The U.S. has exclusive rights over the land, water and air otherwise controlled by the Freely Associated States. The U.S. may overrule related government policies deemed inconsistent with U.S. defense policy (the “defense veto”) and may deny access to these nations by military forces of any other nation (the “right of strategic denial”).
A Freely Associated State (FAS) is an independent nation that has signed a comprehensive agreement with the United States called a Compact of Free Association (COFA) that governs diplomatic, economic, and military relations with the United States.
There are currently three FAS: the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia.
Under the Compacts, the FAS are sovereign nations that conduct their own foreign policy. Their citizens are not U.S. citizens. The nations receive very limited financial aid from the U.S. and its citizens do not qualify for public benefits such as Medicaid, Medicare or Social Security.
The United States is obligated to defend the Freely Associated States militarily and may overrule FAS government policies that it considers inconsistent with its defense of the FAS, including denying access to the FAS by third countries. Under these terms, the U.S. exercises a great deal of control over the waterways of the FAS nations.
The United States may establish military bases in the FAS, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands is home to a premier U.S. military facility, the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site, which is located on Kwajalein atoll. The U.S. has complete control over the Kwajalein Missile Range, where it regularly conducts intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) testing and space surveillance activities.
The COFA agreements between the U.S. and the Freely Associated States are not permanent, and current COFA agreement expire starting in 2023. The current compact between the U.S. and RMI extends U.S. base rights at Kwajalein Atoll through 2066 with an option to continue the arrangement for an additional 20 years. Other aspects of the agreements, including financial support, must be renegotiated.
A Free Associated State cannot unilaterally set the terms of the agreement or make them permanent. Like all international agreements, either nation can unilaterally terminate the association.
As a Free Associated State, Puerto Rico would have to negotiate the terms of its relationship with the U.S. without the benefit of a Resident Commissioner or any other representation within Congress.
As is the case with the current FAS, continued permanent U.S. citizenship could not be guaranteed, existing levels of federal financial support would probably decrease substantially, a new court system would have to be created, and continued national security protection would come with strings that Puerto Rico would be unable to control.
If Puerto Rico were unable to negotiate acceptable terms with the U.S., its only recourse would be to refuse the FAS relationship and become completely independent. Statehood would no longer be an option.
Read more about Free Association:
Is it possible to repackage a rejected “enhanced commonwealth” status as “free association”?
The federal government has said clearly that Puerto Rico as a Freely Associated State could not count on keeping U.S. citizenship. Read the statements made by every branch of the government.
See how the federal government has responded to efforts to relabel “enhanced commonwealth” as “Free Association.”
What would a Compact of Free Association between Puerto Rico and the United States look like?
Territories tend to receive more generous health benefits than Freely Associated States.
In Free Association arrangements, either side can change the deal at any time. Puerto Rico cannot, for example, guarantee that the United States will allow citizens of a republic of Puerto Rico to keep their U.S. citizenship forever. See how the law works.
Puerto Rico could become a Freely Associated State, but it’s necessary to be aware of the possible drawbacks.