Regional Partnership: the Melanesian Spearhead Group

Walter Lini, the first prime minister of Vanuatu, advocated for a “Melanesian Renaissance,” or an expression of pan-Melanesianism. He emphasized solidarity among Melanesian countries and territories. He, along with Paias Wingti (former prime minister of PNG) and Ezekiel Alebua (former prime minister of Solomon Islands), founded a regional group titled the Melanesian Spearhead Group.

Founded in 1988, the Melanesian Spearhead Group consists of Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, and the Front de Liberation Nationale Kanak et Socialiste, a movement in New Caledonia that calls for independence. Since its founding, the MSG has devised its own Trade Agreement, an Agreement Establishing the MSG, and is headquartered in Port Vila, Vanuatu. Its goals include “the entire decolonization and freedom of Melanesian countries and territories which were still under colonial rule in the South Pacific, thereby developing a stronger cultural, political, social, and economic identity and link between the people and communities of Melanesia.” The MSG hopes to achieve this in part by working towards decolonizing all Melanesian countries, primarily focusing on West Papua and New Caledonia.

 

The MSG’s varied programs have strengthened regional solidarity. Broadly, their programs are divided into four categories: Political & Security Affairs; Trade, Investment & Economic Development; Governance & Legal Affairs; and Sustainable Development.

 

In addition to a Free Trade Agreement, the MSG has signed a variety of treaties in recent years, although they have yet to be ratified. These treaties, although they vary in subject, all continue to strengthen cooperation and coordination measures within Melanesia. The member countries signed treaties to collaborate on police training, legal enforcement for cross border disputes, and protection of “traditional knowledge and expressions of culture.”

 

In addition to treaties, the MSG has signed Memoranda of Understanding with different international organizations. These memoranda typically include training for members of the MSG on particular issues or education pertinent to specific subject areas. International organizations come from individual member states, throughout Oceania, and states outside of the region. These organizations include The International Coconut Community, Oceania Customs Organisation Secretariat, South Pacific Tourism Organisation, International Institution for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, and the International Federation of Arts Councils and Culture Agencies Secretariat. By partnering with international organizations, the MSG continues to establish its place as a legitimate actor.

 

The MSG also prioritizes displays of support towards positive activities happening in individual member countries. Whether through meetings or congratulatory statements, the MSG Secretariat involves itself in the lives of citizens of member countries by making it a point to show recognition for successes, such as the congratulations toward the Vanuatu Government on the Launch of “Vanuatu Made” brand.

 

As climate security remains a shared concern for member states, the MSG recently developed a new Climate Finance Strategy. This strategy was “declared first in the world to implement the COP23 Mandate” due to its response to the needs based Finance (NBF) Project developed by the United Nations Framework Convention of Climate Change (UNFCCC). The NBF Project’s goal is to assist developing countries in implementing migration and adaptation policies based on their needs. The MSG was the first sub-regional group in the world to complete a Climate Finance Strategy, a source of pride for the MSG. By being the first to complete this strategy, the MSG has offered to assist other small island states regions in their development of a Climate Finance Strategy.

 

Due to the founders’ ideals of Melanesian Solidarity, the MSG involves itself in a range of projects, from trade agreements to sports programmes. It also conducts region specific research, publishing reports on topics ranging from fisheries management to “Alternative Indicators of Well-being for Melanesia.” Concerned with its performance, the MSG tasked a group of appointees to review its progress since its founding and to devise an action plan to maximize its performance until 2038. Titled “MSG 2038 Prosperity for All Plan,” its primary solution is to continue to enhance Melanesian sub-regionalism through strengthened cooperation, integration, and provision of services. The organization is encouraged to continue working with other international organizations. The enhanced sub-regionalism does not necessitate pulling back on initiatives. The report does place an emphasis on incorporating traditional knowledge, as it remains an important commonality between member states.

 

As the MSG continues to work with other international organizations and partners, it continues to strengthen its role as an international actor. The recent success with its Climate Finance Strategy paves the way for the MSG to further its goals and actions as an organization.

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