'We are not at a level where we feel we are prepared'
Guam governor proposing a regional security council to tackle China threats
By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero is proposing the establishment of a regional security council that would give Pacific island leaders their own platform to develop strategies for dealing with security threats.
“Leaders in this part of the Pacific need to get together and unite in their voice on how to defend their islands,” Leon Guerrero said in a Q&A with journalist Cleo Paskal published in The Sunday Guardian.
“We don’t have our own military, but we certainly have to make sure that we are prepared and we know exactly what we need to do if these threats become very serious,” the governor told Paskal, a non-resident senior fellow for the Indo-Pacific at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
Defense officials have repeatedly highlighted Guam’s critical role in U.S. defense and power projection to deter a range of potential threats in the region.
Dubbed"tip of the spear," the island is designated as a logistics hub and jumping-off point for U.S. combat forces in the event of a conflict with China.
Guam is home to five nuclear-powered submarines and Terminal High Altitude Area Defense.
Military officials, however, pointed out that despite Guam’s protective distance from China, the island remains vulnerable to the People's Liberation Army's intermediate-range ballistic missile attack. Hence, the $1.4 billion Guam missile defense system to beef up current protection for the island.
“We are not at a level where we feel we are prepared, although our partnership with the military here is very, very good. They’re looking at how do we protect Guam—we are the first in the U.S. to protect the U.S.,” Leon Guerrero told The Sunday Guardian.
The U.S. military is also distributing its force posture in the region. Washington is boosting its investments in the Northern Mariana Islands and the freely associated states— Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands— to make them combat-ready for smooth shifting operations depending on where the threat is directed.
The FSM government recently announced the U.S. military’s plans to deploy “air defense assets” to Yap in preparation for its growing role in America’s power projection in the region.
Leon Guerrero said forming a security council with Guam’s neighbors in the region would allow Pacific islands “to have a stronger voice in the United States.”
“I have tasked my homeland security adviser to do more research. I’m thinking maybe involving all the key players of defense, our law enforcement, our National Guard," the governor told The Sunday Guardian.
"And not that the U.S. will be a sitting member of this council, but they would be very involved in participating with the strategies and so forth. That’s my thinking for our local island, but I [also] want to raise the issue on a regional level,” she added.
She said she will propose the creation of a security council at the Micronesian Island Forum's summit, which will be hosted by Guam next year. “We’d have to discuss how it’s going to be organized,’ she said.
The forum is composed of Guam, the CNMI, Palau, the Marshall Islands, the FSM, Nauru and Kiribati.
“It’s worth the five nations and Guam and CNMI standing up for much greater unity for our Micronesian islands. We are one,” the governor said.
She said the security council can provide a venue to discuss “what are the policies that we will be backing? How do we address China? How do we address threats? How do we address the U.S.? The landscape of threats is a bit, I think, overwhelming for all of us.”
At any rate, Leon Guerrero underscored the value of U.S. presence in the region.
“Some say that by allowing the U.S. military to base in Guam, we are making ourselves a target. That’s nonsense. We are a target because of geography. And I’d much prefer the U.S. military be here than the Chinese military,” the governor added.
Besides security issues, Leon Guerrero said the yet-to-be-proposed security council may tackle common challenges facing the Pacific islands.
“[One example of an area to work together], transportation is a very big concern for our islands. We are at the mercy of one airline [United]. And it’s very expensive to fly. Our island brothers and sisters’ minimum wage is anywhere from $2.25 to maybe as high as $3 or $4,” she said.
“But transportation is in the hundreds of dollars. Even 1000s. I think it’s a bit unreasonable. I think we could do better in supporting each other’s economy if we had a better transport and better cargo flow for supply of goods and services,” the governor added.