THE United States will soon become one of the last remaining Administering Authorities under the United Nations Trusteeship System. Of the eleven territories once included, all but Nauru, northeastern New Guinea and the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands will have achieved the stated goal of either self-government or independence within a few years. We will then find ourselves in a new and perhaps unpleasant situation. Until now our record in the Pacific Islands has generally won applause in the United Nations; it has appeared favorable in both relative and absolute terms. But praise will not be gained as easily in the future, and criticism will be meted out with less provocation.

When the Trusteeship System is narrowed down to supervision of Australia's rule in Nauru and New Guinea and that of the United States in the Pacific Islands, more frequent Visiting Missions will be likely and annual reviews of the record will become more detailed. Flaws now perceived as minor may well be magnified. The increasingly rapid liquidation of colonialism will heighten the mood of intolerance in the United Nations toward the remnants of anything smacking of that practice, and as more and more ex-colonies attain membership, anti-colonialism will become an even greater political force.

It would be ironic, in view of our self-proclaimed anti-colonial tradition and oft-repeated concern for the colonial practices of our allies if, at the end of colonialism, our own "imperial" policies came under harsh criticism. In an era of "competitive coexistence" the consequences could be serious, and the Soviet Union can be counted on to seize all opportunities to publicize our imperfections. Although the path of events is already partly determined--independence dates for other territories are set, the anticolonial fervor in the United Nations cannot be dampened, and conditions in the Pacific Islands can be changed only slowly--some room for manœuvre still exists. Now is the time to evaluate our policies.

The unique character of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands presents perplexing problems for the United States as Administering Authority. The Territory comprises the Caroline and Marshall Islands and all of the Marianas except the island of Guam, which has been an American possession since 1898. Though it is spread over approximately 3,000,000 square miles of the Pacific Ocean (an area roughly equivalent to the continental United States), it contains only 687 square miles of land. More than 2,000 islets form 96 "island units" (single islands, clusters or atolls), of which only 64 are regularly inhabited. The total population in 1959 was 73,052. Although the term Micronesia is used to designate the Territory, the unity thereby implied does not exist. There are nine major indigenous languages. English and Japanese are the common tongues most used, but only a quarter of the population five years of age and over is able to speak and read either one. Cultural patterns vary greatly. Little sense of common identity appears to have developed so far. The economic potential of the area is limited. The difficulties of communication are immense.

Having acquired these islands at great cost from Japan in World War II, we have administered them since 1947 as a United Nations Trust Territory. Some in the United States would have preferred to avoid responsibility for them. Others favored outright annexation; for the Islands have great strategic importance, lying as they do athwart our line of communications to Guam and the Philippines, and in a position from which a hostile power could hinder our access to many vital areas. They extend for more than 4,000 miles across the Pacific, to within a few hundred miles of the Philippines, Indonesia and New Guinea. Japan seized them from Germany during the First World War. Although the Japanese would have preferred unfettered control, they were forced to hold the islands as a League of Nations Mandate, the terms of which forbade fortification. Had Japan continued observing those terms, as it apparently did at least until 1938, American security interests might have been protected. But the Second World War provided convincing evidence that we could not afford to have these islands held by a hostile, or potentially hostile, power.

On the other hand, the United States desired to promote and develop the U.N. Trusteeship System. Since all other League of Nations Mandates with no immediate prospects of independence were to be included (and all were except South-West Africa, which the Union of South Africa still refuses to submit to United Nation's jurisdiction), an exception could hardly be made of the Pacific Islands. Besides, to seek annexation would not have fitted our anti-colonial posture; and even a decade and a half ago it was apparent that imperialism was not a popular cause.

The resulting compromise was to include the Pacific Islands within the Trusteeship System, but to make special arrangements beforehand in the U.N. Charter for the designation of part or all of a Trust Territory as a "strategic area." The Pacific Islands were so designated--the only case where this provision has been applied. The "strategic area" concept was designated to give the United States greater control over the Pacific Islands than possible under an ordinary trusteeship. In practice, since all Trust Territories can be fortified, the Pacific Islands are exceptional only in that the United States has the right to restrict access to the Territory, and it need not extend the economic privileges it exercises there to other states.

Within the United Nations, the Security Council rather than the General Assembly has ultimate responsibility, but the significance of this is difficult to gauge. So far the Security Council has been involved only when the Trusteeship Agreement was approved and in a resolution transferring routine supervision to the Trusteeship Council. The organization's scrutiny of the American régime is conducted in the same fashion that it studies other Administering Authorities, except that the Trusteeship Council's reports in this case go to the Security Council rather than to the General Assembly. However, the Security Council has never considered these reports nor even taken note of them. Presumably, if matters ever came to a head in the Security Council, the United States could exercise its right of veto there. However, when the Trusteeship Agreement was considered, Ambassador Austin explicitly stated that, because it was an interested party, the United States would forego this privilege; and it might be embarrassing to reverse his stand. The fact that the Security Council has ultimate responsibility also means that the Soviet Union would be in a position, should it choose, to veto any proposal we might make to end the trusteeship status of the Pacific Islands. Whether the General Assembly has any jurisdiction over this Trust Territory is moot. Article 83 of the Charter clearly states that "all functions of the United Nations relating to strategic areas . . . shall be exercised by the Security Council." On the other hand, Article 13 of the Trusteeship Agreement can be interpreted as giving the Assembly a measure of competence, and some hold that several Assembly resolutions are applicable to the Islands.


Although the American administration of the Pacific Islands has gained general approval in the United Nations, there have been certain persistent criticisms.

The most publicized have been in connection with tests of nuclear and thermonuclear weapons in the Territory. A small group has always questioned our right to hold these tests there. A much larger group condemned the United States when two atolls in the Marshalls (Rongelap and Uterik) and 84 Micronesian inhabitants suffered ill effects from radioactive fallout because of a miscalculation during the 1954 hydrogen bomb tests. Attempts to have the Trusteeship Council adopt a resolution of censure failed, but the incident provoked general criticism and produced a sense of disquiet even among our allies. Our zeal in providing care and compensation for the individuals involved--those injured, and others who had to leave their islands--helped, but the subject remains a prominent feature of Trusteeship Council debates. If we resumed weapons testing in the Trust Territory, there would surely be a critical reaction in the United Nations.

The other major criticisms of our record as Administering Authority center on three topics: economic progress, administrative arrangements and political advancement. For the future, these may be more important.

The problem of stimulating economic growth in the Islands is complex. The budget for the Trust Territory Government in the 1959 Fiscal Year was $8,169,303, of which $1,825,083 was raised locally and the remainder appropriated by the United States. Freight and passenger fares on the government-owned but privately operated transportation systems are the largest source of local revenue, usually accounting for more than one-third of the total. But these fares do not even cover the costs of operation. The territorial "national" income for 1959, exclusive of the subsistence sectors of the economy, is estimated to be about $4,000,000. Despite regular annual subsidies of over $5,000,000, it is far from certain that the standard of living is as high today as it was during the Japanese Mandate; and for a period then the Islands were self-supporting. Further, the Territory is now heavily dependent for cash income upon the export of one commodity, copra. Copra exports, however, have not yet reached the peak established in the prewar period, when copra ranked fourth as a source of cash income. Rapid economic growth does not seem likely under present American policies. On the credit side of the ledger, it is clear that the inhabitants of the Islands are not being exploited for the benefit of others.

While the Trusteeship Council has been pleased with our efforts to protect the Micronesians from exploitation, it has frequently expressed dissatisfaction with the rate and nature of their economic progress. The 1959 Visiting Mission recommended that to stimulate growth we undertake a comprehensive economic survey and formulate specific plans for development in all fields. Preparations for such a survey are now under way, but whether it will lead to greater diversification and more rapid economic progress is open to question. New resources are unlikely to be discovered, and if they were, capital would be needed to develop them.

Many feel that not enough capital has been available even to develop the Islands' known potential. The same Visiting Mission reported that in its judgment the United States had failed "to provide adequate funds for the maintenance of present services and for the purposes of economic development." It recommended increased appropriations. This recommendation is unlikely to be met. The philosophy governing American policy is that our subsidy should not be increased beyond a point which eventually the Micronesians themselves might reasonably be expected to afford. Some in the United Nations question our estimate of what is "reasonable;" others dispute our theory and argue in favor of more pump-priming; while others maintain that we should provide greater subsidies in view of the security benefits we gain from holding the Islands.

It has been our official policy to rule out private foreign investment in the Trust Territory, including investment by United States citizens. The rationale offered is that the limited local resources should be reserved for the Micronesians. Security reasons may also be a factor. This policy stands in curious juxtaposition to our general attitude toward private foreign investments in underdeveloped areas. And a number of delegates from underdeveloped countries, who frequently express reservations about private foreign investments in their own states, appear to be not wholly convinced that an absolute prohibition is wise in this case.

Without increased public funds or private investment the outlook for the development of new industries, or even for the revival of some which thrived during the Japanese Mandate, is bleak. Nor is lack of capital the only obstacle. The fact that Micronesian handicraft shipped to this country is subject to high import duties has doubtless hampered its sale here, and perhaps partially explains the limited extent to which this industry has been developed. Commercial fishing offers one of the most hopeful possibilities for economic development in the Islands. The Japanese developed a strong fishing industry during their rule, but they relied on alien labor. This we will not allow. Indeed, Japanese or any foreign fishing vessels are forbidden to come within three miles of any of the Islands. Questions have been asked in the United Nations whether outsiders should be so rigorously excluded and it has been suggested also that we should move faster in teaching the Micronesians the necessary skills.

The concern shown for the economic progress of the Trust Territory results in part from a natural interest in the subject but also from recognition of its bearing on the Territory's political future. As long as the ratio of our subsidy to the revenue raised locally remains at its present height, political possibilities will be severely restricted. Virtually everyone agrees that the Pacific Islands should become more self-reliant. The controversy concerns the most appropriate method of achieving this goal.

Our administration of the Islands has been criticized in the United Nations on two scores: the division of responsibility between the Departments of the Navy and the Interior, and the location of the headquarters outside the Territory on Guam.

The Navy originally governed the Pacific Islands. This was logical during the war, and it followed our practice in Guam and American Samoa. When the Second World War was over, however, many in the United Nations and in the United States felt that control should be transferred to a civilian department, and in June 1951, after a bitter bureaucratic struggle, President Truman gave responsibility for the entire Trust Territory to the Department of the Interior. Seventeen months later he reassigned Saipan and Tinian to the Department of the Navy, and in July 1953 the Navy was given the remainder of the Northern Marianas except the island of Rota. The reasons for the Navy's resumption of control have only been vaguely identified as relating to national security. No logical explanation was given for excluding Rota. However, by holding it the Department of the Interior retains a foothold in the Northern Marianas.

The Trusteeship Council has continually criticized this division of authority. There is a strong feeling that the entire Territory should be under one administration and that, at the very least, the Northern Marianas should not be divided. There is a bias against a military department having responsibility for civil administration in a Trust Territory. Delegates frequently ask why United States security needs cannot be met in the Northern Marianas within the framework of civilian control as they are in the Marshalls. But even if it meant extending military rule to Rota, many in the United Nations would prefer to see the Northern Marianas treated as a unit.

Doubts have been expressed in the United Nations about the coördination between the two administrations in the Trust Territory. The fact that the Micronesian Title and Pay Plan, which regulates salary scales for indigenous employees of the government, is not applied in the Navy's Saipan District has been viewed with disapproval, even though (or perhaps because) the Navy's salary schedule is somewhat higher. The establishment of a separate copra stabilization fund for the Saipan District has also been questioned.

The desire for a unified administration has deeper roots than a mere penchant for tidy administrative arrangements and an aversion to military rule. Some fear that the Trust Territory may become permanently divided. Certain facts underscore their fear. The Chamorro people who inhabit the Marianas are somewhat different from the other Micronesians, and there is popular support for integration of the Marianas--that is, a union of the Northern Marianas with Guam. This year the Saipan Legislature petitioned the Trusteeship Council requesting that a plebiscite be held on the question of the "reintegration of the Mariana Islands within the governmental framework of the Territory of Guam." United States citizenship was included in their plan. The Guam Legislature has also adopted a resolution favoring unification. In commenting on Saipan's petition, the Indian delegate stated that he thought the Council would find it "difficult to contemplate the secession" of a part of the Trust Territory and its merger with a non-self-governing dependency of the Administering Authority. He insisted that the Pacific Islands must be regarded as indivisible. No action was taken on the petition.

Criticism of the location of the Trust Territory's headquarters on Guam is based on similar arguments. The headquarters for the Pacific Islands was located on Honolulu until 1954. The move to Guam was officially described as an "interim" measure pending the availability of funds to construct the necessary buildings within the Trust Territory. In 1953 the United States informed the Trusteeship Council that Dublon Island in the Truk Atoll had been selected as the location for the permanent headquarters, and that year the U.N. Visiting Mission inspected the proposed site. Since then, however, there have been no visible efforts to transfer the headquarters from Guam, and the United States' report to the United Nations for 1960 stated that there were no plans for such a shift in the immediate future.

In appearances before the Trusteeship Council, Delmas H. Nucker, High Commissioner of the Trust Territory, defends the present location of the headquarters on grounds of efficiency and with the argument that the Micronesians themselves should determine the permanent site when they had achieved sufficient political maturity. Prior American action, in his view, would be prejudicial and possibly wasteful. In addition, he claims that Guam's facilities could not be duplicated in the Trust Territory without inordinate expense. Those who criticize the present site maintain that if the headquarters were within the Trust Territory it would help to stimulate political cohesion. They also argue that the physical equipment for government is an important heritage of colonial rule, and while they agree that the Micronesians should be consulted, they feel that the location of a capital is always the result of a number of arbitrary factors. Underneath is an unstated question about the long-term effects of the Territory's tie with Guam.

Discussions of political advancement in the Pacific Islands bring into the open questions concerning our ultimate plans for the Territory. The original draft of the Trusteeship Agreement which the United States submitted for the Security Council's approval in 1947 listed "self-government" as the goal. At the Soviet Union's suggestion, this was amended to read "self-government" or "independence." Since then there have been doubts that the United States fully accepted the spirit of this change. At the last session of the Trusteeship Council the question arose in connection with this sentence in our annual report: "The policy of the Department of the Interior is to encourage the political advancement of the people of the Trust Territory toward a goal of self-government." Our explanation that the omission of "independence" was an oversight did not still the questioning.

Official American policy, as expressed by Mr. Nucker, is that the Micronesians must first attain self-government; then they will be in a position to determine whether or not they desire independence. The road to self-government, he feels, starts at the local level, and this is where American efforts have been concentrated. Rapid progress has recently been made in chartering municipalities--a term used to cover local governments for various geographical areas. Legislative bodies with restricted powers have been established at the District level, and an Inter-District Advisory Committee to the High Commissioner has been in existence since 1957. Some Micronesians have attained responsible positions in the administrative hierarchy. Mr. Nucker recently testified before the Trusteeship Council that it would be five years before an elected territorial legislature could be established and at least another five before the Territory would be fully capable of managing its own affairs.

There is dissatisfaction in the United Nations with the pace of political advancement. During the Trusteeship Council's 1960 debates, the French delegate--who could hardly be called a rabid anti-colonialist, although with the independence of Togoland he had become the representative of a non-administering power--commented that "unfortunately in these territories political progress and evolution can be very slow and, I might even say, fragmentary." His comments could apply to our own political action (or lack thereof) as well as to developments in the Pacific Islands. Congress has not yet adopted an Organic Act establishing the framework and defining the powers of the Trust Territory Government and shows no signs that it will do so in the near future. At present these basic matters are covered by Executive Orders and the Code of the Trust Territory, which was promulgated by the High Commissioner in 1952. As early as 1947 an inter-departmental committee recommended that an Organic Act be adopted, and in 1954 we promised the United Nations that such legislation would be completed by mid-1960. The Trusteeship Council has recommended that greater efforts be made to stimulate political progress in the Pacific Islands and has urged the prompt adoption of an Organic Act.


The criticisms raised in the United Nations concerning our régime in the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands have not yet had serious consequences, but before long they may. The issues raised are serious, and when we and the Australians stand alone as administering powers, these criticisms may well assume new proportions. As imperialism recedes at an ever-quickening tempo, our patient efforts to build sound economic and political foundations in the Pacific Islands--however right they may be--may seem out of harmony with trends in the world at large. New Zealand's decision to grant independence in 1961 to its Trust Territory of Western Samoa--an area with 1,090 square miles of land and a population of about 106,000--will surely be cited as an example we should follow.

What happened at the Trusteeship Council's most recent session is perhaps an indication of things to come. Two Micronesians appeared as petitioners in connection with land claims in the Marshall Islands. Their testimony, partly as a result of questioning and partly through their own volition, covered a wide range of subjects. One, Jalle Bolkeim, Magistrate of Kwajalein, asserted: "We are hopeless slaves to conditions we do not like." He went on to say: "Maybe it would be better if we were given our ancient freedom. The people of Africa and Asia are getting their freedom. We think we can do as good a job of governing ourselves as do these countries." His companion, Amata Kabua, who has been President of the Marshall Islands Congress (the District legislative body) since 1955, stated that the Marshallese regarded their Congress as "a great joke" because of its lack of power. These statements became the subject of intense discussion. For a variety of reasons the United States did not, in this instance, suffer great embarrassment, but the incident certainly contained the seeds of more difficult debates to come.

The continuing criticisms in the United Nations and the obvious trend of developments call for a review of our present policies. Perhaps ways can be discovered of forestalling future criticisms and holding those currently raised to a moderate level. Although a detailed examination of possible alternative courses cannot be undertaken here, a few broad considerations can be outlined.

The first step must be an evaluation of the strategic role of the Pacific Islands. Even though a layman should be wary of trespassing into the realm of the specialist, it is not going too far to suggest that with the vast changes in military technology and in the alignment of political forces since the conclusion of the Second World War, the Territory's place in military strategy may not be exactly the same as it was then.

With a firm estimate of the Pacific Islands' strategic role, various political arrangements could then be explored. Consideration of our future relationship with Guam and perhaps also American Samoa should be included in the planning. We must recognize that there will be increasing pressure on the United States to grant the Trust Territory full independence. If both we and the Micronesians desire some form of lasting association, such as exists between the United States and Puerto Rico, for example, steps should be taken before the political climate becomes so set that this kind of solution would provoke an untoward reaction in the United Nations. On the other hand, means of protecting our security interests are conceivable within the framework of independence.

With a clearer goal in mind, we could give our policies a sharper focus. Even if it proves impossible to formulate definite plans for the future of the Trust Territory--and many Micronesian leaders have not themselves thought this matter through--some revision of our present policies to meet the criticisms raised in the United Nations should be considered. Greater expenditures and more rapid political evolution than would be desirable under ideal conditions might appreciably strengthen our position in our relations with the newly independent states of Africa and Asia.

It is possible, of course, that the current policies are the only acceptable and realistic ones, and if they are criticized it is unfortunate but unavoidable. Calling for revisions is always easier than putting them into effect. However, before we accept the almost certain consequences of our present course, we should thoroughly examine all the possible alternatives.

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  • HAROLD KARAN JACOBSON, Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Michigan; until recently a fellow of the World Affairs Center; author of "America's Foreign Policy"
  • More By Harold K. Jacobson