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'Guam, CNMI bear the price for national security’


Marine Corps Base Camp Blaz in Dededo will be home to 5,000 Marines whol will be relocated from Okinawa to Guam. Photo by Mar-Vic Cagurangan

 By Jayvee Vallejera

 

 A recently published article in the Journal of Indo-Pacific Affair called on the U.S. military to meaningfully engage with affected sectors in Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, instead of just going through the motions of consultations, when making military decisions that impact regional security, particularly in how they affect disabled veterans and Indigenous communities.

 

The article, titled “Democratic Deficiencies and the Price of Security: Diplomacy, Environmental Justice, and Genuine Security for Guam and the Mariana Islands” and published on March 12, calls out the U.S. military’s inclination to press ahead with its projects in the name of geopolitical stability and military deterrence, while minimally considering the input of voices in Guam and the Northern Marianas in how those projects will affect these two non-self-governing jurisdictions.


The authors, Sylvia C. Frain, Kieren Rudge and Nathan A. Tilton, examined the challenges arising from military deterrence strategies in the Indo-Pacific region.


The authors concede that both Guam and the CNMI straddle an area of the Pacific that is at the nexus of global geopolitics so conflicts such as those between the United States and China effectively paint a giant “X” spot on both areas in case any conflict escalates into outright war, hence the need to come up with military deterrence strategies and create a defensive posture for the U.S. military.


Yet the authors lament that the U.S. government’s approach to accountable democratic governance and motherhood statements about supposedly supporting the “Indo-Pacific governments’ capacity to make independent political choices,” largely fall flat when it comes to how the U.S. government and its military create its military deterrence strategies.


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“The reality for the communities in the Mariana Islands differs significantly,” the authors stated in the article posted on the Department of the Air Force’s online journal.


An example they cited is the planned relocation of the III Marine Expeditionary Force personnel and their dependents from Okinawa to Guam. That 2009 agreement between Japan and the United States happened just between these two superpowers, without any consultation, consent, or even knowledge from the local communities most impacted by the U.S. military presence.


“Members of Guam’s local leadership were unaware of these policy decisions and only learned of the military plans through Japanese-speaking newspapers. Even the governor of Guam’s office was not involved nor offered any consulting process or mechanism,” the authors said.


In a further example of ignoring local voices, the U.S. military released in 2009 the draft environmental impact statement for the military relocation. The report, released in nine volumes, 22 chapters at 11,000 pages, took more than five years to create and is the longest in U.S. history, yet Guam and CNMI residents and local agencies were given only 45 days to submit their comments.


“The number of comments in opposition was extraordinary in DOD history, with more than 10,000 written comments submitted,” the authors stated.


 “In international law, this form of consultation is not the same as consent,” said the Guam-based law firm Blue Ocean Law, which petitioned the United Nations to “remind the United States that its militarization of Guam amounts to a violation of international law” due to the lack of “free, prior and informed consent.”

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The article also highlighted Guam’s status as a territory that limits its participation in the democratic process. Among other consequences, U.S. veterans living on Guam are unable to fully access their benefits despite bearing the brunt of diseases and disabilities that are largely blamed on military activities that also have attendant environmental impacts, like what happened to Red Hill in Hawaii and Camp LeJeune in North Carolina.


“Veterans, especially those with disabilities, grapple with a myriad of medical conditions directly tied to their service. This prompts ethical questions about the intersection of military practices with disability issues and calls for a more nuanced approach that considers genuine security and procedural justice,” the authors said.


The article pointed out that U.S. citizens of the Mariana Islands are serving in the U.S. Armed Forces at the highest rates per capita, and are owed veteran health care.


The article also cited a 2023 conference hosted by the Guam-based Commission on Decolonization that highlighted Guam’s disproportionate role in protecting the geopolitical interests of the United States and Guam’s pursuit of sovereignty.


One of the event’s speakers, Dr. Kenneth Kuper, pointed out that, while the U.S. military is supposed to protect the United States against “threats,” that largely means the “continental United States” and that Guam merely functions as a component of a broader plan—a staging location for the security response.


“The presence of the United States in Guam is exclusively for U.S. security interests, not local Guam security. The United States prioritizes its own interests and utilizes Guam as needed to protect the mainland rather than ensuring the protection of Guam and its U.S. citizens,” the authors stated.


The article quotes Kuper as saying that what is “good for U.S. security is not always good for Guam security—it is not zero-sum nor does security trickle down.”


This event was another instance when the U.S. military was mute. Conference organizers said representatives from Joint Region Marianas were invited to participate, but no DOD personnel came.


“The people, lands, and oceans of the Mariana Islands, along with over a million square miles surrounding them, continue to bear a disproportionate burden for the continental United States. Residents shoulder the weight of being utilized as a preparation location for geopolitical competition, navigating the impact of how the U.S. approaches geopolitical tensions while claiming to promote national security through force,” the article states.


The article’s authors pointed out that the U.S. national security mission, based on freedom and democracy, falls short in Guam’s case.


The Pacific Air Forces’ largest, multinational exercise Cope North kicked off on Tinian on Feb. 24, 2024. Photo courtesy of US Air Force

“If the United States were genuinely committed to the Indo-Pacific strategy, efforts would be made, as human rights and international law require, to address these democratic deficiencies and provide genuine security,” they said.


The authors posit that large-scale changes to political status and international relationships concerning militarization must be considered for Guam and the CNMI.


 The authors offered four recommendations to ensure that the rapid militarization of the region is balanced by genuine security, inclusive dialogue and proactive policy changes that respect the voices and well-being of those most affected.


The four recommendations are:


1. Immediate inclusive and sincere dialogue. The article’s authors said it is crucial for governments and policy makers to engage directly with disabled veterans and Indigenous communities by actively listening to them.


2. Proactive environmental audits. That means there should be comprehensive and transparent environmental assessments before any military projects.


3. Accountability and transparency. That means creating mechanisms for monitoring and public reporting of environmental and social metrics in military zones.


4. Future research with present concerns. Scholarly work should focus on the interlinked realities of military deterrence, disability and indigenous rights. The author said research should prioritize the lived experiences of those most affected, providing insights into the multifaceted impacts of these issues.



 

 

 

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