The United States Needs an Integrated COFA Strategy – 5/11/19

For decades, the United States has maintained special relationships of free association with the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of Palau. These special relationships were brought into existence by international agreements called Compacts of Free Association (COFAs).

Under these international agreements, the Freely Associated States are recognized as sovereign states with the authority to conduct their own foreign affairs. However, the United States has authority for their defense and security. It also has the power to limit the conduct of their foreign affairs with respect to defense and security matters. Separately, most of their citizens have the right to a special class of immigration privileges in the United States, as well as the right to serve in the armed forces of the United States. In addition, the United States has an obligation to provide economic assistance to the Republic of Palau until fiscal year 2024, to the Republic of the Marshall Islands until fiscal year 2023, and to the Federated States of Micronesia until fiscal year 2023.

Over the next few years, the United States is expected to start renegotiating the terms of these special relationships. The executive branch should take this opportunity to redefine the relationship between Free Association activities and the vital interests of the United States.

First, the executive branch needs to develop a National Free Association Strategy. This strategy should represent a single coordinated effort to harmonize the full range of activities that are to be carried out across the United States government in order to achieve the strategic vision of the National Security Strategy through free association agreements with other sovereign states.

Second, the executive branch needs to establish a governance model to execute the National Free Association Strategy. This governance model should establish a dedicated mechanism for coordinating the full range of Free Association activities across the United States Government. This dedicated mechanism should also be tasked with monitoring the extent to which the stated objectives of the National Free Association Strategy are being realized by the United States government.

Third, the executive branch needs to establish an overarching policy on Free Association activities. This policy should not only assign responsibilities and stipulate procedures for the execution of Free Association activities with Free Association Partner entities. It should also establish a common definition for Free Association Partners and Free Association activities to be used by executive agencies.

Fourth, executive agencies need to establish specific policies on Free Association activities that fall under their mandates. These policies should align with the National Security Strategy and National Free Association Strategy. They should also mandate the use of the common definition for Free Association Partners and Free Association activities within their agencies.

If the executive branch makes these strategic investments, then the United States government will be in a better position to renegotiate the economic and programmatic assistance that it provides to the Freely Associated States. This will also put the relevant ambassadors and country teams in a better position to determine the bilateral policy goals and program priorities at each of these overseas posts.

Michael Walsh is a Research Fellow in the Department of Southeast Asian Studies at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. The opinions expressed are his own.

Note: This article originally appeared on The Diplomat.

The Official Blog of Ambassador David Shinn Features Articles by Michael Edward Walsh – 11/24/17

On 24 November 2017, The Official Blog of Ambassador David Shinn featured a number of articles by Michael Edward Walsh that were originally published on the Africa Security Monitor as part of the Overseas Military Bases in Africa Initiative.

Website: The Official Blog of Ambassador David Shinn

About Michael Edward Walsh
Michael Edward Walsh is a research fellow for African Studies at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. Separately, he is also president of the Islands Society and director of the Overseas Military Bases in Africa Initiative. Over the last decade, Mr. Walsh’s work has appeared in dozens of international news outlets and think tank publications. He has also received a number of awards, including the Vivian Award from the National Press Club and a Certificate of Appreciation from the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.

About the Islands Society
The Islands Society is a “Top-Rated” American 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Its mission is to inspire and empower islanders to participate in foreign affairs and overseas engagements in order to affect positive change in their local communities. The nonprofit therefore develops and implements projects that are designed to help islanders realize their full potential on the world stage.


Image Credit: Department of State via Flickr CC

USC Center on Public Diplomacy Features Analysis of Djibouti Regional Training Center by Michael Edward Walsh – 11/24/17

On 15 November 2017, the USC Center on Public Diplomacy published analysis on the Djibouti Regional Training Center (DRTC) by Michael Edward Walsh. The report was also featured on the Africa Security Monitor as part of the Overseas Military Bases in Africa Initiative.

Downloadable Copies: Center on Public Diplomacy & Islands Society

About Michael Edward Walsh
Michael Edward Walsh is a research fellow for African Studies at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. Separately, he is also president of the Islands Society and director of the Overseas Military Bases in Africa Initiative. Over the last decade, Mr. Walsh’s work has appeared in dozens of international news outlets and think tank publications. He has also received a number of awards, including the Vivian Award from the National Press Club and a Certificate of Appreciation from the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.

About the Islands Society
The Islands Society is a “Top-Rated” American 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Its mission is to inspire and empower islanders to participate in foreign affairs and overseas engagements in order to affect positive change in their local communities. The nonprofit therefore develops and implements projects that are designed to help islanders realize their full potential on the world stage.


Image Credit: IMO UN via Flickr CC

Djibouti: Renewed Interest in Maritime Security Facility Next to Chinese Base – Michael Edward Walsh

Thanks to millions of dollars in funding from the government of Japan, the Djibouti Regional Training Center (DRTC) opened its doors two years ago. However, the facility has gone largely unused since then. That may be about to change.

In recent weeks, the government of Djibouti has expressed a renewed interest in making use of the facility as a meeting space for events related to the Djibouti Code of Conduct. If this happens, the facility’s potential will finally start to be realized.

History of the Djibouti Regional Training Center (DRTC)

On October 29, 2011, the foundation stone for the DRTC was laid by the president of the Republic of Djibouti and the director of the Maritime Safety Division at the International Maritime Organization (IMO). Funded through the IMO Djibouti Code of Conduct Trust Fund, the new facility was intended to promote successful implementation of the Code of Conduct Concerning the Repression of Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships in the Western Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden. Specifically, it was intended to provide a meeting space for events related to the Djibouti Code of Conduct and office space for coordinating similar events across the region.

On November 12, 2015, the $2.5 million facility was officially opened by Djibouti’s minister of equipment and transport. Although not in attendance, the IMO secretary-general addressed the attendees by way of video. According to him, the facility “should be an asset to Djibouti and to the region for many years to come.” However, the IMO secretary-general recognized that the government of Djibouti would need “to be imaginative in its use of the new building and to be proactive in maximizing its potential, for the benefit of the whole region” in order to realize the facility’s full potential.

Since the ribbon-cutting ceremony, the facility has gone largely unused.

Although the facility boasts one of the best conference auditoriums in the country, it has only hosted a handful of events. According to some experts, this is because of a lack of funding for events and basic infrastructure problems at the facility. According to others, it is because of serious limitations placed on access to the facility during the construction of the Chinese military base next door. Whatever the reasons, the facility has not played the “key role in regional capacity-building initiatives under the Code of Conduct” originally envisioned by the IMO.

Conference on the Djibouti Code of Conduct (DCoC Conference)

On October 29, 2017, the DCoC Conference was held at the DRTC. It included delegations from Djibouti, the European Union, France, Japan, the United States and Africa’s Intergovernmental Authority on Development. It also included speakers from the IMO and the Interregional Maritime Safety Institute, among others.

If the DRTC becomes useless, it would not just harm the reputation of the government of the Djibouti as an aid recipient: it would also harm the reputation of the IMO as an aid organization.

Although most of the presentations focused on specific regional maritime security issues, the conference included a presentation on the facility’s potential. After these presentations, the DRTC director took attendees on a guided tour of the facility. During the tour, she noted that the government of Djibouti was interested in putting the facility to greater use, but it lacked the funds to do so. So, she appealed to attendees to find ways to fund future programming at the facility.

The DCoC Conference is a sign that the government of Djibouti is interested in more fully realizing the potential of the DRTC. It also shows that the government is willing to make use of the facility as a meeting space for events related to the Djibouti Code of Conduct. This is an important development because the facility has hosted only one other major event over the past two years and none since completion of the Chinese military base, and some experts have started to question whether the government of Djibouti is at all interested in making use of the facility now that the Chinese base is next door.

Future of the DRTC

There is an old Afar proverb that goes, “A son can be difficult in three ways. Either he isn’t born, or being born dies, or grows up and becomes useless.”

If the DRTC becomes useless, it would not just harm the reputation of the government of the Djibouti as an aid recipient: it would also harm the reputation of the IMO as an aid organization. For this reason, many will welcome the news that the government of Djibouti is interested in more fully utilizing the facility as a meeting space for events related to the Djibouti Code of Conduct.

However, it will take more than just an expression of interest to more fully utilize the facility as a meeting space. As the DCoC Conference shows, the government of Djibouti will require additional funding from foreign donors to support programming at the facility, and these foreign donors will need reassurances that the government will make proper use of those funds to deliver that programming.

It therefore remains difficult to predict what the future holds for the DRTC. For now, the IMO can only hope that the DRTC will become an important asset for Djibouti and the region in the years to come.

Note: This article was first published by the CPD Blog of the Center on Public Diplomacy at the University of Southern California.

Addressing German Energy Security Through Public Diplomacy: The Need for German Engagement with Baltic Sea Islands – Theebika Shanmugarasa

Over the course of history, Germany’s relationship with the Baltic Sea region has oscillated between support and collaboration on one hand, and hesitancy and reluctance on the other. While Nordic states have long recognized the need for transnational cooperation with Baltic States and islands on common interests such as economics, energy, transport and defense, Germany’s policies towards this region have lagged behind for various reasons – reasons that are best understood in historic, geographical and political terms. Given the growing strategic importance of the Baltic Sea Region for Germany, it has become more crucial than ever for Germany to more fully engage the region through public diplomacy initiatives, with Baltic islands emerging as a prime target audience.

The unification of Germany in the aftermath of the Cold War in 1990 gave rise to an emerging major European power, politically and economically. In his paper on ‘German policy toward Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania since 1991 as an element of the Baltic Sea region-building,’ Kamil Markiewicz explains how the shift in geographical location of Germany, i.e. the creation of another German coastal region Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, raised the unified state’s attention to cooperation with other littoral states in the areas of energy, ecology and security.

Despite this, a security and economic logic driven Eastern policy (Ostpolitik) appears to have prolonged the presence of the ‘Moscow factor’, prevalent in German policies towards the Baltic Sea region during the Second World War. In his chapter on ‘Germany’s Security Policy in the Baltic Sea Region,’ Axel Krohn, a security policy expert and former Senior Advisor to the Council of the Baltic Sea States, incorporates the Russo-German relationship as one of the six factors that amount to German non-policy in the Baltic Sea region. Germany’s preoccupation with NATO enlargement and the extension of the EU is described as another factor that hindered Baltic Sea cooperation so as not to aggravate relations with Russia. Although the current German chancellor, Angela Merkel, does not seek out close personal ties with Russia’s political leaders, she has continued to pursue this Ostpolitik.

To this end, regional cooperation seems to be undermined by concepts of national self-interest and power politics. An argument could be made, however, that it is actually in Germany’s best self-interest to further its integration in the Baltic Sea region through public diplomacy initiatives aimed at island communities. Primarily, this could help Germany diversify its energy resources, focus on alternative energy projects on Baltic islands, and become less dependent on Russian oil imports. Recognized by the European Union (EU) in its Energy Security Strategy, “prosperity and security hinges on a stable and abundant supply of energy” (European Energy Security Strategy, 28 May 2014) –a sentiment that holds particularly true for Germany, which along with Italy, constitutes the largest recipients of Russia’s gas exports.

Partly due to an awareness of this dependence and partly due to the aim of protecting the climate and environment, the German government has proposed “aggressively expanding its renewable energy use with the purpose of making green energy 60% of the country’s final energy consumption by 2050” (Carrera, 26 September 2013). The passing of the Renewable Energy Sources Act 2012 (Erneuerbare Energien Gesetz – EEG) further serves to encourage the development of sustainable energy, the protection of the environment and the decrease of energy supply costs.

In admitting the need to reduce energy dependence, Germany cannot ignore the ever increasing importance of the Baltic Sea region in energy security and diplomacy. Russia’s oil and gas projects of the new millennium, which aim to bypass Ukraine and Belarus, have pushed the significance of the Baltic Sea region, as a link between export and import countries, to the forefront: the 1,224 kilometers-long Nord Stream pipeline links Russia’s Baltic Sea coast near Vyborg with Germany’s Baltic Sea coast of Lubmin, near Greifswald serves as one such example. These projects present opportunities for the Baltic Sea regions to shed the passive role taken on in the past and to exert their influence, as Russia will have to engage with the Baltic Sea region on issues, such as environment protection, in order to keep export revenues flowing into Moscow.

Arguably, German energy security has already shifted its focus on the Baltic Sea region, using public diplomacy and an array of networks, which provide a platform for multilateral activities between Baltic Sea States and other subnational actors within a cooperative security framework. Intergovernmental forums, such as The Council Of The Baltic Sea States Secretariat’ (CBSS), which promotes regional intergovernmental cooperation, and the Baltic Sea States Subregional Co-operation (BSSSC), which brings together regional authorities below the national level, provide a platform for transnational cooperation and a voice for subnational groups on issues of energy security and defense.

While cooperation of this sort is commendable, more active engagement in the Baltic Sea region is needed by Germany if it wants to attain its ambitious goals on alternative energy sources and reduced energy dependence. Aligned to its own goals of successful alternative energy projects are those of the Baltic islands. Cooperation on these would encourage more regional integration and unity, which in turn would protect energy security for all the parties involved.

The Swedish island Gotland, the largest Baltic Sea island, provides a good example. Like Germany, it has set itself ambitious targets, aiming to have a fully climate-neutral (100% renewable energy balance), efficient and economic energy supply by 2025, which also contributes to sustainable growth and the development of local business (Vision 2025, adopted by the Regional Council). The island relies on reaching its goals through the renewable energy sources potential that wind, biomass, and solar energy provide (European Islands Network on Energy & Environment: Gotland, Sweden, 2009).

Outlined in the ‘Sustainable Energy Action plan for Gotland’, the mentioned targets are to be implemented through an action plan that is coordinated by the Regional board. This board supports the local advisory board, which consists of representatives from the regional administration, the county administration, university and regional energy stakeholders –a case in point for subnational cooperation, but also multilevel governance since the action plan has been developed within the framework of the EU project Isle Pact.

Gotland’s Municipality is also a signatory to a partnership declaration with the European Commission, which incorporates it as one of the 100 Renewable Energy Communities, outlined in the Campaign for Take-off (ManagEnergy, European Commission, 8 March 2016). The partnership declaration outlines Gotland’s objective “to have a 100% renewable energy balance by 2025 and to work towards the realization of a sustainable society”. Since Germany has aspirations to increase its share of renewable energy, which fall under the EU’s 2020 Energy Strategy, the supranational platform seems to provide mutually beneficial opportunities for cooperation between Germany and islands like Gotland.

While the Energy Action Plan for Gotland focuses on development of local businesses, foreign firms have seized the opportunity to collaborate on local energy projects. Smart Grid Gotland, prides itself as the ‘smartest electricity network in the world’ currently under development and led by the local energy company GEAB, together with Vattenfall, ABB, Energimyndigheten, Svenska Kraftnät, Schneider Electric and KTH. The project uses modern technology to integrate large quantities of renewable energy sources into the grid, while improving cost efficiency and preserving quality –a business model and philosophy that will certainly appeal to German businesses. German energy companies such as Enercon should seize the opportunity to collaborate on local projects, which will pave the way for regional cooperation and sharing of best practices on alternative energy sources.

This could further lead to academic collaboration. Germany’s focus on research and development as well as innovation within the area, means it would benefit from engaging with Gotland University, which specialises in ecologically sustainable development, and the role which energy consumption holds in it, offering courses on wind power-related subjects. This includes studies on the development of wind power from a social science perspective, planned anchoring processes for offshore wind power as well as planning and acceptance for wind power.

Despite these evident benefits of focusing Germany’s energy security strategy on Baltic islands, traditional hesitancy in fostering bilateral relations with the Baltic Sea states puts into question the likelihood of more active future cooperation. While Germany has preferred addressing ‘soft security’ issues within the framework of multilateral structures, such as within CBSS, it has –despite participation –opposed far-reaching institutionalization of the CBSS due to its fear of regionalization within the region, which favors the ‘Nordic’ integration model. Rather than viewing this as a threat, Germany could take an example of Nordic countries’ engagement with Baltic islands, which equally benefit the parties involved.

Regardless of these past reluctances, current atmosphere in the international relations systems requires Germany to proactively engage Baltic islands in its energy security ambitions and projects on alternative energy sources. Incidents such as the Ukraine crisis and the Russo-Georgian war demonstrate the unpredictability of Russian behavior and risks of energy dependency on Russia and the consequent threat to energy security for importing states. Decreasing oil prices and its predicted impact on global stability further reaffirm the need for sustainable energy and security of energy supply. Moreover investment and regional cooperation in alternative forms of energy with an eye toward sustainability are critical in addressing climate related security concerns for all parties involved.

As the newly established focus on Baltic islands indicates, subnational actors play a more significant role in energy security and sustainability than they are credited for. If Germany is to fully appreciate this importance of the Baltic islands, the same logic should be applied to its own internal subnational actors. Northern regions of Germany have traditionally favored more cooperation with the Baltic states. The existing twinning arrangements and consequent relations between individual German towns and districts with those of the Baltic states should also be exploited for the purpose of cooperation on sustainable energy and energy security. Using transnational cooperation of subnational communities, Baltic islands should work together with perhaps, initially the German coastal regions along the Russian pipelines, which could then foment greater regional cooperation.

As states, regions and communities realize the scarcity of the natural resources available, sustainability will play an ever growing role not only in Baltic islands such as Gotland, but also for big economic powers like Germany. Regional cooperation at a subnational level is therefore essential to learn from each other and work together to achieve sustainable energy supply and safeguard energy security.

Author: Theebika Shanmugarasa is a Non-Resident Fellow at the Center on Island Diplomacy. She is also a Community Engagement Specialist at the Baltic Islands Society.

The views expressed represent those of the respective contributors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed. Please send any responses to Our editors will consider any and all responses for future publication.

Image Credit: fkhuckel via Flickr CC

Island Voices by the Islands Society: A New Blog on Insular Affairs – 3/15/16

Welcome to Island Voices!

As an official blog of the Islands Society, Island Voices is intended to provide senior policymakers and other leaders with a platform to share their perspectives on the most important policy issues impacting island communities around the world. It is also designed to provide a new mechanism through which women, minorities, and young leaders in island communities can showcase their talents as scholars and journalists.


Palau Can Use Public Diplomacy to Combat Illegal Fishing – Genevieve Neilson

As one of the most biodiverse sets of islands in the Pacific, Palau relies on the health of its oceans for tourism and fisheries industries, but the country is increasingly threatened by impacts of illegal fishing. Palau’s flagship program to counter overfishing and encourage sustainable development is its National Marine Sanctuary. In October 2015, Palau created one of the world’s largest marine sanctuaries that covers 80 percent of its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). State revenues from fishing industry permits will decline, and Palau does not have the enforcement ships to ensure its sanctuary is protected. Therefore the government hopes to replace declining income with an increase in tourism by wealthy travelers and will need international support to maintain sovereignty over its fisheries. In this case, proactive public diplomacy can be an effective tool for a small island country like Palau to improve its security. Public diplomacy can focus attention on illegal fishing while engendering support for its culture of conservation, strengthening networks tied to the issue, and influencing behaviors of the U.S. and other regional actors.

Illegal Fishing: An International Problem

Ineffective international management of the Pacific tuna supply, strong consumer demand and weak monitoring of vessels have led to overfishing, illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, and bycatch. Palau can pursue policy action against illegal fishing by constructing and projecting its own strategic narratives to influence foreign audiences. Overfishing has been a significant problem for the Pacific Island region, leading to competition for depleted fish stocks. Furthermore, in some cases, operators of IUU fishing vessels disregard basic labor standards. Consumers across the globe and in Asia in particular have created a high demand for tuna and other prominent fish. Illegal fishing is not a problem that Palau has created, nor can it solve on its own.

International agreements to regulate global fisheries have been slowly implemented and lack adequate monitoring. Recently, Palau became the first Pacific Island Country to sign the Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter, and Eliminate IUU Fishing (PSMA), which blocks ships suspected of IUU fishing from entering ports. Once in effect, the agreement will build upon other global instruments. Yet, PSMA requires more than 20 more parties to ratify, and implementation necessitates adequate monitoring and enforcement mechanisms that are lacking.

Furthermore, the United States has wavered in its support for Pacific fisheries, leaving island states uncertain about their futures. In 2014, the Obama Administration’s Presidential Task Force on Combating IUU Fishing and Seafood fraud released recommendations for comprehensive programs. Now, the United States is reneging on the number of fishing days purchased in the Vessel Day Scheme. This lack of commitment by the United States sends mixed signals to Australia, Japan, China, and other external actors. This should concern others in the region, especially the Compact of Free Association countries.

These issues culminate at a time when the plight of PICs has received significant attention because of climate change. Through its traditional and public diplomacy, Palau has been a leader in the region and on the world stage for small island developing states. While climate change is a central issue for Palau, illegal fishing demands the same attention utilizing public diplomacy. In this way, Palau can attain aid from the public and non-state actors to support conservation, monitoring and enforcement, or employ the public to force action upon the United States and other regional actors.

Proactive Public Diplomacy: Building on Established Campaigns and Partnerships

Public diplomacy is a transparent way for Palau to communicate with foreign and domestic publics to inform and influence. Palau can promote efforts to combat illegal fishing through digital diplomacy, cultural events and forums. Despite its small population of around 21,000 people and budget of about $83 million, Palau’s approach to illegal fishing is multi-faceted and includes partnerships with the United States government and non-government groups. The country needs to improve engagement with the global public on illegal fishing in order to create more awareness and understanding of the problems it faces and develop solutions.

Palau’s regular engagement with other states on illegal fishing can be boosted by public diplomacy.  For example, in March 2015 a group of states held a conference in Guam to discuss the increased illegal fishing in the Federated States of Micronesia and Palau; there was strong representation by U.S. embassies as well as the U.S. Coast Guard, governments of Australia, Palau and Federated States of Micronesia. More public involvement outside of government relationships and greater publicity can help showcase regional cooperation.

The Government of Palau has close relationships with private, non-state actors based in the United States made possible by public diplomacy. First, through the Global Ocean Legacy project, the Pew Charitable Trusts and its partners aid Palau to conserve and protect some of the most significant and “unspoiled” ocean environments. Second, Earthjustice, an environmental law group, supplied legal aid to Palau to enable the Palau National Marine Sanctuary Act. Third, the small nonprofit SkyTruth uses software, digital maps and public data to help governments like Palau to crack down on IUU fishing. Specifically, they helped to track a Taiwanese ship that was carrying illegal caught tuna and shark fins. This year, in partnership with Google and Oceana, SkyTruth intends to launch the website Global Fishing Watch to enable anyone in the world to track illegal fishermen and empower consumers.

Palau’s active relationships with other state actors involved in illegal fishing, experience with non-government groups leave it well-placed to lead public diplomacy efforts to protect its fisheries.

Creating Effective Messaging against Illegal Fishing

By showcasing its image as a country focused on conservation and tough on illegal fishing, digital diplomacy can help Palau to shape the international policy environment. Traditionally public diplomacy may focus on nation branding, setting countries apart. For Palau, that could complicate partnerships with Pacific neighbors and strain financial and human resources. Rather, the country must balance image promotion, concentrating on the Office of the President, embassies, and local groups with expanding their digital footprint, and coordinating efforts with other PICs and larger regional actors.

Digital diplomacy is becoming an increasingly important tool, even for small countries like Palau. In particular, Twitter diplomacy is a way for Palau’s government to bypass traditional media gatekeepers. Twitter can be part of foreign policy in three stages: the government official or embassy tweets official information; a more tailored stage where officials tweet news articles; and the most personal and advanced stage, where officials engage in debates with their personal opinions. President Remengesau has a relatively new Twitter page with more than 500 followers. Compared to Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama who has more than 11,000 followers on Twitter, there is room for improvement. The Office of the President of Palau has a Facebook page with the Marine Sanctuary Act posted to the top of the page.  Social media enables the government to create discussions and engage on a personal level as opposed to distributing broadcast messages. Both Facebook and Twitter can contribute to a cohesive public diplomacy effort if daily and weekly resources are dedicated. The Digital Diplomacy Coalition illustrates that training diplomats and future leaders in this area can help enable Palau to engage with its domestic and international public to mitigate issues.

Despite moves into social media, Palau has a poor digital footprint which likely results from constraints on the country’s diplomatic resources, including its lack of embassies. The country has embassies in Washington, Manila, Tokyo and Taipei. In particular, its Washington website is outdated despite the “Ambassador” page explaining that the website is meant to be a space for finding current information. Palau’s Ambassador to Washington, Hersey Kyota, is the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps with close to 20 years in the role; with his wide networks and notoriety in Washington, his staff should work toward a better web presence. Instead, President Remengesau is leading the charge for his country, as exemplified in the many awards he has received, and remains the central focus point of the digital diplomacy strategy.

Partnering with other countries to build a strong unified voice can help gain support from the global public with the goal of bolstering the U.S. and others to act. Organizations like the Global Island Partnership, the Pacific Islands Forum and Pacific Islands Development Forum create platforms for advocacy. In particular when island countries can create a coherent message together they will have greater chance of success, such as in their efforts for greater access to climate finance.

To measure public diplomacy progress, the government of Palau can look to a number of metrics. First, it can count the number of domestic and international partnerships; by taking stock of its partnerships with organizations such as The Pew Trusts, it can analyze partners based on quality and find gaps in success. Second, it can follow mentions of illegal fishing from major country outlets to inform its own interventions into online conversations. The topic of illegal fishing may arise more often when there are international meetings or Western organizations are involved. Third, the Office of the President can keep track of its followers on Facebook and Twitter. These platforms have a conversational character and should be used for engagement over retweets, follows and likes. Finally, the government can monitor the attitudes of its citizens and Pacific neighbors.


Illegal fishing impacts the ability of the regional fisheries management organizations as well as local governments to regulate their stocks through conservation measures. If Palau is not able to stop IUU fishing in its EEZ, the new National Marine Sanctuary efforts will be compromised, a loss not restricted to Palau. Luckily, President Tommy Remengesau’s list of accomplishments and the country’s partnerships continues to grow. To complement its conservation efforts and the media attention for climate change, Palau needs international support for monitoring and enforcement of its territory, particularly the new sanctuary, and avenues of funding. Its work with The Pew Trusts and SkyTruth signal that private organizations and citizens are taking the lead; they are able to share the data captured and create best practices publicly more readily than governments. Palau should engage in a more proactive public diplomacy strategy focusing on digital diplomacy and strategic communication in collaboration with its Pacific neighbors. By engaging closely and more publicly with a global audience, Palau can shape the conversation and solutions for illegal fishing in a way that benefits its domestic and regional interests.

Genevieve Neilson is a 2016 Pacific Security Scholar at the Islands Society. She recently completed her M.A. in International Affairs from The Elliott School of International Affairs at The George Washington University. She also holds a Graduate Certificate from the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University and a B.A. (Honors) in International Relations and Political Science from Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. Her research interests include foreign policy and trade in the Asia-Pacific region, public diplomacy, and the Chinese language.

Guest commentaries and responses on the Islands Society Blog represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed. Please send any responses to Our editors will consider any and all responses for future publication.

Image Credit: US Navy via Flickr CC

Islands: At the Forefront of Baltic Security in the 21st Century – Derek Bolton

In recent years, foreign policy experts have been reminded of the strategic importance of the Baltic Sea region. Faced with a severe deterioration in NATO-Russia relations, the NBP9 states – the Nordic Five (i.e., Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden), the Baltic Three (i.e., Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania), and Poland – have been forced to reconsider their political, economic, and strategic relations with other states around the world. Those with the most at stake in Russian relations with the West are responding to this development, including the United States, Russia, and the European Union. But, their efforts have been largely shrouded from public view.

Part of the problem is that the major stakeholders have little incentive to be transparent about their policy approaches. Over the last year, the rise of Daesh (i.e., ISIS) has displaced public interest in Russian intervention in Eastern Europe and the Caucus. And, the recent attacks in Paris have only added fuel to the fire.

Nevertheless, the Baltic Three have publicly warned world leaders against overlooking the shift in Russia’s relations with its neighbors. As Estonian President Thomas Hendrik Ilves noted, they do so at their collective peril, “I would say that I think we all concerned about this sort of falling behind or some kind of development in which we stop paying attention to Crimea, or we even forgive the annexation because of the newer threats. We cannot allow that to happen.”

Of course, the Baltic Three are not alone. Victoria Nuland, U.S. Assistant Secretary for the State Department Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs recently stated, “Even as we focus on ISIL, we must not forget that barely two years ago, almost one million Ukrainians …demand that their government give them what we have: human dignity, democracy, clean government, justice… Now we have to help Ukraine see it through. We must maintain pressure on Russia and its separatist proxies to complete the unfinished commitments of Minsk.” And, the Ministers of Defense from Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark and Iceland signed on to a joint op-ed on Nordic defense cooperation that was published in the Oslo daily Aftenposten in August. In that post, they argued,

“The Russian aggression against the Ukraine and the illegal annexation of Crimea are violations of international law and other international agreements. Russia’s conduct represents the gravest challenge to European security. As a consequence, the security situation in the Nordic countries’ adjacent areas has become significantly worsened during the past year…. we must be prepared to face possible crises or incidents”

It is important to note that such calls from world leaders do not only stem from concerns about further Russian intervention in Ukraine. Consider the Aftenposten OpEd. It portrays Ukraine as a potential indicator for Russian aggression in other states, including those on the Baltic Sea. And, this is stoking debate over Russian relations among foreign policy experts across the region. For example, Wilhelm Unge of Säpo recently claimed, “Russia is the biggest intelligence agent in Sweden … they are interested in really everything — political, economic, technical and military information… It is one of the few countries that has the very broad intelligence interest in Sweden.”

Of course, Baltic Sea residents have quite a few reasons to be concerned. For example there was the incursion into the waters off Stockholm by a foreign submarine, widely believed to be Russian. And, some claim that Eston Kohver, a convicted Estonian spy in Russia, was in fact kidnapped on Estonian soil. Although he was swapped for convicted Russian spy Aleksei Dressen, that prisoner exchange did little to allay fears in Tallinn.

Moreover, Finland and Sweden have repeatedly complained of Russian fighter jet incursions into their airspace. For Finland, anxiety over these incursions are heightened by military drills along its border and the assertion of former Putin assistant Andrei Illarionov that the Russian President would, in an ideal world, like to reclaim Finland. Although regional experts largely agree that military intervention is unlikely, many in Helsinki continue to fret land purchases along their border with Russia, and close to military installations, by Russian citizens.

Whether or not these concerns are founded remains open to debate. But, they are fueling major shifts in the Nordic defense posture. In the event of a crisis, Nordic defense initiatives will need to focus on the islands of the Baltic Sea region. This was made evident during widely reported Russian war games that appeared to simulate the invasion of Finland, Norway, Denmark and Sweden. In these war games, the islands of Gotland, Åland and Bornholm seemed to feature prominently. And, analysts have concluded, “If carried out successfully, control of those territories would make it all but impossible for NATO allies to reinforce the Baltic states.”

To help explain why, let us turn to Ari Shapiro. In an early 2015 piece with Keir Giles of Chatham House, he noted, “Northern Europe is a complicated chess board and Gotland is a crucial square. Just to the east of this island are the Baltic states – Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania… the United States and the Baltics are NATO members. That military alliance says an attack on one member is an attack on all. But Sweden is not part of NATO, which means the island of Gotland isn’t either. And whoever controls Gotland has the Baltics in their crosshairs.”

While Shapiro puts the emphasis on Gotland, Åland is of equally strategic importance. As Kimie Hara writes, “The islands’ proximity to the Swedish mainland creates an obvious danger for Sweden from a military bases in the hands of a hostile power. The Islands hold the key to control of the Gulf of Bothnia, and their demilitarization and neutralization has significance for the security of not only Sweden, but also the region.”

It is perhaps not surprising then that we have already seen a shift in defence strategy across the region. For his part, Finnish Defense Minister Jussi Niinistö has called for a reappraisal of defense policy vis-à-vis Åland, claiming that Russia still does not recognize the region’s neutral status. Meanwhile, Sweden has begun to station troops on Gotland and recruiting home-guard volunteers after a 10-year hiatus. This has been coupled with further investment in naval capabilities that will be stationed out of Gotland. There are even discussions between the Nordic states of jointly purchasing a missile defense system on the island.

As Baltic islands continue to grow in importance and play a greater feature in foreign affairs and Nordic defense, it will be in the national interests of the major stakeholders in Russian relations with the West to engage local communities across the Baltic Sea. This includes investing in subnational initiatives led by subnational organizations that target sub-national identities. Fostering regional integration and ensuring voices in the Baltic Sea region are not only understood, but also represented, in foreign policy is more important now than arguably any time during the Cold War.

Derek Bolton is the Managing Director of the Baltic Islands Society. He is also a Young Leader at Pacific Forum CSIS and a Non-Resident Fellow at the Center on Island Security. Prior to pursing a PhD at the University of Bath, he served as a Research Associate at Global Co Lab Network, where he worked to foster greater international cooperation on Science and Technology (S&T) between Americans and Europeans.

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The Case for Embracing Subnational Identities in Public Diplomacy – Derek Bolton

Without falling into the perils of academic debate, it is safe to say that identity is central to foreign affairs and engagement. Yet, public diplomacy (PD) initiatives often fail to embrace subnational identities. This creates disconnects and gaps between PD and the populations of target audiences. If we want to create sincere and compelling narratives, we need to do a better job at developing an adequate appreciation, understanding and incorporation of local identity.

In order to comprehend the current state of affairs it helps to reiterate the basic principles behind the field. U.S. Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy Richard Stengel stated, “Public diplomacy is a conversation. It’s people talking to people – it’s not governments talking to people.” However, contemporary approaches to PD are often undermined by their seeming insistence towards focusing on national initiatives led by national organizations that target audiences based on their national identity. Instead, what is needed are subnational initiatives led by subnational organizations that target subnational identities. And nowhere is this more so then in the Baltic Sea region.

During the Cold War, the Baltic Sea region was of great geopolitical significance. However, following the collapse of the Soviet Union there was a drop-off in analytical attention. It was not until the last decade that the region re-emerged as one of great significance. This relates not only to its economic importance to the European economy, but also to growing concerns over regional peace and security. For these reasons, PD initiatives focused on the Baltic Sea region have reemerged as priorities for many.

To be effective, new initiatives must take seriously the need to incorporate local identities. This argument follows inline with the previous Northern Europe Initiative (NEI), whose focus was not merely on developing Baltic security in the traditional sense, but also in safeguarding individuals’ welfare. This required engaging organizations functioning on both a subnational and regional scale so as to achieve goals in, for example, energy, the environment, and public health.

Similarly, Melinda Crane writes that “Public diplomacy will be effective only if it is credible…and involves dialogue rather than preaching or propaganda.” Successful dialogue is contingent on initiatives that respect and appeal to local identities. What is required then are non-profits that, much like with the NEI, function on a subnational level and in an intimate relationship with local partners, engaging individuals on their own terms and not merely local elites or nationals of a particular state.

In this way, it becomes possible to have a dialogue that widely resonates with a target audience by ensuring not only a synergy between narrative and action but also by having a narrative that is built in coordination with the local population. By utilizing subnational non-profits it thus becomes possible to empower critical voices that might otherwise have been overlooked. This ensures that even peripheral communities are included in foreign affairs and cultural relations, forging more robust PD. Moreover these insights are vital to developing successful foreign policies.

Larger organizations pursuing top-down approaches from abroad are simply no longer well placed to be the driving force behind PD. As Matthew Wallin writes, “Governments and large corporations no longer monopolize the tools of messaging…They are often slow to react, slow to innovate, and lack the agility necessary to change at a rapid pace.”

Successful PD requires more than social media and digital campaigns, establishing media outlets, providing access to outside information (e.g. Tor), undertaking listening tours, or supplying humanitarian aid. Such initiatives lose all credibility, and can indeed be harmful, when there is a disconnect between their narrative and action, or when they fail to adequately understand the target audience. Moreover, these programs are often viewed with skepticism, as they are usually mouthpieces of governments, or are lost in the bevy of daily communications we are now bombarded with.

Meanwhile, non-profits more detached from the local level often find it difficult to fully grasp many local nuances vital to identity and engagement. The goal of PD is not merely to help others better understand your position and way of life, but to better understand theirs; their concerns, values, ideals and in general their identity. Successful PD thus requires not only listening but also understanding, again indicating the importance of appreciating local identities.

By placing an emphasis on understanding, organizations become much better placed to establish programs dedicated to empowerment and promoting shared values and ideals. Again working at the subnational level not only allows an organization to observe such overlap but they can also shift from a nationalist to a communal mindset, focusing on similarities among intra-regional communities. Consequently, in addition to finding similar values and ideals, it becomes important to recognize and build upon the fact that many sub-national groups experience similar problems, concerns, and ways of life.

Island communities serve as a case in point, providing a fruitful platform for generating understanding and cooperation between subnational groups. Rather than an organization that focuses on “Finns”, “Estonians”, or “Germans,” PD actors need to work with subnational organizations that provide platforms for cooperation and engagement between subunits of these nations – e.g. islanders. They need to find a way to connect South Carolinians, Louisianans, and Hawaiians with Gotlanders, Ålanders, and Baltic Germans. This not only helps to ensure their insights become part of the foreign policy debate, it also allows for regional integration at a subnational, communal, level. Moreover, initiatives focused on such inclusion will be beneficial to those seeking to develop more successful foreign policies in the region, as islands are now a focal point in Baltic security.

As the Baltic region continues to grow in importance, fostering regional integration and ensuring voices in the region are not only understood, but also represented, in foreign policy will be of ever more significance. These goals will be best achieved by supporting subnational think tanks well positioned to acknowledge and incorporate local identities, allowing for robust and successful PD. The Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review already recognizes these insights on a global level. Now, we need there to be funding allocated to put these words into action across the Baltic Sea region.

Note: This article was originally published by the Center on Public Diplomacy at the University of Southern California on October 7, 2015.