Representatives of the Defense Department, State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development testified today at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, welcoming enactment of legislation providing funding for the Freely Associated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Palau.

The funding legislation, signed March 9 by President Joe Biden, provides $7.1 billion to the islands, to be distributed over a 20-year period. 

Under the compacts of Freely Associated States, the U.S. provides guaranteed financial assistance in exchange for defense guarantees. 

Ely S. Ratner, assistant secretary for Indo-Pacific security affairs, testified that this legislation will maintain America’s commitment to the Freely Associated States. 

“From a national security perspective, the Pacific Islands form an essential part of a strategically vital region,” Ratner said. 

“The U.S. military’s access and posture in the Pacific Islands are crucial for our logistics, sustainment and power projection throughout the region. Moreover, hundreds of billions of dollars in maritime trade flow through the Pacific Islands and our partners there provide critical linkages between the continental United States and our allies across the Indo-Pacific,” he said. 

That’s why the United States is strengthening its diplomatic, economic and security ties throughout the Pacific Islands. And it’s why the department plays a significant role in deepening these partnerships and sustaining its defense posture and presence, he said. 

The significance of these agreements isn’t only about building capacity through security cooperation. “We’re conducting humanitarian assistance and disaster relief activities with our partners. We’re also working together with allies and partners like Australia, Japan and New Zealand. More than ever, we’re devoting attention and resources that reflect the strategic significance of this region,” he said. 

The compacts ensure that the United States can maintain a military presence in the Freely Associated States, and they enable compacts island citizens to serve in the U.S. military, he said.

These compacts provide assured access for DOD operations, and they prevent would-be adversaries from accessing sovereign FAS land, airspace and territorial waters, Ratner said. 

Other Pacific islands are also important to DOD’s Pacific defense posture, he said, mentioning Hawaii, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Papua New Guinea and American Samoa. 

Last year, the U.S. and Papua New Guinea signed a “landmark” Defense Cooperation Agreement, he noted. 

The importance of the Pacific to U.S. and regional security is critical, at a time when China is drawing from a range of coercive tools in an attempt to erode longstanding U.S. partnerships, and advance Beijing’s own influence, he said.  

In recent years, these activities have included covert efforts to bribe local officials, economic pressure against sovereign nations that maintain diplomatic ties with Taiwan, and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing that harms both the environment and local economies, he testified. 

Ratner emphasized the whole-of-government approach to engaging with Pacific partners, lauding the efforts of the other officials also testifying: Daniel J. Kritenbrink, assistant secretary at the State Department’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs; and, Michael Schiffer, the USAID’s assistant administrator of the Bureau for Asia. 

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