Imagining a Micronesian Island Country Summit
By Michael Walsh In the coming months, the United States government will need to successfully complete negotiations on the renewed Compacts of Free Association with the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia in order to maintain these enduring partnerships.
In parallel, the United States government will need to somehow restore its strategic partnership with Kiribati before it buckles under the foreign authoritarian influence of China.
These are major policy initiatives that carry significant risks of failure. That begs the question of whether it was wise for the Biden administration to convene a regional summit at this time.
There were other courses of action available. For example, the Biden administration could have convened a subregional summit with Nauru, Kiribati and the freely associated states. There, the National Security Council could have delivered a strategic roadmap for building an enduring partnership system between Micronesia and the United States.
That roadmap could have been targeted at the specific needs of the Micronesian peoples. Instead of a National Strategy on the Pacific islands, it could have called for a National Strategy for Free Association.
Alongside a commitment to counter the impacts of climate change, it could have included a commitment to fix the nuclear legacy problem in the Marshall Islands. In addition to supporting democracy, good governance, and indigenous rights in Micronesia, it could have supported prosperity and security for COFA migrants living in the United States.
Counter the turn toward regionalism, it could have expressed an intention to extend new compacts of free association to Kiribati and Nauru.
If the Biden administration had pursued such a subregional course of action, then one has to wonder whether the Marshall Islands would have still called off their scheduled session of the compact negotiations last week. Or whether Kiribati would have still declined their invitation to attend the summit.
Michael Walsh is an affiliate of the Center for Australian, New Zealand, and Pacific Studies at the School of Foreign Service of Georgetown University.