Archive for December, 2009

Flashpoint: Guam

December 24, 2009

Tumon Bay, Guam, 2008

I recently came across a PBS video concerning the US military’s pending move of forces stationed in Japan to Guam.  Called “The Marines Are Landing”, it’s a little over 20 minutes long and I think treats the subject fairly evenly.

To briefly explain the situation facing Guam, in 2005 the US and Japan came to an agreement to, among other things, relocate about half of the US Marines stationed on the Japanese island of Okinawa to Guam.  Certainly strategic issues and force positioning in the Western Pacific for the US were the primary driver for the decision to move the troops, but it’s quite certain that part of the reason for moving the Marines in particular has to be the friction that has existed between the local Okinawan citizens and the Marines for a long time, especially since 1995 onward (in 1995, two Marines and a US Navy Sailor kidnapped and raped an Okinawan girl).  This incident and its aftermath are highlighted in the video.

Guam is now faced with a conundrum: they expect to have the population of their island increased by something like 40% (it is currently less that 200,000) within the next 10 years due to the realignment of US military forces to their island, but their infrastructure is already at the breaking point.  Where the money to pay for required upgrades and improvements and upgrades will come from still seems to be unclear – everyone interviewed in the video seemed to have a different answer, with one common theme – not me / my department.

This video is part of PBS’s “NOW” series of broadcasts dealing with various and sundry current events issues in a “news magazine” style, sort of like “Frontline“‘s little brother.  “The Marines Are Landing” originally aired earlier this month.

The move of US forces to Guam is a timely issue due to US President Barack Obama’s visit to Japan last month (which has now resulted in the new Japanese government waffling about the very basics of the plan itself) and the fact that much of the infrastructure construction that necessarily must precede the actual repositioning of troops and their families is slated to get underway in early 2010.

I find the Guam issue interesting for a couple reasons:

1. The repositioning of a significant portion of the US military’s Japan-based capability to Guam makes a difference in how those forces can be employed, response / employment timelines change, and so forth, altering the strategic balance of the region.

2. A couple of years ago I worked at the largest US Marine Corps headquarters in the Pacific (in Hawaii) and I saw first-hand how much of the daily “battle rhythm” was spent on Guam issues.  This is a huge deal for the US military, and especially for the Marines.  I am quite interested to see what the Guam buildup will end up looking like – will it bear any resemblance to the extensive plans laid down a few years ago?

Watch the video here:

The Marines Are Landing . NOW on PBS.

A couple of other recent Guam buildup-related resources:

– Government Accountability Office report GAO-10-90R (13 November 2009): Defense Infrastructure: Guam Needs Timely Information from DOD to Meet Challenges in Planning and Financing Off-Base Projects and Programs to Support a Larger Military Presence

Environmental Impact Statement (EIS/OEIS) for Guam and the CNMI Military Relocation – the draft EIS was released on 17 November 2009 and is now available for public comment.  It looks like the US government is planning on holding some public hearings next month on Guam and neighboring islands Saipan and Tinian (Saipan and Tinian are part of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands [CNMI]).  If I were a betting man, I would wager that these public hearings are going to be packed-house, “less than relaxed” affairs  – from what I have seen, the people of Guam and its neighboring islands are passionate about the subject and mean to be taken seriously in their concerns about the military buildup.

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Pearl Harbor Day

December 7, 2009
Pearl Harbor veterans

Pearl Harbor veterans watch during the memorial ceremony at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, 7 December 2007

Pearl Harbor Day, every year on 7 December, seems to get lost in the shuffle now that we’ve got a more recent surprise attack (that would be 9/11) seared into our collective memory.  But it’s hard to overstate the significance of that day’s events and how the repercussions have shaped security in the Asia-Pacific region ever since.

John Lewis Gaddis, in his book Surprise, Security and the American Experience, compares a series of “shocks” to American security, including Pearl Harbor.  He says that Americans, contrary to what might be supposed to be the typical reaction to a surprise attack (drawing inward), tend to expand their influence or scope of activity after an attack.  It’s not hard to see that this is the case, based on Pearl Harbor – America entered World War II and fought for the next 4 years, afterwards cementing a dominant security position in the Asia-Pacific, largely to prevent another Pearl Harbor-like surprise attack from happening.

Post-9/11 America has similarly expanded her reach once again, projecting power most notably into the Middle East, but also into places here in the Asia-Pacific region (the US Joint Special Operations Task Force – Philippines is one example of this, advising and assisting the Armed Forces of the Philippines in a struggle against Muslim separatists in the southern Philippines allied with the larger al-Qaeda movement via their Southeast Asian arm, Jemaah Islamiyah).

Author James Bradley, who has a new book out that explores how US president Theodore Roosevelt inadvertently set the diplomatic conditions that would lead to the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, has a companion piece in the New York Times that encapsulates his argument.  In it, he says

Roosevelt had assumed that the Japanese would stop at Korea and leave the rest of North Asia to the Americans and the British. But such a wish clashed with his notion that the Japanese should base their foreign policy on the American model of expansion across North America and, with the taking of Hawaii and the Philippines, into the Pacific. It did not take long for the Japanese to tire of the territorial restrictions placed upon them by their Anglo-American partners.

Japan’s declaration of war, in December 1941, explained its position quite clearly: “It is a fact of history that the countries of East Asia for the past hundred years or more have been compelled to observe the status quo under the Anglo-American policy of imperialistic exploitation and to sacrifice themselves to the prosperity of the two nations. The Japanese government cannot tolerate the perpetuation of such a situation.”

Essentially what is shown is that Theodore Roosevelt was unable to foresee the second- and third-order effects that his leniency and favor towards Japan in the resolution of the Russo-Japanese War and advocacy for Japanese expansion into Korea would have.  I can’t help but think what similar “down the road” effects might come from America’s current diplomatic and military endeavours, not just in the Asia-Pacific, but worldwide – probably not all the wonderful things we are aiming for, that’s for sure.

Former Minister of Foreign Affairs speaks at NSYSU

December 2, 2009

Ambassdor Ding Mou-shi (L) and Dean Lin Wen-cheng (R)

Dean Lin Wen-cheng (R) introduces Ambassador Ding Mao-shi (L)

I said I would write about yesterday’s lecture if it was interesting.  I want to share a little bit about it.

First, I didn’t really do Ambassador Ding’s (丁懋時) background justice with my post yesterday (which I can partly attribute to writing it while mobile and not having access to his full bio at the time – what stood out when I read it initially was what I mentioned, that he was Taiwan’s representative to the US).  He’s done a lot more than that, including foreign service in Africa for over 10 years, was Taiwan’s ambassador to South Korea, Taiwan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, secretary-general of Taiwan’s National Security Council, and so forth.  You can read all about it here (link to a translated version of his biography on Wikipedia).  His experience in over four decades of foreign affairs work runs the gamut.

Which is precisely why he came to talk yesterday.  His talk mainly focused on the earlier portion of his career when posted in various places in Africa.  He spoke of the various noteworthy things in the numerous countries he worked in or traveled to, referring to Rwanda as the “land of 1000 hills” and mentioned that he saw vast rain forests in The Congo.

He also spoke of some of the challenges he faced, primarily linguistic.  I did not catch how many languages he speaks, but clearly his English is excellent and he is a native Chinese speaker (most of the lecture was in Chinese, but now and again he switched to English for a few words to describe things hard to express in Chinese).  He talked about how he was able to speak with the South Koreans in Chinese and in English.  I would not be surprised, due to the amount of time he spent in Africa and working on Africa issues (such as at working in the Africa Division at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the early 1970s) if he is also conversant in at least one of the African languages.

Ambassador Ding Mou-shi addresses NSYSU students

Ambassador Ding Mao-shi addresses NSYSU students

All this was essentially a “soft sell” for the foreign service.  Here was an elder statesman of Taiwan, talking to an audience of who could essentially be his grandchildren, about the good things that come from a career in foreign affairs.  He talked about the travel, about learning about other cultures and people, about sorting out language differences and learning foreign languages.  This type of experience will open your eyes to the rest of the world.

But he didn’t make it all sound like it was easy – far from it.  He explicitly mentioned that foreign affairs work is hard and that it is a high-pressure field.  About this, he expressed the sentiment that “hard work is good training.”

National Sun Yat-sen University has these types of lectures and events from time to time and as I am able to attend and discover relevant material, I will treat it here in the future.

From the Road

December 1, 2009

Later today I am going to attend a lecture by a former Taiwanese representative to the United States, among other places. (Due to Taiwan’s political status, their “representative” in the US is equivalent to an ambassador.) The topic is foreign service. I’d like to get an idea about what my local classmates think about the possibility of serving their country overseas. I’ve asked a few of them in the past about what their plans are after they graduate. The kinds of responses I have heard include government work, NGOs, or continuing on to study for a PhD. (We are masters degree students right now.). If there is anything interesting to report, I will write more about it later.


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