The South Pa­cific’s strate­gic role

Ex­pand­ing U.S. mis­sile in­fra­struc­ture across the Pa­cific is a way for the ad­min­is­tra­tion to show its com­mit­ment

The Washington Times Daily - - OPINION - By Erik M. Ja­cobs Erik M. Ja­cobs is a stu­dent at Ge­orge­town Univer­sity’s School of For­eign Ser­vice.

Kwa­jalein Atoll. Guam. Saipan. Th­ese names are fa­mil­iar as crit­i­cal bat­tle­fields in World War II which helped turn the tide of the war and en­sure Amer­i­can vic­tory in the Pa­cific. Although much of Amer­i­can strate­gic fo­cus in the Pa­cific fo­cuses on China, North Korea, Con­ti­nen­tal Asia, and the “first is­land chain” com­pris­ing of Ja­pan, Tai­wan, and the Philip­pines, the geostrate­gic im­por­tance of strength­en­ing and main­tain­ing Amer­i­can power in the far-off atolls and is­lands of the South Pa­cific must not be for­got­ten.

On the cam­paign trail, Pres­i­dent Trump of­ten stated that he was com­mit­ted to ex­pand­ing the size of the U.S. Navy and restor­ing Amer­i­can mil­i­tary power should he be elected pres­i­dent.

With the grow­ing threat of long-range bal­lis­tic mis­sile launches from North Korea, in­tel­li­gence re­ports that Py­ongyang has minia­tur­ized a nu­clear weapon, and con­cerns about China’s con­tin­ued push to ex­pand its naval ca­pac­ity while wag­ing a war of in­flu­ence across the Pa­cific, a new front has opened up in the Pa­cific’s strate­gic frame­work: The South Pa­cific.

In or­der to en­sure that the U.S. main­tains its po­si­tion as the pre-em­i­nent Pa­cific su­per­power and main­tains its abil­ity to de­fend its is­land ter­ri­to­ries and the West Coast, Mr. Trump should con­sider tar­geted strate­gic in­vest­ment in the re­gion. By con­sid­er­ing th­ese three ac­tions, the ad­min­is­tra­tion can en­sure Amer­ica’s po­si­tion­ing in the re­gion re­mains strong:

• Con­tinue to mod­ern­ize and con­sider ex­pand­ing the Ron­ald Rea­gan Bal­lis­tic Mis­sile De­fense Test Site on Kwa­jalein Atoll.

• In­vest in more de­fense ca­pa­bil­i­ties in U.S. Pa­cific ter­ri­to­ries and part­ner states.

• Con­sider re-es­tab­lish­ing a U.S. Navy pres­ence on Amer­i­can Samoa for the first time since the clo­sure of U.S. Navy Sta­tion Tu­tila in 1951.

As re­cent mis­sile de­fense tests have shown, the Rea­gan Mis­sile De­fense Site is able to counter var­i­ous ICBM threats to the United States, but as North Korea con­tin­ues to ex­pand its ca­pa­bil­i­ties and de­velop new tech­nol­ogy, the U.S. must show that its abil­ity to in­ter­cept mis­siles in the Pa­cific is un­ques­tion­able. Eval­u­at­ing, mod­ern­iz­ing, and ex­pand­ing U.S. mis­sile in­fra­struc­ture across the Pa­cific at sites like those like the Rea­gan Mis­sile De­fense Site is a way for the ad­min­is­tra­tion to show its com­mit­ment to Pa­cific pre­em­i­nence and ex­pand­ing U.S. mil­i­tary scope in the Pa­cific.

Such in­vest­ment should not be lim­ited to mis­sile de­fense.

Wash­ing­ton’s strate­gic in­vest­ment should in­clude ways in which the mil­i­tary can strengthen its po­si­tions in U.S. ter­ri­to­ries such as Guam and the North­ern Mar­i­ana Is­lands while also deep­en­ing part­ner­ships that it has with is­land na­tions such as Palau and the Mar­shall Is­lands.

As some of U.S. Forces Ja­pan be­gin a tran­si­tion from Ok­i­nawa to Guam in the com­ing years, the U.S. mil­i­tary should con­sider eval­u­at­ing in­fra­struc­ture on Guam as an­other way to ex­pand its Pa­cific in­fra­struc­ture. A good way to do this would be to in­vite Ja­panese forces to the is­land in a way to ex­pand grow­ing good­will be­tween the U.S. mil­i­tary and the Ja­panese Self-De­fense Forces.

At the same time, co­op­er­a­tion on Guam would pro­vide a new venue for deeper train­ing ex­er­cises and bi­lat­eral co­op­er­a­tion at a time when Ja­pan looks to ex­pand its de­fense role in con­junc­tion with the United States.

While not in­cor­po­rated as a part of the United States, is­land na­tions such as Palau, the Mar­shall Is­lands, and Mi­crone­sia are in Com­pacts of Free As­so­ci­a­tion with the U.S. Un­der this agree­ment, the U.S. pro­vides fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance and de­fense to th­ese na­tions as a part of the Of­fice of In­su­lar Af­fairs.

Strate­gic in­vest­ment in ex­ist­ing de­fense in­fra­struc­ture is in line with cur­rent De­part­ment of De­fense pol­icy and is an­other way in which Mr. Trump can ex­pand the purview of the U.S. mil­i­tary in the Pa­cific to counter emerg­ing chal­lenges while also build­ing good­will across the re­gion as China ex­pands its for­eign di­rect in­vest­ment

Yet an­other way to ad­dress Amer­i­can in­ter­ests in the South Pa­cific is by re-es­tab­lish­ing a U.S. Navy in­stil­la­tion at Amer­i­can Samoa. Vice Pres­i­dent Pence’s visit to the is­land ter­ri­tory in April fol­low­ing his suc­cess­ful Asia tour un­der­scores the im­por­tant strate­gic role that Amer­i­can Samoa can play in U.S. Asia pol­icy.

As China con­tin­ues its mil­i­tary ex­pan­sion and mod­ern­iza­tion and as Pres­i­dent Trump and seeks to ex­pand the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the U.S. Navy to re­store tra­di­tional Amer­i­can strate­gic power, the South Pa­cific will only con­tinue to grow in strate­gic im­por­tance. Over­looked as part of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s “pivot” to Asia, strength­en­ing U.S. pres­ence in Amer­i­can Samoa would be a strong mes­sage that Wash­ing­ton is com­mit­ted to an ef­fec­tive trans­fer of its naval re­sources to the Pa­cific.

Small and tar­geted strate­gic in­vest­ment in the South Pa­cific will not only show the U.S. com­mit­ment to its strate­gic value, it will en­sure that the U.S. is pre­pared to deal with cur­rent and emerg­ing threats across the broader Asia-Pa­cific re­gion.

The U.S. mil­i­tary should con­sider eval­u­at­ing in­fra­struc­ture on Guam as an­other way to ex­pand its Pa­cific in­fra­struc­ture.

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