US Defense reviewing strategic importance of Freely Associated States

By Giff Johnson

Marshall Islands Journal

22 May, 2018

Majuro—The US Defense Department is reviewing the strategic importance of the Compacts of Free Association for the United States as part of a major study of security issues related to the freely associated states (FAS). The study is also evaluating the implications for American defense and foreign policy interests of the People’s Republic of China economic aid in the Freely Associated States.

The study was mandated by the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act passed late last year by the US Congress.

It is to be submitted to defense committees of the House and Senate no later than December 1 this year. The report is to be issued in unclassified form but may include classified attachments.

What is significant is that this is the first study of its kind during the Compact Two period by the Defense Department at the direction of the US Congress.

The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) has conducted several evaluations of US aid and other issues related to the Compacts of Free Association since the start of the second Compact funding period in 2004. It is currently wrapping up a study on use of US funding by the RMI and FSM, and transition issues for the governments as they gear for use of trust fund money when US grants end in 2023.

The Congress directed Defense to address security, defense and foreign policy issues related to the Micronesia area. Concern over the impact of China in Micronesia is an underlying issue of the study. China maintains diplomatic ties with the Federated States of Micronesia.

The terms of the study include:

• The role of the Compacts of Free Association in promoting United States defense and foreign policy interests, including the United States defense posture and plans.

• The status of the obligations of the United States and the Freely Associated States under the Compacts of Free Association.

• The economic assistance practices of the People’s Republic of China in the Freely Associated States, and the implications of such practices for United States defense and foreign policy interests in the Freely Associated States and the Pacific region.

• The economic assistance practices of other countries in the Freely Associated States, as determined by the Comptroller General, and the implications of such practices for United States defense and foreign policy interests in the Freely Associated States and the Pacific region.

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