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Pacific Delays Render U.S.-partisanship our Greatest Enemy

2019: U.S. Navy Information Systems Technician 2nd Class K.N. Nethon from Uman, Chuuk State, F.S. Micronesia meets President Peter Christian of F.S. Micronesia. Photo Credit: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Tyrell K. Morris, U.S. Pacific Fleet.

Americans often say that we can unite around issues when it comes to the defense of our nation.

They say that if we are united, nothing can stop us.

Unfortunately, the delays to our U.S.-Pacific Islands treaties show this is not true.

After the U.S. liberated the Pacific in World War II, most of the Micronesia region became a U.N. trust territory under the responsibility of the U.S. 

These Islands began to formulate independence in the 1980s. Some became U.S. territories like the Northern Mariana Islands (1986). Others chose independence.

Three independent nations later signed to become part of the COFA. The COFA nations are the Marshall Islands (R.M.I. - 1986), Federated States of Micronesia (F.S.M. - 1986) and Palau (1994). The deals allow the U.S. exclusive military rights and other benefits over a combined sea and land territory larger than the continental U.S. This provides the U.S. with places to refuel, to place military bases and other assets, to do testing, and to maintain a healthier environment.

In exchange, the citizens of these countries receive benefits like the U.S. Postal Service, visa-free living in the U.S., U.S. Military defense, in which many of their citizens serve, and plenty of other benefits such as funding. This geostrategic partnership is considered important and popular by all nations involved.

So, you would imagine that when the renewals came up for the treaties and funding, all nations would immediately jump on board.

This is mostly true. Despite debates regarding funding, environmental regulations, among other issues, all of the involved nations signed by spring 2023.

Only U.S. Congress commitment was needed.

However, both Democrats and Republicans used the dark arts of legislative squabbling via the COFAs to achieve approval of their other goals: more funding for Ukraine (Democrats) and more funding for the southern border with Mexico (Republicans).

Democratic congress members kept attaching the COFA deals with the funding for Ukraine and the southern border, while Republicans kept voting it down. The two kept playing this back and forth while the COFA nations were in limbo.

In the meantime, the People's Republic of China (P.R.C.) was using their one-party dark arts strategy via bribes, economic guarantees and less strings attached to get these Islands to leave the U.S. Security blanket and join the P.R.C.-led sphere. 

The P.R.C. would promise vastly more funding, guaranteeing hundreds of thousands of tourists. 

From a purely economic incentive, these allies should have joined the P.R.C., but their populations are very pro-democracy, pro-civil liberties and very Christian, all qualities associated with the U.S. that the P.R.C. is alleged to be persecuting.

Therefore, the COFA nations held steadfast even as the U.S. took over a year to agree to the funding, amidst discouraging propaganda like “the U.S. does not really care about you.” After all, bipartisan support could not even get Congress to pass these bills in a timely manner suggesting the COFA nations are not important to U.S. lawmakers, let alone to the U.S. public who often are unaware these nations exist.

However, the truth is not that the U.S. does not care, rather that petty partisanship is making the U.S. ineffective in foreign affairs.

For example, the reason the bills were not approved sooner is because both parties kept attaching the funding to bills they knew the other side did not support (rider). Both tried to achieve political points by achieving funding or making the other side not appear to care about the relevant topics. Democrats could improve their perception regarding Ukraine and make Republicans appear uncaring regarding the southern border and vice versa, even if the disagreement centered on the total amount being sent to Ukraine or the southern border.

In doing so, the Pacific Islands were put into this bill to coerce the other party into caving to the rest of the bill over the importance of said funding. 

However, our congress cannot do this anymore. We cannot continue to elect leaders who use these dishonest tactics for important funding legislation such as the COFAs. It signals to our allies that they are not important and creates instability in our global defensive security. 

There will inevitably be disagreements, but this funding was agreed by all parties. It was merely political moves limiting its ascension nearly giving away our hold on the middle Pacific. 

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author.


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