American Militarization of Pacific

SUBHEAD: The U.S. is militarizing the Pacific — and not taking any questions about it.

By Jon Letman on 31 March 2016 for Foreign Policy in Focus-

Image above: U.S. navel security stands guard of F-22 Raptor fighter jets parked on tarmac in Okinawa on 4/27/12. From  (

Hawaii's members of Congress sit at the linchpin of a huge realignment of U.S. military power. Good luck getting them to talk about it.

The biggest U.S. military re-alignment in a generation may be underway in the Asia-Pacific. But most Americans know nothing about it.

Unveiled in 2011, the “Pacific Pivot” aims to transition U.S. military and diplomatic resources away from the Middle East and toward the world’s most populous and economically dynamic region.

The United States already has enormous resources invested in the region — including tens of thousands of troops, large aircraft carrier groups, and mutual defense treaties with powerful countries like South Korea and Japan. The pivot aims to bolster that military presence, as well as secure more political cooperation from U.S. allies and boost trade through major pacts like the Trans Pacific Partnership, or TPP.

“The United States is a Pacific Power,” President Obama told the Australian parliament in November 2011, “and we are here to stay.” In the shadow of a rising China, Obama promised that Washington “will allocate the resources necessary to maintain our strong military presence in this region.”

In a sprawling 5,500-word article in Foreign Policy, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described America’s role in the region as “vital,” “essential,” and “irreplaceable.” For a few companies, it could also be lucrative: Key components of the strategy, Clinton explained in 2011, are strategic economic partnerships and international trade agreements like the TPP.

Under pressure from the Bernie Sanders campaign, Clinton says she now opposes the TPP. But it remains a key plank of the U.S. strategy to pull countries in the region into its sphere of influence. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter has said that “passing TPP is as important to me as another aircraft carrier” — though he’s asking for actual armaments too, including “high-end capabilities” like the new long-range stealth bomber and anti-ship cruise missiles.

Though overshadowed by unrest in the Middle East, the pivot remains very much underway. Already the U.S. has expanded and established new military exercises and agreements with Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Vietnam, the Philippines, and other parts of Southeast Asia — as well as Myanmar, Bangladesh, India, Mongolia, and even China.

The linchpin of this military realignment is my home state of Hawaii, which has hosted the headquarters of the U.S. Pacific Command, or USPACOM, for almost 70 years.

Beyond Scrutiny
Based on the island of Oahu, USPACOM claims the Asia-Pacific as its “area of responsibility.” Home to 36 nations — and more than half the world’s population — the region stretches, in the words of top military brass, “from Bollywood to Hollywood and penguins to polar bears.”

Unfortunately, members of Congress who should be prepared to explain their positions aren’t talking. Specifically, I’m referring to Hawaii’s four-person congressional delegation — which represents the one U.S. state that truly is Asian and Pacific.

I spent over a year reaching out to Senators Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono and Representatives Tulsi Gabbard and Mark Takai. Collectively the four Democrats serve on committees, subcommittees, and caucuses that oversee foreign affairs, intelligence, naval issues, four branches of the military, and relations with critical Asia-Pacific nations, among other relevant portfolios. Furthermore, both Gabbard and Takai are active members of the National Guard and have served in the Middle East.

None of the four was willing to be interviewed about their views on the pivot, or U.S. military policy in Asia more generally. I learned this after making dozens of phone calls and sending scores of emails over a 13-month period. I even approached Gabbard, whom I’ve interviewed before, in person following a Veteran’s Day ceremony in an attempt to schedule an interview.

Sometimes patience and persistence just aren’t enough. Even after submitting questions and providing an editor’s letter of intent (for Hirono), none would take my questions in writing, in person, or by telephone. Staff responses were sporadic and difficult to get.
Finally, my requests were ultimately denied without explanation.

The Questions
These weren’t “gotcha questions” designed to elicit an embarrassing response. They were straightforward and honest inquiries related to U.S. policy in a key region of the world — all on subjects each of the four should have been prepared to discuss with the media.
Here were a few them:
  1. In May 2015, Schatz, Hirono, and Gabbard all met with Takeshi Onaga, who governs the Japanese prefecture of Okinawa — a small island that plays host to the vast majority of U.S. military installations in Japan. Onaga was visiting Hawaii to protest a plan, favored by both Washington and Tokyo, to build a new Marine base in Okinawa despite overwhelming local opposition, more than a year of continuous protests, and the plan’s disputed legal status.
  2. Obama, Carter, and USPACOM’s Admiral Harry B. Harris have criticized China for militarizing the South China Sea, accusing Beijing of both inflicting environmental damage and destabilizing of the region. Doesn’t the increasing U.S. military presence also threaten to bring environmental damage and instability to Okinawa, the Philippines, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, the Marshall Islands, the South China Sea, and elsewhere?
  3. In 2014, the U.S. military conducted 425 “signed activities” and rotated 3,700 of its own forces through the Philippines under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), which gives the U.S. broad access to operate and pre-position weapons and troops inside Philippine military bases.
  4. The Korean peninsula, one of the most heavily militarized places on earth, remains home to some 28,500 U.S. troops — with more at least 800 more added during the pivot. In light of this massive troop presence — and not to mention the tremendous destruction of North Korea by the United States during the Korean War and a climate of mutual threats and posturing ever since — are the U.S. and South Korea making a bad situation worse every time they conduct large-scale annual war games on North Korea’s frontier?For example, when the U.S. flies nuclear capable B-52 and B-2 stealth bombers in drills near the North Korean border to “send a message” to Pyongyang, is this the best way to finally end the Korean War? Can provocative measures like these lead to re-unification, or are we just provoking North Korea, playing a war-mongering yin to North Korea’s yang?
Other questions considered the United States’ responsibility to address lingering health and environmental damage from nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands, the environmental impact of expanding live-fire testing in the Northern Mariana Islands, and the implications of military cuts in Hawaii and increases in Guam.

None was answered.

Don’t Ask. Don’t Tell.
In her article promoting the pivot, Hillary Clinton wrote that the U.S. presence in the Asia-Pacific “ensures stability and security” and “defends freedom and transparency in the military activities of the region’s key players.”

Yet all four members of Hawaii’s congressional delegation spent more than a year avoiding a journalist — and a constituent — trying to conduct a single interview on the subject. There’s nothing transparent about that at all, especially since Hawaii is the headquarters for many of these operations.
That’s a shame. Because real answers to these questions might have exposed a system that puts military, political, and financial institutional interests above those of a truly just and peaceful society.
Here are a few other questions.

Rep. Gabbard recently made headlines after her endorsement of Bernie Sanders, ostensibly because of her concerns about “the cost of war.” Does that sentiment extend to having an open and frank discussion of the militarized Pacific?

Will the Pacific pivot actually create a safer, more secure world, or preserve a status quo that ensures the sale of a lot of expensive weapons systems? Does the broader rebalancing promote human rights — consider how increased militarization impacts North Korean civilians or curtails press freedoms in Japan, for example — and stability?

Or does it promote and expand a global order in which trade agreements are as important as new aircraft carriers?

As a nation, we have no qualms about militarizing distant lands and stationing tens of thousands of our own soldiers in other people’s countries for decades on end. But would we accept a fraction of the same treatment for even one minute?

Perhaps one day another reporter will gain access and ask such questions to members of Congress. But for now I’m not holding my breath that they’ll answer.

Image above: AU.S. Naval base at Apra Harbor on Guam seen during fly by on 2/25/03. From article on 11/06/15 at (

See also:
American Empire - Pacific Pivot 
Ea O Ka Aina: Oceans 4 Peace Pacific Pivot Panel 6/18/16 By Juan Wilson
Ea O Ka Aina: Another USA Pacific Terrirorial Grab? 5/18/15  by Juan Wilson
Ea O Ka Aina: Kauai's PMRF is bang out of sight 6/28/14 by Jon Letman
Ea  O Ka Aina: An Ugly Dance  - The Asian Pivot 12/5/13 by Juan Wilson

American Empire - Rim of the Pacific 
See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Ocean 4 Peace Events 6/11/16
Ea O Ka Aina: Prepare for RIMPAC 2016 War in Hawaii 5/22/16
Ea O Ka Aina: Navy to "take" millions of mammals 5/17/16
Ea O Ka Aina: US court RIMPAC Impact decision 4/3/15
Ea O Ka Aina: 2014 RIMPAC Impact Post Mortem 10/22/14
Ea O Ka Aina: RIMPAC 2014 in Full March 7/17/14
Ea O Ka Aina: RIMPAC 2014 - another whale death 7/26/14.
Ea O Ka Aina: RIMPAC War on the Ocean 7/3/14
Ea O Ka Aina: The Pacific Pivot  6/26/14
Ea O Ka Aina: RIMPAC IMPACT 6/8/14
Ea O Ka Aina: Operation Dominic & Hawaii  6/3/14
Ea O Ka Aina: RIMPAC Now and Then 5/16/14
Ea O Ka Aina: Earthday TPP Fukushima RIMPAC 4/22/14
Ea O Ka Aina: End RIMPAC destruction of Pacific
Ea O Ka Aina: Navy License to Kill 10/09/12
Ea O Ka Aina: RIMPAC - Sleepwalking through destruction 7/16/12
Ea O Ka Aina: Navy to increase war on Pacific 6/10/12 
Ea O Ka Aina: RIMPAC to Return in 2010 5/2/10
Ea O Ka Aina: Living at the Tip of the Spear 4/5/10 
Island Breath: RIMPAC 2008 - Navy fired up in Hawaii 7/02/08
Island Breath: RIMPAC 2008 uses destructive sonar 4/22/08
Island Breath: Navy Plans for the Pacific 9/03/07
Island Breath: Judge restricts sonar off California 08/07/07
Island Breath: RIMPAC 2006 sonar use feared 5/23/06
Island Breath: RIMPAC 2006 sonar compromise 7/9/06
Island Breath: PMRF Land Grab 6/05/04

American Empire - Kauai, Hawaii
Ea O Ka Aina: Fuck the PMRF's Aegis Plan 1/22/16
Ea O Ka Aina: Navy plans for Mordor 3/10/10
Ea O Ka Aina: DARPA & Super-Cavitation on Kauai 3/24/09
Ea O Ka Aina: Navy operation coincides with fishkill 3/18/09 

American Empire - Okinawa, Japan
Ea O Ka Aina: Pacfic islanders against US "Pivot" 11/4/15
Ea O Ka Aina: Okinawa an American Protectorate 10/30/15
Ea O Ka Aina: Okinawans wish US military gone 8/26/15
Ea O Ka Aina: Okinawa mayor caves to US military 4/22/15
Ea O Ka Aina: Japan struggles with Okinawa base  4/6/15
Ea O Ka Aina: Fear and Hope in Oura Bay1/27/15
Ea O Ka Aina: Okinawa resists US Military 2/11/14
Ea O Ka Aina: US Okinawa base setback1/20/14
Ea O Ka Aina: Okinawa breathes easier 4/27/12
Ea O Ka Aina: Pacific Resistance to U.S. Military 5/24/10

American Empire - Guam, US Territory
Ea O Ka Aina: Military schmoozes Guam & Hawaii 3/17/11
Ea O Ka Aina: Pacific Resistance to U.S. Military 5/24/10
Ea O Ka Aina: Shift in Pacific Power Balance 8/5/10
Ea O Ka Aina: Guam Land Grab 11/30/09
Ea O Ka Aina: Guam as a modern Bikini Atoll 12/25/09
Ea O Ka Aina: GUAM - Another Strategic Island 11/8/09

American Empire - Jeju, Korea
Ea O Ka Aina: The Ghosts of Jeju 10/16/13
Ea O Ka Aina: Oliver Stone Jeju Island interview 8/25/13
Ea O Ka Aina: Jeju & Hawaii under arms 6/15/12
Ea O Ka Aina: First Day on Jeju Island 6/10/12
Ea O Ka Aina: Despoiling Jeju island coast begins 5/7/12
Ea O Ka Aina: America bullies Koreans 4/13/12
Ea O Ka Aina: Jeju Islanders protests Navy Base 2/29/12
Ea O Ka Aina: Korean Island of Peace 2/26/12

American Empire - Diego Garcia
Ea O Ka Aina: Diego Garcia - Another stolen island 11/06/09

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