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DOD Applauds Funding for Pacific's Freely Associated States

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.

A sailor signals to a helicopter aboard a ship at sea.
Signaling Sailor
Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Nelson Benetmorales signals a SH-60K helicopter aboard the USNS Mercy during Pacific Partnership, a humanitarian assistance and disaster relief preparedness mission in the Indo-Pacific, in Palau, July 19, 2022.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Jacob Woitzel
VIRIN: 220719-N-AU520-2030M

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. 

Sailors work on the wall of a building during a renovation project.
Wall Overhaul
Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Nick Juhl, left, and Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Bill Redmond, remove shavings and dust from a wall panel during a renovation project at the Tomil Municipal Center in Yap, Micronesia, Aug. 23, 2023.
Photo By: Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Trent A. Henry
VIRIN: 230823-M-FP389-1066
A sailor takes measurements of an opening in a wall.
Renovation Project
Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Nick Juhl, a builder with Task Force Koa Moana 23, obtains the measurement of the width of a wall during a renovation project at the Tomil Municipal Center on Yap, Micronesia, Aug. 23, 2023. The island of Yap is a part of Task Force Koa Moana’s deployment throughout the Indo-Pacific region, where Marines and sailors from the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force work to strengthen alliances and partnerships with development of interoperable capabilities, combined operations, theater security cooperation, and capacity-building efforts.
Photo By: Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Trent A. Henry
VIRIN: 230823-M-FP389-1302

"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.

Two men in military uniforms kneel in the dirt in a jungle environment.  Other military personnel are nearby.
Tamiok Strike
Soldiers from the Army’s 130th Engineer Brigade, 8th Military Police Brigade, 10th Support Group, and Security Force Assistance Brigade conduct jungle survival techniques taught by the Papua New Guinea Defense Force during Exercise Tamiok Strike 2022 in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, on March 30, 2022. This week, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III is traveling to Papua New Guinea. He is the first U.S. defense secretary to do so.
Photo By: Army Sgt. Kyler Chatman
VIRIN: 220330-A-ME245-1002

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. 

Two men shake hands with an American flag in the background.
Leader Meeting
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III greets Papua New Guinean Prime Minister James Marape in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, July 27, 2023. Austin is the first ever sitting U.S. secretary of defense to visit the South Pacific island.
Photo By: Chad J. McNeeley, DOD
VIRIN: 230727-D-TT977-1132

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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