Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG)

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  • One of the three sub-regional groups in the Pacific island area is the MSG. As the name implies, it includes the South West Pacific Melanesian nations that are closest to Australia. The bulk of people that live in the Pacific island region are from these nations. Their economies are the most thriving in the larger Pacific, driven by resources, tourism, and agriculture.
  • Fiji, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, and the Front de Liberation Nationale Kanak et Socialiste (FLNKS), a movement in favor of New Caledonia’s independence, are among its members. The MSG is currently chaired by Victor Tutugoro of the FLNKS, who succeeded Voreqe Bainimarama of Fiji in 2013. It is unusual to have a political organization like FLNKS present, and this is indicative of the MSG’s political and historical roots. In an effort to safeguard the liberation of their kanaky brethren, newly independent Melanesian nations came together in a spirit of ethnic and cultural unity. The signing of “The Agreed Principles of Co-operation Among Independent States of Melanesia” in 1988 was influenced by this, among other things.
  • Indonesia was given observer status at the MSG in 2011, which was a contentious move at the time and has subsequently caused disruptions.
  • The West Papua National Council for Liberation (WPNCL) submitted an application to join the organization in 2013. That application has not yet received a decision. Since June 2013, there have been a number of changes that have caused some to wonder if this problem is threatening the group’s cohesion.
History of MSG

The presidents of state from each independent state and the FLNKS leadership founded the MSG on March 14, 1988, in Port Vila. The MSG established a secretariat in Port Vila, Vanuatu, in 2008 after becoming a formal institution recognized by international law in 2007. It celebrated its silver jubilee in 2013 with a variety of events and activities taking place across the sub-region.

Peter Forau, the current director general of the secretariat, cites the creation of the MSG Trade Agreement as a milestone and proof of the organization’s accomplishments. In 1993, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu all signed it. In 1998, Fiji joined.

How does the Melanesian Spearhead Group fit with other regional architecture?

The Pacific Islands Forum and the MSG have a lot of the same members. Three of the MSG nations—PNG, the Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu—are currently Forum members. Although New Caledonia is an associate member, Fiji is now suspended from the Forum and FLNKS has no status at the regional level.

The MSG’s leadership is keen to emphasize that it is not looking to confront or compete with the Pacific Islands Forum, despite the fact that it is unquestionably the most established and active of the three sub-regional groupings. Similar techniques and procedures are evident because some important members of the MSG secretariat have prior experience working at the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat or other regional organizations.

Role of MSG
  • In addition to the MSG Trade Agreement, the secretariat and the political leadership are now working on a variety of other projects and initiatives. A talents movement plan is being developed to ease labor migration between member nations, among other economic activity. The MSG innovated by creating a department of peacekeeping operations at its most recent summit in 2013 to look into options for sending personnel from group members to UN peacekeeping missions elsewhere in the world.
  • Within its secretariat, the MSG has created an FLNKS section for political purposes. In accordance with the Noumea Accords, this unit is working on a number of projects that were formerly the responsibility of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat.
  • We looked at ideas for service pooling that may be done by organizations like the MSG as part of research I conducted with Matthew Dornan of the ANU last year. Developing shipping services between member states, buying drugs in bulk, and selling travel to international destinations are some of these initiatives. Due to the MSG approach’s awareness of the value of sound policymaking and the (perceived) involvement of political leadership, we discovered there was cause for cautious hope in this area.
Challenges

The MSG may experience serious issues as a result of the WPNCL membership issue. Vanuatu has taken a strong stance, which contrasts with the positions of the two largest members, Fiji and PNG, both of which have stronger ties to Indonesia.

In terms of the bureaucracy, Peter Forau’s term as Director General expires this year. He is largely regarded with having led the secretariat through its initial stages of development to the point where it is now seen as an important participant in regional discussions. The person chosen to take his place, should he be unable to continue in this capacity, will be crucial to how the organization develops going ahead.

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