July 9 – Constitution Day in Palau

Posted on July 9, 2014

Wikipedia says that Palau developed the first “nuclear-free” constitution in 1981. – but that the country dropped “nuclear-free” in 1994 in order to become an “associated state” to the U.S.

And that got me wondering...

What is an “associated state”?

 A territory is an associated state if it has a relationship with another—usually much larger—nation but still has a degree of self-rule. Some minor partners that have relationships with larger nations are called “protectorates” or some other label, but when no other label fits, they are called associated states.

How many associated states are there in the world?

There are only five who are in formal associations: two (Cook Islands and Niue) that are associated with New Zealand, and three (Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, and Palau) that are associated with the U.S.

Jellyfish Lake
However, there are some dependent territories and countries associated with larger countries, usually for the sake of defense. For example, Andorra depends on Spain and France to defend it, and Monaco depends on France.

Spearfishing in the clear water

What does the U.S. do for Palau?

It provides defense, as you probably guessed. Also, the U.S. also funds grants and gives access to social services. Palau uses the U.S. dollar as its currency, but actually quite a few countries that have no formal association with the U.S. do that (like Ecuador). 

What about that anti-nuclear constitution?

As I mentioned earlier, in 1981 Palau voted for the world's first nuclear-free constitution which explicitly banned the use, storage, and disposal of nuclear, toxic chemical, gas and biological weapons without being approved by a three-fourths majority in a referendum (vote).

But the United States had some power over Palau, because it was part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands set up after World War II. And the U.S. insisted that, if they were to grant Palau full independence, it be allowed to operate its nuclear subs within Palau waters. With the promise of independence dangling as a reward, Palauans finally voted (on the eighth referendum!) to amend that part of the constitution.

Where in the world is Palau?

This island group is part of Micronesia, found near the Philippines, Indonesia, and the other islands in the western Pacific Ocean. The islands were settled some 3,000 years ago. In the late 1800s they were colonized by Spain, and they were later were sold to Imperial Germany. The Imperial Japanese Navy conquered the islands during World War I.

(No wonder Palauans want help with their defense from a larger country!)

What more should we know about Palau?

  • Well, I don't know that you SHOULD know anything at all about Palau, but I found it very interesting that there are from 200 to 250 islands in the nation.
  • Most of the islands are volcanoes or coral atolls.
  • Only eight of the islands are inhabited!
  • Some of the islands formed by coral reefs have bases that have been eroded away. These islands are often compared to fuzzy green mushrooms.






  • Divers love to go to Palau! Not only is there great visibility in the clear blue waters, but there are cool underwater walls and caves formed by eroded coral, and there are also sunken planes and ships from World War II.


  • Some of the caves on Palauan islands are adorned with elaborate artwork. From this and other evidence, we know that the caves have been used by humans for at least four thousand years.




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