Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Multilateral Resource Negotiations Between Weak and Powerful States: The Case of the 1987 United States-Pacific Island Fisheries Treaty

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posted on 2021-11-12, 15:29 authored by Havea, Sōsefo Fietangata

On April 2, 1987, the Treaty on Fisheries Between Governments of Certain Pacific Island States and the Government of the United States of America was signed. The signatories to the Fisheries were the 16 members of the South Pacific Forum and the United States of America. After six difficult years of negotiations, the Treaty permitted American fishing vessels to fish in Pacific Islands’ waters in exchange for a substantial access fee. This thesis identifies key aspects of that treaty and examines what it meant from both a theoretical and practical standpoint. How did a collection of small, comparatively weak Pacific states strike a satisfactory deal with the most powerful state on the planet? What did the agreement mean in terms of its political, legal and environmental consequences? As well as looking at the events and negotiations that led to the treaty, this thesis also attempts to discern the key political lessons that flow from this case that might be relevant for the future development of the Pacific island States in the key area of fisheries regulation. The thesis argues that disputes between Pacific nations and the United States over tuna resources and the presence of the Soviet Union in the Pacific region were the two critical factors that led to the adoption of the Treaty. From the United States’ perspective, the Treaty was seen (at the time) as the only viable option if it were to reconsolidate its long and prosperous position in the Pacific region. The US did not want the Soviet Union to capitalize on American fishing disputes with the Pacific islands, and it could not afford for the Soviet Union to establish a strong association with the Pacific islands. The Treaty therefore served three purposes for Washington: (i) it maintained its long friendship with the Pacific islands, (ii) it maintained its fisheries interests in the region, (iii) and it kept the Pacific communist-free. This fusion of US economic and strategic interests gave Pacific Island States a stronger hand in the negotiations than their size and power would have otherwise offered.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

International Relations

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Arts

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations


Capie, David