Guam serves as Pacific 'springboard' for U.S. forces: commander

Kyodo News

Posted at Dec 18 2022 08:20 AM | Updated as of Dec 18 2022 08:22 AM

GUAM/MANILA - A 16-year-old plan to transfer a significant number of U.S. Marines from the Japanese island prefecture of Okinawa to the U.S. territory of Guam continues to make sense strategically and politically, a U.S. military commander said.

Joint Region Marianas Commander Rear Adm. Benjamin Nicholson, in a recent interview with Kyodo News and other media, said Guam plays an important role as "springboard" for U.S. forces to rapidly respond, by air or sea, to any military crisis in the region amid looming threats from China and North Korea.

"It's essentially equidistant between Tokyo, Manila and Port Moresby," he said.

Nicholson said the ability to quickly deploy troops and equipment is the current focus in the so-called second island chain, a strategic defense line formed by Japanese islands south of Tokyo and the Mariana Islands.

In June, the United States test-fired a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS, and conducted Patriot missile live-fire exercise during the U.S.-only Valiant Shield exercise to demonstrate its capabilities in multiple locations across Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and Palau.

The United States is also expanding Guam's missile defense system by installing in multiple locations on the island various types of radars and interceptors against ballistic, hypersonic, and cruise missiles that China or North Korea may launch.

In two years, the relocation of about 4,000 Marines may finally commence in line with the U.S-Japan force realignment plan that the two countries last revisited in 2012.

The plan, which involves the construction of a Marine base, Camp Blaz, next to the existing Andersen Air Base on Guam, is partly meant to unburden Okinawa, where anti-base sentiment runs deep due to noise, pollution and crimes committed by the U.S. servicemen.

For decades, Okinawa has hosted the bulk of the U.S. forces in Japan. But the island prefecture's proximity to Taiwan, the self-ruled island that China claims, raises concerns it could be targeted should cross-strait tensions escalate.

Christopher Johnstone, senior adviser and Japan chair of the think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies, said spreading out its forces, rather than keeping a large concentration in Okinawa, across Guam and even across the Northern Mariana Islands and Palau gives the United States greater flexibility to deter an attack by China.

This strategy also "complicates" military planning in Beijing and even in Pyongyang, he said in a recent email interview with Kyodo News.

"The relocation of Marines to Guam won't make Japan more vulnerable. Guam isn't far from Japan and the numbers of U.S. forces (in the Indo-Pacific region) won't really change," Johnstone said.

"A more distributed U.S. force posture ultimately makes Japan more secure, not less," he added.



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