How the Pacific Islands Forum Fell Apart

THE DIPLOMAT – By Cleo Paskal February 10, 2021

The decision by Micronesian countries to leave the PIF will have major strategic implications.

Five countries just pulled out of the Pacific Islands Forum. This is geopolitically more important than it might seem. It is a very serious strategic problem which raises questions that get to the heart of some of the West’s most sensitive alliances. Did Australia, New Zealand, and France  deliberately coordinate to sideline the United States in an area where China is highly active? And is the Five Eyes still fit for purpose?

Breaking down what happened – and the possible implications – highlights issues that, if not resolved, could lead to aircraft carrier-sized cracks the West’s Indo-Pacific defenses, including along the strategically crucial first and second island chains.

The Pacific Islands Forum (PIF)

The PIF is a regional political grouping that, until last week, consisted of 18 members and covered a vast, resource rich, highly strategic zone on the front line between Asia and the Americas.

For millennia the people of the region traveled widely between islands. In the 1830s, French Naval officer Jules Dumont d’Urville divided the islands and peoples of Oceania into three groups, based partially on geography and partially on his dubious interpretation of ethnicities. That’s how we ended up with the concepts of Melanesia (“islands of Black people”), Micronesia (“small islands”), and Polynesia (“many islands”). The terms are problematic among the people of the region, but have become embedded in bureaucratic structures and today each country in the region identifies politically with one of the three groups.


Cleo Paskal is non-resident senior fellow for the Indo-Pacific at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and an associate fellow at Chatham House.


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