Those new to the Commonwealth may hear or read an occasional reference to the Trusteeship Agreement and the Trust Territory and for those unacquainted with the terms a cursory explanation follows. At the conclusion of the First World War in 1919 the League of Nations was organized.
Germany had controlled the Northern Mariana Islands since acquiring them from Spain, but with its defeat, Germany was stripped of all its overseas possessions. The Mariana Islands were turned over to the newly created League of Nations to be administered as the Japanese Mandated Territory. Japan had become an ally of the United States, Great Britain and France shortly before the end of the war and was named as the Pacific area's administering authority, remaining as such until defeated by the United States in 1994 during the Second World War. In 1945 the United Nations was organized, and in July 1947, the islands were placed under the purview of the Security Council since they were considered to be a strategic area.
Of the eleven Trusteeships to evolve out of the flames of World War II only one, that being in the western Pacific, was to be supervise by the United Nations’ Security Council where the United States exercised a veto power. The United States was appointed the administering authority under an agreement with the United Nations known as the Trusteeship Agreement. Under the terms of this Agreement the United States assumed the obligation to develop the area economically, socially and politically for eventual self-government.
At that time the area, known as the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, consisted of the island groups of Belau (Palau), Yap, Chuuk (Truk), Pohnpei (Ponape), Kosrae (Kusaie), the Marshalls and the Northern Marianas. Guam was not part of the Trust Territory. Negotiations for self-government, and thus eventual termination of the Trusteeship Agreement, first began in 1970. The people of the Marianas were the first of all the former Trust Territory entities to decide their future political identity, they decided to enter into a Commonwealth arrangement in political union with the United States. In all of Micronesia they were the only island group to do so. On May 28,1986 the United Nations Trusteeship Council concluded that the United States had satisfactorily discharged its obligations to the islands. On November 4, 1986 United States citizenship was conferred upon those people of the Northern Marianas that met the necessary qualifications.
On December 22,1990 the Security Council voted to dissolve the trusteeship over the Northern Marianas, Marshall Islands and the Federated States Of Micronesia. The full extent of the political relationship of the Northern Mariana Islands with the United States of America and many of the details pertaining there-to are largely unknown and imprecise to many of us at this time. This results in part because the relationship has not been defined in any detail and also from the fact that no other member of the American political family became so associated under circumstances even remotely similar to those by which the Northern Marianas became affiliated with the United States. Not even the nexus between the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico can provide much insight as to the extent and scope of the CNMI's Covenant agreement.
The issue is very much unsettled. It may be somewhat disconcerting to some when it is discovered that even students of the American legal structure will not venture to define what U.S. laws prevail in the islands and those that do not. Students of political science are uncertain of the connection with the result that there is confusion because of the many unresolved issues in this unique and complex relationship. There are those in the Commonwealth that wish to retain as much political and internal autonomy, indeed, independence from the federal government and the American legal structure as possible. How and when a determination will be made and a method devised to clear up the legal and political ambiguities which remain in this sometimes awkward political affiliation is a subject of conjecture and will no doubt remain so until resolved at the highest level of the American judicial system, presuming , of course, that a sufficiently justified issue is brought before the U. S. Supreme Court and the Court decides to hear the case.
The CNMI /US relationship is sometimes confused because it is still in the process of evolving. Indeed, Section 902 of the Covenant permits a reassessment of the relationship every 10 years. Thus, the process of learning the unintended consequences of the merging relationship with the United States, by necessity, continues to evolve and refined as time goes by. Many of the complex issues which were to arise in the future could not possibly have been foreseen in 1975 and thus a document was produced to permit flexibility in the new political relationship. A former Assistant Secretary of the U. S. Department of Interior has stated: "
Freedom to choose a political status carries with it the responsibility, first, to make an informed choice and second, to live with the benefits and responsibilities of that choice." Further the official stated," for insular leaders to argue that what they freely chose many years ago is not what they thought they were choosing is a criticism of those who chose, not those who offered the choice. It is clear from the plain English of the historical documents involved that the United States has sovereignty in the Commonwealth … sovereignty is not conditional and does not lend itself to subject applicability."