August 4, 2019 — New York
This piece originally appeared in The Hill.
By Dylan Adelman
Mike Pompeo will become the first U.S. Secretary of State to visit the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) when he arrives in the Pacific Island nation on Monday. His meeting with the leaders of FSM, the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) and Palau will be a significant signal to both friends and adversaries in the Pacific that U.S. commitment to these partners is strong and growing deeper.
They are several of the smallest and most isolated countries in the world. With their scarce resources, high economic volatility, health crises and the constant threat of natural disasters — notably, rising sea levels that threaten their very existence — U.S. engagement and support is indispensable.
They also are of critical geopolitical importance. Each boasts healthy democracies, represents positive diplomatic voices in the international community and has a vote at the United Nations General Assembly, which they have used consistently in support of American global interests.
Besides the U.S., Israel and Taiwan also have offered unique support. With profound mutual respect and diplomatic ties that date, in some cases, prior to declarations of sovereignty, bonds among these three societies and those on the Pacific Islands run deep.
This is not to discount the exceptional support offered by other countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Japan. However, the U.S., Israel and Taiwan have particularly noteworthy geopolitical stakes in the region, and room to expand relations.
FSM, RMI and Palau are freely associated states of the U.S. under Compacts of Free Association (COFAs). The U.S. provides defense, funding grants and access to social services for citizens of these countries and assumes responsibility for their security.
The COFAs are up for renewal in 2023 for Palau and 2024 for FSM and RMI. They will provide an opportunity to fine-tune the capacity for cooperation. Considering the escalation in tensions with China and the new Indo-Pacific Strategy, which designates the Pacific as the U.S. Department of Defense’s “priority theater,” the U.S. must escalate its security presence in the region.
For Israel, the Pacific Islands are among its most steadfast allies at the United Nations. Despite their size and the absence of any Jewish population, they have been natural democratic allies of Israel for decades.
Israel and the Pacific Islands share democratic values and are tenacious in defending them in the international community. Israel was among the first countries to establish diplomatic relations with a number of countries in the Pacific, and leaders from the region often tout the robust friendship that they share.
Despite serious financial constraints, Mashav, Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation, operates in the freely associated states, Nauru and the Solomon Islands and provides medical assistance and water purification technologies. With nearly 40 percent of the region’s population diagnosed with noncommunicable diseases and 70 percent without access to potable water, these initiatives are warmly welcomed.
Taiwan has a similar need for friends, albeit for different reasons. Only 16 out of 193 U.N. member states maintain full diplomatic relations with Taiwan, and six of those are Pacific Island States. Through a steady flow of aid and frequent high-level visits, Taiwan has emerged as a dependable ally in the region.
Unfortunately, China recently ramped up pressure for a shift in diplomatic recognition in the Pacific. Beijing has approached diplomatic holdouts with the promise of loans and investment packages on the one hand and the threat of economic isolation on the other. While some states have been steadfast in their commitment to Taiwan, others, such as the Solomon Islands, are debating a change in allegiance.
In May, the U.S. urged Pacific Island nations to maintain diplomatic ties with Taiwan. This position, although rarely stated publicly, has been policy for years. With increasing Chinese influence in the region and dwindling diplomatic support for Taiwan, the U.S. position remains important, as are endorsements from other parties.
An argument for joint action
The U.S., Israel and Taiwan share goals of assuring all want the same thing for their friends in the Pacific: economic, political and environmental security. Building resilience and showing support are necessary in achieving these goals and ensuring a sustainable future for these nations. To counter Chinese economic overtures and mounting influence, stakeholders must think in the long term, and with a combined approach of hard, soft and smart power.
Although the COFAs have forged durable bilateral bonds, partnering with Israel and Taiwan in assisting the Pacific Island nations is important for U.S. policy goals in the region. Israel and Taiwan offer opportunities for joint development programs, security cooperation and a united, vocal front on the world stage.
Israel and Taiwan can collaborate on horticultural projects, the U.S. and Israel on environmental resilience, Taiwan and the U.S. on government exchange programs, and all three on medical aid and sustainable development practices.
The underpinnings for these partnerships are in place. The funding exists, projects are under way, and diplomats representing each stakeholder dot the region. Strategic dialogues could unlock new, exciting possibilities with minimal effort. These opportunities should be discussed among capitals, relief organizations, foreign ministries, defense departments and civil societies.
The stakes are consistently on the rise. It would, therefore, be prudent for Secretary Pompeo to start these conversations during his visit.
Focused, substantive action will keep crucial Pacific Island relationships afloat. Lax and disorganized approaches will present a costly risk. The U.S., Israel and Taiwan can, and should, act accordingly.