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The Contemporary Pacific 13.2 (2001) 587-590

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Book Review

National Security and Self-Determination: United States Policy in Micronesia (1961-1972)

National Security and Self-Determination: United States Policy in Micronesia (1961-1972), by Howard P Willens and Deanne C Siemer. Westport, ct and London: Praeger, 2000. ISBN 0-275-96914-2, x + 312 pages, maps, photographs, tables, notes, appendixes, bibliography, index. US$65.

Willens and Siemer are a Washington, DC based husband and wife legal team with extensive experience with a variety of federal agencies and the private sector. As noted in their introduction, since December 1972 they have had a "close professional and personal relationship with the people of the Northern Mariana Islands" (ix). They represented the Northern Marianas in the negotiations that resulted in the covenant that made the islands a commonwealth in political union with the United States, assisted with the development of the commonwealth's constitution, and served the Marianas as legal counsel in a variety of other assignments. The work at hand covers the decade immediately preceding the authors' involvement with what is now the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas.

The 1960s were pivotal for the future of the US Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, commonly referred to as Micronesia. At the beginning of the decade, decolonization was at the forefront of concern at the United Nations, and the United States was under severe criticism for its administration of the trust territory. The authors discuss that territory as a whole, but their focus is on the Northern Mariana Islands.

Willens and Siemer begin with an account of President John F Kennedy's address to the UN General Assembly in late 1961. Kennedy, whose interest in the Pacific was shaped by his wartime experiences there, recalled that the United States had once been a colony and pledged unequivocal support for the self-determination of all people. Shortly thereafter, a presidential directive was sent to the three departments most concerned with the trust territory--Defense, Interior, and State--outlining new directions for the territory that reflected Kennedy's UN message.

Much of the book deals with the rivalries among the Departments of Defense, Interior, and State. In the postwar era, Defense would have preferred an outright annexation of Micronesia. There was considerable congressional support for such an arrangement, and Defense concerns largely prevailed. However, administration of the trust territory was given to the Department of Interior in 1951. For many years, Interior had been responsible for American Samoa, Guam, and other American territories. The department also had strong advocates in Congress, was reluctant to relinquish any turf or authority, and was often insensitive to the issue of decolonization. In contrast, the Department of State was concerned that the United States not acquire new territory as a result of the war and wanted a political solution that would be acceptable to the international community.

For a brief time after Kennedy's UN address, Defense, Interior, and State managed to reach some accord. In [End Page 587] April 1962, Kennedy issued National Security Action Memorandum 145. The two-page document was highly confidential and remained tightly under wraps for many years. The executive branch thought it unlikely that the trust territory "could ever become a viable independent nation," and suggested that Micronesians "must become an educated people, prepared to exercise an informed choice, which means a choice by people capable of weighing the realistic alternatives." From the American point of view the most realistic alternative was for the islands to "move into a new and lasting relationship to the United States within our political framework" (30).

In this context, the secretary of Interior created the Congress of Micronesia, a territorial legislature patterned after the American model. The first elections were held in 1965, and in the following year, the congress petitioned President Johnson to establish a commission to explore Micronesia's political future. Receiving no response, it acted and established its own six-member Micronesian Future Political Status Commission in 1967.

The six men formed a strong negotiating team, three of...


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