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Book: Resistance to Empire and Militarization

Chapter: 18. Existential Threats to the Pacific Islands: Oceania Resists the Long Reach of Empire

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.40205


A number of countries and people have lived for centuries in the vast Pacific Ocean, who make up the Pacific Islands region. However, it is an area often regarded as empty area devoid of any people or cultures of any significance or power. The Pacific Island countries, experienced external domination and control by different colonial powers, including settlement and takeover of lands and resources. The Pacific Ocean has long been the site of militarized control and competition by external powers. The extreme-most damaging form of empire and appropriation of the Pacific Islands and its people was the use of the islands for nuclear testing by the US, Britain and France. This co-authored chapter firstly argues that the legacy of damage continues in health and environmental effects. There is a continued economic and political domination in the north and south Pacific from Marshall Islands to French Polynesia. Post-independence countries with political control, inherited colonial policies and laws that have fundamentally changed indigenous attitudes and uses of land and sea resources. Secondly, this chapter argues that traditional and amended land ownership systems and land takeovers enabled new forms of land appropriation by post-colonial elites and governments, and undermined customary land laws and relationships that are endemic to Pacific cultures. Thirdly, the chapter looks at the Pacific Ocean and sea resources surrounding Pacific Island countries as an all-important resource that is traditionally viewed with respect, as a source of livelihoods which Pacific Islanders’ must be careful custodians of. The notion of the Blue Economy or Blue Growth, where global powers including Pacific Islands nations are in a race to divide up the last frontier of exploitable resources, indicates a new area of exploitation and environmental damage that Pacific Islanders must oppose. On resistance movements, the Pacific-wide protest against nuclear testing showed the solidarity across islands that was possible in a peoples’ movement. As land and sea resources are newly exploited by powerful multinationals with the agreement of post-colonial elites, the authors explore the ways in which the Pacific Islands states and people can reassert their values, whilst resisting the neo-liberal global world economy that profoundly affects their lives.

Chapter Contributors

  • Vanessa Griffen ( - vgriffen) 'International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons'
  • Gordon Nanau ( - gnanau) 'University of the South Pacific, Fiji '
  • Maureen Penjueli ( - mpenjueli) 'Pacific Network on Globalization'