The Contemporary Pacific 15.2 (2003) 489-492
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An Honorable Accord: The Covenant between the Northern Mariana Islands and the United States, by Howard P Willens and Deanne C Siemer. Pacific Islands Monograph Series 18. Honolulu: Center for Pacific Islands Studies and University of Hawai'i Press, 2002. ISBN 0-8248-2390-7; xvi + 473 pages, tables, maps, photographs, interviews, abbreviations, notes, bibliography, index. Cloth, US$52.00.
An Honorable Accord is a valuable contribution to the historical record of events related to execution and implementation of the Covenant to Establish a Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands in Political Union with the United States of America.
The authors, Howard P Willens and Deanne C Siemer, a husband-and-wife team and highly regarded Washington DC attorneys, are remarkably well qualified to tell the story. Willens headed the counsel team for the Northern Marianas negotiators from late in 1972 through execution of the covenant in a ceremony at Mt Carmel High School on Saipan on 15 February 1975, and a 24 March 1976 ceremony in the East Room of the White House when President Gerald Ford signed the Joint Resolution of the United States Congress approving the covenant.
Since that time, Willens and Siemer have played a role in events related to implementation of the covenant. They worked together in serving as counsel for the First and Third Marianas Constitutional Conventions, in 1976 and 1995-96, respectively. Both are quite knowledgeable about the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands(CNMI) and its relationship with the United States, and they have previously coauthored writings on those topics.
This book is not merely a reflection of the authors' own personal recollections and their private review of notes, pertinent documents, and records. They have supplemented these sources with perspectives of some 136 others by conducting taped interviews. They also instituted Freedom of Information litigation to obtain access to additional background information from US agencies.
The authors point to the compact as the only instance in US history in which a people ever joined the United States voluntarily, on terms they had negotiated themselves (343).
From a Micronesian point of view, the covenant was pivotal. Negotiation and execution of the covenant were the most important set of events in Micronesia during the second half of the twentieth century, for these actions had lasting effect on all peoples of the former Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (TTPI).
Negotiations concerning termination of the Trust Territory began in October 1969 on a territory-wide basis, with a general understanding, [End Page 489] grounded in international law as well as internal US directives, that the entire area would be a single political unit on termination of the United Nations trusteeship.
However, the primary US goals, based on military needs, were to have the area become an unincorporated US territory (19) and to obtain land rights in the Northern Mariana Islands, where the United States wished to lease part or all of Tinian for a possible air base; the Marshall Islands, where the United States has long held Kwajalein Atoll for ballistic missile tests; and Palau, where the United States was considering establishing a submarine port, with a Marines Corps base to be on Babelthaup Island (26).
When the Micronesian negotiators insisted that Micronesia would be self-governing, or independent, and that territorial status would not be discussed, the Nixon administration in December 1972 opened separate negotiations with representatives of the Northern Mariana Islands. The eventual result was that the broad notion of a politically unified Micronesia, which would have covered an area in the Pacific Ocean as large as the continental United States, was never realized. Instead, the area of the Trust Territory was fragmented into four political units.
As it happened, the United States reached separate agreements with each of those three areas in which it sought land rights for military purposes—the Northern Marianas, Palau, and the Marshall Islands. The balance of the old Trust Territory—Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei, and Kosrae—apparently adjudged to have no...