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Legacies of the Cold War: Environmental Degradation and the Ongoing Quest for Justice in the Republic of Marshall Islands

Thu, March 15, 8:30 to 10:00am, Riverside Convention Center, MR 10


During the Cold War, the United States tested a vast array of nuclear bombs and missiles in the Marshall Islands while conducting research on the effects of human exposure to radioactive fallout. In the race against the Soviet Union for nuclear supremacy, these military and human experiments reinforced the American strategy of deterrence, but they also led to the displacement of several atoll communities, serious health conditions in the Marshallese, and widespread environmental degradation.

Based largely on archival sources, this paper examines the Marshallese response to the health and environmental consequences of US policies in their islands. Confronted with the legacies of nuclear and missile tests in their homeland, the Marshall Islanders adopted a variety of political and legal tactics – including negotiations, petitions, lawsuits, and demonstrations – to draw attention to their plight in Washington and at the United Nations. As a result of these acts of indigenous resistance, the United States strengthened its strategic interests in the Marshalls but made some political and financial concessions to the islanders. Even in the post-Cold War era, however, Washington failed to provide adequate compensation to the Republic of the Marshall Islands for the extensive health and environmental damages caused by the US testing programs.