The United States has announced a new military deal with Papua New Guinea, the most densely populated island country in the Pacific Oceanon May 22, 2023.
The deal came shortly after US President Joe Biden announced plans to visit the small island country – the first US president ever to do so. However, it remains loaded budget negotiations in the US led to Biden canceling his plans on May 17.
The details of the military agreement will be made public but U.S. and Papua New Guinea government officials have said the deal is aimed at supporting Papua New Guinea’s armed forces and increasing regional stability.
China is not explicitly mentioned in the deal announcement, but it would be remiss not to notice the connection.
We are experts in US security cooperation and recently released a book on US overseas military deployment. In it, we discuss how US commitments to weaker countries benefit the US and how broader geopolitical competition with China matters to US military cooperation.
The relevance of Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea is located on the eastern half of the island of New Guinea, about 90 miles north of Australia. It has a population of 10 million people and an army with about 3,000 active duty personnel.
Papua New Guinea has a long history of colonisation. The British government took over of the southeastern part of the total island of New Guinea in the late 19th century, while Germany annexed the northern part.
Australia then took control of Papua New Guinea in the early 1900s. Papua New Guinea became independent in 1975. The western half of the island is called Papua and is part of Indonesia.
Papua New Guinea has also served as one strategic location for the US in the past.
During the day The Second World War, for examplePapua New Guinea was the scene of a long and bloody campaign by the Americans and Australians against the Japanese army, which had occupied parts of the island.
Some Papuans have expressed concerns about their independence following the announcement of the US military deal. Papuan university students have been protest against the agreementasking for more clarity on the details of the pact.
Today, Papua New Guinea remains strategically located. Anyone with military access to Papua New Guinea can easily reach Australia, a key US ally, by air or sea, without having to refuel.
And the United States military support and training to Papua New Guinea itself could be a further way for the US military to gain influence on the island and shift military policy towards more in line with that of the US
Who benefits from the deal
What the US gains by supporting a smaller country with a small army may not seem immediately obvious.
But although Papua New Guinea is a small country, it is important given its geographical and diplomatic position proximity to Indonesia, Australia and the Solomon Islands.
We have studied this question for a long time who benefits when the US cooperates with a smaller country and found that both countries benefit.
When the US gives military aid to another country, regardless of its wealth, that place in general tends to spend less on his own defense. The only exception to this is when the US gives money to support armies in countries that are part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization – in that case, countries can respond to US aid by also spending more on their armies, because of shared interests.
But there are also some catches in the grass.
Some scholars have argued that a smaller military power like Papua New Guinea is giving up sovereignty or autonomy over its foreign policy in exchange for US aid.
In that case, the US will exchange money for Papua New Guinea to align its decisions with the US, rather than China. The US gets a commitment from Papua New Guinea to make decisions more favorable to US interests and less favorable to China.
The US is undoubtedly the dominant world powerbut China’s strength and influence continue to grow in Asia and Africa as it has signed military agreements with countries like the Solomon Islands, Djibouti And Thailand.
There have been several incidents that have recently escalated tensions between the US and China.
One of these tension-raising events centered on the US Air Force shooting down a Chinese balloon – reportedly used for espionage – flying across the US in early 2023.
What’s next in the Pacific
Our work shows that a lack of transparency leads to increased distrust of US military deployments abroad.
While the US-Papua New Guinea agreement may bring security benefits to both countries, ongoing university protests stressing on the island that not everyone in the country wants US involvement – or risks giving up the country’s ability to make decisions independent of any outside military pressure.
Based on our researchwe think that more transparency about the deal could alleviate some of these concerns and increase the chances of success.