Monday, July 24, 2023

IMOA: SPP and COFA, Match Made in the Pacific

(IMOA) Imagine Pacific Original Article 

SPP and COFA, Match Made in the Pacific

By Lt. Col. Marlon Rimando, MD

Hawaii Air National Guard

Imagine Pacific Pulse    7/24/2023

In recognition of its 30th anniversary, it’s fitting that the United States Department of Defense's State Partnership Program (SPP) is poised more than ever to conduct capacity-building and empowering engagements in the Pacific (United States Department of Defense, n.d.)[1]. One such area where this could occur is between the National Guard and the Compact of Free Association (COFA) nations, including the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau. In fostering relationships and promoting security cooperation, the SPP can play a pivotal role in addressing the unique challenges faced by these Pacific island nations.

One of the primary interests in the region is the increasing influence of near-peer competitor nations (Asian Bureau of Research, 2017)[2]. As they expand their economic and diplomatic ties with the COFA nations, it becomes essential for the United States to prioritize its engagement with these countries. The SPP's efforts in building partnerships can serve as a strategic counterbalance to their growing influence and help ensure the long-term stability and development of the COFA nations.

Climate change is another pressing issue that profoundly affects the COFA nations. Rising sea levels, coastal erosion, and environmental degradation pose significant threats to these vulnerable island states (Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, 2022)[3]. The SPP's focus on environmental protection and sustainability can facilitate knowledge sharing and technical assistance in climate resilience and resource management, empowering the COFA nations to tackle climate-related challenges more effectively.

Moreover, the COFA nations' economic status could benefit from international support and cooperation. Through the SPP, U.S. states can provide expertise and resources in areas such as disaster response, healthcare, education, and economic development (Garamone, 2023)[4]. Working together by utilizing apparatus such as the SPP program, the COFA nations can access critical support to address their economic vulnerabilities and foster stronger, more resilient communities.

Furthermore, the SPP's emphasis on global health engagement offers significant potential for the COFA nations. The National Guard's experience in responding to public health emergencies can be leveraged to help Micronesia prepare for and respond to health crises, enhancing its capacity to address health challenges effectively (Brewington, Kokame, & Lewis, 2021)[5]. A study by the East-West Center showed that Micronesians had significantly worse Severity of Illness (SOI) for various health-related hospitalizations, emphasizing the need for support to address disparities (Hagiwara, 2016)[6]. Here is a perfect example where a program like the SPP could and should make a difference.

In conclusion, the State Partnership Program holds immense promise as a platform for building resilience in the COFA nations and promoting lasting relationships between U.S. states and these Pacific allies. Coincidently, the benefit is mutual with development capacity in COFA nations and preventative measures in the United States, as the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights reported more than $1 billion in costs associated with providing service to Micronesians for Hawaii and adjoining Pacific U.S. Territories (Rights, 2019)[7]. As the region faces growing geopolitical competition and climate change impacts, the SPP's role in fostering enduring partnerships takes on even greater significance. Strengthening ties and promoting shared goals, the SPP can contribute to a more comprehensive and coordinated U.S. approach in the Pacific, ensuring long-term sustainability and development in the region.

Lt Col Rimando is a graduate of the USAF Air War College and served on numerous State Partnership Program and Global Health Engagements with PACAF, the Hawaii Air National Guard, and the Hawaii National Guard. He is a Flight Surgeon, currently serving as the HING Task Force CBRNE Surgeon for the CERFP. He also works as a MEB Physician with Tripler Army Medical Center.

[1] United States Department of Defense. (n.d.). State Partnership Program.

[2]  National Bureau of Asian Research. (2017). China's Belt and Road Initiative in the Pacific Islands: Assessment of key economic issues and priorities.

[3] Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat. (2020). Communiqué of the 51st Pacific Islands Forum.

[4] Garamone, J. (July 19, 2023). Milley Touts Successes of Guard's State Partnership Program. DOD News.

[5] Brewington, L., Kokame, K., & Lewis, N. (2021). A Changing Climate and Its Implications for Health and Migration in the Pacific: Examples from the Marshall Islands. East-West Center.

[6] Hagiwara, M. K. (2016). Health disparities among Micronesians in Hawaii. Hawaii Journal of Medicine & Public Health, 75(11), 325-329.

[7] United States Commission on Civil Rights. (2019). Separate and Unequal: Federal Protections and Enforcement in the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of Palau.


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