The Sovereignty of Freely Associated States in the Free and Open Indo-Pacific – 6/10/19

A free and open Indo-Pacific is one of the national security strategic objectives of the United States. According to the Department of Defense, this strategic objective is grounded in a set of overarching principles that includes respecting the sovereignty and independence of other nations.

The Compact of Free Association (COFA) Act of 1985 may have brought about an end to American trusteeship over the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia. However, the United States Government continues to produce official documents that suggest that the Freely Associated States are not sovereign. For example, the Department of Defense recently classified the “Marshall Islands” under “US / US Territories” in the Base Structure Report – Fiscal Year 2018 Baseline. 

According to The Indo-Pacific Strategy Report, the United States has “an enduring commitment to uphold a free and open Indo-Pacific in which all nations, large and small, are secure in their sovereignty and able to pursue economic growth consistent with accepted international rules, norms, and principles of fair competition.” Unfortunately, those official documents that suggest that the Freely Associated States are not sovereign undercut that commitment, which in turn risks negatively influencing the support of COFA citizens for the national security strategic objectives of the United States.

Michael Walsh is a Research Fellow in the Department of Southeast Asian Studies at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. The opinions expressed are his own.

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