A few days ago, Bob Work – at this very moment Deputy Defense Secretary of the U.S. – has visited the tiny island of Guam, in the Central-North Pacific. The visit was “part of a seven-day trip that began with an Aug. 17 stop in Hawaii and will include visits this week with officials and military leaders in South Korea and Japan”[1], an article published by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) News says.

Guam is an island roughly 36 miles long and some 12 miles wide, with a total area of 544 square kilometers and with 125.5 kilometers of coastline. It is placed in the North Pacific Ocean, “about three-quarters of the way from Hawaii to the Philippines”[2]. DoD open sources say it has “military installations that are some of the most strategically important U.S. bases in the Pacific”[3]. Among these installations are Naval Base Guam, and Andresen Air Base. In 2009, both facilities were merged into Joint Region Marianas. Naval Base Guam is “home of Commander Naval Forces Marianas, Commander Submarine Squadron FIFTEEN, Coast Guard Sector Guam, and Naval Special Warfare Unit One”. The same naval “base supports 28 other tenant commands and is the home base of three Los Angelesclass submarines and to dozens of units operating in support of U.S. Pacific Command, U.S. Pacific Fleet, Seventh Fleet and Fifth Fleet”. At the Andresen Air Force Base is hosted the 36th Wing, “a nonflying” unit (of regimental size) “whose mission is to support deployed air and space forces of USAF and foreign air forces to Andersen, and support tenant units assigned to the base”. Guam will become, quite soon, the base for some 5,000 Marines relocated from Okinawa, Japan. Initially, almost eight years ago, almost 8,000 Marines plus as many as 9,000 family members were to be relocated here, but the present phase of the U.S. rebalance to the Asia-Pacific means that 3,000 Marines will go to Australia and Hawaii, instead of being relocated to Guam[4]. In April 2013, the strategic value of Guam was strongly enhanced deploying here a ballistic missile defense system called THAAD (terminal high-altitude area defense)[5].

Undersecretary Work confirmed that the U.S. regard “the rebalance to the Asia-Pacific as a rebalancing of military forces, a strengthening of alliances and a way to boost the region’s economic power”, and confirmed previous high level official statements saying that “we’re going to have 60 percent of the Navy out in the Pacific and we’re going to have 60 percent of our combat air forces out in the Pacific”[6] in the next few years.

Some decades ago

It is not at all the first time when Guam plays a major role in the U.S. geostrategic plans. Along the decades before the Second World War, Guam was regarded as being a major strategic asset in many of the versions of the War Plan Orange. These sophisticated contingency plans were prepared by the U.S. for a possible confrontation with Japan (a remote possibility in the early stages of the 20th century, but this scenario became a reality between 1941 and 1945). One of the most interesting works dealing with the history and meaning of War Plan Orange is that written, some years ago, by Edward S. Miller (a graduate of the Syracuse University and of the Harvard Advanced Management Program, he has been, for 35 years, chief planner of the largest mining company in the U.S.).

Miller states that special attention was given to Guam mainly after 1908 by the U. S. strategic planners, who “appreciated” above all “the island’s position, 1,510 cruising miles east of Manila and 1,360 miles south of Tokyo”[7]. Alfred Thayer Mahan, the notorious author of several works dealing with seapower (and one of the most influential strategists in modern times) strongly advised, around 1910, for the transformation of Guam into a major and heavily protected military base. “Our every interest in the Pacific”, Mahan declared, could be properly secured by converting the tiny island of Guam “into a kind of Gibraltar”[8], a major naval base (able to accommodate, in case of need, a very large fleet), heavily fortified and strongly defended by massive 14” guns and 12” mortars with a range of approximately 19,000 yards.[9]

Quite clearly, nowadays Japan is not any more the main competitor of the U.S. in the Pacific, as it was along the decades in which War Plan Orange has been prepared and continuously upgraded. On the contrary, Japan is, at this very moment, one of the most important and reliable strategic partners of the U.S. in the Pacific. Anyhow, the main strategic goal we are speaking about is a perennial one: maintaining and strengthening, both immediately and in the long run, the American dominant position in the Pacific, the largest section of the World Ocean. To pursue and accomplish such a perennial strategic goal (important for vital U.S. interests, formulated – and comprehended – in terms of power, to use a formula Hans J. Mogenthau might have liked), properly using the obvious geostrategic potential of Guam seems to be a perennial tool.

[1] Cheryl Pellerin (DoD News, Defense Media Activity), “Work: Guam is Strategic Hub to Asia-Pacific Rebalance”, DoD News, August 19, 2014 at the Internet address
[2] “Guam”, in CIA World Factbook, at the Internet address
[3] Cheryl Pellerin, op. cit.
[4] Ibidem
[5] Ibidem
[6] Ibidem
[7] Edward S. MILLER, War Plan Orange: The U.S. Strategy to Defeat Japan, 1897-1945, 1991, Annapolis, Naval Institute Press, p. 69
[8] Ibidem, p. 70
[9] Ibidem, p. 72

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