Seventy-seven years after the end of World War II, Pacific Island nations still face the daunting challenge of post-war impacts: unexploded ordnance (UXO) and abandoned munitions littered throughout the vast expanse of the region.
At the height of WWII from 1941 to 1945, military forces from the United States, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand clashed in a series of battles across the Pacific Islands. Large stocks of munitions predominantly from the United States and Japan were shipped to various islands to support ongoing military operations. Unused and abandoned munitions as well as other explosive items that failed to detonate were left scattered across islands and atolls, buried in the sand, or submerged in surrounding lagoons. At the conclusion of WWII, a large amount of UXO remained, posing a significant threat to local communities. After more than seven decades, the presence of WWII ordnance continues to affect nine Pacific Island nations: Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, the Marshall Islands, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu.
The United States has been at the forefront of unexploded ordnance remediation efforts, alongside allies and partners like Australia, Japan, and New Zealand, through its conventional weapons destruction program. Progress to date has been significant, but there is much more to do. The United States is a Pacific nation—geographically, economically, historically, and culturally—and remains invested in supporting a prosperous Pacific. Identifying and destroying explosive hazards is critical to sustaining that success by making land safe for our Pacific Island allies and partners to grow their economies through sustainable development. In countries where land is scarce, clearing unexploded ordnance can have an outsized impact.
In Palau, the United States supports UXO clearance through the National UXO Safety Office. The United States has committed more than $5.4 million to create a national UXO survey plan, conduct clearance operations, and build the capacity of the Government of Palau to identify and destroy UXO. Since 2020, the United States has funded the return of more than 80 acres of land back to local populations and destroyed 2,294 UXO with U.S. implementing partner Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA).
In Solomon Islands, the United States has provided more than $6.8 million since 2009 to establish an explosive ordnance disposal team with the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force and build national capacity to identify and destroy Explosive Remnants of War. This included training 13 engineers who have conducted over 1,200 EOD callouts and destroyed more than 29,746 items of UXO with implementing partner Golden West Humanitarian Foundation since 2009. The United States is ramping up its efforts in Solomon Islands as Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman discussed with Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare during her August visit to Honiara.
The United States has invested more than $2 million in the Republic of Marshall Islands for UXO technical survey and explosive ordnance disposal operations on 12 islands spread across five atolls. This includes critical cooperation through the Marshall Islands’ Historic Preservation Office to identify and catalogue U.S. and Japan-origin ordnance. United States funding to the Golden West Humanitarian Foundation has helped find and destroy over 140 air-dropped bombs, mortars, sea mines, and other explosive hazards that threatened local communities. The United States is working with Republic of Marshall Islands to expand cooperation and further advance UXO remediation throughout the island nation.
The United States’ Quick Reaction Force has also been critical to the safety and security of UXO threats in the Pacific. It is a team of civilian explosive ordnance disposal technical experts that serve as first responders to unexpected UXO-related emergencies across the globe, including munitions depot explosions, ammunition depots at risk of imminent explosion, and Explosive Remnants of War that pose significant threats to civilians. The Quick Reaction Force has addressed UXO requirements throughout the Pacific in the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Tuvalu.
The United States’ work over the past decade with Pacific Island partners to remediate WWII-era explosive hazards is foundational for a prosperous Pacific, and the United States will continue building on these partnerships to enhance host nation capacities that address UXO, and support survey and clearance, so that Pacific partners may advance development priorities on land free from UXO.
The United States, through its conventional weapons destruction program, has funded work in the Pacific since 2009. Since 1993, it has provided more than $4.7 billion in assistance to over 100 countries – making the United States the world’s single largest financial supporter of conventional weapons destruction. For more information, check out our annual report, To Walk the Earth in Safety, and follow us on Twitter @StateDeptPM.
About the Author: Ethan Rinks is the Program Manager for the East Asia and Pacific portfolio in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement at the U.S. Department of State.