Updates: Latest postings on RMI Relations with USA.




The primary reason small nations seek alliances with large nations is for stability, support and protection in times of uncertainty and crisis. The world order changes and things happen, like wars, strategic confrontation and instability that affects global economic and political systems. In a changing world, problems like inflation of global oil prices that create an energy crisis should not come as a surprise to anyone.

That is why small nations that depend on larger nations need to have a clear sense of where they seek to fit into the greater world order. If a small country has what it believes is a good deal in an alliance with a large nation, the small nation needs to have a realistic strategy for what it can expect and receive in the way of additional benefits. The RMI has an alliance with the richest and most powerful nation in the history of the world. That nation, the USA, is also the greatest force for justice and freedom in the history of the world.

Like it has in almost every generation the USA is going through a difficult period right now, but the success of the U.S. is still the best hope for the survival and success of civilization. If the people of the RMI and their leaders do not know that, then it really is time for them to try allying themselves with another nation, which is its sovereign right, and all we should say is “Good luck!”

Strategic bilateral alliances between large and small nations are usually based on a unique set of shared interests, common history, both good and bad, and trade-offs that probably can’t be duplicated in any other bilateral relationship. That is why bilateral strategic alliances between large and small nations exist. Otherwise large nations do not need such alliances with small nations.


One thing that should be clear to any sane person is that alliances between large nations and small nations don’t work and don’t survive when the small country does not meet its basic obligations under treaties defining the terms of the alliance. The large nation may not always be seen as doing what it should or could do for the small nation, and there is always a perception that the allocation of power gives the large nation the advantage and the better deal. That perception is hard to avoid. But if the larger nation is meeting its basic obligations under the terms of the alliance, the smaller nation normally is well-advised to do the same, or the alliance is going to fail sooner rather than later.



So small nations need to recognize that it is normal, not abnormal, that they have limited leverage over large nations in any bilateral strategic alliance, and they need to be able to adapt and adjust their policies as an alliance partner based on the changing social, political and economic forces at play in the alliance and in the world. If the small nation becomes unpredictable, unreliable, the large country starts to wonder if the alliance is sustainable.



That is what is going on right now in the RMI-U.S. bilateral relationship. Free association is becoming destabilized. The current government and even the Marshall Islands Journal seem to see the Compact of Free Association as a bad deal, and they see the Compact as “the problem” the RMI faces. They have been convinced somehow that the Compact is the RMI’s main problem in its relations with the USA, and that really means the bilateral alliance with USA is the RMI’s problem in its relations with rest of the world.



It even seems like some in the RMI will never be able to understand where it fits into the world order, and what its relative strengths and weaknesses may be, until the Compact of Free Association is terminated. The current leadership and the AKA political party seem to be unable to understand and see clearly what the RMI’s position in the world is under the Compact and the free association relationship, and what the RMI’s position in the world will be without the Compact. So the AKA leaders seem prepared to lead the RMI out from under the Compact and see what the future will be without free association.



Of course, the U.S. will survive if that happens, and the RMI will survive too, although maybe not as we know it today. One thing for sure, if free association ends in failure because of AKA policies, life will change in very profound ways for the RMI, but life will not change in any really significant ways for the USA.



The USA has been committed to the Compact and free association, a good and reliable treaty partner, despite those issues on which the RMI and U.S. have disagreed. Even when some of the current trade-offs of military rights for the U.S. and economic benefits for the RMI change or end, the basic relationship has been expected to continue, including the protection of the RMI by the U.S., some form of open immigration not available to any other nations, and a mutually beneficial alliance meeting a significant level of mutual needs.



But the AKA “showdown” strategy seeking to test U.S. willingness to pay more for Kwajalein has forced the U.S. to look at the possibility for relations with the RMI in a post-Compact of Free Association context. Clearly, the USA has realized it can live with that outcome if the people of the RMI and their leaders no longer have sufficient commitment to free association, and no longer find the trade-off of benefits and burdens in the alliance favorable to their nation.



However, informed self-determination on that question is not advanced by the Marshall Islands Journal editorial in its July 10 edition, which describes the U.S. policy toward the RMI in conspiratorial terms, as if the U.S. is spending a lot of time trying to figure out how to manipulate RMI politics and force the RMI to accept continuation of free association. Anyone who understands U.S. policy toward the RMI knows the U.S. did not agree to AKA party demands and in the absence of any mutually beneficial agreed upon alternative arrangements is simply holding the RMI accountable for its treaty obligations. The fact that the AKA is demanding more money for Kwajalein does not mean the U.S. or the former government in the RMI “ignored” the “Kwajalein problem” or “failed” to address an issue on the alliance agenda. It just means the U.S. did not accept the demands of the AKA, and the RMI government ratified terms for use of Kwajalein that the U.S. was willing to accept.



Is this really so hard to understand? It is true free association is a status that exist on the plane of sovereign mutuality in international law, but that does not mean the two parties have equal bargaining power in the relationship. The idea that the U.S. needs Kwajalein so badly that the RMI can stage a shake down and name its price may be a long held personal fantasy of some RMI leaders, but it is a fantasy more typical of a narcissistic adolescent, who wants all of his needs met on his terms, without accountability for meeting the needs and expectations of the real world.



The MIJ also promotes the idea that former U.S. treaty negotiator Albert Short published an editorial, calling for the RMI to live up to its obligations under the Compact, because the U.S. is now realizing the Compact is “deficient” in not providing enough funding to the RMI. This too borders on the delusional. Most U.S. government officials believe, and assume the American people would agree, that the Compact of Free Association is a very good deal for the RMI. The unresolved legal and political legacy of nuclear testing and the developmental problems of a remote island society notwithstanding, the American perspective is that free association is a positive U.S. policy favorable to the RMI. That is unlikely to change as a result of the internal U.S. political process or changes in what political parties are in power in Washington.



Yet, the MIJ and AKA are so conspiratorial about the Washington Times editorial that both the newspaper and the party alleged a plot because the WT op-ed by Short came out in July, and refers to an article in the Economist from back in January. Did it ever occur to the MIJ that the editorial was submitted months ago, but it is a topic that could not compete for space in the newspaper in a year when there is a lot of more important news to report? We did some checking, and confirmed that is exactly what happened.



The MIJ is not helping the people of the RMI understand the reality of their choices and decisions as a nation by writing editorials that are full of unsubstantiated and provocative allegations. The idea that the U.S. State Department is “gunning” for the RMI political leadership is so simplistic and misleading that it impedes informed democratic decisions by the RMI people. Someone needs to give the RMI people a more intellectually sound assessment of the current situation than the MIJ and some RMI leaders are giving them right now. The MIJ description of the U.S. position is so replete with over-simplified clichés that it is like a comic strip or cartoon version of events, full of contrived scenarios.



We admire and respect the MIJ editor, Giff Johnson, but that editorial has us wondering if someone over at MIJ is spending too much time at the Kava Club with Imata Kabua and Tony deBrum.



Let’s get real about all this. In both the RMI and U.S. government there are officials who have personal emotions and feelings that are positive and negative about free association, some want to make concessions to avoid tensions and some want to impose sanctions to call the RMI’s bluff. Some version of those dynamics is true of every bilateral relationship between every nation. But it is the function of governments to ensure that treaties are carried out faithfully, and the art of diplomacy is to ensure that treaties are honored without undue or non-productive disruption related to the idiosyncrasies of the internal political processes of the governments that are parties to a treaty.



Both the RMI and the U.S. have internal legislative, executive and judicial processes that affect treaty implementation. The personal attitudes of officials in both governments run the full range across the spectrum. There will always be those in both governments who want to sustain the alliance and see it succeed, and there are those in both governments who want to see it end. In both governments most officials are somewhere in between. If those who are in between tend to see the alliance as a success story that serves the mutual interest of both nations better than the alternatives that are available, then the treaty and the alliance will be implemented according to its terms and will be sustained.



There will always be a bilateral agenda of unresolved issues, but in the absence of agreement on issues that remain discretionary for the two governments, the non-discretionary obligations of the treaty must be satisfied in order for the alliance to survive.



The MIJ promotes the same kind of confused thinking that is creating a destabilizing crisis for the RMI, suggesting that the U.S. has some kind of incentive or reason to “think out side the box,” which to the MIJ means the U.S. should make concessions on unresolved discretionary matters in the bilateral relationship, before the RMI will uphold and honor its non-discretionary obligations.



In diplomacy and treaty relations there is a word for that. In fact, there are several words that can be used to describe that tactic, including “renunciation,” “breach,” or even “diplomatic blackmail.” The idea that the RMI can now make a proposal for U.S. concessions on discretionary matters as a price it must pay before the RMI will met its obligations is not something the U.S. expects from a close ally. It is more like the tactics the U.S. expects from unfriendly nations.



Indeed, many people inside and outside the RMI find it odd and self-defeating that the leaders of the current RMI administration are calling on the U.S. to provide increased funding for energy costs, and U.S. support for forgiveness of ADB debt, as part of a possible “deal” on Kwajalein. Both of those proposals are above and beyond what the U.S. is obligated to do under the Compact, but the RMI leaders are talking like the U.S. has a binding obligation to do those things. Even if the U.S. would like to do something more than the Compact requires out of friendship, as it often has done, the RMI is in no position to demand more, especially at a time when it is not meeting its actual existing obligations under the Compact, including to secure the base rights at Kwajalein, as agreed in the Military Use and Operating Rights Agreement.



The AKA leaders and even the Marshall Islands Journal incorrectly state that it was the Note Administration that approved the MOURA and the Kwajalein payment agreement. That is wrong, and that is not how the U.S. and the rest of the world see it. It was the government of the RMI that approved the Kwajalein agreement, acting through its constitutional process to ratify the treaty agreement on Kwajalein use. The RMI can not pick and choose which treaties it will honor and which it will not, based on internal politics, without accountability. The RMI can renounce the MOURA as an act of national sovereignty, based on its determination that it would be in the best interest of the RMI, as long as it is prepared for the consequences. But the RMI can not refuse to meet its obligations under an agreement just because the current party in power does not agree with the former party in power.



President Clinton could not have repudiated the Compact of Free Association, just because it was signed into law by President Reagan. That is not how this is done. Someone needs to explain this to Tony deBrum. No, on second thought, he knows it, and he wants to repudiate the treaty. It is a personal game for him. It is the implications of his actions that need to be explained to the people, so they can decide if he is really representing them and their real interests. That is what the MIJ is supposed to be doing, but instead the MIJ is reinforcing the flawed logic and high risk personal games being played by Mr. deBrum.



But more simply, people in the RMI need to realize that the trade-off in the Compact is one of U.S. military rights for RMI benefits that include open immigration to the U.S. and U.S. protection. That trade-off does not work if the RMI does not honor its treaty on military use rights. That puts the open immigration and strategic partnership in the Compact at risk.



The value of the Compact to the RMI is a close and stable relationship and alliance, but right now that is being risked and the association of our nations is being destabilized by RMI refusal to honor its treaty commitments. That makes it less logical or attractive for the U.S. to provide anything beyond what is already in the Compact, especially when the RMI will not even do what it promised to do to secure U.S. military rights.



It has been said that island societies tend to look out at the rest of the world and see themselves, as if there is a giant mirror all around them. The result is people who are just talking to themselves and seeing only their own image when they try to look out at the world. That creates a distorted view of reality, which explains how the MIJ came up with a conspiracy theory that Al Short’s Washington Times editorial on Kwajalein was part of some U.S. State Department disinformation campaign.



The AKA is attempting, in effect,  to suppress open debate by asserting that anyone in the U.S. or RMI who disagrees with the actions and policies of the RMI is trying to bring down the current RMI Administration. So anyone who criticizes government policy is part of the conspiracy. And so we have to be silent or we are part of the conspiracy. Even if we simply disagree with AKA leadership policy, to be safe from AKA accusations, even blacklisting, or McCarthyism tactics of personal political persecution, we need to be silent.



Meanwhile, the AKA regime now in power argues that the U.S. and the former administration have neglected a problem, ignored a problem, and made it a worse problem, by not simply agreeing to all AKA demands for more funding for Kwajalein. The implication is that turning down demands for more money means the U.S. and RMI are not solving a problem. But the problem is that there is no LUA between private landowners and the RMI, not that there is no military rights agreement between the U.S. and the RMI. Thus, the RMI simply needs to decide if it will take the internal political and legal steps required to meet its treaty obligations.



The Compact and the military rights agreements already embody and reflect a set of trade-offs and an allocation of benefits and burdens that was arrived at through a deliberative process. These agreements already embody the optimal win-win scenario possible at this time for the U.S. and RMI. The idea that the U.S. will make terms for addressing new challenges faced by the RMI, including energy costs, a part of a deal under which the RMI will meet its pre-existing obligations is simply sloppy and unprincipled diplomacy by the RMI.



History teaches that the U.S. does more for its allies who are acting in good faith than it does for treaty partners acting in bad faith. If any proposal the RMI now makes is based on its unconditional good faith compliance with its obligations, that will create the best and only constructive context for addressing other problems and concerns on the RMI agenda as bilateral issues. The U.S. does not stay where it is not wanted once it has determined its national interest allows it to leave. The MIJ thinks there is a conspiracy to force the RMI to comply, but there may be those in Congress and the Executive Branch in the U.S. who personally hope the RMI does not comply. They remember well when the Philippines were told the U.S was leaving because its presence based on existing agreements was not wanted by that nation any longer.



For the MIJ to tell the public in the RMI that the Compact of Free Association represents the personal opinions and individual will of “Al Short…and his negotiating team’s positions,” is misleading and wrong. Those treaties have been constitutionally ratified by both governments, and no longer represent the personal will of officials in the former RMI and U.S. administrations. The MIJ assertion that U.S. expectation the RMI will meet its obligations is really an attempt to “bring down” the current RMI leadership, because there is “no love lost between the State Department and the current government,” is more akin to AKA propaganda than serious analysis.



That is dangerous brinkmanship, particularly given the threats to geopolitical stability in the world today. If the RMI wants the U.S. to encourage the ADB and other donor nations to “think outside the box” on energy costs, the RMI needs to “think inside the box” about accountability for its sovereign obligations under the Compact.


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