In Aotearoa New Zealand, it is considered the “North Pacific” and even as “Polynesia” which Radio New Zealand recently did. From Hawai‘i and United States-centric locations, Micronesia(n) is considered “West(ern) Pacific” and frequently in a negative way. The entire Micronesian region is comprised of 2,100 islands and spans 2,900,000 square miles, yet the islands and archipelagos are not visible on maps. Varying political and legal frameworks govern the region which impacts how trade, migration, climate change adaptation, and United States (US) military expansion and recruitment is carried out.
Four archipelagos make up Micronesia: the Caroline Islands, the Gilbert Islands, the Mariana Islands, the Marshall Islands, as well as the island of Nauru and Wake Atoll. These geographical island groups are socially and culturally connected through wayfinding and seafaring histories and were divided and segmented during colonial times. After World War II, the region (except for territory of Guam) was consolidated into the Strategic Pacific Islands Trust Territory, a United Nations trusteeship administered first by the US Navy between 1947– 1951, then the US Department of the Interior from 1951–1986. It was during this time that the US carried out 67 nuclear detonations in the Pacific Proving Grounds.
The region politically evolved into the diverse forms of island governments and sovereign countries we recognise today. Despite varying forms of political status, nearly all remain bound to the US through funding and aid packages in exchange for US defence control over the lands and seas. Separate political arrangements across Micronesia make for complex relationships and differential treatment by the US. Specifically, the political relationship greatly impacts the current economic systems and programs implemented today.
Three independent nations in Micronesia include the Federated States of Micronesia; consisting of the four island states of Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei & Kosrae; The Republic of Palau; and The Republic of the Marshall Islands. Each sovereign government entered into an agreement, considered the Compact of Free Association (COFA), which outlines that the US will provide economic aid for a negotiated amount of time. This agreement considers the island nations as self-governing states which are allowed to conduct their own foreign affairs. The agreement also grants “full authority and responsibility” for military defence to the United States, even after the financial assistance from the US ends.
The two additional independent nations in Micronesia are The Republic of Kiribati (sometimes grouped into Polynesia on maps) which has a “treaty of friendship” with the US, and Nauru, a former Australia-administered trusteeship, which is the location of the controversial immigration detention centre.
The United States continues to control three territories in Micronesia, including the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), Guam, and uninhabited Wake Atoll. While these locations are essentially equivalent to “possessions” belong to the US, the US government has determined that the “possession” is “no longer current colloquial usage.”
“Insular areas” of the United States refers to several political arrangements; freely associated state(s), Commonwealth, and territory. These are explored in more detail below:
Due to how the different political statuses are is directly tied to the United States at varying degrees, these relationships influence current conservation efforts, climate change policies (or lack thereof) as well as expanding militarisation and ongoing lawsuits involving environmental protection.
Each location in Micronesia offers a unique history and continues to perpetuate diverse knowledge(s); safe-guarding seafaring and celestial navigation technologies in the Caroline Islands, the UNESCO heritage site of Nan Mandal, and leading the fight against climate change. Stories of nuclear legacies in the Marshall Islands as well as the historic struggle for a nuclear-free constitution in Palau is paired with contemporary high rates of enlistees in the US Armed Services.
These issues and stories will be expanded on and highlight in forthcoming blog posts.