Dornan hasn’t provided any recommendations for industry direction is because they are likely to be service industries that are not affected by such distances. These require high levels of education, excellent power and telecommunication infrastructures, and massive uptake of economic glocalisation. This would require an enormous investment and the will of Pacific peoples to adapt local culture, infusing it with a pacific brand of modernity. Daunting, of course, and perhaps that is why Dornan has remained silent.

Chapter 14: Insecurity, Policing, and Marketisation: Papua New Guinea’s Changing Security Landscape, by Sinclair Dinnen

Reviewed by Lucas Watt

This chapter by Sinclair Dinnen addresses the causes and implications of the rise of private security firms and private military contractors in Papua New Guinea (PNG). Dinnen (2020) lays out how the official state based police force in PNG do not have the resources to adequately provide the services needed to address contemporary security threats. Private security and private military contractors firms have filled a large void in providing security services which the state based police force cannot. The increasing gulf between state and private security is indicative of a detachment of foreign and private interests from local responsibility and accountability that exacerbate local tensions. This imbalance between public-private security and the tensions it creates is an immediate security challenge that faces PNG. However, just how this imbalance was created in shifting global political relations with PNG is indicative of much broader security threats to PNG and Oceania in general.

Dinnen (2020; pg 190) puts forth some revealing statistics to indicate just how poorly equipped the PNG force is to handle security threats, and how it is only becoming less equipped.

  • “At independence in 1975, police coverage was estimated to extend to only 10% of the country’s total land area and 40% of the population… In the intervening decades, the size of the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary (RPNGC) has only increased by 30% while the overall population has almost quadrupled. In 1975 the police-population ratio was 1:476 with approximately 4,100 uniformed police-population ratio for a population of 2 million. Figures from 2013 indicated the police population ratio had decreased to 1:1,275 with 5,724 uniformed police for a population of around 7.3 million. More recent estimates put the size of the force at between 7,000-8,000 officers while the population exceeds 8 million.”

The ability of state police to carry out their duties is also severely restricted. Payment of police personnel’s salaries leaves very little remaining capital to carry out operational expenses. This creates situations where state police do not attend calls for assistance as they do not have adequate funds for petrol. This lack of operational funding also creates scenarios where some police pursue rent seeking opportunities by asking for payment to attend call outs, or issue unsanctioned on the spot fines which they pocket. In such a context of operational under-funding, state decrees such as outlawing the widespread sale, consumption, and spitting of beetle-nut in Port Moresby have no real hope of being enforced by state based police.

To mirror this lack of capacity in the RPNGC, Dinnen (2020; pg 192) offers some equally revealing statistics on the growth of private security in PNG:

  • According to PNG’s Security Industries Authority (SIA), which issues licenses to security companies, the number of licensed companies grew from 173 in 2006 to 464 in 2016, with a total workforce of around 27,709 security guards. These figures do not include what are believed to be a large number of unlicensed security companies with 7,649 guards.”

Many of these security firms operate in urban areas to guard private property and business. However, as Dinnen (2020) indicates, many of the largest private security employers are foreign companies that are contracted to to protect and guard high value assets like rural mining facilities. Glenn Banks (2021) has also written about the increasing presence of private security around mining sites in PNG in response to a growing number of local attacks at these sites. Banks (2021) argues that the rise in corporate security around these sites has severed corporate-community dialogue and therefore only increased tensions and violence producing greater local insecurity. Dinnen (2020) arrives at a similar conclusion to Banks (2021) that the widening gulf between public and private security across all security niches and domains in PNG has the potential to perpetuate local tensions not reduce them.

Dinnen (2020) however also addresses how this gulf between public and private security was produced in a context of shifting global political-economic relations with PNG. Dinnen (2020) argues that before independence in 1975, the colonial system of law and order had a wider breadth and sensitivity to local context and culture which local populations (especially rural populations) both respected and trusted. In this colonial context, close local-foreign security dialogue ensured that local interests were upheld. The relative lack of foreign investment or aid to state based policing after PNG’s independence in 1975 indicates that this mutual security dialogue and effort progressively broke down when integrating into the global market system. This market based system subsequently incentivized foreign politicians and enterprises (as well as private citizens) to pursue and protect their own interests rather than collective local interests and rule of law. This facilitated the eventual rise of the private security firms that allowed these foreign and private interests to detach themselves from local responsibility and accountability. In this way Dinnen (2020) reveals how PNG’s security challenges are embedded in shifting global historical relations with PNG as much as they are locally isolated. Insecurity seemingly originates from a context of waning honest and mutual international relations.

Dinnen’s (2020) article has made me consider the role of private security in other domains of the Pacific and how they are tied to shifting global relations. What I am specifically interested in discussing further here is if the rise of private security in PNG is potentially applicable to the maritime resource sector in the Pacific? Has a similar gap opened opened up a gap for private security in the maritime resource sector? Furthermore, could private maritime resource security be susceptible to the same lack of responsibility and accountability to local interests?

Many Pacific Island nations do not have the terrestrial resources that PNG has. There are exceptions like the Solomon islands and New Caledonia with its own terrestrial mining industries. However, what other Pacific states do have are very valuable maritime resources. Pacific tuna fisheries in particular are a highly valuable resource which generated 7.8 Billion USD in 2018 (McKinney et al., 2020). Small Pacific nations like Kiribati and the Marshall Islands (among many others) have vast territorial waters in which migratory tuna schools are harvested. Their economies heavily rely upon appropriating the value of tuna caught in their waters, comparable to how PNG’s economy is tied to mining revenues. Maritime resources therefore are of such great economic value that they are worthy of “securing”.

The role of maritime policing seems to be firmly held by nation states. Currently there is a rise in state based surveillance and security funding operations from Pacific Rim countries (AUS, NZ, USA) who are partnering with various Pacific Island nations. This increase in maritime security funding is in response to the presence of illegal fishing in the Pacific (Song et al., 2019). Of particular importance in protecting against illegal fishing in the region is the establishment of the Pacific Maritime Surveillance Program (PMSP). This program brings Pacific Island nations together to enforce maritime law across the Pacific. The program is led by Australia which donates a large number of patrol boats to Pacific Island nations (Stilp, 2021). It is fair to conclude that with the assistance of Pacific rim countries, the maritime security capacity of Pacific island nations is increasing.

It is subjective however to determine whether this increase in maritime security capacity meets emerging challenges in the maritime sector or not. Stilp (2021) raises concerns around the inherent challenges in running an economically and operationally sustainable regional maritime surveillance program across such vast ocean. The number of days Pacific Island nations can afford surveillance vessels being operational on the water is low. Pacific Island nations may also potentially be unable to match the expected high financial commitments of the PMSP in future. A context of an under resourced state based maritime surveillance program in relation to growing maritime security needs is therefore conceivable if not likely.

As a result I can also conceive of a future niche for private security or private military contractors to fill for specific contexts. Private maritime security has emerged elsewhere in the world. Private maritime security firms have emerged to protect container transport ships from piracy off the coast of Somalia (Mineau, 2010). Private security firms also currently operate on offshore oil rigs (Hawkes, 2012). It is therefore not preposterous that private security could emerge in Pacific fisheries. However what are its use cases in fisheries? Most likely, private security may be utilized to protect fishermen in contexts of increased fishing competition that may provoke on the water tensions; or in the context where the presence of potentially hostile unregistered boats involved in transnational drug trafficking increases in the Pacific (see, Pomeroy et al., 2016).

A more pertinent security issue in the fishing industry right now however is that fishing observers who are tasked to ensure that international fishing regulations are upheld on fishing vessels are increasingly in danger. There is an unnerving increase in the murder of fishing observers on fishing vessels. Pacific states who deploy these fishing observers have not yet introduced adequate measures to protect fishing observers from vessel captains and crew participating in illegal fishing. Recommendations seem to veer towards protecting fishing observers with mobile tracking and reporting. Fishing companies seem unwilling to institute any additional protection for fishing observers who are not there to provide productive value to their operations but are there to regulate them. The potential role and applicability of private security in this picture is therefore unclear but interesting to contemplate.

Thinking further into the future, private maritime security may become even more prevalent if seabed mining was ever approved by pacific nations and international governance institutions like the international maritime organization (IMO). Just like in terrestrial mining these private security firms would be tasked to protect the interests of the contracting mining company and not the concerns of Pacific island states. This therefore seems like deep sea mining is the most likely industry to take advantage of private security services that may also be susceptible to a lack of responsibility or accountability to local interests. Private security may be further empowered to protect the interests of mining companies over broader interests as jurisdiction over ocean space is murky and exploitable. Yet, how much security would be needed in the remote Pacific ocean is yet to be seen. Seabed mining operations are already well disconnected from external human eyes and intervention.

In theory, there therefore may be a niche for private maritime security or private maritime military contractors in the Pacific. A hypothetical emergence of private security tasked to protect private interests rather than broader public interests may have huge implications in the maritime resource sector due to how devastating the environmental effects of over-fishing and deep-seabed mining could potentially be. However, unlike in Dinnen’s (2020) article, there does currently seem to be strong security dialogue, commitment, and capacity building between Pacific Rim and Pacific Island countries in the maritime resource security sector. This relationship also seems robust. We are therefore unlikely to see the same level of imbalance between public and private maritime security that would indicate a detachment of private interests from local responsibility and accountability in the maritime resource security sector, at least in the short term. It must be noted however that this strong relationship between Pacific Rim and Pacific Island countries is not necessarily as honest as it seems. Pacific Island countries have their own geopolitical and economic interests separate from Pacific Island countries. These external state based interests that masquerade as shared Pacific interest may be shutting out the emergence of private maritime security, however this state based presence may follow overarching trends in detached accountability seen in PNG with comparable implications.

*This is a an article review where the authors express their interpretations of the article, supplemented with their own academic and personal knowledge. Any clarifications or other points of discussion are welcomed in the discussion section below*

Banner Image by Dusan Reljic

TransOcean is a European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant project 

The project is funded by the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 802223


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  • Lucas Watt

    I am a Post-Doctoral researcher on the ERC-funded TransOcean Project at the Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI), Norway. My portion of the project sets out to analyze maritime mobilities, exchange, and conservation, in the increasingly securitised region of Oceania. I graduated with a PhD from the School of Media and Communications at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) University. My ethnographic fieldwork in Suva Fiji analyses how rural-urban migrants living in “informal settlements” articulate tradition in urban spaces.

  • roxanedewaegh

    My name is Roxane de Waegh and I am a PhD student at the Faculty of Culture and Society at Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand. I am originally from Belgium, but grew up a bit all over the world, including Congo, Senegal, Singapore, Chile, Argentina, Japan, USA, and Canada. The ocean, the concept of remoteness, and the complexity of connectivity have always fascinated me. After working as a marine biologist for nearly 6 years with various environmental NGOs in remote coastal communities, including Myanmar, Solomon Islands, and Timor-Leste, I have come back to the academic world, hoping to deepen my understanding of the intrinsic paradoxical nature of integrated conservation and development projects (ICDPs) in marginalised coastal communities.

  • gregwatttraveller

    Greg Watt is an advocate for authenticity in tourism and travel. Greg has previously lived in Papua New Guinea, has had an involvement with tourism in Vanuatu for the past thirteen years and presently has a close association with a community-based tourism project on Tanna Island (seven years). Greg is a doctoral candidate at Auckland University of Technology, and his Master’s thesis was titled “A Pro-Poor Tourism Case Study: Efate Island, Vanuatu” which looks at ways that poor Ni-Vanuatu can benefit through tourism. For a more detailed look at Greg’s involvement within development and tourism have a look at his blog articles which can be found at https://watt.nz.

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