Pacific Fusion Centre considers security beyond geo-politics

(L-R) James Movick and Anna Naupa

Since their appointments as Director and Associate Director of the Pacific Fusion Centre last year, James  Movick and Anna Naupa have fielded many questions about the role of the Centre: How does it work alongside the region’s other agencies, what specific issues does it analyse, who gets to read its papers, and how much influence does Australia, as the Centre’s funder, exert?

James Movick, of the Federated States of Micronesia has over 40 years’ experience in Pacific diplomacy, leadership, and guidance, including as Director General of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency from 2012-2018.

Anna Naupa’s regional credentials include over 20 years’ experience in senior public sector and Pacific regional organisation management. The Pacific Fusion is now based in her home country, Vanuatu, after operating from a temporary base in Canberra for two years.

“People have asked me, ‘what’s your main focus within the Center,” Movick says. “My response has always been, how it affects our people. That’s got to be the bottom line. How it is affects the communities. Not the geopolitics. Those are important, but how does all of this impact people? I can always use that as my guiding principle.”

The security issues the Centre has examined to date include human security,  fisheries, food security, climate, environment, resources, cyber security, rule of law, and the dynamics of geopolitics. 

“I think of it like a Rubik’s Cube,” says Naupa. “You look at it [issues] from every angle, and you work through, what are the things to be thinking about and considering.”

Consolidating contacts 

At the moment, Movick says the Centre’s main focus is to continue production of analytical pieces focused around the interest areas of its secondees—who currently come from Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Papua New Guinea, Samoa and Vanuatu.

It is also working to expand its alumni network, and ‘developing dialogues’, to provide spaces for national security councils to “talk amongst themselves, [as] there’s been no prior mechanism for them to do that.”

Movick clarifies: “We’re not an operational agency, we are not into advising [for example] police on what to do…It’s very much strategic.”

There are also plans to conduct a series of national consultations on the Centre’s work. “Building trust is extremely important, it has to be built on a personal basis. Reaching out into the stakeholder community is really important. And building that degree of both familiarity as well as trust will take time.”

The Pacific Fusion Centre was born out of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), and in particular, the Boe Declaration for Regional Security.

Naupa asserts that the Boe Declaration is “fundamentally speaking to a much deeper nuances of what we mean about security.

“I’ll be quite frank, it’s a big journey just to see that integrated approach. Climate security is not only is the top issue for our region, but it’s also a way that it brings all these threads quite well.”

Movick says the strategic assessments the Centre produces are independent and defensible, developing a community of practice that looks at regional security in an integrated way is key.

“Those skills are needed right across government in the Pacific, they really are required, very few people have it,” he says.

Analysis produced by the Centre goes to range of stakeholders, depending on the subject matter. However under the Centre’s charter, it can only share information products with the beneficiaries who are listed, PIF member countries and 12 regional and international organisations. As Director, Movick has the discretion to share information more widely, but that would need the nod of the PIF subcommittee on regional security.

Much of the information accessed and analysed is open source.

“It’s just having the resources to do the data mining,” Naupa says, noting that as a fusion center, they are able to invest in analysts. “There’s a lot out there that’s also available through nominal commercial licenses and whatnot, when you think about big data and all of that. So we’re looking at how we can be a platform to fuse that for the Pacific and by the Pacific.”

Movick says he has noticed traditional law enforcement agencies are working more closely together, and other sectors seem to be sharing more information, “partially driven by COVID; everyone’s online.”

He says while as in a traditional intelligence analysis process research and analysis requests should come from decision makers, “policymakers themselves, particularly at the national level, are still trying  to figure us out. I mean, I have to be very frank about that. So we also try to look and identify in consultation with CROP and other agencies, what are some of the key questions out there that we can address?”

The Centre recently did an analysis of digital currencies, and in particular, central bank-backed digital currencies compared to commercially-touted digital currencies. “There’s a number of considerations and facets that that can create vulnerabilities and risks and potential security threats to countries and so the digital currencies piece was very much about [that],” says Naupa. 

The Centre also looked at cyber security and critical financial infrastructure says Naupa, “because again, if we’re moving towards digitising a lot more avenues of trade, critical financial infrastructure and ways of facilitating this trade need to be highly secure, so that governments are not at risk from capture, or ransomware, etc.”

Movick says the Centre plays an important role in distilling information down to its critical components for busy policy makers, noting that while this information may already be available, “Often it is in voluminous documents, right?… But what we do is we have to synthesise that.”

He says while this can make one-to-three page briefs seem very high level to technical experts, “these documents help people to frame their thinking in a more succinct way.” 

Movick admits that the fact that the Centre is fully funded by Australia is also something they’ve had to address “right from the outset.” Developing a charter between PIF members and Australia to articulate the governance structure took two years. “It was clear that it had to be under the governance of the Forum process in order to have confidence of the members.” The governance structure agreed that the Centre was placed under the policy oversight of the Forum Subcommittee on regional security, that the director be a Pacific Island citizen, and that the Centre be located in the region.

“But still some people have been wondering, well, does Australia have some ulterior motive? And I guess it’s a matter of us performing our work and being objective and how we do it.  I will tell you, frankly, I’ve never received any pressure, certainly from higher levels within Australia, to take a particular line on any issue,” Movick clarifies.

Naupa adds: “We also should recognise that the member governments in the Pacific are also supporting the Centre substantially, through seconding analysts from their home agencies. And James mentioned our alumni program. It’s small, because we are very young, it’s still early days, but it’s growing. And that’s the community of practice we’re aiming to grow.”

At a time when the future of Pacific islands regionalism is under scrutiny and reflection, Movick says while “one of the key objectives of the Center is to look at things from a regional perspective,“ from his personal perspective, there is a need for some further reflection on just what regionalism means. 

“We can more be united on the key aspects, but do we have to be united to the same extent on every aspect?  I think that’s an important discussion. The principle we are taking, for example, in the domain awareness space, is that sovereignty belongs with the countries, that capacity needs to be at the country level, but how do we link them together so that everyone can see the region as a whole?

“At the end of the day, in the exercise of your national sovereignty, there may be implications and impacts upon others. Those need to be clear. It doesn’t impinge on national sovereignty, but you have to think about those other issues. And what do we as a collective? What are the processes whereby we can mitigate those effects that arise from the exercise of national sovereignty?”

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