The Marshall Islands are located north of the Equater and are made up of two chains of coral atolls, as well as more than 1,000 islets. After World War II, the islands were occupied by the US as part of the UN Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. The Marshall Islands became independent in 1986 under a Compact of Free Association with the US. The compact was renegotiated in 2003.
The Marshall Islands host a US test missile site on the Kwajalein Atoll, a key location for the American global defense network. The US pays an annual rent for the use of the base. The US also controls the security and defense of the islands.
Marshall Island received $150 million from the US as compensation for the victims of American nuclear tests conducted between 1946 and1958. The tests were carried out on Enewetak and Bikini islands. Enewetak is now partly decontaminated, but Bikini is still uninhabitable. Both the islands’ government has continued to demand further compensation.
The biggest issues facing the country is its financial dependence on the US and high unemployment. The islands have more imports than exports, and many residents live on subsistence farming. Some potential sources of revenue are tourism, selling fishing rights to other countries, and ship registrations under the flag of Marshall Islands.
The current president, Litokwa Tomeing, was previously the Speaker of the parliament. He was elected as president in January 2008, following a "chaotic" election in November 2007 that did not produce a clear winner. Before he was elected, Tomeing had spoken about shifting diplomatic relations from Taiwan to China. However, he made his foreign minister Tony deBrum, who held that post when the Marshall Islands first recognized Taiwan a decade earlier. In response, Taiwan recently gave the Marshall Islands a multi-million dollar grant to upgrade the Marshall Islands’ national airline.
Sources: BBC, International Crisis Group, CIA World Factbook.