No. 3: January-March 2012

Armand Hage


Academic Foresights

How do you analyze the present status of Guam?

Guam is part of the United States’ security scheme. The USA is now mindful—to put it mildly—of its security and defense, to the extent that it has no qualms and does not apologize for killing any person or for trying to crush any group it views as a threat or as “terrorist,” even when the person or the group are American citizens, but that has not always been so. The country was not anxious to create a military tradition. American history shows, rather, a pattern of unpreparedness broken by efforts to be ready for battle and followed by demobilization. The security tradition did not seem necessary because unlike European nations, the United States seemed to be far from any potentially dangerous enemy.

After Independence, the new nation did not have a really efficient army. During the late 1790s, the Navy was created to defend against France, and in 1801-1802, when Napoleon Bonaparte’s plan to recover Louisiana alarmed American authorities, the United States was not in a military position to resist a possible French advance. The theory was that 10,000 French soldiers in the New Orleans area would make a formidable and insurmountable obstacle. After the War of 1812 with England, the armed forces were demobilized. The same happened after the 1846-1848 Mexican War and the Civil War.

In the late nineteenth century Admiral Mahan’s study of British power and the perception of the rise of Germany led the nation to realize that military security is a major component of foreign policy. After World War I, however, troops were quickly demobilized, as they were also after World War II.

But at the end of the 1940s, the tradition was reversed and the United States, arguing that communism was a threat, became security-minded—or security-obsessed—and decided that its security depended on its taking on the role of the world’s policeman. Although there is talk of downsizing the military, the United States has bases or “advisers” in over 120 countries across the world. The end of isolationism in the late 1940s was meant to enhance the security of the United States, but interventionism and foreign policy based on unconditional support for dictators or for the state of Israel created millions of foreign enemies, and some of them turned the tables on the most powerful nation by creating a huge breach in its security at home, as with the September 11, 2001 attacks, an example of the cruel ironies in history.

Besides, security requires huge funding, and the escalation in defense and security expenses may lead the United States to ruin. Among the geostrategic components of American security, the South Pacific was and is a main point. The fierce battles in the South Pacific islands during World War II showed how important the region was, first to protect against Japan, and later against the spread of communism. The fear of communism was one of the reasons why the United States, while working to expel France and other European nations from their colonies in Africa and Asia, did not try to evict France from the South Pacific.

In the matter of American security in the area, Guam is an example of American efforts. From a strictly military standpoint, the Southwestern Pacific is vital for American security. Of course, Micronesia has a defense agreement with the US which has control over the military situation; the Compact of Free Association reads : “The Government of the United States has full authority and responsibility for security and defense matters.” But Micronesia is technically independent, and sooner or later it might decide to repeal the defense agreements, or another country in the area may authorize a Chinese military presence. It could thus happen that the US will defend against Chinese ambitions in the Pacific. China now has an economic footing in the Pacific, which is obviously a preparation for a stronger military presence. At least that is the perception behind Obama’s November 2011 decision to deploy up to 2,500 Marines in Darwin, Australia, purporting it is not a military action but a sign of US commitment and leadership let alone a hostile one. But it is obvious the Chinese will not be fooled and they are well aware that Marine deployment cannot be other than a military action.

Guam is a perfect place for American security now, just as the Northern Mariana Islands were during World War II against Japan. Although it is purported to be in Oceania, it can actually also be considered to be part of Asia, since it is very close to the continent. Currently, military presence on Guam is possibly the most dense in the world.

In your opinion, how will the situation likely evolve over the next five years?

Over the next five years a very significant buildup is planned. As the US cannot keep a great number of troops in Japan, it has to deploy them, especially the Marines, in other places, preferably American territory. Now military facilities cover about 30% of the island’s area. When—and if—the plan is completed between now and later in the decade, the lands occupied by the military will stand at around 40% of the area. The main military facilities in Guam are: a naval base, a Coast Guard base, an air base (Anderson Air base), a communications center and a training range.

From an economic perspective, the strengthening of American security in Guam will be costly to the nation as a whole but it will create thousands of jobs on the island. The costs are expected to top 12 billion dollars. 6 billion are to be provided by Japan. The problem for Guam is that the money will not necessarily benefit local Guamanians. Besides, security development will bring in a great number of outsiders, which will strain local natural resources.

From a social point of view, the plan will have significant demographic aspects for Guam, as most military personnel will be non Chamorro, Chamorros feeling that they are being swamped by outsiders. The present number of military personnel and their families stands now at about 14,000 out of an island population of about 180,000. From what is known about the Marines’ transfer, the total will be over 30,000 if the plan should be fully implemented.

From a political perspective, not only will the Chamorro nationalists lose any clout in dealing with the United States for independence, or even more power within the American Republic, but they also stand to lose control of the local government. Proponents of independence will have to face an uphill battle and things will be harder for them, as they will feel more and more the weight of American power, which they consider to be foreign and ruling Guam actually as a colony.

What are the structural long-term perspectives?

In the long term, things may seem somewhat murky and the evolution of the security issue is hard to predict. One fact, however, is certain—China will pursue its military buildup. If this proves to be true, the United States will feel compelled to respond and it will not stick at spending huge amounts of money—borrowed at least partly from China—on security in the area, although China cannot—and most certainly—will not use the area to invade the United States. But security fears have become ingrained in American geopolitical and geostrategic thinking, and just as during the Cold War America was obsessed with the domino theory, it will have a similar behavior. The question is if the nation will be able to afford further military buildups; Afghanistan and Iraq bled the American economy white.

Security creates needs that are a mixed blessing for Guam, but by all odds, even a president like Barack Obama will eventually ignore or downplay the disadvantages to the island in order to achieve what is viewed as an adequate defense. On November 12, 2011 Obama reaffirmed that the United States is a Pacific power and that it is to stay in the Pacific. Of course, Obama was dealing with trade issues, and trade is one way of avoiding war; nonetheless, military strategy will be a priority, and Guam is the cornerstone of American strategy in the South Pacific.

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  1. (1)The killing of Anwar al-Awlaki in September 2011 is a case in point, and even those in the United States who challenged the right to kill him have a weird notion of Human Rights. When they argue that killing an American citizen without due process is unconstitutional they show contempt for those who are not Americans.

  2. (2)Declassified documents from the 1940s through the 70s show, for example, how American administrations urged France to leave Algeria so Arab countries would not turn to the Soviet Union—see Armand Hage, Histoire des relations franco-américaines, Paris, Ellipses, 2010—but the documents do not show any attempt to evict France from the South Pacific.

Armand Hage is honorary Professor of English. He taught American literature, American studies, translation and phonetics to undergraduate and graduate students at the University of New Caledonia in Noumea from 1992 through 2006. Armand Hage published many books and articles in French dealing with American history and government, including Le Système judiciaire américain (2000), Le Capitalisme américain and Censure et Liberté aux Etats-Unis (2001), Les Elections présidentielles américaines (2003), and Histoire des relations franco-américaines (2010). Armand Hage also published articles, some of them in English, on the United States in the Pacific, dealing, among others, with Hawaii and Guam.

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