Chicago Journal of International Law


Despite growing levels of conflict and instability in parts of the southwest Pacific, Australia has, until recently, been reluctant to intervene in the affairs of neighboring states. As the dominant metropolitan power in the region, a former colony of Britain, and the ex-colonial administrator of Papua New Guinea, Australia has gone out of its way to avoid any perceptions of acting in an imperialist or neo-colonial fashion. Instead, its influence has been wielded primarily through diplomacy and bilateral development assistance. This traditional reluctance to intervene was also justified in terms of the practical limitations of external intervention, given the cultural and ethnic complexities evident in the Pacific island states. As explained in a Foreign Affairs White Paper, "Australia cannot presume to fix the problems of the South Pacific.... The island countries are independent sovereign states... When problems are so tightly bound to complex cultural and ethnic loyalties, only local communities can find workable solutions." A major turning point occurred in mid-2003, when the Australian government agreed to lead the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands ("RAMSI"). The decision to intervene in the troubled Pacific nation, albeit at the request of the Solomon Islands government, was viewed by many as a paradigm shift in Australian regional policy. Australia's more robust engagement is nevertheless consistent with the increase in state-building interventions that have become a prominent feature of the post-Cold War international landscape. The frequency of interventions in states that are perceived as at risk of "failure" has grown exponentially in the post-9/11 period. Responses that initially were triggered by security concerns have been followed by substantial assistance in (re)constructing political institutions that are now understood as critical to long- term security and political stability. Security and stability are, in turn, viewed as indispensable to sustainable economic development. In Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iraq, parts of West Africa, Timor-Leste, and, more recently, the Pacific island countries of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands, military or police-led peacekeeping interventions have been precursors to long-term efforts to build state "capacity." [CONT]

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