By Michael Walsh
What counts as the Pacific homeland of the United States may be in a state of flux. In some contexts, there appears to be a geographic narrowing taking place. Consider the U.S. Army Pacific. This year, the U.S. Army Pacific declared that the term “U.S. Pacific homeland” refers to Hawaii and the U.S. Pacific territories.
Last year, the U.S. Army Pacific declared that the same term refers to Alaska, Hawaii, U.S. Pacific Territories, and the West Coast of the continental U.S.
In other contexts, there appears to be a geographic widening taking place. Consider the U.S. Department of State. Earlier this year, the Integrated Country Strategy for the Federated States of Micronesia declared that the “U.S. Pacific homeland” refers to Hawaii, U.S. Pacific territories and freely associated states.
Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Insular Affairs Carmen Cantor echoed this meaning at her recent nomination hearing before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources of the U.S. Congress. Such widening appears to extend the geographic application of the “U.S. Pacific homeland” beyond the “sovereign soil of our own Pacific homeland.”
These policy moves beg the question of what should count as the Pacific homeland of the United States. Note, this is a potentially contestable question. Some could argue that extending the range of the concept to the freely associated states is useful because it helps to deter China from attacking U.S. military forces and footprint located in Palau, the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia.
Others could counter that it is harmful because it raises questions about the colonial legacy and sovereignty status of the freely associated states. Still others could counter that it is harmful because it provides major power competitors like the Russian Federation with an international legal precedent that they could use to try to deter Western intervention in breakaway republics. It is therefore remarkable that Sen. James Lankord, R-Ok., did not pose this follow-up question to Cantor.
In the months ahead, there will be other opportunities for the members of Congress to pose this question to senior officials in the Biden Administration during public hearings. They should make it a priority to do so.
Michael Walsh is an affiliate of the Center for Australian, New Zealand, and Pacific Islands Studies at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service of Georgetown University. This op-ed piece was first published in Marianas Variety.