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New words for a new Compact



Pacific Reflections By Gabriel McCoard

I’ll give Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr. credit for one thing. Actually, I have tremendous respect for him, so I’ll give him credit for many things. But one stands out. Per Island Times Palau coverage of a Compact-related press conference in early February, he acknowledged that the Compacts of Free Association are permanent.


Referring to American “perpetual defense rights,” he stated, “We can look at U.S. military use of our country as another source of revenue into our economy. They continue to use the country beyond 2044, then financial support to Palau should also continue beyond 2044.”


What he did not mention were “perpetual rights” for Palauans to travel and work in the U.S. without visas or much formal approval.


So can we please, once and for all, drop the term “Compact Renegotiation?”


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I’ve ranted about the term “Compact Renegotiation” before, and will likely do so again. The only matter up for renegotiation is financial assistance.


I don’t even like calling it financial assistance. Let’s come up with something blunter. Charity?


While we’re at it, we need new terms for statecraft. The events of the past 20-plus years have showcased that non-nations can indeed be active participants in global affairs. “Non-state actors” have wrought considerable damage to the world order (again, let’s be blunt: call them terrorists, often with the support of states) while non-sovereign currencies, better known as crypto, seek to upend global finance beyond the control of a sovereign nation. As it turns out, crypto needs a sovereign power grid – much of it in the form of coal from the Xinjiang region of Western China – to function.


Then there are inter-governmental organizations, multi-lateral development banks, non-governmental organizations, corporations and the consulting class, whose members are typically agents of one of the above. Multilateral development banks and their domestic equivalent, national development banks, aren’t really banks (my pocket edition of Black’s Law Dictionary lacks a definition for “development bank”) but they do serve an equivalent role of sending nations into debt. Come to think of it, so do IGOs, NGOs, and the international development industry in general. I use the term “industry” deliberately.


Then there are the loosely assembled do-gooders, whose do-goodery costs more than the economies of most nations, but whose service is more about the perfect social media selfie and their identity as good, sophisticated citizens of the world than it is about the people they’re ostensibly helping.


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The evangelicals and missionaries who do things like go to Uganda to care for sick children, and, per various accusations, end up with dead babies because they didn’t know how to provide actual medical care.


Or the voluntourists who undercut local businesses by working for free or pay tens of thousands of dollars to work for free building a school, for instance, thereby creating an economic incentive for the project to never be completed.


Or the climate change enthusiast fan army that every year generates more than the GDP of most nations to travel to the Climate Change Olympics, by which I mean the Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.


So, I propose a few more terms for statecraft.


How about RINO, or SINO – Republic in Name Only or Sovereign in Name Only. Say, a country that has a seat at the UN but can’t – or won’t – provide basic needs. Like foreign donors being expected to provide basic infrastructure while leaders go “off-island.”


Or how a nation dependent on tourism likewise can’t – or won’t – act like a functioning society.


We can call those Sovereign Resorts.


Which brings us back to compact funding.


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The details of any of the memoranda of understanding struck with the compact jurisdictions have not yet been made public. Presumably, that will be done when the next budget is proposed, but Biden has his hands full with the current budget impasse.


It’s a legitimate question for Congress to ask why the U.S. will pay more money to exercise a right it already has. Or perhaps to suggest an entry fee for foreign arrivals into the U.S. Americans must pay departure fees, after all. How much does it cost to leave Palau now?


Palau is very much an outlier in the region. While Covid definitely threw a wrench into the national works, Palau has witnessed sustained economic growth. Or at least foreign investment.


Funny how “colonialism” doesn’t seem to get thrown around when there’s money being offered. Nor has a real compact renegotiation ending entry rights that might end talks of the Micronesian diaspora.


The U.S. doesn’t provide welfare. Instead, the U.S. provides financial assistance that largely derives from a law named “Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.”


Maybe the U.S. should be blunter with foreign aid and pass a law called Temporary Assistance for Needy Nations.


But I suspect it would go to more than needy nations.


And not be temporary.


Gabriel McCoard is an attorney who previously worked in Palau and Chuuk State. Send feedback to gabrieljmccoard@hotmail.com.



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