‘Full faith and credit’ wanted

Kabua Amata speaking at the United Nations General Assembly on September 24, 1991 one week after the Marshall Islands achieved UN membership.

GIFF JOHNSON

Nitijela endorsed the importance of the “full faith and credit” provision in the first Compact of Free Association in adopting Resolution 48 last Thursday.

The resolution requests the RMI’s Compact Negotiation Team through the Cabinet to request reinstatement of the full faith and credit provision in the Compact with the US government. 

The full faith and credit provision in the first Compact, 1986-2003, obligated the US government to provide full payment of funding to the RMI as agreed in Compact economic provisions. 

RMI negotiators of the second grant and economic package, known as Compact two, did not object to a US proposal to remove the full faith and credit provision. As a result, it was taken out of the Compact’s economic package that is currently in effect and scheduled to expire in 2023.

In a major policy address in 1985 at Harvard University outlining the background to the US-RMI Compact negotiations and the key features of the first Compact, President Amata Kabua explained the rationale behind the full faith and credit provision. 

“Another key-element of the negotiations related to the Marshall Islands’ strategic importance to the United States security interests, but separate from the issue of guaranteed continued US access to the Kwajalein Missile Range, was the principle of strategic denial,” said President Kabua in his address at Harvard on April 29, 1985, the year before the first Compact went into effect.

“Senators Henry Jackson, Bennett Johnston, and James McClure, based in part on their World War II experience, wanted to ensure that no third country could have access to the Marshall Islands for military purposes. They insisted that the United States retained absolute authority to restrict such access to any third country.

“We felt that giving the United States not only guaranteed access to the Missile Range, but also the guaranteed right to deny access for military purposes to any part of our territory to any third country, involved a significant further concession and derogation from our independent foreign affairs authority. Thus we hoped to gain important concessions from the United States in return.”

President Kabua’s point underlined the concern of the Marshall Islands to even the playing field in its relationship with the world’s leading superpower. The Compact was an agreement being negotiated between an island group that was not yet a nation and the most powerful country in the world — rather an ant and an elephant situation.

The full faith and credit provision became the vehicle for the Marshall Islands to endorse the United States right of strategic denial — the absolute authority of the US to restrict military access to the Marshall Islands by any third country. In return, the RMI would receive its funding each year as a permanent, ongoing appropriation, not subject to being held up by the US government.

“This three-way impasse was finally broken following meetings between our Washington Counsel, Mr. Copaken, and Senators McClure and Johnston, and discussions between these Senators and Senator Jackson, when I wrote to the President’s Special Representative for Micronesian Status Negotiations suggesting that we would grant to the United States the right of strategic denial in return for a guarantee that the annual economic assistance the United States would provide us would have the full faith and credit of the United States behind it, and that the level of the assistance would remain unchanged even if the Marshall Islands exercised its right to terminate the Compact of Free Association,” said the President. “On this quid pro quo basis, we were able to reach a mutually satisfactory resolution of the issue.”

Nearly 40 years after the full faith and credit provision was negotiated and approved, and nearly 20 years since it was lost, the Nitijela, through Resolution 48, has elevated the importance of this provision to the Marshall Islands in its Compact negotiations with the US government.

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