229). The John Howard government cemented the lesson as a "significant shift in our dealings with the South Pacific," (quoted in McDougall and Sherman, p. 178) and as a result Australia now effectively reserves the right to step in to maintain (or restore) the rule of law throughout the region.
If anything, Australia's relationship to Papua New Guinea is stronger than its interest in the Solomon Islands (Wainwright 2003, p. 26), given its colonial history there. Somewhat more recently, Australia provided tacit material support for Papua's invasion of the breakaway Bougainville faction (McMillan 1997, p. 8) before the Sandline mercenary scandal and ensuing general strike made policy makers rethink their role in the affair and, by extension, the nightmare prospect of a true state failure in the region:
In today's globalized world, the failure of [a] modern nation state would not simply mean that its people would revert to the Pacific Island idyll of subsistence prosperity among the palm trees. The Sandline crisis in Papua New Guinea gave us a taste of what might be in store instead (Wainwright 2003, p. 19).
In fact, such a breakdown in Papua New Guinea state control could also provoke a self-defensive response from Indonesia, which shares a long border and difficult history with that country. Papuan sentiment for the independence of neighboring West Papua -- or union with it -- reportedly runs high, at least in the local press (The National 2010). Should Australia allow anarchy take root on the eastern half of the island, cross-tribal sympathies may encourage the heavily armed Papuan gangs to reach out to their West Papuan counterparts under the guise of pan-Melanesian brotherhood.
On the other hand, the real menace in this scenario may be that posed by Indonesia (which has in the past pressed claims to multiple other enclaves within its archipelago) to a failed Papuan state. The border between the two halves of the island has often been a source of tension (Premdas 1985, pp. 1055-74), and so it may prove tempting to Djakarta to at least annex the disputed territories on the pretext of eliminating a security threat to its own territory. Given Australia's strong emotional ties to its erstwhile colony and strategic interest in maintaining it as a beachhead in the archipelago, this would likely be the time when the United Nations is petitioned to adjudicate and, if necessary, intervene.
Such a scenario demonstrates the complexities of modern state security in an increasingly multipolar environment. While strict non-intervention in a neighbor's domestic affairs remains a policy bulwark for ASEAN and other international actors, others like Australia have adopted a more activist and proactive approach. The argument here is that globalization renders even the most apparently localized disturbance can easily place added strain on political, economic, or even demographic situations elsewhere within the region or even worldwide. No state is truly "local" any more; even the once-famously reclusive Myanmar has become enmeshed in interlocking relationships with neighboring states and so faces increased scrutiny on its previously sovereign affairs.
Significantly, low-level erosion of localized state authority is still allowed to persist for years or even decades. Commentators have now been raising concerns about the situation in Port Moresby for at least two decades, and the Karen insurgency has simmered since Burman independence, yet neither has prompted direct military intervention under the aegis of peacekeeping or otherwise. However, once the erosion reaches the point of outright state failure, activist regional powers like Australia will likely step in to "quarantine" the problem within its local framework.
Although no conflict is truly local any more, the effective authority of...
In the case of Myanmar, for example, the strategic interests of regional players make U.N. intervention unlikely even on humanitarian grounds; perhaps ironically, even if state unity disintegrates entirely, its sovereign rights will likely be respected while local factions settle their conflict on their own terms. And in Papua New Guinea or elsewhere in Oceania, Australia's willingness to act quickly in order to police the region makes the United Nations or other global involvement redundant unless the situation requires arbitration between state actors. Neither local in scope nor global in resolution, the conflicts of the new century are shaping up to be regional threats that require regional solutions.
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