Free Association: The United States Experience
64 Pages Posted: 5 Oct 2006 Last revised: 13 Nov 2012
This article outlines the basic features of free association, one of the three options for a self-determining people under U.N. General Assembly Resolution 1541. It examines the relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico (previously examined in Michael Reisman's 1975 Puerto Rico and the International Process), and the relationship between the United States and the four states that comprised the former Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. Three states have compacts of free association with the United States: the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of Palau. The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico also enjoy significant internal self-government and a degree of separate international personality. The authors argue that free association arrangements in contemporary international law encompass a range of relationships that can enable weaker states to promote their core values by associating with more powerful states. Associations must be voluntary, and they invite ongoing appraisal by the international community to ensure that the association does not unduly subordinate the weaker state.
Keywords: free association, self-determination, international law, puerto rico, trust territories
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