Balancing the Scales in Negotiations Between the United States and the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) and the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI)


In 2023, provisions of the Compact of Free Association (COFA) between the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) and Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) and the U.S. are set to expire. This agreement was established in 1986 with terms granting the U.S. military expansive access to the region in exchange for economic assistance and the right of citizens of the freely associated states (FAS) to live and work in the U.S., among other provisions. This assessment provides critical context for the negotiations by exploring the gaps concerning human rights and environmental protection.



With a human rights framework and the climate crisis at the forefront of our minds, this strategic assessment will discuss the diverse possibilities around the FSM-RMI COFA. Most of the literature available on the topic is directly from U.S. bodies like the Government Accountability Office (GAO), or only covers a specific aspect of the COFAs like military access. Other resources investigate specific issues without space to consider the broader implications on the local and Indigenous populations, or they withhold or outright misrepresent information for colonial gain.

These gaps animated the desire to produce a strategic assessment (hereinafter assessment) that could raise the voices of and be accessible to a broader base of stakeholders. Conversations with stakeholders began in February 2019 with a policy brief outlining key themes from desk research. 

Since then, in-person interviews and email/ virtual conversations helped build out and add to the key themes from the policy brief. A total of 31 organizations, government agencies/ representatives, and advocacy groups were represented, with over 85 individual collaborators.

  • July 2019 in Washington, D.C.: 5 interviews
  • November 2019 in Guam: 7 interviews
  • December 2019 in Pohnpei, FSM: 10 interviews
  • December 2019 in Majuro, RMI: 7 interviews
  • December 2019 in Honolulu, Hawai’i: 2 interviews

The writing of this assessment was a combination of information shared by collaborators since February 2019 and desk research. The legal questions resulted from interviews with stakeholders, and the legal analysis on certain questions was done by our pro bono law firm partner, Clifford Chance. Collaborators were also given the option to review the assessment in its draft form, and several participated in that process. The recommendations here have been developed in conversation with collaborators which began with formal interviews and continued through the drafting process.

The theoretical framework of this assessment is grounded in human rights, as articulated in international human rights law, and environmental justice to include the complexities of geopolitics, migration, and climate change. It will become clear that the colonial nature of COFA relations continues to foster an unequal relationship privileging the U.S. which in many instances violates human rights and environmental justice. However, while borders are important and shape political realities, this assessment will center the collective responsibility of all stakeholders to uphold human rights and environmental justice. For ICAAD, this begins with international human rights law and extends to the systems analysis facilitated by our collaborators.


Read the full report here.

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