The Marshall Islands were managed from the
end of World War II until 1986 (formally 1990) by the
United States under UN supervision. Between 1946 and
1958, the Americans conducted a variety of nuclear
weapons tests in the air over the islands and
radioactive fallout spread over large areas. Some atolls
are uninhabitable even today. The Marshall Islands have
received damages from the United States as the extent of
the damage was discovered. Even after independence in
1986, the Marshall Islands' ties to the United States
remained strong - albeit complicated.
After fierce battles during World War II, the United
States conquered the Marshall Islands from Japan in
1944. Nearly all Japanese who moved to the islands
during the Japanese occupation of 1914-1944 were forced
to flee. Three years later, the Americans were given the
UN's mandate to administer the islands as an American
Protectorate (Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands)
under UN supervision. The US was thus granted the right
to establish military bases in the area. The territory
was ruled by the US Navy in 1947-1951, but was then
handed over to a civilian administration.
List of most commonly used acronyms containing Marshall Islands. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.
During the years 1946–1958, the United States
conducted 67 nuclear weapons tests in the air over the
Marshall Islands. The force of the test blasts together
amounted to more than 7,000 hiroshima bombs. Because
they occurred in the atmosphere, and not underground,
radioactive fallout spread in large quantities over the
The tests were carried out at the Bikini and Enewetak
atolls, but the Rongelap atoll was also directly
affected by the fallout. The population of these atolls
was evacuated. The Enewetak residents could return to
parts of their atoll in 1980 after decontamination.
However, the most soiled parts should be blocked for
another 300 years. The bikinis were able to return in
1970 but were evacuated again in 1978 when measurements
showed it could be dangerous to eat crops grown on the
islands. The Rongelap residents were only evacuated
three days after being exposed to radioactivity from one
of the largest test blasts conducted. They were allowed
to return in 1957 but were evacuated again in 1985.
Over time, a dispute arose with the United States
about the Marshall Islands' claims for damages to those
affected by the test blasts. Some compensation is
guaranteed in the agreement on free association (see
below), but the Marshall Islands have made additional
compensation as the extent of the injuries became known
(see also Foreign Policy and Defense).
Independence from the United States began to be
debated in the 1960s, but concrete negotiations were not
conducted until the following decade. In a referendum in
1978, the people of the Marshall Islands rejected the
idea of being part of the future Micronesian
Federation, and the following year adopted its own
constitution that provided internal autonomy.
Four years later, a Compact of Free Association
agreement was signed with the United States. The
agreement came into force in 1986 and states that the
Marshall Islands are an independent state but that the
United States is responsible for the islands' defense
and national security. The United States is committed to
providing significant financial assistance. The
agreement can be terminated by the Marshall Islands at
any time, provided it is approved in a referendum. In
1990, the United Nations formally ended the US
administration and the Marshall Islands became a UN
member the following year.
In 1979, the country's first president was elected
Iroijlaplap ("Supreme Chief") Amata Kabua. He was the
foremost traditional leader who thus also gained the
formal political power. His position was strong and he
was re-elected four times before he died in 1996 and was
succeeded by his cousin Imata Kabua.
Increased political turbulence
During Imata Kabua, the political situation became
more dynamic and conflict-filled. In an attempt to
attract tourists to the islands, gambling was allowed in
1996. However, the games mainly attracted the indigenous
population and church leaders tried to ban the gambling.
In 1998 Parliament decided on a ban, but only after
several members, including President Kabua, were
declared in disarray because of their business interests
in the gaming industry. Shortly thereafter, three
government members were deposed who supported the gaming
ban. One of them then demanded that Parliament vote in
confidence on the president, the first in the country's
history. When this was done, the president with
supporters blocked parliamentary work for a time through
a boycott. When the work resumed, the president won the
vote with an overweight vote.
In the 1999 election, voters showed their
dissatisfaction with the seated politicians. The
dismissed members of the government had shortly before
formed the political group United Democratic Party (UDP),
which won 18 of the 33 seats in parliament. The UDP thus
gained its own majority in parliament and formed
government. For the first time, a person without roots
was elected in the country's traditional aristocracy,
the former Speaker Kessai Note.
When the parliamentary elections were held in
November 2003, the battle was mainly between the UDP and
the newly formed opposition group Our Islands Party (OIP).
The UDP majority increased to 20 seats. In January 2004,
President Note was re-elected by Parliament for another
The agreement with the US is renegotiated
In the years following the turn of the millennium,
negotiations were held on the free association agreement
between the United States and the Marshall Islands. A
new agreement became clear in the spring of 2003. It
guarantees continued financial support from the United
States of America for about $ 30 million annually until
2024, against which the Americans may retain the
military base of the Kwajalein Atoll until 2066. In
addition, the United States pledged to contribute 7 to
2024. million dollars annually to a fund for future use.
During his second term in office, Note and his
government sought to enforce a constitutional amendment
so that the president would continue to be elected
directly by the people. The process was halted by the
opposition, which wanted to postpone the issue until
after the fall of 2007. The government then promised a
referendum on the matter, but no such one ever came to
The November 2007 parliamentary elections ended in a
deadlock between President Notes UDP and the opposition
Alliance United Nations Party / Our Islands Party (OIP).
In some constituencies the votes had to be recalculated.
When the recalculation was complete, the United People's
Party / Our Island Party had lost a mandate. The UDP
became the largest in parliament but lacked its own
majority. Thus, both parties became dependent on
Parliament's four independent members to form a
The United People's Party / Our Islands Party won the
tug of war. In early 2008, former President Litokwa
Tomeing was elected from the alliance as new president
with 18 votes to 15.
Minister is convicted of fraud
In March 2009, Foreign Minister Tony de Brum was
dismissed after openly criticizing the president. De
Brum was then behind attempts to topple the government
in a vote of confidence. This failed but led to a
In October of that year, a new vote of confidence was
lost which President Tomeing lost by a two-vote margin
(17-15). On October 26, Parliament appointed President
Jurelang Zedkaia as the new president with the 17-15
votes. His only counterpart was Kessai Note who had led
the opposition to Tomeing. With the exception of the
Minister of Justice, all members of the Tomeing
government were allowed to remain in Zedkaia's new
In 2010, charges of corruption were directed against
the government. In June 2011, twelve people were
indicted for embezzling US aid intended for the
Department of Education, the Health and Finance. One
month later, Minister of Transport Kenneth Kedi was
sentenced to 30 days' conditional imprisonment and fines
for misappropriation of public funds. However, he was
allowed to remain in his post after serving a sentence.
In 2012, several officials were sentenced at the
ministries for participation in the scandal.
As a result of the embezzlement, the penalty scale
for bribery and other corruption crimes was sharpened in
September 2011, and in November the Marshall Islands
signed the UN Convention against Corruption.
Loeaks time as president
Ahead of the November 2011 parliamentary elections,
senators and ministers formed the group Your Government,
in support of President Zedkaia. However, the electorate
was UDP and OIP, which together with some independent
candidates received 20 of the 33 seats.
In January 2012, the new parliament elected
Christopher Loeak from OIP as president. He belonged to
the country's traditional aristocracy and had previously
been prime minister. Loeak formed a government
consisting of ten ministers from mainly OIP and UDP. The
only woman in the government was Hilda Heine, who was
given the responsibility of the Ministry of Education.
In November 2013, the Loeak government survived a
vote of confidence in Parliament, in which the
opposition reacted to the government's handling of a
minor diplomatic dispute with Taiwan. A controversy over
the appointment of the Marshall Islands representative
to the UN agency Unesco in March 2014 led to a new vote
of confidence, which the government also passed, and a
smaller government transformation.
First female president
The November 2015 parliamentary elections were a
setback for the incumbent government. Half of the
ministers lost their seats in Parliament. Winners
instead became the opposition group Your Government,
which won 23 of the 33 seats.
Despite your government's clear electoral victory,
supporters of the old Loeak government still managed to
get their nominee, Casten Nemra, elected by parliament
for president in January 2016. However, later that
month, Nemra fell into a vote of confidence after
several members switched sides and now sympathized with
Your government. On the following day, Parliament
elected independent member Hilda Heine as new head of
state and government. She was elected with the support
of Your Government and a number of independent members.
Hilda Heine became the Marshall Islands' first female
president. In the country, she was known as a champion
for women's rights as well as a voice in the low-lying
island republic's fight against climate change.
A new controversial law was passed by Parliament in
September 2016, which means that marshales living abroad
(close to one-third of the population) are no longer
allowed to vote, but must personally appear in the
country to put their ballot in the ballot boxes.
In February 2017, a committee of 45 members was set
up, whose task is to review a series of draft amendments
that have long been debated in Parliament. These include
introducing direct presidential elections and reserving
six seats in parliament for women. In order for any
amendments to be adopted, they must first be approved in