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Country Fast Facts:Marshall Islands

Marshall Islands

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Although they were settled by Micronesians in the 2nd millennium BC, little is known of the early history of the islands. Spanish explorer Alonso de Salazar was the first European to sight the Marshall Islands in 1526, but the islands remained virtually unvisited by Europeans for several more centuries, before the arrival of British Captain John Marshall in 1788; the islands owe their name to him.

A German trading company settled on the islands in 1885, and they became part of the protectorate of German New Guinea some years later. Japan conquered the islands in World War I, and administered them as a League of Nations mandate.

In World War II, the United States occupied the islands (1944), and they were added to the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (including several more island groups in the South Sea).

Between 1946 and 1958 the United States tested 66 nuclear weapons in the Marshall Islands, including the largest nuclear test the United States ever conducted, Castle Bravo. Nuclear claims between the United States and the Marshall Islands are ongoing, and health effects still linger from these tests.

After almost four decades under US administration as the easternmost part of the UN Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, the Marshall Islands attained independence in 1986 under a Compact of Free Association.

Compensation claims continue as a result of U.S. nuclear testing on some of the atolls between 1947 and 1962.

The Marshall Islands hosts the U.S. Army Kwajalein Atoll (USAKA) Reagan Missile Test Site, a key installation in the U.S. missile defense network.

Source: CIA World Fact Book