Papua New Guinea (PNG) has become a key focal point for the United States as it aggressively renews ties with Pacific Island countries. U.S. engagement with PNG will require a comprehensive approach that incorporates cross-nation security cooperation and development assistance. Traditional approaches are insufficient to meet these goals. The United States should envision a framework beyond sole reliance on its military and civilian agencies. This new framework would serve to address PNG’s unique challenges, counter China’s regional activism and undergird U.S. leadership in the Pacific.
Now that Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape has been reelected, the stage is set for him to settle what he has called the biggest issue facing the country — the future political status of Bougainville, an autonomous region seeking independence by 2027. Papua New Guinea is unlikely to let it secede, but Bougainville is unlikely to settle for anything less than full independence, and positive relations between the two governments will be of paramount importance in the coming years. Meanwhile, intensifying U.S.-China competition in the South Pacific creates wider implications for Bougainville’s potential independence.
One of the most incisive works of the prodigious but too little heralded Papua New Guinean writer Steven Winduo is a short story collection titled the “Unpainted Mask.” The book explores how the denizens of the island nation negotiate the everyday travails of modern life, using as its central motif how people wear different masks to view themselves and others. According to Winduo, it is vitally important to discern the public mask, as well as to appreciate what is underneath. Seeing one without the other is a recipe for distorted vision. Winduo’s words don’t just apply to people, but also to the state of Papua New Guinea (PNG) and its institutions.
The Global Fragility Act (GFA) is an ambitious law that makes preventing conflicts and promoting stability in countries prone to conflict a U.S. foreign policy priority. Following years of efforts that overemphasized military operations in response to extremist violence and insurgencies, the GFA requires a long-term investment to address the underlying drivers of conflict. The Biden administration has released a new strategy to implement the GFA with 10-year commitments of assistance to a group of fragile states. The GFA and the new strategy rely, in part, on recommendations made by the USIP-convened Task Force on Extremism in Fragile States.