The impact of France on conflict and stability in the South Pacific
Thesis DisciplinePolitical Science
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
This thesis investigates the impact of France on conflict and stability in the South Pacific from 1985-2006, with a primary focus on France's two largest regional dependencies: New Caledonia and French Polynesia. It is demonstrated that France had a largely destabilising influence prior to 1988, due to its controversial nuclear testing programme in French Polynesia, its repression of the independence movement in New Caledonia, and its failure to act on the pronounced social and economic imbalances between the local indigenous populations and the settler communities. However, France has played a more positive stabilising role since 1988, by factoring local and indigenous concerns into peace agreements in New Caledonia, disestablishing the French Polynesian nuclear testing programme in 1996, and allowing for greater integration of its dependencies into the region by granting increased autonomy to the territorial governments. Nonetheless, France's determination to retain sovereignty of its South Pacific dependencies continues to pose a latent threat to stability. The negotiated peace achieved in New Caledonia through the Noumea Accord's deferred referendum on self-determination contrasts starkly with current political instability in French Polynesia, where the power struggle between Independentist and Loyalist parties has again brought into question the impartiality of the French State. While not a theoretical study, the developed hierarchy of variables helps explain France's reluctance to grant sovereignty to its dependencies, and emphasises the importance of 'emotional interest' in the French approach. It is concluded that France's trend towards playing an increasingly stabilising role in its dependencies will be sustained only through an enduring commitment to rebalance territorial inequalities, tolerate pro-independence sentiment, and mediate impartially in local political disputes. Under these circumstances, the stability provided by France and its dependencies in the region would be preferable to the resource and funding vacuums that would be generated by a French withdrawal.