Issues Over Status of the Islands
Approaching Decisions on Ending U.S. Trusteeship
America may soon acquire its first new territory in half a century. On Feb. 15, representatives of the remote Mariana Islands signed a covenant with the United States setting down the terms by which they hope to become an American commonwealth. If approved by the islanders in a plebiscite on June 17, and subsequently by the U.S. Congress and the United Nations, the covenant will create a new group of American citizens. It will also create new long-term financial and military commitments for the United States in the Western Pacific.
The fate of these small islands—fewer than 15,000 inhabitants live on 183.5 square miles of land—promises to raise large issues. The agreement with the Marianas will only partly resolve a dilemma, marked by conflicting humanitarian and strategic obligations, which has confronted America for almost 30 years. Since 1947 the Marianas have been one of six districts comprising the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (Ttpi) which is administered by the United States under a unique “strategic trusteeship” agreement with the United Nations. The Trust Territory is known as Micronesia.
In geographic terms, Micronesia is one of the three divisions of Pacific Islands. The other two are (1) Melanesia, which includes the Solomons, New Hebrides, New Caledonia and Fiji islands to the south, and (2) Polynesia, which includes the Hawaiian Islands to the east and Samoa, Tonga and others to the southeast. Geographically, Micronesia includes Guam (southernmost of the Mariana chain) and the Gilbert Islands. In political terms, however, these are considered separate; Guam is an unincorporated American territory, and the Gilberts are under British administration.