Archive for March, 2008

The election that put the losers in power

March 19, 2008

As the new ruling regime in the Republic of the Marshall Islands seeks to consolidate its power, the outlines of a new national agenda are beginning to emerge.   It is an agenda being defined by RMI Foreign Minister Tony deBrum, who is the mastermind of the new ruling coalition.  

The most conspicuous priority of the new regime is for the traditional chiefs under Marshallese landowning customs to retain control of the constitutional government, and use the constitutional structure of governemtn to get more money fromthe U.S. or some other country for the use of Kwajalein Atoll.    Only this will ensure that the democratic constitutional process does not reform RMI law in any way that might diminish the power of the traditional leaders, under the anachronistic feudal landowning system, which was preserved even as the RMI emerged as a nation-state in the modern world.

The reason private landownership based on modern economic models was not implemented in 1986 when the RMI became a nation is that for decades the U.S. had been leasing Kwajalein Atoll and other land in the Marshall for military bases.   Under the traditional feudal system the high chief controlled the lease payments, shared the bulk of all payments with a small circle of lesser chiefs, and the remaining lease payments trickled down to some but not all of the actual landowners.

In organizing the RMI national government, the high chief and the feudal lords of the traditional system used their cutomary powers to influence local politics, and ensure that all land use payments remained under their control once democratic constitutional government was instituted.  Indeed, the first elected President was also the high chief and most powerful feudal lord, Amata Kabua.   During his rule the traditional feudal system and the new democratic constitutional system were managed to ensure that the feudal regime was preserved, and that democratic reforms did not infringe on feudal powers.  But in his wisdom Amata Kabua found a successful balance between the interests of the traditional high chief and lesser chiefs, the role of the RMI national government, and the legitmate interest of the U.S. government.

When Amata Kabua died, his brother, Imata Kabua, was elected President, but his regime was discredited by corruption and deviation from the balanced policies of Amata Kabua.  In 2000 a new democratic constitutional government was formed under a President who was not a feudal lord, but a commoner.   That government survived until 2007, when the political party of its leader, Kesai Note, once again won enough seats to remain in power. 

However, a leadership struggle between Kesai Note and other leaders in his party led to a collapse of the ruling coalition.   The vacuum created enabled the minority party led by high chief Imata Kabua to form a coalition, controlled once again by the feudal lords.        

TONY DEBRUM TAKES OVER

Minister deBrum has publicly denounced the bilateral RMI-U.S. bilateral agenda developed by the previous administration.   For example, on behalf of the people and the government of the RMI he has announced that the current agreements between the RMI and U.S. governing U.S. Army use of Kwajalein Atoll are unacceptable, and must be renegotiated to provide more finding to the traditional leader of the Kwajalein landowners, high chief Imata Kabua.   Kabua is also the head of deBrum’s political party.

In addition, on behalf of the RMI the new Foreign Minister, Mr. deBrum, has denounced U.S. Senate Bill No. 1756, the final terms of which were under negotiation by the previous administration and the sponsors of that bipartisan legislation.   The most recent draft of the bill would have provided approximately $100 million in supplemental nuclear claims compensation, mostly for health care in an expanded group of 10 atolls where nuclear test related health problems have been identified.  

However, Minister deBrum has rejected the Senate bill and instead has announced that the RMI will work with Congressman Eni Faleomavaega, the non-voting Delegate in the U.S. House of Representatives from American Samoa, to develop a nuclear compensation policy.   Minister deBrum also has announced that he is working with lawyers who are bringing cases in U.S. federal courts to seek compensation beyond that already provided by the U.S. under applicable treaties and Congressionally approved compensation measures in the past.

Thus, both in respect to U.S. military base rights and nuclear compensation, Minister deBrum is seeking funding from the U.S. at levels significantly higher than those previously agreed by the RMI under President Amata Kabua  and the administration of President Kesai Note.   However, the effect of repudiating S. 1756 is that the issue of additional nuclear claims compensation is effectively delayed until after the issue of Kwajalein lease payments is resolved.   This makes the issue of any additional funding for Kwajalein a priority over additional nuclear claims funding.

While the nuclear claims court cases and U.S. reaction to RMI repudiation of the existing base rights agreement may impact the state of RMI-U.S. relations during the next few months, unless some other mutually agreed solution is reached, December 2008 is deadline established by Congress for a Kwajalein agreement.   After that the U.S. will have to determine a new policy toward Kwajalein and free association with the RMI, because funding for Kwajalein will be phased out instead of increasing, and U.S. base rights will end in 2016.

FREE FLOW OF INFORMATION AND DIVERSITY OF OPINION MUST BE PROTECTED

In these times of change, it is vital that the progress made in the RMI toward the goal of a pluralistic democratic society is sustained.   That is the mission and the goal of this blog site.  

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The Marshall Islands Journal should leave furniture building to the carpenters!

March 19, 2008

A Four Legged Stool is More Stable

Many MIJ readers were appalled by a MIJ editorial arguing that the RMI should adopt a development model based on Fidel Castro’s regime in Cuba.   Incredibly, the MIJ cited Castro’s progress in education and health care as a standard of success to which the RMI should aspire, and implicitly criticized the U.S. for failing to conduct business as usual with Castro in order to support the economic success of his regime.

The metaphor adopted by the MIJ to make this argument was that of a three legged stool, with health care and education based on the Castro model as two legs supporting the stool, while the third leg of the stool should have been economic assistance the MIJ argues the U.S. should have provided at levels adequate to sustain social development for Cuba.

Comparing the state of social, political and economic development in the RMI and Cuba was wrong in more ways than one can count.   Where to begin?

First, the MIJ suggests to its readers that Castro’s oppressive rule in Cuba can be judged in some sort of neutral sociological vacuum, based on whatever the accomplishments of state run education and health care programs may have been, without any reference to his regime’s totalitarian atrocities against his own people.   This seems to be a case of self-inflicted moral and intellectual blindness.  

It is like saying Hitler can be judged by the success of German industry that produced the Messerschmitt airplane and the Volkswagen car during the Third Reich, or that Mussolini’s dictatorship in Italy was a success because he made the trains run on time.

Then there is the astonishing assertion by the MIJ that U.S. subsidized middle class prosperity is required for “true democracy” to succeed in Cuba and other developing countires, including the RMI.  Does anyone really believe this kind of social doctrine?   Between 1970 and 2000, the number of countries in the world classified as democracies went from 40 to 120.   In most cases, it was real democracy that produced economic progress leading to real sustainable prosperity, not the other way around.  

The MIJ call for the U.S. or RMI to somehow make tourism and other economic growth just materialize ignores the need for private investment and individual entrepreneurial initiative, and reminds me of the same old bureaucratic mentality about economic policy that prevailed in the TTPI era.     

As Ronald Regan correctly pointed out in his 1987 address to the General Assembly of the United Nations, prosperity is not a right, it is a product of rights.   That is, prosperity comes when each individual has the freedom to use their God-given talents to speak freely, to compete in the marketplace, and live without undue government inference, including unpredictable regulations and taxation. 

Another weird idea in the MIJ editorial is that U.S. economic sanctions prevented Cuba from achieving a greater level of wealth to which it was somehow entitled and had a right to demand.   The USA does not do business as usual with former allies who turn against U.S. interests, or against freedom and democracy.   That is America’s sovereign right.   Under Castro the government of Cuba took sides with America’s enemies, and there are consequences for doing that.    

As a favor to the MIJ, we will not send the editorial down to any newspapers that serve the Cuban community in Miami, which fled Castro’s tyranny, sometimes leaving their loved ones behind, only to learn they had been tortured and murdered.  The exiled Cubans who came to America and started with nothing found freedom and prosperity here, but they remember having the farms and homes that had been in their families for hundreds of years confiscated, and many of those privately owned properties were stolen by Castro for use as schools and hospital in the health care system the MIJ praises.

The history of the Caribbean region shows that the reforms which may have been needed in Cuba could have been accomplsiehd without dictatorship.   The U.S. conquered the Spanish colonial regime in Cuba in 1898, but never exercised sovereignty over Cuba as a U.S. territory, and instead granted it independence in 1903.  After that Cuba began to develop economically under a series of corrupt puppet regimes, but at least it had the same opportunity for democratic reform as other developing nations in the region.   

It was Castro who chose Soviet style economic development over an economic and strategic alliance with the USA and the other democracies of the Caribbean and Latin America.   The corruption under Castro is state sponsored, and hopefully the RMI will not go down that road, because that is the worst corruption of all.

Castro clamped down and turned Cuba into an imprisoned island, based on a socialist model in which the economy of the nation, subsidized by the USSR, was controlled by the government, and schools and hospitals became part of the all-powerful dictatorship.   As such, the schools and health care system thrived at the expense of a free society, and the MIJ sees that as a good model for the RMI?

There may be some lessons the RMI could learn from Cuba’s experience as a small nation, once closely allied with the USA, that ended its strategic partnership and chose to align itself against America.   But those lessons are very different from the ones the MIJ suggests.  

First, if we compare the wealth of Cubans who ran away when Castro took over and came to America to those who stayed in Cuba, we can begin to realize how important and valuable the right of visa free entry and residence under the Compact is for the people of the RMI.  

As with Cubans who came to the USA, when compared to those who stayed home under Castro, the economic success of RMI citizens in the USA, when compared to those who stay in the RMI, shows that in the RMI only a few lords of poverty get rich, while most Marshallese are losing ground economically.  But in the U.S. the average person from the RMI can provide for family, be free to succeed and maybe prosper, and even have enough to send some home.

Second, if the MIJ really thinks health care funding from the U.S. is important to the RMI’s development, then why was the RMI not supporting U.S. Senate Bill 1756?    After the hearing on nuclear claims issues last year the RMI and Senate supporters of S. 1756 reached an agreement to seek Senate approval of a modified version of S. 1756, with health care funding increased to $4 million annually, and adjustment for inflation, and it expanded coverage from 4 atolls to 10, based on the NCI study of cancers in the RMI.  

The precedent of supplemental nuclear claims compensation in the form of health care funding, and ending the historical U.S. position limiting assistance to 4 atolls, would be a breakthrough.  Yet, the RMI balked.   A period of trnasition is expected when a new governemtn takes over, but not paralysis.   The RMI held field hearing with Eni Falveomavaega when it should have been more focsued on S. 1756, instead of just advocating more funding for Kwajalein.   That may be a worthy cause too, but it mostly benefits the traditional chiefs of one atoll and is not a broad based economic program of the people of the RMI.  

Then again, if no agreement on Kwajalein is reached that could have a broad based economic impact for the RMI as a whole.   The health care funding and other benefits in the modified draft of S. 1756 could add up to $100 million over 15-20 years.   That does not resolve the nuclear legacy, but it is a very important proposal that the RMI should not let die due to inaction, unless it has a better plan.  

Instead of addressing these issues more aggressivley the MIJ was daydreaming about the socialist paradise in Cuba, and misleading the people of the RMI to believe government funding for health care, education and economic benefits is the way to build a three legged stool that will support a successful democracy.  If the RMI wants the socialist/communist model Cuba has, the RMI should end free association with the USA and align itself with a socialist/communist regime.   But it better be careful, because those regimes do not treat territorial subdivisions as well as the USA. 

Before making that decision, the RMI needs to think about whether a four legged stool would be better.  The constitutional government certainly should be one of the legs, including public health care and education programs the nation can afford.  

Marshallese culture would be another leg, including the family, the church, modern faith-based values and social practices, and customary traditions, because the people are the nation – not the government. 

The economic leg will always be weak unless it is supported by private sector led growth that is sustainable without permanent government subsidization or ownership. 

The fourth leg should be a free press playing its real role in a democratic society, by asking the tough questions about real issues facing the nation.  

At this time, one such tough question is why S. 1756 is being allowed to wither on the vine.   Even with active and affirmative RMI support getting it approved this year was going to be a challenge, but with the RMI apparently not making it a priority there may be no way to revive it.  

That means a big loss, unless the RMI can deliver an alternative that is better.  If the RMI has a better plan, the public needs to be allowed to know that as soon as possible.

Yet, the MIJ may be the only source that can tell the truth to the people on this and other important issues in the RMI.   Instead of being a cheerleader for the latest RMI propaganda, the MIJ should challenge the new ruling party as much as it did the last one.   If promoting the Cuban model of social and economic development, along with the Cuban model for conducting relations with the USA, is the MIJ idea of “Rethinking Government”, don’t do us any favors.   If make the Kwajalein lease issue the nation’s highest priority, to get more money for the richest men in the RMI, is the RMI vision of putting “People First”, give us a break.   That helps the few at the expense of the many.

The Real Deal: RMI policy is adrift

March 19, 2008

 

Because of a leadership struggle in the ruling party that won the last elections, the old coalition collapsed and the opposition party was able to cobble together a weak coalition with a few independent members of parliament.   The new ruling party is headed by the Kwajalein chiefs.   The agenda of the party is singular and simple – more money for the Kwajalein chiefs.  

Accordingly, the new Foreign Minster is the member of parliament from Kwajalein, even though he is not really from Kwajalein at all, and was not eligible to run for a seat from Kwajalein until the chiefs gave him land rights so he could become their man in parliament.   Before that he was one of their paid lobbyists, and his campaign was funded by the Kwajalein chiefs.  

To the surprise of absolutely no one, the new Foreign Minister has stated publicly in the press that the base rights agreement ratified by the RMI national government when the previous ruling party was in power, and lease payments provided there under, are unacceptable.   Before the change in government, the base agreement was unacceptable to the chiefs as parties to the internal land use agreement, but now that the chiefs are in pwoer they are taking the position that the base agreement is also unacceptable to the RMI national government.  

What this appears to mean is that the new ruling party is prepared to renounce and repudiate the base rights  agreement already negotiated and approved  through the U.S.’s and RMI’s respective constitutional processes.   The U.S. needs to decide if it will accept repudiation of a treaty, when the two governments have ratified an agreement, and the demands of the chiefs as well as U.S. rejection of those demands are a matter of public record. 

But how much is enough for the chiefs?   The Marshall Islands Journal reports that the current Kwajalein base rights treaty provides $15 million annually for the chiefs, but the chiefs are demanding $19 million annually.   The funding that has been put in escrow due to lack of a land use agreement with chiefs and RMI is now more than $20 million.   Even if the chiefs want more, since they already have large amounts of money in the pipeline for Kwajalein atoll alone, wouldn’t getting more for health care into the pipeline for 10 atolls with nuclear victims be a better use of limited resources?

The Marshall Islands Journal has gone so far in its political support for the new ruling party as to take the editorial position that the new ruling party has a “mandate” from the people to make Kwajalein payments the highest priority.   Yet, as already noted, the new ruling party gained power because of a leadership struggle in the old ruling party, not because it won a majority in the elections.  Thus, one wonders how the Marshall Islands Journal could presume that the majority of people in the RMI would rather see the high chief of Kwajalein, already one of the richest men in the RMI, get richer still, instead of seeing the people of 10 atolls get a 20 year funding stream with inflation adjustment for health care.

A recent editorial in the Marshall Islands Journal argues that the U.S. should agree to increase payments to Kwajalein chiefs based on the “precedent” set when the U.S. recently agreed to restore RMI operations of the U.S. Postal Service that were reduced in 2003.  The editorial praises the current U.S. Ambassador for supporting restoration of USPS services levels, and implies that the American diplomat must now prove his effectiveness as steward of the RMI-U.S. relationship by repeating the success in the USPS matter, which, according to the Marshall Islands Journal, can be done by bringing about an increase in payments to the Kwajalein chiefs.    

The logic of the Marshall Islands Journal editorial is flawed.  USPS service was simply restored to the previous levels.   The increase of Kwajalein payments the chiefs demand is not only over and above previous levels, but over and above new levels that were already increased over previous levels.   Before buying into this logic, we need to realize that Congress purposefully and with the U.S. national interest in mind created a deadline for the chiefs of Kwajalein and the leaders of the RMI to show that they are reliable partners with the U.S. in the preservation of international peace and security.   That deadline was set in 2008 by Congress to give the U.S. Army 8 years before 2016 to relocate in the event the RMI is unable to deliver the base rights required by the U.S. due to the inflexibility of the chiefs, and/ or because the RMI determines that it is not willing or able to exercise eminent domain in the same manner other governments do when necessary to meet treaty obligations.

The RMI is a sovereign nation and is entitled to act in its own self-interest, as defined by the elected leaders through the constitutional  process of that nation.   Of course, the same is true for the United States.   If the deadline passes without an agreement that satisfies the law Congress enacted, then the U.S. needs to consider carefully whether it should act in its own self-interest by ending its reliance on the RMI and Kwajalein.   It may have a cost and be suboptimal in the short term, but the U.S. can not be held hostage by an ally that will not or can not live up to treaty commitments openly and freely agreed and ratified.

In the latest edition of the Marshall Islands Journal, deBrum expresses disdain for U.S. Air Force target bombing training exercises in RMI waters that are expressly authorized under the military base and operating rights agreement between the U.S. and RMI.   Even though the mid-ocean bombing practice involves dummy bombs that have no materials other than steel and comment, deBrum challenged the U.S. right to test by claiming the U.S. failed to conduct environmental impact studies.   The Foreign Minister of a nation is supposed to ensure that his nation’s treaty partners are able to act in accordance with applicable agreements, not propagandize against actions that are not only authorized but paid for generously by the U.S. taxpayer.   Mr. deBrum antics are more akin to those of a demagogue in a rogue regime than the conduct of a reliable treaty partner.

Clearly, any attempt to appease those with the same ideological perception of U.S. strategic program as those expressed by Mr. deBrum in his 2005 speech are only going to embolden and empower those who ultimately are hostile to U.S. leadership in the cause of peace and security.   Whatever additional time the U.S. could purchase through appeasement dollars will not avert even more unreasonable demands in the future.   The U.S. will soon realize that its time, efforts and funding can be better invested elsewhere, so that the U.S. Army can relocate operations and create the capabilities needed without being beholden to those in the RMI like deBrum, who by his own words has made it clear that the U.S. is not wanted there by the landowners and their chiefs.

A policy that seeks to appease Mr. deBrum and his ilk will not resolve these issues.  There are important players in the U.S. government who believe it is time to test the integrity of the alliance between the RMI and the U.S. under the CFA.   If the U.S. can not stay at Kwajalein under the terms Congress agreed to in 2003, then the U.S. will soon realize it needs to make a few things very clear to the RMI.   If the U.S. must leave and have to deal with unplanned impediments to U.S. strategic interests, it is only logical that unraveling of the strategic partnership under the CFA will also require re-evaluation of the entire political end economic relationship defined by the CFA, including the possible phase out of free association between the U.S. and the RMI.

That may be exactly what Mr. deBrum wants, and he has been put in the position to speak for the people of the RMI, so it is time to find out if that is really what the people of the RMI want as well.   If so, then the people of the RMI need to decide if Tony deBrum really speaks for them, and the U.S. has to determine what course it must take in relations with the RMI to protect the best interests of the American people.      

Tony deBrum puts RMI travel rights to USA in jeopardy…again

March 19, 2008

When Imata Kabua was RMI President, the RMI Foreign Minister was implicated in an illegal scam to sell RMI passports to wealthy Chinese seeking a backdoor into the USA based on RMI open travel rights to America.  One of the Foreign Minister’s surrogates was convicted of corruption.  

In response, the U.S. attempted to severely restrict travel rights between the RMI and America.   The RMI negotiators and lawyers representing President Kesai Note stood their ground and protected the visa free travel, residence and employment rights under the treaties governing the RMI-U.S. bilateral relationship.

Indeed, only recently have many members of the U.S. Congress become aware that both the base rights agreement the U.S. has with the RMI and the visa free travel rights are the most important parts of the overall political and economic agreement called the Compact of Free Association.   That treaty defines the bilateral alliance between the U.S. and RMI in its full and broadest terms.    Of all the benefits provided to the RMI under the CFA, beyond any question the most valuable is the privilege Congress granted in 1985 for RMI citizens to enter, reside, be employed, and go to school in the U.S. without the requirement of a visa or resident alien status.

This extraordinary privilege enables RMI citizens to travel freely between the RMI and the U.S. without a visa and remain in the U.S. indefinitely with no restriction.   The CFA even allows RMI citizens to serve in the U.S. armed forces, which makes training and education available to those who do so, and many RMI citizens have successfully contributed to the defense and security of the U.S. and the RMI, in some cases fighting side by side with our own soldiers against the enemies of America and democracy.

While this visa exemption program has many benefits for both nations, it has resulted in migration of a significant population of RMI citizens to the U.S. for long term residence.   Many of these RMI citizens are poor, but do not qualify for state or federal social services.   Crime and disease are on the rise in some densely populated enclaves of RMI citizens in Guam, Hawaii, Oregon, Arkansas and elsewhere.   

Indeed, in 1999 a boy from the Marshall Islands living in North Dakota was identified as the source of a tuberculosis epidemic that spread to 56 people, mostly school yard playmates.   Currently there is a political debate about how to address tuberculosis among the thousands of Marshallese living in Arkansas, as well as 11 recently detected cases of leprosy.

Many in Washington have been advised that when campaigning in the last election among RMI voters in Arkansas, Mr. deBrum made public statements suggesting that RMI citizens who pay taxes in the U.S. are being treated unfairly because they do not receive the same benefits as U.S. citizens.   So at the same time he calls upon the world community to help the RMI get the U.S. out of Kwajalein, Mr. deBrum seeks to promote a sort of creeping de facto “naturalization” of RMI citizens, whose privilege to reside in the U.S. does not include eligibility for the same federal benefits as U.S. citizens and permanent resident aliens.

Indeed, in granting the visa exemption to RMI citizens, Congress expressly provided that residence under the CFA did not count as time in America for purposes of naturalization under the federal immigration laws.   By agitating in Arkansas for benefits and rights for which they are not eligible, Mr. deBrum actually unintentionally raises questions about the long term viability of the visa waiver for RMI citizens.   

That privilege was never intended to result in the de-population of the RMI, or to create a brain drain from the islands.   Nor was it intended to be a backdoor into U.S. citizenship.   After the illegal Chinese passport sales scam was exposed, Congress closed that loophole, but it seems Mr. deBrum is still looking for ways to circumvent the generous privileges Congress granted in the CFA in order to obtain additional privileges Congress did not grant.

Former President Amata Kabua understood the delicate balance of interest that made free association a success.   Mr. deBrum clearly does not.

Tony deBrum says “No Thanks” to Senator Bingaman on S. 1756, and instead turns to Eni Faleomavaega for leadership on nuclear compensation issues

March 19, 2008

It is clear the RMI ruling regime has made more money for Imata Kabua its top priority, even putting nuclear claism on the back burner.   The new Foreign Minister, Tony deBrum, has even suggested that there was some linkage between the increased Kwajalein lease payments issue and the claims of RMI citizens arising from the U.S. nuclear testing program in the RMI from 1946 to 1958.   However, Kwajalein is not recognized by Congress as a nuclear affected atoll, and the prior ruling party had already taken a strong stand seeking additional compensation for nuclear testing claims far beyond what Congress has agreed to provide.    

While some RMI claimants are seeking re-consideration of the adequacy of hundreds of millions in compensation already paid to address these claims, absent a federal court ruling awarding more compensation there is little apparent prospect that the new ruling party will get any traction on nuclear claims beyond what the previous ruling party was able to accomplish, through diplomacy, based on the close alliance between the RMI and the U.S. that includes the Kwajalein base rights agreement.  

The slow and frsutrating process for seekign additional compesnation was beginning to show signs of progress.  This included the consideration by the U.S. Senate of legislation to provide certain supplemental nuclear test compensation for programs outside of the scope of the personal injury and property damage claims pending before the U.S. Court of Claims.   

Of course, paying more to the landowners  for use of Kwajalein than was already agreed  will do nothing for the RMI nuclear claimants.    Since the  claims for more personal injury and property damage compensation are before the courts, Congress will probably wait to see what the courts say rather than agreeing that more compensation is owed as a matter of legal obligation.  

Instead, as noted below, Congress was prepared to consider supplemental compensation for certain nuclear healthcare, nuclear worker compensation, and scientific monitoring programs on a discretionary basis, as requested by the affected atolls and the former ruling party pursuant to existing  authorizations to  additional payments or programs to the affected atolls on an exgratia basis.    

There is  evidence in a NCI report to Congress that there are people  in the RMI that were affected by radiation, but not included in the 1985 settlement of claims reached  between the U.S. and the RMI.  However, the question of lease payments to the Kwajalein chiefs has nothing to do with compensation to the actual nuclear testing claimants, and with regard to the nuclear claims the question of liability is different from the issue of additional humanitarian assistance.   The courts can determine if the U.S. has additional legal liability, while Congress determines what ex gratia assistance should be provided in the future.  

Because the people of the RMI paid a higher price than most Americans during the Cold War, and made a real contribution to America’s success in the arm’s race, Congress has consistently provided ex gratia assistance to the nuclear claimants apart form any legal required compensation.    Instead of trying to pretend that paying more to lease Kwajalein from the chiefs on that one atoll will somehow help the nuclear testing survivors, the new ruling party in the RMI government needs to take a clear position on S. 1756.

This is a bill which the former ruling party and its U.S. Senate sponsors agreed to modify in order to seek approval by Congress of supplemental nuclear claims compensation on an “ex gratia” or discretionary  basis, including a proposal to increase to $4 million the annual funding (originally proposed at $2 million annually) for health care for up to 10 atolls recognized as nuclear affected areas.   For the newly installed RMI ruling party to suggest that the U.S. should pay more the Kwajalein because of the nuclear testing claims is simply disingenuous propaganda. 

The people of the RMI contributed more than most Americans to the success of the U.S. in the Cold War arms race, albeit involuntarily, because their lands and the people were exposed to radioactive fallout as part of the nuclear weapons development program that made U.S. nuclear deterrence credible and out ahead of the USSR nuclear programs.   Making sure the affected population has adequate health care should be a priority for the RMI and Congress, as a sort of deferred cost of winning the Cold War.  

However, the new RMI ruling party likes to talk about the nuclear testing program to generate sympathy, and then parlay that into money for Kwajalein chiefs.   That does nothing for the nuclear claimants at all, and actually erodes the moral premise for additional discretionary assistance.    

S. 1756 includes a radiological monitoring device for Utirik Atoll to ensure that residual radiation is not exposing the residents to health risks, eligibility of RMI citizens who were employed by the Department of Energy for compensation if their health was affected, and health care for atolls whose populations were affected by radiation, expanding that medical program from 4 atolls to 10.   With inflation adjustments for the health care grants, the total supplemental compensation in the bill could reach $100 million over the next 20 years.   

That is much more important to the RMI people nationwide than more money for the high chief of one atoll, Kwajalein, especially when the largest portion of the payments go to one chief and his lobbyists.   Since the payments to the chiefs do not trickle down very broadly or substantially to the full landowner community, more money for Kwajalein does much less to promote U.S. or RMI interests than S. 1756. 

Yet, the new ruling party, headed by the High Chief of Kwajalein, not surprisingly has made Kwajalein the top priority of the government, and any chance U.S. Senate sponsors and supporters of S. 1756 had to get it passed during the current election year may already have passed while the new RMI ruling party has dithered and bickered over political purges and use of official cars.   Apparently, the new RMI leadership decided getting more money for the Kwajalein chiefs is more important than adequate compensation for the nuclear testing victims.  

What is Tony deBrum’s real ideological agenda?

March 19, 2008

It is significant that the new RMI Foreign Minster felt a need to deny in an interview with the Marshall Islands Journal that he or his party are “anti-American.”    This apparently was his response to reports that some current U.S. officials responsible for managing the Kwajalein issue are convinced that Foreign Minister deBrum has an agenda different from the Kwajalein chiefs, who apparently put him in power to do their bidding.   Clearly, the chiefs want more money, but a 2005 speech expressing his own ideological views suggest that Minister deBrum may actually want the U.S. out of Kwajalein for ideological reasons.  While the high chief also has expressed the view that the U.S. should leave Kwajalein, most people assumed that was a negotiating ploy.   But the chiefs who put deBrum in parliament to get them more money may find that he is using them for his own goals, instead of vice versa.

Specifically, on May 11, 2005, the new RMI Foreign Minister, Mr. deBrum, called not for increased lease payments, but for an end to U.S. Army operations at Kwajalein.   Speaking to an international audience at the Seventh Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, deBrum stated:

“After years of ICBM testing, the Marshall Islands now has the dubious distinction of hosting the US government’s missile shield testing program. The US government shoots Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) at the Marshall Islands. From an area leased by the US Army on Kwajalein Atoll, the Ronald Reagan Missile Defense Test Site, the US launches interceptor missiles at the incoming ICBMs to test the ability of these interceptors to track and destroy incoming missiles…Efforts by the Kwajalein leadership to deal with the realities which face them when the current agreement expires in 2016 have been largely ignored as the US openly and callously discusses the uses of our lands beyond 2016 and into 2086…all without our consent…We call upon the international community to extend its hands to assist the people of the Marshall Islands to extricate themselves from the legacy of the nuclear age and the burden of providing testing grounds for weapons of mass destruction.”

In light of what this statement reveals about the true personal goals of the new Foreign Minister in the RMI, it is important not to let the Economist magazine or Mr. deBrum’s local political party confuse or distract the people of the RMI, the opposition party in the RMI, the Congress, the U.S. Army or the Department of State from the real issues we face in seeking good faith implementation of the treaties between the RMI and the USA.