Note: This article is part of the CNMI Perspectives, an occasional addendum to the Saipan Tribune’s Opinion section, soliciting the viewpoints, opinions, and thoughts of experts, academics, and members of the public on a specific topic. This topic explores the impending militarization of the Commonwealth.
Dennis Chan’s May 5th article in the Saipan Tribune titled “NMI has a role in US forward presence” smacks of hubris on the part of Craig Whelden, the Marine Corps’ top civilian who is the face for MARFORPAC in the Marianas.
Whelden’s comments are haughty because he omits to state the grave concerns that villagers from Tinian have over the proposal to increase military activities across the street from San Jose village. Whelden’s comments are also misleading because he quotes from the 2012 presidential directive to pivot to the Pacific but omits references to just how large the Indo Asia Pacific region is and omits to state that there are several other places outside of the Marianas Islands for Marines to train at the individual, unit, and combined training levels.
Whelden states that “We have over 22,000 Marines west of the international dateline and we plan to maintain that forward presence. That forward presence is a deterrent to other adversaries that might think about doing some things that otherwise they very well do.”
My response is that these comments are overgeneralized cue card talking points that do not address other possibilities like putting Marines on the Korean Peninsula or in Australia or in the Philippines or elsewhere. Marines also have a much cheaper option to become readiness certified in Hawaii or the West Coast and then fly out via commercial or military air to Japan to embark with the Navy should things get hot.
Whelden then goes on to state that, “The South China Sea is being contested, if not daily, certainly weekly. All these contests of will in the South China Sea—between them, the Filipinos, the Japanese, and other countries—are putting the area at some risk. …Having a forward presence…demonstrates the will of the United States to be here for our friends, our allies,” he said. When asked to unpack what he meant by training requirements, he tied it all to “national security.”
This particular statement has no context and is not properly calibrated to what the Marines can and cannot do. Having a Marine Corps presence in Guam, Tinian, or Pagan will not impact or somehow deter any one nation from miscalculating a situation or host of situations in the South China Sea that could become hot because the Marines cannot deter nation states from starting fights if they so choose.
Whelden comments that “Amid a new national security agreement with Japan, and a ‘contest of wills’ in the South China Sea, the Marine Forces Pacific look to build a forward presence in the region as a deterrent to aggression in the Pacific.”
It is precisely because we have an anchor relationship with Japan that we have created the conditions that increase the likelihood of tensions spiraling out of control. Our hip-glue to Japan also poses a much broader threat to American military security and that is the possibility of entrapment driven by miscalculations undertaken by the Chinese, Japanese, or Koreans that could lead the U.S. into another protracted war that will require American public support and billions of dollars to fight.
We lost in Iraq and we lost in Afghanistan. We don’t need another opportunity to lose a fight again.
Whelden states that “Over the course of the last two years, we’ve had a number of staffers and a number of congressmen and senators who have come through,”….“And we have told them about the studies we are doing for the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas joint training [environmental impact statement]—but because it’s a study and no conclusions have been made yet, I think they are waiting for us to come to a conclusion before we go to that next step.”
The people of the NMI and Guam do not have authentic representation in Congress and it is not the responsibility of Congress or MARFORPAC, COMNAVMAR or PACOM HQ to speak unilaterally about what can or should be “concluded.”
Whelden also states that there are “42 unfulfilled training requirements” in the Pacific region but fails to identify what specifically he means by this.
We all understand that Craig Whelden is doing his job but until such time that he and the senior Marine generals at MARFORPAC and Headquarters Marine Corps in Washington, D.C. begin to expand how they think about potential places to train west of the international date line or to train east of the international dateline, pointing to the Marianas as the place to go will result in the production of long-term problems and disharmonies between the military and islanders, driven by the risks of witnessing irreversible cultural and environmental destruction unto the Chamorro people, their islands and their place in this world at disproportionate levels.
Chamorros from the Marianas Islands have a very limited landmass and environmental resource base to begin with that must be protected for present and future generations; otherwise, we will literally see our cultural and environmental ecosystems be further damaged or destroyed. (J. Rick Perez, Special to the Saipan Tribune)