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JRM chief: Defense department boosting investments in Pacific islands


Rear Adm. Ben Nicholson, commander of the Joint Region Marianas, addresses the Joint Annual District Court of Guam and Biennial Pacific Judicial Council Conference at Dusit Thani Guam on Sept. 20, 2022. Photo courtesy of District Court of Guam

By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

While the U.S. military aims to increase its presence in the Pacific islands regions, the strategy involves tapping into domestic facilities instead of erecting new defense installations on other islands, according to Rear Adm. Ben Nicholson, commander of the Joint Region Marianas.

"As the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command senior military official for this region, I am tasked with ensuring the defense of Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of Palau,"

Nicholson said, addressing the Joint Annual District Court of Guam and Biennial Pacific Judicial Council Conference at Dusit Thani Guam on Sept. 20.


"This part of my job can get a little complicated because we are not just looking at protecting Americans, or even just our country," he added.


Besides Guam, Nicholson noted that the Department of Defense operates conjointly with U.S. partners and allies for the defense of the entire region.


"But it's not all about Guam. We are also taking steps to shore up existing

infrastructure in other islands (and) investing in places, rather than building up more bases," he said. "This allows agility and the ability to move forces when and where they are needed."


In the FSM, one of the ongoing projects is the $37 million Yap airport rehabilitation funded by the Federal Aviation Administration. Former Yap Gov. Henry Falan confirmed last year that the airport, once completed, will be shared with the U.S. military "when needed.”


Katie Koenig, public affairs officer for JRM, noted that the Compact of Free Association between the U.S. and the FSM "provides for U.S. economic assistance, defense of the FSM and other benefits in exchange for U.S. defense and certain other operating rights in the FSM, denial of access to FSM territory by other nations, and other agreements."


"Title 3 specifically outlines the United States' role in security and defense of FSM," Koenig said in an email.


In Palau, the U.S. military will use the yet-to-be-completed second submarine cable in Ngardmau State for security purposes, according to Kaleb Udui, Jr., Palau’s minister of finance.


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Last week, Washington announced that the DOD "will explore new and unique approaches to bolster the region’s security and help build their capacity and resilience as secure, independent actors."


“DoD is working to expand its official representation and security cooperation offices in the region and work to ensure the Pacific islands are prioritized across the department,” ” states a fact sheet released on Sept. 13 by the State Department’s Office of the Spokesperson.


At the judicial conference this week, Nicholson reaffirmed Guam's vital role in regional defense and stability.


"Our presence here, and the relationships we are actively building upon is the key to the stability of the entire Indo-Pacific," he said.


The JRM chief noted that China, marked as “the most consequential strategic competitor to the United States and our allies and partners," is a "growing threat to regional and global stability."


China "is seen in many forms not just through military capabilities, which are quickly expanding, but through political and economic influence," Nicholson said. "As a military force, we are charged to defend against those who would threaten that stability," said Nicholson. "We also regularly partner with multiple countries in the Pacific, not only sharing our skills and capabilities but building those relationships so we can work together to effectively protect our mutual interests," he said.




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