Government of the Federated States of Micronesia


Salem, Oregon, February 23, 1990

Check Against Delivery

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It is a great honor for me to address this important conference. I want to thank the President for extending his gracious invitation to me to return to my old campus, and I certainly must also thank all those who have worked so hard to make this event possible.

Speaking as only one of the many of my people who have been blessed to attend this fine institution, we can all be proud that today, a Micronesian is featured in a discussion of self-determination and democracy in the Pacific. As a student here, I believed like most students that anything was possible, but in those days the "Era of The Pacific" was only poised to begin, and even the basic structure of my country was not yet determined.

Quite honestly, as I stand here now, that time does not seem long ago at all, but I know that there is not a Pacific person in this room, from whatever country, who is not affected by the events in our region that have occurred since then. Thus, I am privileged to offer a brief viewpoint of my own people's experience during this critical period of history.

When I first thought about speaking on "Self-Determination and Democracy in the Federated States of Micronesia," I was afraid the subject would be almost impossible to cover within these short remarks. After all, many of the basic principles of Democracy have been part of the Micronesian culture longer than anyone can now remember. As for self- determination, the process that led to the formation of our country was started in the early 1960's, and it took over twenty years of internal and external debates, negotiations and votes before the goal was reached.

But after giving it a good bit of thought, I realized that the basic story can be told rather simply. The details become complicated, but the real value lies in the fundamentals, much like the legends passed down orally in our traditional island culture. I am going to speak first of Democracy as my people have long known it, because without democratic processes, our self-determination would not have been achieved.

Like many Pacific peoples, it is only in more recent times that Micronesians' political interests have expanded beyond the shores of our individual islands. But for many generations before that, in villages and on atolls throughout Micronesia, the most important decisions affecting our lives were made in about as democratic a fashion as can be imagined. I refer, of course, to the practice of decision-making by consensus. This practice is deeply rooted in our culture. It is neither majority rule nor minority rule. Instead, it is a dedicated effort by all concerned to reach agreement on a common approach. It often frustrates those, especially outsiders, who desire a fast decision, dictated, perhaps, by some powerful individual, but it certainly guarantees due respect for all points of view.

So, with the consensus principle in our blood, it was inevitable that when we gathered together to design a government that could address broader interests that government would take a form recognizable to the outside world as Democracy. For Micronesians, anything else would have been revolutionary - and we are not inclined toward revolution.

Thus, today, our Nation is organized at the national level and in our four states under constitutions democratically adopted, with the same three separate branches of government, executive, legislative and judicial, that most of you are probably familiar with. Our 14-member unicameral Congress is directly elected, and our President and Vice President are chosen by the Congress, from among its membership, for fixed, four-year terms. Our federal judges are appointed, with the advice and consent of the Congress. We apply much the same system of separation of powers and checks and balances as are utilized in the United States.

But even though our Constitutions might, on their face, appear to have been influenced by Western democratic examples, they are tailored to incorporate special features of our society, such as the continuing role of traditional leaders. And while it is not expressed in our laws, the age-old consensus principle is still in the background of our governmental actions. I am happy, then, to say that things like individual freedoms, minority rights, the rule of law and orderly process are continuing in modern-day Micronesia, even as we have joined together as a Nation.

With that background, I would like to turn now to the subject I am most grateful to be able to discuss today, namely, my people's long and successful struggle for self-determination. I am grateful because the World needs to understand correctly how we came to take our place as a Nation, and unfortunately, there has been some misunderstanding. Occasions such as this give us a valuable opportunity to present the facts that give an accurate picture of the Federated States of Micronesia.

Most people who follow Pacific affairs are familiar with the fact that following World War II Micronesia became a United Nations Trust Territory administered by the United States, that we negotiated with the United States for roughly twenty years to define post-Trusteeship relations between us, and that we finally agreed to continue a close relationship with the United States as provided in a document known as the "Compact of Free Association. " What some fail to realize, however, is that the Compact, important as it is to us, is only tangential to the process of self- determination which unfolded alongside, but apart from, the long Compact negotiations.

At this point I am going to mention a vital fact, which I will ask you to keep in mind as we go along. The Compact of Free Association is not organic to Micronesian sovereignty. It is not an instrument which transfers sovereignty to the Micronesian people. It is a treaty, entered into by two co-equal sovereigns, and made effective, not unilaterally, but by the constitutional processes of each. The importance of this fact cannot be overemphasized.

It is not surprising that there should be confusion on this point, because there is a superficial resemblance between Micronesia's former Trusteeship status and the relationship of a colony to its parent country. Colonies, which are non-sovereign by definition, can only obtain sovereignty through a unilateral grant from their parent. This has been seen time and time again in recent years, and international observers have become accustomed to it. In such a case whatever document makes the parent's concession is organic to the sovereignty of the former colony.

But, as I have said, that is not the case with Micronesia. It is not the case because the United States never assumed, obtained or exercised sovereignty over the inhabitants of the Trust Territory. For that matter, though it is now an academic point, most authorities agree that Japan also never had sovereignty over Micronesia. In any case, the United States took pains from the outset of the Trusteeship to make it clear on the record that it was not assuming sovereignty over the former Japanese mandated islands. There is actually no way that the United States could have done so, because the United Nations was not in possession of Micronesian sovereignty and therefore had nothing to convey to the United States. The Micronesian people had never consented to any transfer of their sovereignty, either to the United Nations or to the United States, or to anyone else. Micronesia had not, at any point in history, been a party to or consented to or associated itself with the Charter of the United Nations. For that matter, the Micronesian people were not consulted as to the establishment of the Trust Territory of the Pacific.

Why does this matter to us today? It matters because it is the key to overcoming the obstacles that are being thrown up against us by some, presumably friendly nations, who, in their effort to protect interests of their own, seek to prevent Micronesia indefinitely from participating in its own name and right in international affairs. This is intolerable for us. Since we can no longer rely on the Trusteeship we must deal directly with other nations and international organizations to fulfill certain critical needs and to develop. The irony is that Article One of the United Nations Charter lists as one of the basic purposes of the UN the development of "friendly relations among nations" based on respect for the principle of "self-determination of peoples." Yet, the parties I mention continue to argue irrelevant points about UN Trusteeship termination procedures as though they, and not the Micronesian people, are the gatekeepers of Micronesian self-determination. They may be well-intentioned, but they are wrong, and I want you to understand why they are wrong.

The argument by our detractors is that Micronesia can never be a State in the international community until the Trusteeship has been terminated in accordance with their interpretation of proper UN procedures. But this argument assumes that Micronesian sovereignty is not in Micronesian hands, and that our right of self-determination is somehow an incomplete right, subject to preconditions set by the United Nations. These are incorrect assumptions.

Given that sovereignty resided with the Micronesian people throughout the Trusteeship period, it follows that their unilateral actions in carrying out a constitutional convention in 1975, in adopting that constitution in a plebiscite in 1978 and in electing and installing a government pursuant to that constitution in 1979 were all sovereign acts of self-determination. None of these acts needed the permission or approval of the United States or the United Nations, nor were they limited or controlled by the United States or the United Nations in any way. The United Nations Trusteeship Council, accepting the reports of various visiting missions, acknowledged that this had been a valid act of self- determination. That endorsement, however, as much as we welcomed it, had no legal significance.

In 1979, the United States and the new Micronesian Government began to cooperate immediately in an orderly transfer of functions from the Trust Territory Government. The pace was governed by the ability and readiness of my Government to assume specific functions. The United States, with our permission, retained residual responsibilities for government in its capacity as Trustee until we were ready to take full control, and it could report that its obligations under the Trusteeship Agreement had been fulfilled. This took place in May 1986, and the two governments agreed to implement their new relationship on November 3, 1986. At that point the FSM Constitution was fully implemented, Micronesian self-determination was complete, and the Trusteeship could have no further application to Micronesia.

While our constitutional and governmental development was taking place, Micronesian representatives were also negotiating with the United States on the nature of a post-Trusteeship relationship between the countries. Early on, it had been thought that the relationship would be similar to other examples of something called "Free Association," a loosely defined status in which a smaller political body, which might or might not be fully sovereign, relies on a larger state for the conduct of external functions like defense and foreign relations. But as time went on, both the United States and Micronesia realized that, for different reasons, it was important to both that the world see a clean break between the Trusteeship and whatever came after, and that there should be no mistaking Micronesia's full sovereignty. Thus, the terms of the Compact of Free Association finally evolved so that Micronesia would be managing its own foreign affairs and looking to the United States only for its defense.

The Micronesian Constitution had provided for the reality that our new country might at first have to rely on a more established power as its agent for some purposes. A special procedure for the approval of treaties delegating major governmental powers was inserted, and it should not be overlooked that, while we were looking at the United States as our most likely partner, it was not the only possibility in the minds of the delegates to the constitutional convention. In the end the Compact of Free Association was ratified by both governments. Having followed the provisions of our Constitution, we in the FSM thereby delegated to the United States the defense function, according to the terms of the treaty. Again, let me stress this critical point. The Micronesian Government was not given governmental powers of any kind by the United States, through the Compact or by any other means. It possesses full governmental power and authority through a sovereign process of self-determination carried out by the Micronesian people. Thus, the fact that under the Compact the United States has the responsibility for our security and defense is not a consequence of the United States retaining anything or conveying less than full self-government to Micronesia. Our governmental power was never something the United States possessed to convey.

You might ask, "Why does it make such a difference? Isn't the practical result the same either way?" The answer is that while there may be no practical difference in the way the defense responsibility is carried out, there is a great difference in the way that other nations are obliged to view and treat Micronesia under international law. Looking back again at the colonial situation I mentioned earlier, if a parent country chooses to devolve some, but not all governmental powers on its former colony, that new entity cannot be regarded as fully sovereign. It will not be treated as a State within the international community. On the other hand, where a State, such as the Federated States of Micronesia has emerged into full sovereign self-government through a process of self-determination, it is well-accepted in international law that that State can, even immediately, delegate substantial governmental powers to another State without compromising either its sovereignty or its Statehood. So you see, it is important to keep all the concentrated events of my country's recent history in their proper compartments.

There has been a good deal of hand-wringing over the past several years by those who miss the point about our self-determination and want to insist that the United States has "held back" governmental powers to some degree that strikes them as offensive, so that they conclude Micronesia just doesn't make the grade of having achieved self- government. To those I merely say that the shape and content of the governmental power that Micronesia chose to delegate to the United States was an informed decision of the people, and the delegation was accomplished in strict conformity with our Constitution which makes explicit provision for just such action.

There are yet others who say that unless and until the United Nations procedures are carried out for terminating the Trusteeship, (and no one seems able to agree what those procedures are), Micronesia must remain a ward of the United Nations and cannot be accepted into the international community. To those I say that the UN Trusteeship system was never intended to operate so as to inhibit self-determination, Self- determination has not only occurred, but it has even been certified as such by one of the principal organs of the UN, The Trusteeship Council.

The United States and my Government are in full agreement that since Micronesia's self-determination is complete and its constitutional self- government fully implemented, whatever basis there might have been for the application of the Trusteeship to Micronesia has disappeared. This is both a matter of law and a matter of fact, which is understood and accepted by a growing number of nations of the world, as well as by courts of law. Essentially, it is an expression of respect for self- determination, consistent with Article I of the UN Charter.

If it pleases certain UN Members to regard some nominal vestige of the Trusteeship as still applying to Micronesia pending the execution of internal procedures, I do not choose to argue that point. I do insist, however, that procedural considerations cannot properly be invoked by individual members to nullify basic purposes listed in the Charter itself, and especially not to defeat self-determination.

The final section of these remarks, and I do appreciate your patience, is perhaps the most upbeat part. It is where I tell you how, despite the difficulties I have just gone over, our friends in the world have made it possible for us to provide the most convincing evidence of all that we exist - State practice.

My lawyers tell me that some years ago, at a conference in Montevideo, the international community agreed on the basic characteristics that would entitle a political entity to recognition as a State, internationally speaking. To qualify, the entity must have:

  1. a defined territory;
  2. a permanent population;
  3. an established government; and
  4. the capacity to conduct relations with other States.

No one can dispute that the FSM measures up to the first three of these requirements, and as to the fourth, not only is our capacity for international dealings clear as a matter of Constitutional expression it has been proved on the world stage.

Since November 3, 1986, when we fully implemented our self- government, FSM citizens have traveled only with Micronesian passports. The old Trust Territory passports are no longer valid, and since the FSM does not recognize dual citizenship, the FSM passport is the only valid travel document for a Micronesian citizen.

Up to now the Federated States of Micronesia has established diplomatic relations with thirteen countries of the world. We have exchanged resident ambassadors with the United States and completely replaced the old Trusteeship apparatus with relations conforming to the Vienna Convention. Ambassadors from Australia and the Philippines also have taken up residence in Pohnpei, our capital, and they are soon to be joined by the Ambassador of the Peoples' Republic of China. We maintain resident ambassadors also in Suva, Fiji, and in Tokyo. Non- resident ambassadors have been accredited to the FSM from Japan, Israel and New Zealand. Other nations that have recognized our Government are Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Nauru, Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Republic of the Marshall Islands. The list continues to grow, but in light of our limited personnel resources we are compelled to go slowly.

As for international organizations, we have long been active, even during the Trusteeship, in the affairs of our Pacific Region. Thus, immediately after Trusteeship termination our proudest moment was to move into full membership in the South Pacific Forum. We also feel it is important to continue to play a cooperative role in various regional organizations devoted to common interests such as the South Pacific Commission, ESCAP, the Forum Fisheries Agency, the Pacific Island Development Program and the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union, as well as others. A very significant recent development is that we have completed negotiations to join the Asian Development Bank, and expect to participate in the Bank's annual meeting in May as a full Member.

Beyond our region, we were gratified last year to be accepted to full membership in the International Civil Aviation Organization, a specialized agency of the United Nations. We have not yet decided whether to pursue membership in the main body of the United Nations, but make no mistake about it, the Federated States of Micronesia meets the basic requirements for application.

It is always good to conclude on a practical note, and that is what I am going to do. One of the first lessons we learned as the caretakers of a brand new country was that the conduct of international relations has its own built-in limitations, in terms of personnel resources if you are small, and in terms of cost. No matter how strong the temptation to leap onto the stage in a big way, establish widespread relations and join many prestigious organizations, it is necessary from the very beginning to identify priorities and fit them into available resources. We have given a high priority to establishing a credible pattern of State practice, to gain acceptance into the world community so that the needs I mentioned earlier can be met. I think that, thanks to our friends, we have succeeded with a moderate program that concentrates first on our own Region, and makes the showing we need to make to the international community.

Our real goal, however, is not international prestige, but rather economic development and movement toward self-sufficiency. The achievement of self-determination will have been a hollow victory if we fail to provide for our future generations.

Self-determination is basically driven by a belief that a given body politic can do itself the most good by making its own decisions. There is a lot more at stake than pride. For a long time, the remote Pacific Island peoples lived a subsistence existence, making for themselves what few decisions needed to be made. As the World drew nearer to our islands, we grew accustomed to permitting others to make the decisions for us which related to that little-known outside region that they liked to call, "Civilization. " In some parts of the Pacific, this patronage came to be institutionalized in colonial form.

As time went on, and we saw more of the World for ourselves, we came to have less confidence that these outside parties always operated in our best interests, or, even if they did, that they should be deciding our future for us. Thus, the "Tsunami" of self-determination has swept the Pacific, and many Islanders now have, along with Micronesia, the thing we fought so hard for - freedom? Yes, but along with it, responsibility the responsibility to show that we ourselves can deal with the outside world and with one another more productively than did our former patrons.

You will be relieved to hear that I must reserve for another occasion any in-depth comment on how we go about making a success of this freedom and responsibility. Let me just say for now that because individually most of us are weak, a key is going to be how we work together. This is the impulse and the realization that brought my people together to form the Federated States of Micronesia. I believe, in a broader sense, there must also be a similar spirit of mutual activism among all Pacific Island peoples in the years ahead. We are not likely ever to achieve full national or even regional self-sufficiency, but never mind. That concept in its pure form has about as much validity in today's inter-active world as isolationism. What we do want to achieve is more balance between what we acquire from others and what we are able to produce.

Here is the challenge, and I will put it bluntly. There are many who believe that the Pacific Islands are permanent welfare cases, and that all this self-determination has been little more than an exercise in ego- gratification for politicians. We will be more than embarrassed if we fail to prove these skeptics wrong. We could lose what has been so hard won, and witness a reemergence of colonialism. Join me, in working to prevent that from happening.

I certainly want to thank you for your kind attention while I have traced the recent development of the Federated States of Micronesia and discussed some of the problems associated with our unique situation. I hope I have made a useful contribution to your examination here of the ongoing process of self-determination in our Pacific Region.