A force of 4,800 U.S. Marines is to move to Guam to be ready for war and disasters in East Asia as part of Obama's pivot to Asia plan.
Guam was seized by the U.S. from Japan during the Second World War. An agreement was reached as far back as 2010 to build a $12 billion super naval base in Guam. As a result the Marines will land "on a sturdy-as-granite pier in a sheltered Pacific harbor newly rebuilt to carry wave after wave of tank-driving troops." In 2012 the U.S. agreed to withdraw 9,000 marines from Okinawa, where there have been numerous protests against the U.S. military presence. Recently, the governor of Okinawa ordered construction stopped on a new base. In response, the Japanese government is taking the case to court. About 4,000 of the Marines going to Guam will be from Okinawa.
Guam is a territory of the United States established by the Guam Organic Act of 1950, which set out the structure of the civilian government. The inhabitants were given U.S. citizenship. However, since it is not a state, U.S. citizens residing there do not get to vote for the president and their representative in Congress has no vote. The U.S. military occupies a total of 29 percent of the island, or 39,000 acres and has jurisdiction over its bases.
The military carries out training and practice bombing operations in the nearby Northern Mariana Islands. The Pentagon is having trouble convincing two islands to grant space for the Marines to train. On the one island, Tinian, the Marines plan to practice ground manoeuvres. A tourist company with an associated casino fears rocket blasts and the sound of mortars could scare away tourists. The Chinese company that owns the facilities has hinted that it may pull out if the military plan goes ahead. Tinian has the landing strip from which the U.S. bomber took off to drop a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima. Governor of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Eloy Inos, complained: “Tinian is incredibly small. In all honesty, some of the specific live fire training activities the Marines are proposing for Tinian just do not seem appropriate.” The island has about 3,000 residents.
On the other island, Pagan, known for a volcano of the same name, the plan is for a large international training zone. However, many former residents object to this as they hope to return to live there three decades after an eruption forced them to evacuate. The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, as the territory is known, has hired an attorney well-known for fighting Pentagon plans in the Pacific. Nick Yost, the San Francisco attorney, said: “Having a place to fire cannons and practice obviously is essential, but this just isn’t the right place.”
U.S. authorities are drawn to Guam and the Marianas since they are U.S. territories. There is no concern that a foreign partner should suddenly revoke a partnership. In 1992, the Philippine government forced the U.S. from its navy base at Subic Bay. However, lately the U.S. has agreements with the Philippines to rotate troops into and out of the country and has a number of training programs as cooperation between the two countries increases in a move to counter Chinese influence.
Japan will pay above a third of the estimated $8.7 billion cost of the new Guam facilities, as thousands of Marines will be moved from Okinawa where they are causing political problems for the Japanese government. The Japanese are expected to participate in joint exercises if and when the new expanded facilities are up and running. The Guam Governor Eddie Calvo, a booster of the military build-up, said: “It’s location, location, location. We’re U.S. sovereign soil and we’re basically in the same time zone as Japan. The next closest U.S. soil is a seven-hour flight to Hawaii.”
Many residents both on Guam and the Northern Marianas think the military footprint is too large. Activist, Victoria Lola-Guerroro has been protesting for five years against military plans. She said: “We’re going to become this island with only one purpose, and that will be for the military.” Her activism, with the group, "We Are Guahan," has already managed to slow down Pentagon plans.