As part of the United States' efforts to increase engagement and cooperation with the Pacific Island Countries, the Nevada National Guard (NVNG) has intensified its partnerships with Fiji and Tonga, particularly following disruptions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In late November 2022, Brig. Gen. Michael Peyerl, the NVNG’s director of joint staff visited Tonga with several other delegates in the first key in-person leadership engagement in over two years. The delegation met with the acting Chief of Defense and environment and disaster relief officials. This year marks the ninth year of the partnership through the US State Partnership Program. This program, which currently has 95 participants across the globe, seeks to connect a state’s national guard with a partner country’s military, security forces and disaster response system.
Reengagement with Tonga comes approximately one year after the NVNG has begun re-engaging with its other partner in the region, Fiji. The Fiji partnership, which began in 2018, has led to increased training and cooperation.
Across both countries, the NVNG and local militaries have implemented various programs and training covering a wide range of areas including disaster relief, maritime security, agricultural security and more. For example, in August 2022, the NVNG trained the Republic of Fiji Military Forces on how to use $527,000 worth of Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) equipment donated by the US-funded Global Peace Operations Initiative.
Military cooperation between the United States, Tonga and Fiji dates back to WWII. During the war, the Tongan Tongatabu harbor served as a key air and naval base for the US military and members of the Tonga Defense Forces served alongside the allies in the Solomon Islands Campaign. Fiji was also occupied by the allies during the war and Fijian soldiers served in the critical role of scouts in the Solomon Islands.
In September 2022, the United States hosted the first-ever United States-Pacific Island Country Summit at the White House as it pledged to increase its engagement with the Pacific Islands. This pledge comes amidst increased Chinese activity in the region. Tonga and Fiji may both prove to be important allies in the region, especially when it comes to security. Fiji is the only country of the Pacific Island Countries (PICs) with which the United States has a defense cooperation agreement. Further, Tonga and Fiji contain respectively the first and second most students who have participated in US foreign military training and engagement activities since 2010. The United States also announced plans to open an embassy in Tonga and Kiribati in July 2022.
“Two years of separation has only strengthened our commitment to the people of Tonga and Fiji,” Peyerl said. “Nevada is ‘all in’ on re-engaging and continuing to grow our state partnership program.”
Alec Weiker is a research intern at the East-West Center in Washington. He is a fourth-year undergraduate at Georgetown University studying International Relations with a double focus on the Pacific and National Identity.