Marshall Islands, a group of coral atolls in the Pacific Ocean that make up the Republic of the Marshall Islands. They are located north of the Equator and more than 2,300 miles (3,700 km) southwest of Hawaii. The Marshalls form part of Micronesia. They contain more than 1,100 islets in 33 atolls, with an area of only 68 square miles (176 km2). Most of them lie in two nearly parallel chains: the Ratak (sunrise) in the east and the Ralik (sunset) in the west. Among the atolls are Kwajalein, the largest; Majuro, the site of the capital; Eniwetok; and Bikini.
The Marshalls are a self-governing republic in free association with the United States. They have a constitution and an elected president and legislature. The United States provides military protection and economic and technical assistance.
The Marshalls were discovered and claimed by Spain in the mid-1500's. They were explored in 1788 by John Marshall, a British sea captain, for whom the islands were named. Germany occupied the Marshalls in 1886 and later bought them from Spain. They were seized by Japan in 1914, taken by United States forces in 1944, and included in the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands in 1947.
The U.S. Army performed nuclear weapons testing on Bikini from 1948 to 1954 and established a missile testing range in Kwajalein. As a consequence, native inhabitants of both islands were forced to relocate. The Marshalls were given self-government in 1979. A compact of free association with the United States became effective in 1986, when the Marshalls were withdrawn from the trust territory.