France in the South Pacific: Countdown for New Caledonia − Options for the Future

Abstract: 

France was able to turn regional opinion in the South Pacific from hostility in the 1980s to cautious acceptance through two major policy decisions relating to its sovereign Pacific entities in the 1990s: ceasing its nuclear testing in French Polynesian waters; and addressing destabilising decolonisation concerns, principally in New Caledonia. The nuclear issue has been largely laid to rest, but decolonisation issues have not yet been fully settled. Whereas the violence in New Caledonia in the 1980s has abated, there is instability in French Polynesia, where there have been thirteen changes of local government since 2004; and deadlines on the future status of New Caledonia are looming. New Caledonia is the litmus test for France’s continuing peaceful sovereignty in the South Pacific. It is the richest of the French Pacific entities. Its political evolution, spelled out in the 1998 Noumea Accord, is seen as a model for French Polynesia, and even for the broader string of French possessions around the globe. After a series of deferrals of a promised vote on independence, the 1998 Noumea Accord provides for up to three referendums on the future status of New Caledonia to be held between 2014 and 2018. France has only recently taken on the full range of responsibilities as UN Administering Authority for this non-self governing territory and must comply with UN decolonisation principles, which stipulate that independence is one of three possible paradigms (the others are full integration within another state and independence-in-association with another state). Discussions have been initiated on options for New Caledonia, so far confining themselves to non-independence options. This paper canvasses the issues and identifies briefly some options for New Caledonia’s future status.

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