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Guam's Return to Prominence
The 2006 agreement between the United States and Japan to shift 8,000 U.S. Marines from bases in Japan to the island of Guam by 2014 is likely to have more far-reaching implications than just a change of address for some units of the Marine Corps’ III Marine Expeditionary Force (III MEF). The move is accelerating the return to prominence of Guam in the U.S. defense posture and fostering a higher level of cooperation among the U.S. armed forces in the Pacific region.
Rear Adm. Gary A. Engle, former commander of the Pacific Division, Naval Facilities Engineering Command, said the advent of the Marines creates the opportunity for forces on Guam “to be a model of jointness in how we operate.”
Guam has been the hub of joint military exercises in recent years, including Exercise Valiant Shield 2006 in June, which included three aircraft carrier strike groups operating together, along with other Navy ships and aircraft, Coast Guard units, and Air Force and Marine Corps aircraft. Exercise Resultant Fury in December 2004 involved joint sea strike exercises with Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy aircraft.
Guam, which is located 3,500 miles west of Hawaii and 1,300 miles southeast of Japan, is the largest and southernmost island of the Marianas Island chain. With a population of 160,000, Guam hosts more than 12,000 military personnel and their family members. The island supports two major facilities: Naval Base Guam, home to three attack submarines and a submarine tender, and Anderson Air Force Base, home to a Navy helicopter squadron and rotating deployments of Air Force bombers and tankers.
The other islands in the Marianas chain form the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, which has an agreement with the United States for training facilities and hosting one of the Military Sealift Command’s three Maritime Prepositioning Force squadrons. One of the islands, Farallon de Medinilla, is an uninhabited 200-acre island leased in 1976 for 100 years and is the Pacific Fleet’s only U.S.-controlled range available for live-fire training for forward-deployed naval forces.
Acquired from Spain in 1898 as a result of the Spanish-American War, Guam became a territory of the United States and emerged as an important refueling station. Captured by Japan in 1941, it was retaken by U.S. forces in a bitter battle in 1944 and was an important logistics base for the remainder of the Pacific campaign.
During the Cold War, Guam was a base for ballistic-missile submarines and patrol planes to counter Soviet submarines. During the Vietnam War, it was the launching point for B-52 bombers on long-range strikes on Vietnam. In the 1990s, the post-Cold War drawdown left U.S. force levels on Guam at low ebb.
U.S. forces began building up in Guam in 2002 when the Navy moved the first of three attack submarines to the naval base, placing them closer to deployment regions, saving time in transit and freeing more time for operations. The Navy expects to move two more submarines there. The Air Force has begun rotational deployments of B-1, B-2 and B-52 bombers to Guam.
“Guam has several advantages, including its position in the Western Pacific,” said Air Force Lt. Gen. Dan Leaf, deputy commander of the U.S. Pacific Command and the military’s point man on the build-up in Guam. “The fact that there’s an existing [Department of Defense] infrastructure is another advantage because of the significant amount of land” held by DoD.
U.S. sovereignty over the island is another advantage, making use of forces more flexible and free from host-country political considerations regarding foreign policy, deployments and status-of-forces agreements.
The move of 8,000 Marines and an estimated 9,000 family members -- mostly from Okinawa -- is driven not by military strategy but the result of negotiations between the United States and Japan to reduce the social tension and environmental impact of large numbers of U.S. troops and aircraft on the small island. Moving the Marines to Guam places them more than 1,000 miles further from the Far East and potential flashpoints such as the Korean peninsula and the Taiwan Straits.
“There’s no free lunch to putting forces inward,” Leaf said, noting that Guam is an “excellent choice for that rebasing. Normally, forces based in the Pacific are also global forces and may be needed outside our area of responsibility. Guam will provide a good location for that kind of response as well.”
“To be able to sustain our posture in the Western Pacific more efficiently and effectively, we need to restructure our basing and operating posture throughout the region, and Guam can make a huge contribution to that,” said Tom Donnelly, senior advisor in the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
“There’s some value in distance in that you are out of immediate strike range of China’s power-projection capabilities,” he said. Guam “could certainly serve as an excellent patrol base and important inter-theater staging base, and relatively secure rear area in event of a crisis or conflict, particularly one extending over a period of time.”
The Air Force plans to stage Global Hawk long-range surveillance unmanned aerial vehicles at Andersen beginning in April 2007, bolstering plans to make Guam “a hub for intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and strike operations -- a good composite capability to provide forces for the Pacific region,” Leaf said.
“The agreement reached between Japan and the United States [on May 1] represents the strength of our alliance and adjusting that alliance to current conditions and to the needs and desires of both nations,” he said.
The relocation agreement includes a commitment by the government of Japan to pay approximately $6.9 billion of the anticipated $10.3 billion cost to move Marines and their families to Guam.
The Marines have not yet determined which units of the III MEF will move to Guam, and the specifics of the restructuring of bases in Okinawa are still being worked out between the United States and Japan.
Engle foresees requirements for new barracks and family housing, plus improvements to the airfield, schools, commissaries and exchanges, as well as new utility systems, roads and waste facilities. Improvements already are in the works or were recently completed to accommodate an increased Air Force and Navy presence, including a new hangar, medical facility, fitness complex, high school, middle school and an upgrade to a water treatment facility.
Plans for the Northern Marianas are less defined, but the Navy, stressing the importance of working closely with the commonwealth, is looking at the possibility of increasing training facilities on the islands. One island, Tinian, has been used by Marine Corps units for training.
Pacific Command and the Navy are coordinating closely with the government of Guam and the island localities regarding anticipated construction on the island. In September, Leaf met with government officials, town mayors, contractor associations and the Chamber of Commerce to discuss the basing plans.
Guam’s representative in Congress, Madeleine Z. Bordallo, said the build-up will “provide an economic boost to the island with opportunities for new jobs, increased tax revenues for the government, increased utilization of Guam’s hotels, businesses, restaurants and the like and other corollary positive impacts.”
“The governor and Guam’s local leaders are working toward partnering arrangements in all places possible,” she said. “Further, we can predict now that increased revenue that will come in to the government of Guam can provide new opportunities to be dedicated to improving Guam’s aging infrastructure.”
“Bordallo has also strongly encouraged the Department of Defense to use environmentally friendly technologies in their development, such as developing green housing or pursuing renewable power projects,” said her spokesman, Joseph Duenas. “Specific warfighting training facilities, such as small arms weapons ranges, will have to meet the stringent requirements of federal law in order to minimize risk to the local environment and habitat.”
Congress authorized $193 million in military construction funds for Guam in the fiscal year 2007 National Defense Authorization Act, a $31 million increase over 2006 funding.
“Guam is likely to see between $400 million and $1 billion in military construction in military construction each year for a period of six to 10 years,” Bordallo said.
She also noted the potential of a North Korean ballistic-missile threat to Guam, which is within striking distance of North Korean missiles under development.
“Guam’s residents recognize and fully value the protection provided by the missile defense capabilities of the U.S. military, including sea-based Aegis systems in the Pacific, Duenas said. “Further, Congresswoman Bordallo has encouraged the Pacific Command to expedite future plans to station a Patriot missile battery on Guam, something not expected until approximately 2012.”
Some elements of Guam’s indigenous Chamorro population -- which comprises about 37 percent of the island’s people -- oppose the build-up, claiming that the Chamorro suffer under U.S. “colonialization” and “militarization.”
On Oct. 4, self-described human rights activist Julian Aguon, of the Chamorro Cultural Development and Research Institute, addressed the Special Political and Decolonialization Committee of the U.N. general assembly, criticizing the status of Guam as a U.S. territory and declaring that U.S. “militarization” would result in volatile and irreversible consequences for the Chamorro culture and population.
Aguon urged the U.N. committee “to pass a resolution condemning this massive transfer and build-up of Guam as a grave breach of duty.”
The overwhelming majority of Guam’s residents are in favor of the build-up, Bordallo said, citing both the economic benefits and increased security.
A survey commissioned in August by the Pacific Daily News, a newspaper published in Guam, indicated that 61 percent of Guamanians -- including 56 percent of Chamorros -- rated the military expansion of Guam as “a good thing.”