RMI mulls nuclear treaty

President Hilda Heine met with Lt. General H.R. McMaster, President Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor, at the White House during her visit to Washington, DC last week. Photo: White House.
President Hilda Heine met with Lt. General H.R. McMaster, President Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor, at the White House during her visit to Washington, DC last week. Photo: White House.


Following meetings in Washington, DC last week, President Hilda Heine announced that the RMI government will closely consider the issue of signing a new global treaty which seeks to immediately eliminate nuclear weapons. The treaty will be open for signatures starting this week.

The RMI agrees with the rest of the world that non-proliferation of nuclear weapons must occur and that weapons of mass destruction must come to an end, said the President.

“Recent nuclear tests in North Korea — and their threats to Guam and all US military bases in the Pacific — make nuclear threats a much more immediate security issue for RMI — and the world.”

The President announced intentions for the RMI to have a comprehensive process to look at the treaty that will engage with local communities and also fully examine the treaty’s legal implications.

“Obviously RMI — from it’s own experience — doesn’t want anyone to ever use nuclear weapons — but the big question is how does the world effectively eliminate this threat. It’s actually pretty complicated,” said the President. “This treaty deserves due time for consideration and consultation.”

While the treaty bans the use or possession of nuclear material, it also prevents its signatories from encouraging other countries to do so. President Heine noted that the treaty touches on two key issues for the Marshall Islands — the Compact with the US and the RMI’s legacy burden of nuclear testing.

The President stated that initial analysis indicates possible security implications for the Compact, where the US is granted authority for RMI’s defense, and where US transit or storage of such material is possible. However, said the President, this analysis is not yet complete and needs input from Nitijela and final review from the Attorney General.

The treaty also contains complicated language on responsibility for addressing nuclear testing impacts. The treaty points to “testing nations” like the US as obligated to provide adequate support, but also could put some responsibility on RMI — although the treaty language is uncertain, in light of the Compact and treaty exemptions for existing agreements.

The US — and the eight other nations known to have nuclear weapons — did not participate in the treaty negotiations and are not expected to sign the treaty in the foreseeable future. This means the treaty obligations don’t apply to these nations. To some, that makes the nuclear ban treaty seem more symbolic, than immediately effective.

“It is a complicated issue,” said Foreign and Trade Minister John Silk. “There has been some recent progress between the US and Russia, but it is not fast enough. But what does this treaty directly do to eliminate nuclear risk? That is a tough question. Right now, I think the most urgent issue for the UN is how the world addresses North Korea’s nuclear weapons — and no one has an easy answer there.”   The minister said a top priority is making progress on better addressing nuclear testing impacts. Silk said that Pacific regional agencies have also been tasked to work on this issue, and that the newly formed RMI Nuclear Commission was charged with organizing and clarifying priorities.

Read more about this in the September 22, 2017 edition of the Marshall Islands Journal.