The Marshall Islands , officially the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), is a Micronesian nation of islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, just west of the International Date Line and just north of the Equator. This nation of roughly 60,000 persons is located north of Nauru and Kiribati, east of the Federated States of Micronesia, and south of the U.S. territory of Wake Island, to which it lays claim.
Although the Marshall Islands were settled by Micronesians
in the 2nd millennium BC
, little is known of their early history.
Arrivals of the Europeans
explorer Alonso de Salazar
was the first European
to see the islands in 1526, but they remained virtually unvisited by Europeans until the arrival of British
Captain John Marshall
in 1788. The islands were named after him.
A German trading company settled on the islands in 1885. They became part of the protectorate of German New Guinea some years later.
World War I
conquered the islands in World War I
. The Japanese administered them as a League of Nations mandate
World War II
In World War II
, the United States
, during the Gilbert and Marshall Islands campaign
, invaded and occupied the islands (1944) destroying or isolating the Japanese garrisons. The archipelago
was added to the US Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands
, along with several other island groups in the South Sea.
After World War II
From 1946 to 1958, as the site of the Pacific Proving Grounds
, the US tested 66 nuclear weapons
in the Marshall Islands, including the largest nuclear test
the US ever conducted, Castle Bravo
. Nuclear claims between the US and the Marshall Islands are ongoing, and health effects from these tests linger. (See Rongelap
In 1979, the Government of the Marshall Islands was officially established and the country became self-governing.
In 1986, the Compact of Free Association with the United States entered into force, granting the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) its sovereignty. The Compact provided for aid and US defense of the islands in exchange for continued US military use of the missile testing range at Kwajalein Atoll. The independence procedure was formally completed under international law in 1990, when the UN officially ended the Trusteeship status.
On March 21
, the government of the Marshall Islands declared a state of emergency due to a prolonged drought
On July 3, 2008, the government of the Marshall Islands declared a state of emergency related to energy shortages due to a lack of financial reserves and unusually-high energy costs.
The government of the Marshall Islands operates under a mixed parliamentary-presidential system as set forth in its Constitution. Elections are held every four years in universal suffrage (for all citizens above 18 years of age), with each of the twenty-four constituencies (see below) electing one or more representatives (senators) to the lower house of RMI’s bicameral legislature, the Nitijela. (Majuro, the capital atoll, elects five senators.) The President, who is head of state as well as head of government, is elected by the 33 senators of the Nitijela.
Legislative power lies with the Nitijela. The upper house of Parliament, called the Council of Iroij, is an advisory body comprising twelve tribal chiefs.
The executive branch consists of the President and the Presidential Cabinet, which consists of ten ministers appointed by the President with the approval of the Nitijela.
The twenty-four electoral districts into which the country is divided correspond to the inhabited islands and atolls.
There are currently three political parties in the Marshall Islands: Aelon Kein Ad (AKA), United People's Party (UPP), and United Democratic Party (UDP). Rule is shared by the AKA and the UPP.
The country consists of 29 atolls
and 5 isolated islands. The most important atolls and islands form two groups: the Ratak Chain
and the Ralik Chain
(meaning "sunrise" and "sunset" chains). The Marshall Islands also lays claim to Wake Island
, administered by the United States
, under the name Enen-kio
The uninhabited atolls are:
A majority of the islands' land mass is at sea level.
The climate is hot and humid, with a wet season from May to November.
The islands occasionally suffer from typhoons. Many Pacific typhoons start in the Marshall Islands region and grow stronger as they move west toward the Mariana Islands and the Philippines.
General Economic Conditions
Over the past decade, GDP growth averaged only 1% due to government downsizing, drought, a drop in construction, the decline in tourism and foreign investment due to Asian financial difficulties, and less income from the renewal of fishing-vessel licenses.
The 2007 edition of "Doing Business," prepared by the World Bank's private sector development department, declared the Marshall Islands to be the world's "Best Performer" for its ease and low expense in hiring and firing employees. But the study gave the Marshall Islands extremely-low ratings for its protection of investors and contract enforcement.
In 2007, the Marshall Islands joined the International Labor Organization
, which means its labor laws will comply with international benchmarks. This will impact business conditions in the islands.
are low. The income tax
has two brackets with small rates (8% and 14%). The corporate tax
is 11.5%. The general sales tax
is 6%. There are no property taxes
government assistance is the mainstay of the economy.
Under the terms of the Amended Compact of Free Association, the US will provide millions of dollars per year to the Marshall Islands (RMI) through 2023, at which time a trust fund made up of US and RMI contributions will begin perpetual annual payouts.
The United States Army maintains its Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll. It is important for the local economy, as the Marshallese land owners receive rent for the base, and a large number of Marshallese work there. Majuro Atoll also benefited from foreign assistance. The main airport was built by the Japanese during World War II, and the only tarmac road of the capital was built partly by the Taiwanese and partly by the Americans.
Agricultural production is concentrated on small farms. The most-important commercial crops are coconuts
, and breadfruit
Small-scale industry is limited to handicrafts, fish processing, and copra
The tourist industry, now a small source of foreign exchange employing less than 10% of the labor force, remains the best hope for future added income. The islands have few natural resources, and imports far exceed exports.
In 2005, Aloha Airlines canceled its flight services to the Marshall Islands as part of its withdrawal from several markets in the region. Though other international airlines still serve Majuro, the Aloha decision was a setback in the country's hopes of increased revenues from tourism.
Fishing has been critical to the economy of this island nation since its settlement.
In 1999, a private company built a tuna loining plant with more than 400 employees, mostly women. But the plant closed in 2005, after a failed attempt to convert it to produce tuna steaks, a process that requires half as many employees. Operating costs exceeded revenue, and the plant's owners tried to partner with the government to prevent closure. But government officials personally interested in an economic stake in the plant refused to help. After the plant closed, it was taken over by the government, which had been the guarantor of a $2 million loan to the business. The government effectively shut down the only viable industry to ever exist in the Marshall Islands.
On September 15, 2007, Witon Barry (of the Tobolar Copra processing plant in the Marshall Islands capital of Majuro
) said power authorities, private companies, and entrepreneurs had been experimenting with coconut oil
as alternative to diesel fuel
, power generators
, and ships
. Coconut trees
abound in the Pacific's tropical islands
, the meat of the coconut
, yields coconut oil (1 liter
for every 6 to 10 coconuts).
The Marshallese are of Micronesian
origin and migrated from Asia several thousand years ago.
Two-thirds of the nation's population lives on Majuro, the capital, and Ebeye. The outer islands are sparsely populated due to lack of employment opportunities and economic development. Life on the outer atolls is generally still fairly traditional.
The Marshall Islands Ministry of Education operates the state schools in the Marshall Islands.
The nutrition of the rural population, consuming food that is either grown or caught, is superior to that of most of the urban residents, who rely considerably on white rice.
The Marshall Islands has the highest rate of leprosy in the world.
Although English is an official language and is spoken widely, though not fluently, Marshallese is used by the government. Japanese is also spoken occasionally in some areas.
Although the skills are now in decline, the Marshallese were once able navigators, using the stars and stick-and-shell charts. They are also experienced in canoe-building. They still hold annual competitions involving the unique oceanic sailing canoe, the proa.
Virtually all Marshallese are Christian. Most of them are Protestant.
- Hein, J.R., F.L. Wong, and D.L. Mosier. (2007). Bathymetry of the Republic of the Marshall Islands and vicinity [Miscellaneous Field Studies; Map-MF-2324]. Reston, VA: U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey.