By ANTHONY BERGIN & LISA SHARLAND
Julie Bishop recently became the first foreign minister to meet Fijian Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama since his landslide electionwin in September.
A very positive outcome of Bishops visit was the commitment to resume defence relations particularly after the leaders of India and China visited Suva last week and promised enhanced defence co-operation with Fiji.
The affection that had built up over the years between Australian officers and Fijis military has been lost. Senior Fiji officers regret that the brothers-in-arms status they once enjoyed with their Australian counterparts hasnt been available and wasnt offered to their junior officers because of sanctions.
But in resuming our defence co-operation programme with Suva we should go beyond restoring staff college places, exchanging military attaches and bringing Fiji back into the Pacific patrol boat programme.
A fresh initiative to advance security co-operation is needed. We should support Fiji establishing a regional peacekeeping training centre. The Republic of Fiji Military Forces Black Rock Camp, close to Nadi, has been earmarked as a potential peacekeeping school for some time.
But it was only recently that the RFMF Commander Brigadier-General Mosese Tikoitoga said a plan has been submitted to the Fijian government seeking infrastructure funding for the facility. Its expected that the peacekeeping school will be used to train military, police and corrections officers in the region, as well as supporting personnel deploying to disaster relief operations.
Bringing together different components to train in one facility will enhance civil-military co-operation.
This is important in peacekeeping missions, where personnel are tasked not only with restoring security and protecting civilians, but supporting the extension of state authority through police, courts and prisons.
The proposed facility will support Fijis growing peacekeeping engagement, as well as that of current and potential contributors in the region. Fiji has nearly 700 military and police personnel deployed across missions in the Middle East and Africa.
More than half those personnel are deployed to the UN Disengagement Observer Force in the Golan Heights.
Fiji remains committed to this mission despite the volatile situation, which resulted in the kidnapping of 45 RFMF personnel in August.
During a UN Security Council debate on peacekeeping this year, Fijis representative stated that the peacekeeping facility would be open to regional partners.
With the exception of Fijis sizeable deployments, engagement by Pacific countries in UN peacekeeping operations remains limited. Samoa, Vanuatu, Palau and Papua New Guinea are contributors, but they only have a handful of personnel on the ground.
The UN has identified co-operation with regional organisations a priority to strengthen peacekeeping. In March the head of UN peacekeeping stated he planned to contact the Melanesian Spearhead Group and the Polynesian Leaders Group as potential vehicles for generating rapid deployment capabilities.
As a result of Bishops recent visit to Suva, Australia and Fiji are due to discuss how the regional architecture might best meet Pacific Islands needs: co-operation on peacekeeping should form part of these discussions.
Once the facility at Black Rock is established, we should work with Fiji to support the development of training programs in areas such as countering improvised explosive devices. IEDs are of growing concern in peacekeeping missions.
Fiji wants donors to support the development of Black Rock. Australia can assist.
We should work with Fiji, a critical Pacific hub state, to address threats to regional and global security at a time when the UN needs all the help it can get.
Anthony Bergin is deputy director, Australian Strategic Policy Institute. Lisa Sharland is an analyst at ASPI.