Shortly after Joe Biden took office, the president delivered a speech at the U.S. Department of State, declaring, “I want the world to hear today: America is back…. Diplomacy is back at the center of our foreign policy…. By leading with diplomacy, we must also mean engaging our adversaries and our competitors diplomatically, where it’s in our interest, and advance the security of the American people.”
Instead of de-escalation with China, we are witnessing an enormous U.S. military buildup through massive military exercises in the Pacific.
— U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (@INDOPACOM) July 16, 2021
A huge, 17,000 personnel, U.S. military land exercise named Talisman Sabre is now going on in Australia, causing much concern to many people there. Talisman Sabre 2021 involves practice for amphibious assaults, movement of heavy vehicles, use of live ammunition, and the use of U.S. nuclear-powered and nuclear-weapon-capable vessels.
Talisman Sabre is a threat to the [Great Barrier] reef and to the environment…. The objective of Talisman Sabre is to integrate the Australian military further into the U.S. military, which is ranked among the world’s worst polluters and is the world’s greatest organizational consumer of oil…. Let us not forget that during Talisman Sabre in 2013, the U.S. jettisoned four unarmed bombs on the Great Barrier Reef when they had difficulty dropping them on their intended target, Townshend Island.
Additionally, in mid-July, 25 F-22 stealth jet fighters (a remarkable number), 10 F-15 E Strike Eagles and two C-130J cargo planes have flown into Guam, a U.S. territory, and Tinian Island in the Northern Marianas, one of two U.S. commonwealths, as a part of “Pacific Iron 2021.” This maneuver is described by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser newspaper as a key part of the “kick down the door” force for a possible conflict with China. Retired Lt. General Dan Leaf, a former deputy commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, said he was not aware of a previous exercise using this many F-22s.
The Pacific Air Force command in Honolulu said that Iron Pacific 2021 will have more than 35 aircraft and 800 personnel. They will have operations at three airports on Guam and one airport on Tinian, 100 miles north of Guam. U.S. aircraft that dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki 76 years ago flew from Tinian. Runways on Tinian, had fallen in disrepair until recently when major U.S. Air Force construction began to create an alternate air base to Guam.
Currently, Guam is also the site of the U.S. Army’s land war maneuvers called Forager 2021. About 4,000 U.S. personnel from the U.S. Army’s First Corps will be involved in various aspects of an airborne operation with the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force and 1st Special Forces Group, and an Apache attack helicopter live fire exercise. The war maneuvers also include eight-wheeled armored fighting vehicles called Strykers; lightweight, highly mobile, easily transportable surface-to-air missile fire unit with eight Stinger missiles in two missile pods named Avengers; and High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems. Forager 2021 tests the Army’s capability to rapidly deploy personnel and equipment in order to counter enemy forces.
Activists in Guam are mobilizing against the military buildup. Lisa Natividad, professor of social work at the University of Guam and primary convener of the Guahan Coalition for Peace and Justice, told Truthout that the change has been stark: “Our concrete houses have been shaken from the military maneuvers by aircraft we have never seen before.”
Natividad described Guam’s vulnerability as a staging ground for U.S. military exercises.
“Guam is being overwhelmed by the number of U.S. military war maneuvers that are taking place on our land, ocean and airspace,” Natividad said. “Military maneuvers are so frequent that they’re ongoing and continuous. These exercises take place on Guam and throughout the Mariana Islands and in civilian spaces like the airport and hospitals. The destruction of our land for the construction and expansion of military bases is heartbreaking, and underscores how we as a U.S. territory truly have no political rights or voice to make decisions in our own homeland.”
According to The Honolulu Star-Advertiser, the U.S. Army has been moving Patriot batteries around the Pacific in a message to China, with upcoming plans to test the system in Hawaii. “Next month we are moving another (Patriot battery) from Okinawa to Hawaii for another exercise,” said Army Col. Matt Dalton. “We are trying to demonstrate our ability to quickly move our units around the Indo-Pacific to be able to counter any threat that is out there (with) our ability to move to different locations quickly, set up and establish defense of a particular asset.”
So much for the highly touted diplomacy in the Biden administration.
Military Ships Vie for Space in a Crowded South China Sea
These U.S. military forces come in addition to the two dozen ships in the U.S., French, Dutch, Japanese, South Korean and Australian armada that are patrolling the South China Sea and the Taiwan Straits in “Freedom of Navigation” maneuvers. The U.S. aircraft carrier USS America and its numerous security vessels steaming in close proximity make for a crowded South China Sea. In July 2021, the naval exercise Pacific Vanguard includes U.S. Australian, Japanese and South Korean ships.
With the “Western” armada in the waters off China, the Chinese navy has added its vessels to the mix. The Trump administration increased tensions with China by sending the highest-ranking U.S. officials in over 40 years to Taiwan, and the Chinese government responded with the largest naval exercises in its history and sent numerous flights of up to 28 aircraft to the edge of Taiwan’s air defense zone.
Gen. Kenneth Wilsbach, commander of Pacific Air Forces with headquarters at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, described a new operational strategy called “agile combat environment” (ACE), of disbursing air assets to many small locations and spokes “so that we would be moving between the hubs and spokes multiple times per day, multiple times per week. Creating a targeting problem for an adversary that would have to target many locations instead of one or two large bases, dilutes the firepower the adversary can put on any one location.”
A Pacific Air Force spokesperson said the goal is to create targeting challenges for enemy hypersonic, ballistic and long-range cruise missile threats, thereby increasing survivability for U.S. forces by having outposts on small islands where refueling of aircraft can take place instead of relying on large bases, which are easily identified targets.
More Congressional Funding for the Pacific Region
In addition to the military war maneuvers, the House Appropriations Committee of the U.S. Congress recently advanced the 2022 defense budget that includes $2.2 billion for the Shipyard Infrastructure Optimization Plan at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard as a part of the 20-year, $21 billion U.S. Navy project to upgrade four government-operated shipyards.
The defense appropriation bill includes $62.4 million for a missile defense system for Guam against ballistic, hypersonic and cruise missiles. A letter from a bipartisan congressional group had requested $350 million for the Guam defense system. Admiral Phil Davidson, the former chief of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, requested $4.68 billion for the Pacific Deterrence Initiative for fiscal year 2022.
In one of the most controversial budget allocations, despite the Pentagon zeroing out funding requests from the Hawaii congressional delegation for a Homeland Defense Radar (indicating that the U.S. military does not want the radar), the appropriations committee, acting on a radar request from the Hawaii delegation, allocated $75 million. The radar is intended to track North Korean intercontinental ballistic missiles, but the Department of Defense shelved the Homeland Radar and a separate radar as they could not track hypersonic missiles, reviving a focus on space-based sensors to identify these threats.
Due to residents’ formidable opposition to the radar on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, the Defense Missile Agency is now looking at the Barking Sands Missile Test Facility, located on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, for the site of the massive 85-foot-tall structure sitting atop a 25-foot foundation. Yet opposition on Kauai, too, is growing as the scale of the project becomes clearer. Questions are mounting about whether Kauai’s infrastructure, roads and bridges can handle the heavy equipment and massive amount of concrete needed to construct the radar. Local officials are concerned about housing the hundreds of new employees on an island that already has chronic housing shortages and a homeless population that has an encampment just outside the fence of Barking Sands.
Added to those issues is the disturbing Notice to Airmen, issued by the Federal Aviation Administration about “electromagnetic radiation continuously existing at the Pacific Missile Range Facility (on the island of Kauai) from June 1, 2021, to June 1, 2022.” The notice, which was recently discovered by local citizens, states that, “Aircraft within the above airspace will be exposed to direct radiation which may produce harmful effects to personnel and equipment.”
There has been no response to inquiries from local citizens or local news outlets from the U.S. Navy Public Affairs office, which handles inquiries for the Pacific Missile Range Facility about the source of the electromagnetic radiation and why the public was not notified of this dangerous situation.
Where Is U.S. Diplomacy in the Pacific?
In March 2021, the first face-to-face meeting between the Biden administration and Chinese officials got off to a heated start in Anchorage, Alaska. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s statement that the Biden administration would bring up “deep concerns” about some of China’s actions around the world was met with immediate pushback from Chinese counterparts, sparking an unusually public exchange of diplomatic barbs.
Four months later, not much has changed on the diplomatic front. On July 11, Blinken called on China to stop its “provocative behavior” in the South China Sea. Blinken followed on July 13, in his first meeting with ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) foreign ministers and on the fifth anniversary of a ruling by an arbitration tribunal rejecting China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea, with a statement that the United States stands with Southeast Asian countries and rejects China’s unlawful maritime claims in the South China Sea. China does not accept the arbitration ruling, and claims much of the waters within a so-called Nine Dash Line, which is also contested by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
As more U.S. funding is allocated toward military buildup in the Pacific, those of us who oppose war, militarism and imperialism must be vocal in our concerns to the Biden administration, as well as our congressional delegations who vote for military instead of peaceful resolutions of economic and political disputes in the region.