The United States and Pacific Island countries share long-standing diplomatic, commercial, and security relationships. As President Biden highlighted at the 2022 U.S.-Pacific Islands Country Summit, the security of the Pacific Islands is key to the security of the United States. At that event, the President unveiled the first-ever Pacific Partnership Strategy, reflecting U.S. commitment to expand our presence in the region and advance shared goals around improving Pacific Island connectivity to global networks, empowering Pacific Islanders, building resilience to climate change, and enhancing maritime security. Of the Pacific Islands, Papua New Guinea (PNG) is the most populous, diverse, and resource-rich country. It hosts the largest economy of the Pacific Islands and has the potential to strengthen its trade and investment partnership with the United States. The country has also emerged as a regional leader in many aspects, including as the sole Pacific Island country member of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, a participant in the ASEAN Regional Forum, and an active member of regional fora such as the Pacific Islands Forum. Strengthening the U.S. partnership with PNG is an important component of strengthening our partnerships across the region.
In April 2022, President Biden announced the U.S. government would focus on PNG as a priority partner country for advancing the U.S. Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability (SPCPS). PNG was selected based on an interagency assessment of risk factors and its strategic importance in promoting peace and security across the Pacific Islands region. The SPCPS provides a useful framework to enhance and integrate U.S. diplomacy, development, and security sector engagement in PNG, working closely with other international partners, and to partner with Papua New Guineans in their promotion of a more peaceful and resilient country.
This country plan was informed by a multitude of local stakeholder engagements undertaken by Embassy Port Moresby, as well as consultations held in Honolulu, home of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, and Washington. As part of country plan development, the Embassy hosted a consultative workshop with five stakeholder groups – members of local civil society, the host government, the security sector, the private sector, and the donor community, respectively. These workshops solicited views on how to address barriers to stability in PNG and what stakeholders hope implementation of the SPCPS will accomplish in the next 10 years. Insights from these workshops, as well as from individual consultations, helped shape the U.S. government’s approach to conflict prevention and the promotion of stability in PNG. The U.S. government will continue seeking the input of local stakeholders throughout the implementation of this plan.
PNG faces many challenges, including disempowered individuals and communities; gender inequity and inequality; poor governance and weak institutions; and endemic violence such as tribal violence, gender-based violence, and related sorcery accusation-related violence. The deleterious effects of environmental degradation and climate change cut across each of these challenges, fueling violence and exacerbating instability. At the same time, Papua New Guinea has several key resilience factors in the areas of social capital, democratic strength, youth-led initiatives, and the lessons learned from the Bougainville peace process. The PNG government aspires to be a strong democratic leader in the Pacific and welcomes greater collaboration with the United States on promoting peace and inclusive development.
This plan orients U.S. efforts toward a defined long-term goal: communities and marginalized populations in PNG, especially women, are more empowered and included; prevent and resolve conflicts through non-violent means; and are supported by more accountable, responsive, transparent private and public institutions and improved legal, justice, and security sectors. The plan orients U.S. efforts to reinforce the vision that Papua New Guineans have already laid out for themselves in this regard in the Papua New Guinea Vision 2050 that outlines the government’s important commitments to human capital development; gender, youth, and people empowerment; institutional development and service delivery; environmental sustainability; and more.
This plan outlines a targeted, layered approach to integrate U.S. diplomatic, development, and security efforts in PNG toward three overarching shared objectives:
- Objective 1: Strengthen community capacity to prevent, mitigate, and respond to violence.
- Objective 2: Support sustainable and equitable economic growth.
- Objective 3: Improve justice systems and professionalize security forces
The U.S. government will orient diplomacy, assistance, and other engagement tools toward these objectives, focusing initially on certain high-risk areas and then expanding more widely depending on conditions on the ground. This will include new and expanded programs to increase the resilience, inclusion, and capacity of civil society actors and marginalized populations to fully participate in PNG’s political processes and economic growth. The U.S. government will also expand support to help Papua New Guinean justice and security institutions become more accountable and responsive to local populations, especially marginalized groups. Efforts across all objectives will especially seek to increase gender equity and equality and protections against family and gender-based violence, critical steps toward a more peaceful future in PNG and across the Pacific Islands region.
This plan places a strong emphasis on cultivating partnerships across PNG society. In order to effectively and sustainably address the underlying causes of instability within PNG, the U.S. government will focus on strengthening social cohesion and resilience from the bottom up and supporting existing mechanisms, institutions, and host nation strategies rather than creating new, parallel structures. This plan seeks to reinforce a local approach, communalism, and consensus building, which are at the core of the Papua New Guinean way. For this reason, achieving the objectives laid out in this plan necessitates a focus on communities and how external entities like government institutions and private enterprises can be more responsible, accountable, and transparent to those communities.
In line with the goals of the SPCPS, the U.S. government is committed to testing innovative approaches with this plan, initially focusing on the following four priority areas:
- Piloting and adapting local efforts based on analysis: Local stakeholders emphasized the need to focus on depth over breadth, so the U.S. government will initially focus most of its efforts on two provinces – Hela and Morobe. These provinces were selected based on an assessment of local government political will and assessed opportunities to pilot and scale up interventions to address identified conflict dynamics.
- Elevating gender equity, equality, and women’s empowerment: Across all objectives, the U.S. government will focus on supporting efforts in PNG to improve gender equity and equality and increase participation of women and girls in political, economic, and social processes – an identified best practice in fostering more peaceful, resilient societies.
- Implementing layered, mutually reinforcing programs within targeted communities: This approach combines development and security interventions in targeted areas. A layered approach with rigorous monitoring and evaluation and sharing lessons learned among implementing partners and relevant U.S. government bureaus can maximize the efficacy of our engagement. Successful engagements can then be adapted for other areas.
- Moving beyond donor coordination to collaboration: The U.S. government will seek to move beyond merely coordinating with donors to collaborating with them. Aligning around a common approach, concentrating on respective comparative advantages, and sharing lessons learned will allow the donor community to support Papua New Guineans more effectively.
Effective implementation of this plan depends upon effective and efficient resources, staffing, and management structures. This plan identifies initial steps that departments and agencies are pursuing to increase personnel and platforms for implementing this plan. The U.S. government is also committed to enhancing ongoing coordination with Australia, Japan, and other key international partners with shared objectives in PNG.
The long-term success and sustainability of U.S. efforts outlined in this plan ultimately require a commitment to continual listening, learning, and adjusting to meet the evolving needs of Papua New Guineans and conditions on the ground. Strengthening networks in which local stakeholders can continually contribute to U.S. understanding of fragility in PNG will be key. In line with the overall SPCPS, this plan emphasizes the role of monitoring, evaluation, and learning (MEL) in its approach. The U.S. government will routinely review and adjust this plan based on MEL and sustained consultations with key PNG and international stakeholders. Through sustained dialogue, learning, and adaptation, the U.S. government will continue to adapt this plan to strengthen our partnership with PNG and pave the way for a more stable, prosperous future.