Papua New Guinea’s 2022 elections suffered from a host of problems, following a pattern plaguing the country’s polls for years. At least 50 people died in election-related violence. Post-election fighting in the country’s Highlands region contributed to a rapid rise in internally displaced people. Election observers estimated that in some places as many as half of all voters could not vote owing to problems with the roll. Voting was disrupted and ballot boxes hijacked in places, and violence prevented vote counting from being completed in at least two national electorates. There is now an urgent need for the international community to intensify their work with the government of Papua New Guinea to ensure that future elections improve and that the country’s democracy is preserved.
“The world stands today at the dawn of a decisive decade — a moment of consequence and peril, of profound pain and extraordinary possibility,” President Biden declared in April. These words came just two months into Russia’s war on Ukraine and during a time of concern for Western countries as China flexed its muscular diplomacy in the Pacific Islands region. Biden’s statement also sets the scene for the U.S. administration’s new approach to peacebuilding, which aims to prevent conflict from erupting in fragile states by disrupting drivers of instability.
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.
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.