WASHINGTON: If the Pacific is the most important theater, then the islands of Palau are surely among the most important pieces of real estate for the US. As we reported earlier, however, the House Armed Services Committee didn’t seem to accept this when they dropped language from the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act authorizing payment due to Palau for exclusive US military access to the islands.
China, of course, would love to wedge itself into Palau, as they have done so successfully in other Pacific island states such as Fiji.
The news here is that Sen. John McCain’s Senate Armed Services Committee did approve the Palau Compact language, as we predicted. The Trump Administration admonished the House in its Statement of Administration Policy on the 2018 NDAA: “Failure to approve the CRA could imperil ongoing national security initiatives with the Republic of Palau and destabilize United States access and influence in a region that is increasingly contested by China.”
While the HASC may have sound congressional oversight reasons for refusing to allow the money to be transferred from the Pentagon’s accounts to the Interior Department, the fact remains that those reasons — to any observer of the aggressive actions of the Chinese in the Pacific islands — pals in comparison to the strategic benefit of the payments for the Palau Compact, especially since we’ve already agreed to make the payments.
The US is responsible for the defense of the Pacific islands. We were granted access to the island chain for 50 years under a Compact of Free Association. As part of that agreement, we owe Palau $123.9 million over the next seven years ($17.7 million a year). In return for that, we get exclusive access to the islands.
We should make those payments. And we’re betting the House agrees to the Senate’s language in the final conference negotiations because of the possible costs if we don’t.