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BC’s Tales of the Pacific | The case for island unification

FROM the settlement of the islands until about five hundred years ago, the lack of technology and the limits of transportation forced islanders to live in relative isolation from the rest of the world.

That was certainly true when compared to civilizations on continents. But we live in a world of the internet and jet travel. Isolation is neither possible nor desirable.

While it is true that occasional isolation is beneficial, which is why we love vacations, it is clear that for most of us, the positives of interaction outweigh the negatives. It is often forgotten that the Iroquois Confederation formed not to drive the Europeans out of North America, but to organize a unified trade bloc. The native tribes wanted what the English and French offered, mainly guns and horses.

Which brings us to the Pacific islands. Since the time of Magellan, islanders have found themselves at the mercy of one foreign power after another. The Spanish, Dutch, Chinese, Germans, English, French, Japanese and Americans have taken turns lording it over them, with mixed results. Islanders have benefited in many ways but have also suffered. Can the good-to-bad ratio be improved? Yes, and here’s how.

The future holds several possibilities for Pacific islanders. One possibility sees the islands continuing to chafe under the yoke of others, partly enslaved and partly free. Another possibility is that the islands could unite together. The Philippines and the Federated States of Micronesia are the closest the islands have ever come to an organic, home-grown political body. But they have been limited in both geographic and political scope.

If the Pacific islands unite in one ocean-wide federation they will see a great increase in their international clout. Instead of being bandied about by outside powers, they would be in a position to control their own destiny. Imagine the trade leverage of a solid nation that commanded the resources of all Pacific islands and the vast majority of the world’s largest ocean.

Contemplate the fish stocks contained within the borders of such a country. Imagine the agricultural and commercial potential. Think about the leverage such a federation would have as its representatives negotiated trade deals with China, Japan and the United States. Imagine the respect commanded as the prime minister of the Federated States of Oceania takes the platform at the United Nations.

So if such a large and powerful inter-island nation sounds so desirable, why hasn’t it happened? Because the forces working against it are greater than those promoting it. First, for the last one hundred years the historic trend is toward greater political fragmentation, not unification. Second, ethnic pride is strong and leads people to demand a voice for their small group. Third, other nations benefit from the political decentralization among the islands.

Is the political unification of the Pacific world possible? Yes. Is it desirable? Yes. Will it happen? Not likely.

BC Cook taught history for 20 years. He lived on Saipan and travels the Pacific but currently resides on the mainland U.S.