Reflecting on a Decade of the South Pacific Defence Ministers Meeting (SPDMM). Achievements and Future Pathways
23 November 2023
The South Pacific Defence Ministers Meeting (SPDMM) is taking place in Nouméa (New Caledonia) from December 4 th to 6 th of this year. Celebrating its tenth anniversary, the SPDMM brings together defense ministers and senior military officials from South Pacific countries – Australia, Chile, Fiji, France, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea (PNG), and Tonga – as well as representatives from the three observer countries – Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The SPDMM, its purpose, and its achievements are not well-known. Nevertheless, it stands as the sole multilateral forum bringing together defense ministers from the extended South Pacific, including Chile. It stands out with its high level of representation and its agenda focused on climate change and its impacts, maritime security, and the training of armed forces for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR). While security cooperation initiatives are abundant in Oceania, there is no regional collective security agreement to address the increasingly numerous and diverse risks and challenges. Certainly, the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) brings together Pacific Island states, fostering oceanic solidarity, but it only marginally touches upon defense matters. Moreover, only three island countries in the Pacific (PNG, Fiji, and Tonga) have armed forces, while others maintain paramilitary forces (such as the Vanuatu Mobile Force) or police forces. Therefore, the SPDMM is a unique dialogue and coordination platform in the region. This briefing seeks to offer a preliminary evaluation of the SPDMM’s ten-year journey, emphasize France’s role in hosting the ministerial meeting for the first time this year, and provide a broad overview of the institution’s future. The challenge in the coming years will be for the SPDMM to reposition itself in light of the resurgence of power rivalries and the proliferation of security initiatives in the area.