The frequency of activity has increased but the pattern remains predictable: a defiant North Korean missile test followed by provocative war games, then another missile launch, more angry threats and warnings, followed by counter-threats and new sanctions, and now a sixth nuclear test and more severe warnings and accusations.
In this geopolitical tit-for-tat, Asia-Pacific communities that host US military bases watch cautiously as fiery rhetoric pushes the two nuclear-armed adversaries ever-closer to what would be a catastrophic war.
The island of Guam came into sharp focus in August when North Korea announced plans to fire four Hwasong-12 ballistic missiles near the US territory following President Donald Trump’s threat to unleash “fire and fury like the world has never seen” against North Korea.
As Guam residents were being advised how to prepare for a possible nuclear strike, President Trump cheerfully assured Guam’s governor that the extra media attention would boost the island’s tourism industry.
“You’ve become extremely famous all over the world,” Trump said, promising the US territory’s governor that tourism would increase “tenfold with the expenditure of no money.”
“Like a spear into battle”
But on an island labelled with the tagline “Where America’s Day Begins,” many of its residents long for the day when American militarism ends.
“The US military likes to couch their activities in solely defensive metaphors,” says Michael Lujan Bevacqua, a Chamorro studies professor at the University of Guam. “The reference to Guam as ‘the tip of the spear’,” he says, “offers a sliver of truth.”
Bevacqua argues that like other empires, the US describes its foreign presence as a source of order and safety, “never the destabilising force … even if it takes land and resources, even if it poisons the earth, even if it depresses or constricts the local economy.”
e US military presence can be characterised as a shield with a giant target on it, Bevacqua suggests. In Guam, it is “really the source of the danger just as much as a source of defence”.
As a US possession (non-self governing territory) without voting rights, Guam will be “dragged along like a spear into battle,” Bevacqua notes. “Whether the spear loves battle or would prefer peace is irrelevant, as our purpose is to be something used in a fight and little more.”
Vivian Dames, a retired faculty member of the University of Guam, says: “All of these islands in Micronesia, regardless of political status, have some sort of political affiliation with the United States because of the US’ long-standing strategic interest in this region and they all serve the function of being the westernmost, forward defence for the United States.”
Dames is referring to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands around 200km north of Guam and the vast sweep of ocean where the military conducts year-round training and live-fire testing and which the military seeks to expand to an area larger than much of the western United States. Continue reading.