Policing The Pacific: A Path To Building Law Enforcement Capacity in the Freely Associated States

– Executive Summary

The United States has had an enduring relationship with many islands in the Pacific Ocean, commonly referred to as the Freely Associated States (FAS). The Oceania region holds opportunities and challenges, from resource control to an increasingly complex geopolitical landscape. The United States’ prosperity and security depends on the Pacific region remaining free and open. Strategic frameworks must be developed to support those objectives. The United States’ support to the FAS has been robust in providing national security and defense assurances; however, those assurances are limited in scope with respect to improving policing capacity in the region. The adoption of the Compacts of Free Association (COFA) agreements creates a physical and virtual extension of the U.S. border in unique ways that changes the day-to-day living on these select islands. This border extension is now being exploited by state and non-state actors seeking footholds in the region.

A growing number of complex threats face the Pacific Island countries (PIC). While those threats are not novel, they are resource intensive and have the capacity to erode government stability. This thesis articulates those threats in detail; they include money laundering, corruption, illegal resource exploitation, visa fraud, birth tourism, and digital communications exploitation. Understanding this foundational conversation of the threats in the region creates room to explore a comprehensive law enforcement capacity-building plan in the Pacific.

To develop a law enforcement capacity-building plan for the FAS, this research conducted a policy analysis evaluating the actions taken by Australia in the Melanesia region and the United States in the Caribbean to combat transnational criminal actors. That analysis was normalized and integrated using a novel process called the Law Enforcement Domain Evaluation Model (LE DEM). The LE DEM incorporates the continuum of preventative to response options that an outside country could contribute to in the law enforcement capacity-building policy space while recognizing the interconnected soft- and hard-power influence inherent in foreign donor programs.

Australia, also a Pacific Island nation , has made considerable efforts to improve the collective security capabilities in the Oceania region. Those actions, viewed through the LE DEM, provide valuable insight into a number of policy options that could be replicated or complemented within the FAS. This thesis specifically explores the Pacific Patrol Boat Program, the Pacific Fusion Center, and Australian policing intervention actions in the Melanesia region. The outcome of that extensive analysis is presented in Table 1 and explored in detail in Chapter III.

Table 1. Results Using the Law Enforcement Domain Evaluation Model of Australian Strategic Lines of Effort in Melanesia

OversightGovernanceAwarenessEnforcement CapabilityInfluence
Pacific Patrol Boat ProgramLowLowMedHighHigh
Pacific Fusion CenterHighLowHighMedLow
Pacific Strategy Law Enforcement Capacity BuildingLowMedLowMedMed

The findings using the LE DEM reveal that Australian policy efforts in the Melanesia region have had a meaningful impact in providing needed assets and capabilities into the region, yet it has limited results in preventing democratic backsliding, comprehensive policing growth, and a regional law enforcement mission management framework.

On the opposite side of the globe, the United States has made significant investments into the Central America region to combat the flow of drugs, people, and money over the past 50 years. That transportation corridor is dotted with islands that struggle with many of the same issues the Pacific Islands face regarding governance, defense, and law enforcement resourcing and implementation. Those actions, viewed through the LE DEM, provide valuable insight into a number of policy options that could be replicated within the FAS. This thesis specifically explored Joint Interagency Task Force (JIATF) South and Operation Bahamas, Turks and Caicos (OPBAT). The outcome of that extensive analysis is presented in Table 2 and explored in detail in Chapter IV.

Table 2. Results Using the Law Enforcement Domain Evaluation Model of U. S. Strategic Lines of Effort in the Caribbean

OversightGovernanceAwarenessEnforcement CapabilityInfluence
JIATF SouthHighLowHighHighMed
OPBATMedLowHighHighHigh

Using the LE DEM, the findings reveal that the U.S. policy efforts in the Caribbean region have produced exceptionally high results in the Oversight, Awareness, and Enforcement Capability categories. OPBAT, a close echo of JIATF South, has produced high results in the same categories, with the noted addition of influence. Within the Caribbean policy analysis section, there was not a strong policy line of effort that corresponded to the Governance category.

By understanding and integrating the disparate policy actions in the Caribbean and Melanesia, the United States can begin to build a comprehensive policing capacity-building path that leverages those lessons learned and complements those actions already in play in the region. The United States and FAS should consider the following policy concepts as mutually beneficial paths to strengthening the island’s policing capacity while hardening against outside malign influences. The proposed frameworks are grounded in the author’s firsthand knowledge of the region and built around extensive academic research. The recommendations in Table 3 are not presented as turnkey policy action items but more as policy objectives for varying agencies, both United States and FAS, to scale, adapt, and execute.

Table 3.  Recommendations for U.S. Efforts to Strategically Build Law Enforcement Capacity in the FAS States

1Broaden and resource JIATF West to leverage DOD assets to support collections planning and operational intelligence targeting in the Oceana region.
2Establish  a Micronesian fusion center focused on detecting, tracking, and enabling law enforcement operations within the COFA states and U.S. territories.
2.aEstablish a joint law enforcement digital forensic lab staffed with U.S. and COFA members.
2.bEstablish a DNA sequencing and chemical analysis center staffed with U.S. and COFA members.
2.cEstablish a financial crimes center staffed with U.S. and COFA members.
2.dCreate a framework to gain MDA and supporting communication infrastructure in the region.
3.aOrganize the creation of a Micronesian Regional Criminal Records Management System.
3.bInvest in MDA tracking and targeting capabilities inclusive of emerging commercial satellite data and other sources, the integration of MDA software applications, and the establishment of communications infrastructure on outlying islands.
3.cInvest in the FAS to integrate long-range autonomous maritime reconnaissance systems for law enforcement and domain awareness utilization.
4Invest in cyber communications infrastructure (undersea cables, cell towers, state-owned threat mitigation equipment), Oceania ISAC, and establish a region Cyber Protection Team.
5Study regional money laundering enforcement efforts to include the impacts and implications of digital currencies within the FAS states.

This detailed table of recommendations can be summarized into three overarching conversations. The first is the retooling of JIATF West to prioritize law enforcement missions within the PIC region and a comprehensive plan to leverage and incorporate the FAS’s respective agencies. Second is the establishment of a Micronesian regional fusion center. This regional organization would develop and sustain several specialized task forces focusing on delivering advanced investigative capabilities in scarce supply in the region. The task forces will be jointly staffed with United States, territory, and FAS law enforcement officers with a regionality mandate to support U.S. federal, territory, and FAS agencies in case execution. Last, this thesis calls for an organized and unified law enforcement capacity-building grant programs between the United States and Australia. A number of synergies could be gained by having the United States pivot to supporting long-range communications infrastructure, persistent sensor acquisition, and a regional case management system that would directly complement and enable Australia’s ongoing and well-received aid programs.

This thesis serves as a menu of policy objectives to support the newly released Presidential Pacific Partnership Strategy. It is imperative that senior leaders across a number of U.S. agencies act on the proposed recommendations. Once fully implemented, this policy frameowkr would create regional capacity institutions capable of flexing to meet the needs of the PIC and those of the United States and Australia. In addition, it optimizes the U.S. and Australian costs and hedges against the problem of the diminished border as is a result of the COFAs.

The PIC region is an “arc of opportunity,” and the United States has significant influence in the region.[1] Timing is critical. The United States should not squander this moment; it should use this time to ensure the future of Oceania is a region of laws, responsible resource management, and individual freedoms.


[1] Joanne Wallis, Pacific Power? Australia’s Strategy in the Pacific Islands (Carlton, Australia: Melbourne University Press, 2017), 312–35.

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