U.S. Relations With Marshall Islands

Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
Fact Sheet
July 5, 2018


More information about the Marshall Islands is available on the Marshall Islands Page and from other Department of State publications and other sources listed at the end of this fact sheet.

U.S.-MARSHALL ISLANDS RELATIONS

After gaining military control of the Marshall Islands from Japan in 1944, the United States assumed administrative control of the Marshall Islands under United Nations auspices as part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands following the end of World War II. The Marshall Islands signed a Compact of Free Association with the United States in 1983 and gained independence in 1986 with the Compact's entry into force. From 1999-2003, the two countries negotiated an amended Compact that entered into force in 2004. The relationship of free association continues indefinitely.

The Republic of the Marshall Islands is a sovereign nation. The United States and the the Marshall Islands have full diplomatic relations, and maintain deep ties and a cooperative relationship. While the government is free to conduct its own foreign relations, it does so under the terms of the amended Compact. Under the amended Compact, the United States has full authority and responsibility for security and defense of the Marshall Islands, and the Government of the Marshall Islands is obligated to refrain from taking actions that would be incompatible with these security and defense responsibilities. Eligible Marshallese citizens may work, live, and study in the United States without a visa, and serve in the U.S. military, volunteering at per capita rates higher than many U.S. states.

The U.S. Department of Defense, under the Military Use and Operating Rights Agreement, a subsidiary government-to-government agreement of the Compact, received permission to use parts of the lagoon and several islands on Kwajalein Atoll. The agreement allows the United States continued use of the U.S. Army Garrison Kwajalein Atoll missile test range until 2066 with an option until 2086. Another major subsidiary agreement of the original Compact provides for settlement of all claims arising from the U.S. nuclear tests conducted at Bikini and Enewetak Atolls from 1946 to 1958.

U.S. Assistance to the Marshall Islands

The Marshall Islands is an isolated, sparsely populated, low-lying Pacific island country consisting of approximately 70 sq. miles of land spread out over 750,000 sq. miles of ocean just north of the equator. These characteristics make it vulnerable to transnational threats, natural disasters, and the potential effects of climate change. U.S. assistance focuses on supporting health, education, and infrastructure in the Marshall Islands, as well as the Marshall Islands’ ability to perform maritime security functions and strengthen climate resilience through disaster preparedness. The U.S. provided more than $2.5 million in drought assistance in 2016.

The United States provides the Marshall Islands with approximately $70 million annually through FY 2023, including contributions to a jointly managed trust fund and financial assistance from other U.S. federal grants. The trust fund will provide an annual source of revenue after FY 2023. Marshallese citizens also continue to have access to many U.S. programs and services. The governments of the United States and Marshall Islands established a Joint Economic Management and Financial Accountability Committee with members from both governments to strengthen management and accountability with regard to assistance provided under the amended Compact, and to promote effective use of the funding provided. Compact grants are primarily funded through and administered by the Department of the Interior.

A number of U.S. Government agencies operate programs or render assistance to the Marshall Islands. These include the Federal Aviation Administration, U.S. Postal Service, Small Business Administration, U.S. Agency for International Development, Department of Energy, Department of Agriculture, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Education, Department of State, and the Department of the Interior.

Bilateral Economic Relations

The economy of the Marshall Islands is closely linked to that of the United States, and its GDP is derived mainly from U.S. payments under the terms of the Compact of Free Association. The U.S. Army garrison on Kwajalein Atoll, a key component of the U.S. missile defense network is the number two employer in the Marshall Islands. Through the Compact, the United States provides significant financial support to the Republic of the Marshall Islands to help achieve the Compact goals of economic advancement and self-sufficiency.

The United States is one of the Marshall Islands' top trading partners, and the Marshall Islands has expressed interest in attracting U.S. investment. The Marshall Islands sells fishing rights to other nations as a source of income. Under the Multilateral Treaty on Fisheries, the U.S. provides an annual grant to Pacific island parties, including the Marshall Islands, for access by licensed U.S. fishing vessels. Nearly 10,000 Marshall Islanders visited the United States in 2016, a 36% increase from the year prior.

Marshall Islands' Membership in International and Regional Organizations

The Marshall Islands and the United States belong to a number of the same international organizations, including the United Nations, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and Asian Development Bank.

The Marshall Islands is a full member of the Pacific Islands Forum, the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), and the Pacific Community (SPC). The Marshall Islands also is a member of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC). In addition, the Marshall Islands is one of the eight signatories of the Nauru Agreement Concerning Cooperation in the Management of Fisheries of Common Interest that collectively controls 25-30% of the world's tuna supply and approximately 60% of the western and central Pacific tuna supply.

Bilateral Representation

The U.S. Ambassador to the Marshall Islands is Karen Stewart; other principal embassy officials are listed in the Department's Key Officers List.

The Marshall Islands maintains an embassy in the United States at 2433 Massachusetts Avenue NW., Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-234-5414). The RMI Ambassador to the United States is Gerald Zackios.

More information about the Marshall Islands is available from the Department of State and other sources, some of which are listed here:

Department of State Marshall Islands Country Page
Department of State Key Officers List
CIA World Factbook Marshall Islands Page
U.S. Embassy
Human Rights Reports
International Religious Freedom Reports
Trafficking in Persons Reports
Narcotics Control Reports
Investment Climate Statements
U.S. Census Bureau Foreign Trade Statistics
Travel Information
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services