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Defense Department Praises Compacts for Securing US National Security Priorities

At a press conference yesterday, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) highlighted the recent passage of the Compacts of Free Association (COFAs).

“As a result,” of the COFAs, she stated, “our national security priorities in the Pacific and economic assistance to the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Republic of Palau will now extend well into the 2040s.”

She further explained that “[t]he compacts ensure that the United States, and only the United States, can maintain a military presence in the freely associated states (FAS).”

The DoD statement underscores the secure foothold that U.S. national security priorities have in the Pacific region through the COFAs.  The remarks also touch on the limits on the three FAS in building their own military strength, either independently or in partnership with any other nation.

COFA nations do not have their own militaries, but their citizens – who are not US citizens – may nonetheless serve in the US military, as many FAS citizens  do.  Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Ben. Cardin (D-MD) noted yesterday at a congressional hearing that over 1,000 citizens from the FAS now serve in the U.S. armed forces, a significant amount given that the collective population of the three nations is not much over 100,000 people.

In recognition of the high level of military participation by FAS nations, the new COFAs implement, for the first time, basic health care for U.S. veterans who live in those nations.  The health care services will be run out of the Veterans Affairs Administration according to terms that will be established in an upcoming rulemaking.

FAS status for Puerto Rico?

One of the status options in the Puerto Rico Status Act, legislation passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in 2022 and remains pending in Congress, is “Sovereign Free Association.” The news about the current FAS makes it clear that free association is not a new political status as much as a type of treaty – a Compact – between two independent nations in which the U.S. maintains national security over the region. The United States has signed Compacts with the current FAS in order to maintain military rights in the Indo-Pacific region.


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