A snap­shot of Guam

The Pa­cific ter­ri­tory, be­fore U.S.-North Korea con­flict and now

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - PERSPECTIVES -

North Korea has an­nounced a de­tailed plan to launch a salvo of bal­lis­tic mis­siles to­ward the U.S. Pa­cific ter­ri­tory of Guam, a ma­jor mil­i­tary hub and home to U.S. bombers. If car­ried out, it would be the North’s most provoca­tive mis­sile launch to date.

Here’s a closer look at Guam and its role in the U.S. and North Korea’s on­go­ing war of words.


The strip of land in the west­ern Pa­cific Ocean is roughly the size of Chicago, and just 4 miles (6 km) wide at its nar­row­est point. It is about 2,200 miles (3,500 km) south­east of North Korea, much closer than it is to any of the United States. Hawaii is about 4,000 miles (6,500 km) to the east. Its prox­im­ity to China, Ja­pan, the Philip­pines and the Korean Penin­sula has long made the is­land an es­sen­tial pos­ses­sion of the U.S. mil­i­tary.


Guam was claimed by Spain in 1565 and be­came a U.S. ter­ri­tory in 1898 dur­ing the Span­ish-Amer­i­can War. Ja­pan seized it for about 2 1/2 years dur­ing World War II. In 1950, an act of Congress made it an un­in­cor­po­rated or­ga­nized ter­ri­tory of the United States. It has lim­ited self-gov­ern­ment, with a pop­u­larly elected gov­er­nor, small leg­is­la­ture, and non-vot­ing del­e­gate in the U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives. Res­i­dents do not pay U.S. in­come taxes or vote in the gen­eral elec­tion for U.S. pres­i­dent. Its na­tives are U.S. cit­i­zens by birth.


The U.S. keeps a Naval base and Coast Guard sta­tion in the south, and an Air Force base in the north that saw heavy use dur­ing the Vietnam War. While al­ready tak­ing up 30 per cent of the is­land, the Amer­i­can mil­i­tary has been seek­ing to in­crease its pres­ence by re­lo­cat­ing to Guam thou­sands of Marines who are cur­rently based in Ok­i­nawa, Ja­pan.


The is­land was first pop­u­lated about 4,000 years ago by the ances­tors of the Chamor­ros, still the is­land’s largest eth­nic group. Now, about 160,000 peo­ple live on Guam. Its cap­i­tal city is Ha­gatna and its largest city is Dededo. Its chief lan­guages are English and Chamorro. It has seen var­i­ous pop­u­lar move­ments push­ing for greater self-gov­ern­ment or even U.S. state­hood, most no­tably a sig­nif­i­cant but failed ef­fort in the 1980s to make it a com­mon­wealth on par with Puerto Rico.


There are two ma­jor bases on Guam: An­der­sen Air Force Base in the north and Naval Base Guam in the south. They are both man­aged un­der Joint Base Mar­i­anas. Al­to­gether, 7,000 U.S. mil­i­tary per­son­nel are sta­tioned on Guam. The tourist district of Tu­mon, home to many of Guam’s ho­tels and re­sorts, is in be­tween. The air base was built in 1944, when the U.S. was pre­par­ing to send bombers to Ja­pan dur­ing World War II. To­day, Naval Base Guam is the home port for four nu­cle­ar­pow­ered fast at­tack sub­marines and two sub­ma­rine ten­ders.


The U.S. mil­i­tary be­gan ro­tat­ing bombers — the B-2 stealth bomber as well as the B-1 and B-52 — to An­der­sen in 2004. It did so to com­pen­sate for U.S. forces di­verted from other bases in the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion to fight in the Mid­dle East. The ro­ta­tions also came as North Korea in­creas­ingly upped the ante in the stand­off over its de­vel­op­ment of nu­clear weapons. In 2013, the Army sent a mis­sile de­fence sys­tem to Guam called Ter­mi­nal High Al­ti­tude Area De­fence or THAAD. It’s de­signed to de­stroy bal­lis­tic mis­siles dur­ing their fi­nal phase of flight. A THAAD bat­tery in­cludes a truck-mounted launcher, tracking radar, in­ter­cep­tor mis­siles and an in­te­grated fire con­trol sys­tem. Tourists walk the beach in Tu­mon, Guam ear­lier this week. The small U.S. ter­ri­tory of Guam has be­come a fo­cal point af­ter North Korea’s army threat­ened to use bal­lis­tic mis­siles to cre­ate an “en­velop­ing fire” around the is­land.

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