Defense leaders conference enhances understanding, cooperation among Indo-Pacific forces


Indo-Pacific military leaders gathered for the Chiefs of Defense (CHODs) conference in Nadi, Fiji, in mid-August 2023 to discuss topics including the international rules-based order, cyber intrusion, natural disasters and climate change.

The conference, held annually since 1998 and supplemented with quarterly virtual sessions, brings together the region’s senior defense leaders to enhance understanding and cooperation. The Republic of Fiji Military Forces (RFMF) and the United States Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM) hosted the in-person Nadi conference with the theme, “Preserving the Rules-Based Order to Enable Sovereignty in an Era of Strategic Competition.” Ranking officers from 27 Indo-Pacific countries attended lectures, panels and discussions.

Senior military leaders from 27 countries attended the 25th annual Indo-Pacific Chiefs of Defense conference in Nadi, Fiji, in mid-August 2023. IMAGE CREDIT: CHIEF PETTY OFFICER SHANNON M. SMITH/U.S. NAVY

“This meeting symbolizes the RFMF’s dedication to being at the forefront of proactive engagement, where open dialogue and mutual respect converge to build bridges towards lasting peace and stability,” Maj. Gen. Jone Kalouniwai, RFMF commander, said in opening remarks. “Together, through our shared commitment and joint efforts, we aim to fortify the foundations of a secure and prosperous Indo-Pacific region.”

Fijian Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka told the military leaders that he envisions the Pacific Islands as a zone of peace that avoids conflict.

Samantha Power, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), told attendees that she was struck by the sight of military leaders “coming together to engage one another, to discuss shared challenges, and to see where common ground can be forged in service of what remains the most noble and necessary of all objectives: lasting peace among nations and peoples,” a USAID release stated. Power was in the South Pacific to open USAID offices in Fiji and Papua New Guinea, and to pledge support to the region. Royal Netherlands Navy Adm. Rob Bauer, chair of the NATO Military Committee, held bilateral talks with conference attendees including Australian Defence Force Chief Gen. Angus Campbell, Japan Chief of Joint Staff Gen. Yoshihide Yoshida, New Zealand Defence Force Chief Air Marshal Kevin Short and Republic of Korea Lt. Gen. Woong Park. He emphasized the significance of regional allies and partners to the security alliance. “The Indo-Pacific is important for NATO, given that developments in that region can directly affect Euro-Atlantic security,” Bauer said, according to a NATO news release. “With the help of our partners in the region, we can work together to address everything from disinformation, climate change and maritime security to cyber defence and competition in space.”

Adm. John Aquilino, Commander of USINDOPACOM, said the CHODs summit was an opportunity to strengthen regional security. “A peaceful and prosperous Indo-Pacific depends on the strength of relationships between nations who share common values, and a respect for sovereignty along with the rule of law,” he said.

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