A Freely Associated State (FAS) is an independent nation that has signed a comprehensive agreement with the United States called a Compact of Free Association (COFA) that governs diplomatic, economic, and military relations with the United States. These agreements are not permanent, and the current COFA agreement is set to expire in 2023.
Under a COFA, the FAS are sovereign nations that independently conduct their own foreign policy. FAS citizens are not U.S. citizens, and therefore, do not qualify for Medicaid, Medicare, or Social Security. The United States is obligated to offer its defense for the FAS and may overrule FAS policies that interfere with its defense. Additionally, each FAS is eligible to receive funds from US federal agencies, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the National Science Foundation.
There are three Freely Associated States: the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), Palau, and the Federated States of Micronesia. All three of these nations were once governed by the United States after World War II under the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands.
The Marshall Islands is an island country located slightly west of the International Date Line in the Pacific Ocean. During World War II, the United States took control of the islands from the Japanese, and from 1946 to 1958, the country serviced as the Pacific Proving Grounds for the United States. The US conducted 67 nuclear tests on the islands. On May 1, 1979, the United States recognized the constitution and establishment of the government of the Marshall Islands. The Marshall Islands COFA was signed in 1986. The Marshall Islands government currently operates under a mixed parliamentary-presidential system.
Palau is comprised of over 500 islands located in the Micronesia region of the western Pacific Ocean. The United States captured Palau from Japan in 1944. The Republic of Palau was established on January 1, 1981, and signed its COFA in 1982. Palau was granted zip codes 96939 and 96940 and receives regular US Mail delivery. Palau is a democratic republic with a President that services as both head of state and head of government.
The Federated States of Micronesia comprises more than 600 islands and is made up of four island states: Pohnpei, Kosrae, Chuuk, and Yap. After being captured by Japan in World War I, Operation Hailstone took place at Truk Lagoon where much of the Japanese fleet was based. The archipelago was administered by the United States in 1947 as part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. Four of the Trust Territory districts ratified a new constitution to become the Federal States of Micronesia in 1979, signing a COFA in 1986 and formally becoming independent by international law in 1990. The country still rules under the 1979 constitution, which guarantees fundamental human rights and establishes a separation of governmental powers. There are no formal political parties and the President and Vice President are elected by Congress from among the four senators of each state.
The three countries that are freely associated states include the Republic of Palau, the Republic of Marshal Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia.