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Collective Response to Disasters in the Indo-Pacific: Opportunities and Challenges

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Lina Gong and S. Nanthini

Executive Summary

Collective action is key in responding to complex, large-scale disasters. The mix of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis and heightening geopolitical tensions in the Indo-Pacific raises questions about how states and societies in the region can respond together more effectively to disasters. This policy report analyses the respective strengths and weaknesses of the existing multilateral mechanisms in the Indo-Pacific in facilitating and mobilising collective disaster response. It finds that the nature of these mechanisms, the level of the power symmetry within them, and the changing regional and global risks shape their ability to respond collectively and the effectiveness of those responses.

Introduction

Collective disaster response involving multiple countries and organisations is essential in complex, large-scale disasters when national capabilities and resources are inadequate. This need was seen in a number of previous disasters in the Indo-Pacific region, from the Indian Ocean tsunami in December 2004 to the volcanic eruption and tsunami in Tonga in January 2022. Various multilateral mechanisms exist in different subregions of the Indo-Pacific which support collective response by facilitating policy coordination, confidence-building and operational cooperation. However, the evolving traditional and non-traditional security dynamics such as major power rivalry, the ongoing pandemic and climate risks raise questions about how these mechanisms can mobilise or facilitate collective action in disasters.

This policy report examines the respective potentials of five multilateral mechanisms in the region to respond to disasters collectively and the weaknesses that could hamper such collective action. The five are: ASEAN, FRANZ (France, Australia, and New Zealand), the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), and the Lancang Mekong Cooperation (LMC). We find that the nature and power dynamics of each mechanism as well as the changing regional and global risks affect its ability to respond collectively. This report was informed by interviews conducted between December 2021 and March 2022 with 19 participants from the Indo-Pacific and Europe, namely, scholars, diplomats, military officers, and humanitarian practitioners.