From Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space
June 28, 2021
by Koohan Paik-Mander
Second Island Chain: the Marianas
The desire for “military readiness” compels the Pentagon to train troops for proficiency. But how will soldiers train for the paradigm-shifting JADC2, which is as different from current warfare as checkers is from 3-D chess?
First of all, with no soldiers—or a lot fewer of them—human-scale fighting will be replaced by warfare conducted over global distances and at hypersonic speeds. Military planners say that armed forces will be leaner and “strike harder, faster and farther.” For this reason, the training will take up more geography, by necessity, over endless expanses of open seas teaming with wildlife. For decades, naval practice has been taking place in marine areas surrounding Korea, Guam, Okinawa, Hawaii, and California. Needless to say, they have been a constant nuisance to residents, fishers, native practitioners, and sea creatures.
Now, to accommodate the JADC2, even more expansive swaths of the ocean are being set aside for year-round military exercises.
The most egregious example is the MITT (Mariana Islands Training and Testing), a plan to transform over a million square miles of biodiverse ecosystems into the largest-ever range complex for bombing and firing practice. The impacted area would be larger than the states of Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Nevada, Arizona, Montana, and New Mexico combined.
The largest multinational open-ocean military exercises in history will take place here, home to 26 species of cetaceans. The navy itself estimates that its activities will maim or kill over 81,000 whales and dolphins per year. And that doesn’t count the ecological casualties anticipated in other existing exercise ranges, such as those around Hawaii, California, Alaska, Australia, in the Sea of Japan, and in the Bay of Bengal.
Painting by Russell Wray (Hancock, Maine)
For their part, thousands of residents of the Marianas are protesting the plan to turn their ancestral archipelago into a year-round war zone. Large portions of Guam and Tinian would become dedicated firing ranges, placed right next door to towns and neighborhoods. Practice-bombing on the islet of Farallon de Medinilla, a migratory-bird hotspot, will increase from 2,150 strikes a year to 6,000 strikes a year. And most tragically, the whole of the astonishingly pristine island of Pagan is slated to undergo perpetual full-spectrum assaults from air, land, and sea. The island is expected to endure continuous bombing from mortars and missiles, its wildlife damaged by sonar, torpedoes, hand grenades, reef-crushing amphibious landing practice, and countless experimental detonations. Because of the colonial status of the Mariana islanders, they have not been able to legally demand transparency and accountability from the U.S. government.
This powerlessness was brought into stark relief when the military bulldozed 3,000 burials to make way for a live-fire training range. The remains were deposited, pell-mell, in cardboard boxes and stored in various undisclosed offices around the island. A barrage of questions from the islanders has gone unanswered. To add insult to injury, the shooting range is also to be sited atop the island’s most important aquifer.
In response to these human-rights transgressions, native CHamoru poet and attorney, Julian Aguon, filed a submission in 2020 with the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples on behalf of indigenous rights group Prutehi Litekyan: Save Ritidian.
Three special rapporteurs then sent a letter in March to President Biden expressing concern for human rights, environmental impacts, and indigenous rights. The president has yet to respond.
The Perpetual Profits of War Games
An assortment of large-scale joint naval exercises takes place every year across the Pacific. The events are attended by patron-countries of the U.S. weapons industry in a fashion similar to soccer or football season. These nations include Japan, Korea, India, Australia, Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia, France, Singapore, Indonesia, Cambodia, and Thailand.
The prototype has been the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercises, held every two years in Hawaiian waters since 1971 and slated to run again in 2022. In 2018, RIMPAC drew 25,000 troops, 52 ships, and submarines from 26 countries. Weapons dealers from all over the world view RIMPAC as an opportunity to show off their wares, making the event part-Vegas trade show, part-World Cup. For marine life, it is four weeks of blitzkrieg.
This fits nicely with the policy cited in the 2019 Indo-Pacific Strategy Report, which calls foreign military sales the “tool of first resort in strengthening alliances and attracting new partners.” In other words, for the United States, partnerships are not rooted in a shared philosophy of justice and diplomacy. Rather, they are anchored firmly in weapons sales.
Those partnerships, meanwhile, increasingly target a single adversary: China. Raytheon loyalist Lloyd Austin has been unequivocally clear that his raison d’etre is to bully China. And the president and Congress seem happy to accommodate.
They consistently ignore a far better method of responding to China’s growing influence, such as diplomacy. Hashing out differences at the same conference table would be a lot less expensive and have the added benefit of not risking all life on Earth.
~ Koohan Paik-Mander, who grew up in postwar Korea and on the U.S. colony of Guam, is a Hawaii-based journalist and media educator. She is a board member of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space and formerly served as campaign director of the Asia-Pacific program at the International Forum on Globalization. A contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus, she is the co-author of The Superferry Chronicles: Hawaii’s Uprising Against Militarism, Commercialism and the Desecration of the Earth, and has written on militarism in the Asia-Pacific for The Nation, Progressive, and other publications. An interview with her on this topic can be seen here.