[News] Guam resists expansion of US Colonial Military Bases

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Jul 28 11:25:47 EDT 2010

US Military Bases on Guam in Global Perspective  1

Catherine Lutz

The island of Guam is a most remarkable place of 
cultural distinctiveness and resourcefulness and 
of great physical beauty.  The Chamorro people 
who have lived here for 4000 years also have an 
historical experience with colonialism and 
military occupation more long-lived and 
geographically intensive, acre for acre, than 
anywhere else in the Pacific and perhaps even in 
global comparative scale (Aguon 2006).  It is 
today embroiled in a debate over when, how, or if 
the United States military will acquire more land 
for its purposes and make more intensive use of the island as a whole.

This military expansion has been planned in 
Washington, with acquiescence and funding from 
Tokyo, in order to relocate some 8,000 Marines 
and 9,000 dependents from Okinawa, as well as US 
Navy, Army, and Air Force assets and operations 
to Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern 
Marianas (CNMI) (Erickson and Mikolay 2006).  The 
plans are breathtaking in scope, including 
removal of 71 acres of coral reef from Apra 
Harbor to allow the entry and berthing of nuclear 
aircraft carriers, the acquisition of land 
including the oldest and revered Chamorro village 
on the island at Pagat for a live-fire training 
range, and an estimated 47 percent increase in 
the island’s population, already past its 
water-supply carrying capacity. The military 
expansion is being planned with one-third of the 
island already in military hands and a 
substantial historical legacy of environmental 
contamination and depletion, external political 
control, and other problems brought by the existing military presence.

Pushback has been substantial, something that is 
particularly remarkable in a context in which 
many islanders consider themselves very loyal and 
patriotic Americans and many have military 
paychecks or pensions as soldiers, veterans, or 
contract workers (Diaz 2001).  Dissent among a 
variety of Guam’s social sectors rose 
dramatically with the appearance of a draft 
Environmental Impact Statement in November 2009 
which first made clear how extensive Washington’s 
plans for the island were (Natividad and Kirk 
2010).  It rose, as well, when it became clear 
that Guam’s political leaders and citizens were 
to be simply informed of those plans, rather than 
consulted or asked permission for the various 
uses.  That dissent received support from 
movements against simultaneous US base expansion 
plans in Okinawa and South Korea, as well as from 
the US EPA response to the draft EIS, which found 
it deeply inadequate as a fair and clear 
assessment of the environmental costs of the 
military’s desires.  The Final EIS, just released 
at the end of July, puts the aircraft carrier 
berthing plan on hold and draws out the buildup 
timeline to lower the population growth rate, but 
otherwise retains its scale and scope. A 
at a sacred site at Pagat on July 23, 2010 
provided the most potent symbolic expression of resistance to the base plan.

My first exposure to Guam was in 1977, when I 
made a very brief stay over on my way to Ifalik 
atoll in the Federated States of Micronesia (then 
still a UN Trust Territory) for ethnographic 
fieldwork that was part of my graduate training 
as an anthropologist.  My miseducation up to that 
point had been profound:  I could come to that 
nation of islands without having first learned – 
through many years of education in US schools 
–  the hard facts about the colonial status of 
the area to which I was coming.  My 
anthropological training back then focused, as 
most such programs did, on the beauty of 
indigenous ideas and rituals, of kinship systems 
and healing practices.  However helpful attention 
to such things was toward the goal of a humane 
and anti-racist understanding of the world, the 
cultural worlds that anthropology had tried to 
document were treated as if they occurred in a 
vacuum, outside of the influence of powerful 
economic and political forces and outside of history.

My miseducation led me to be surprised when my 
initial permission to travel to Ifalik was 
granted not by Chamorros and Carolinians, but by 
US bureaucrats, then operating as Trust Territory 
officials.  I only then came to realize what this 
all actually meant – that Ifalik, like Guam, has 
had an deeply colonial history, and that the 
lives the people there have led were in some ways 
of their own creative making and in other ways 
they were the result of choices by people in 
other remote locations, most recently in Tokyo and Washington, DC.

Such is no less true now than it was in 1950 or 
1977.  It is the reason the people of Guam today 
wait to hear exactly how many more acres of their 
land will be taken for military purposes, how 
many tens of thousands of new people and new 
vehicles will be visited on the island, how many 
over flights and aircraft carrier visits, and 
toxic trickles or spills will be visited upon 
them. It is why they wait, not for rent payments 
for the land, but to hear whether there will be 
some US federal dollars allocated to cover some 
percentage of the externalized costs of the 
increased tempo of military operations on the 
island. That is Guam’s colonial history and 
colonial situation.  It is colonial even as many 
of Guam’s residents take their US citizenship 
seriously and want to make claims to full 
citizenship on the foundation of the limited 
citizenship they now have.  It is colonial even 
as Guam’s many military members – those born on 
Guam and those born in the 50 United States – can 
and do see themselves as doing their duty to the 
US civilian leadership who deploy them to bases 
here and around the world.  It is colonial even 
as many of Guam’s citizens have been acting in 
the faith that they should be able to make and 
are making their own choices about whether Guam 
becomes even more of a battleship or not.  But 
social science will call it nothing more than 
colonial when a people have not historically 
chosen their most powerful leaders and have been 
told to background their own national identity in 
favor of that of the power which has ultimate 
rule.  The US presence in Guam is properly called 
imperial because the US is an empire in the 
strict sense of the term as used by historians 
and other social analysts of political forms.

Besides colonialism, another concept relevant to 
Guam’s situation is militarization.  It refers to 
an increase in labor and resources allocated to 
military purposes and the shaping of other 
institutions in synchrony with military 
goals.  It involves a shift in societal beliefs 
and values in ways that legitimate the use of 
force (Ferguson 2009).  It helps describe the 
process by which 14 year olds are in uniform and 
carrying proxy rifles in JROTC units in all of 
Guam’s schools, why a fifth to a quarter of high 
school graduates enter the military, and why the 
identity of the island has over time shifted from 
a land of farmers to a land of war survivors to a 
land of loyal Americans to a land that is, 
proudly, “the Tip of the Spear,” that is, a land 
that is a weapon.  This historical change – the 
process of militarization or military 
colonization – has been visible to some, but more often, hidden in plain sight.

US global military basing system

Guam’s military bases are part of the expansive 
US military basing system around the world and on 
the US mainland.  That system is vast in scale 
and impact and has a particular if contentious 
rationale.  It is important to examine what it 
means to live next to military facilities for several reasons:

(1) To study them with the tools of anthropology 
and the perspective of social science allows us 
to question the common sense about them and to see invisible processes.

(2) Like most social phenomena, bases are often 
hidden in plain sight.  They are normalized from 
day to day, but are partially denormalized when 
they grow or shrink.  Even then, much remains 
invisible and accepted as the natural order of things.

(3) Like social phenomena in which power is 
involved, their effects can be systematically 
hidden by advertising, fear, and public relations work.

Military base communities are in many ways as 
distinctive sociologically and anthropologically 
as the military bases they sit next to, because 
they respond in almost every way to the presence 
of those bases.  They are not simply independent 
neighbors, but over time become conjoined, 
although one is always much more powerful than the other.

Officially, as of late 2008 (the last date for 
which the DoD has made such data public) over 
150,000 troops and 95,000 civilian employees are 
massed in 837 US military facilities in 45 
countries and territories, excluding Iraq and 
Afghanistan. There, the US military owns or rents 
720,000 acres of land, and owns, rents or uses 
60,000 buildings and manages structures valued at 
$145 billion. 4742 bases are located in the 
domestic United States. These official numbers 
are quite misleading as to the scale of US 
overseas military basing, however. That is 
because they not only exclude the massive buildup 
of new bases and troop presence in Iraq and 
Afghanistan, but also secret or unacknowledged 
facilities in Israel, Kuwait, the Philippines and many other places.

Large sums of money are involved in their 
building and operation.  $2 billion in military 
construction money has been expended in only 
three years of the Iraq and Afghanistan 
wars.  Just one facility in Iraq, Balad Air Base, 
houses 30,000 troops and 10,000 contractors, and 
extends across 16 square miles with an additional 
12 square mile “security perimeter.”  The Guam 
build-up has been projected to cost between $10 
and $15 billion, with much of that amount in 
contracts going to businesses in the U.S., Japan, 
South Korea, and, less significantly, Guam itself.

These military facilities include sprawling Army 
bases with airfields and McDonalds and schools, 
and small listening posts.  They include 
artillery testing ranges, and berthed aircraft 
carriers. 2  While the bases are literally 
barracks and weapons depots and staging areas for 
war making and ship repair facilities and golf 
courses and basketball courts, they are also 
political claims, spoils of war, arms sales 
showrooms, toxic industrial sites, laboratories 
for cultural (mis)communication, and collections 
of customers for local shops, services, bars, and prostitution.

The environmental, political, and economic impact 
of these bases is enormous. While some people 
benefit from the coming of a base, at least 
temporarily, most communities and many within 
them pay a high price: their farm land taken for 
bases, their bodies attacked by cancers and 
neurological disorders because of military toxic 
exposures, their neighbors imprisoned, tortured 
and disappeared by the autocratic regimes that 
survive on US military and political support 
given as a form of tacit rent for the bases.

The count of US military bases should also 
include the eleven aircraft carriers in the US 
Navy’s fleet, each of which it refers to as “four 
and a half acres of sovereign US territory.” 
These moveable bases and their land-based 
counterparts are just the most visible part of 
the larger picture of US military presence 
overseas.  This picture of military access 
includes (1) US military training of foreign 
forces, often in conjunction with the provision 
of US weaponry, (2) joint exercises meant to 
enhance US soldiers’ exposure to a variety of 
operating environments from jungle to desert to 
urban terrain and interoperability across 
national militaries, and (3) legal arrangements 
made to gain overflight rights and other forms of 
ad hoc use of others’ territory as well as to 
preposition military equipment there.  In all of 
these realms, the US is in a class by itself, no 
adversary or ally maintaining anything comparable 
in terms of its scope, depth and global reach.

These three elements come with problems: The 
training programs strengthen the power of 
military forces in relation to other sectors 
within those countries, sometimes with fragile 
democracies. Fully 38 percent of those countries 
with US basing were cited in 2002 for their poor 
human rights record (Lumpe 2002:16). The 
exercises have sometimes been provocative to 
other nations, and in some cases have become the 
pretext for substantial and permanent positioning 
of troops; in recent years, for example, the US 
has run approximately 20 exercises annually on 
Philippine soil.  Recently (July, 2010) announced 
joint US-South Korean military exercises in the 
Yellow Sea, just off the coast of China, have 
produced strong protest from it and arguably will 
lead to increases in its military spending.

The attempt to gain access has also meant 
substantial interference in the affairs of other 
nations: for example, lobbying to change the 
Philippine and Japanese constitutions to allow, 
respectively, foreign troop basing, US nuclear 
weapons, and a more-than-defensive military in 
the service of US wars, in the case of Japan.  US 
military and civilian officials are joined in 
their efforts by intelligence agents passing as 
businessmen or diplomats; in 2005, the US 
Ambassador to the Philippines created a furor by 
mentioning that the US has 70 agents operating in Mindanao alone.

Given the sensitivity about sovereignty and the 
costs of having the US in their country, 
elaborate bilateral negotiations result in the 
exchange of weapons, cash, and trade privileges 
for overflight and land use rights. Less 
explicitly, but no less importantly, rice import 
levels or immigration rights to the US or 
overlooking human rights abuses have been the 
currency of exchange (Cooley 2008).

Bases are the literal and symbolic anchors, and 
the most visible centerpieces, of the U.S. 
military presence overseas.  To understand where 
those bases are and how they are being used is 
essential for understanding the United States’ 
relationship with the rest of the world, the role 
of coercion in it, and its political economic 
complexion.  We can begin by asking why this 
empire of bases was established in the first 
place, how the bases are currently configured 
around the world and how that configuration is changing.

What are bases for?

Foreign military bases have been established 
throughout the history of expanding states and 
warfare. They proliferate where a state has 
imperial ambitions, either through direct control 
of territory or through indirect control over the 
political economy, laws, and foreign policy of 
other places. Whether or not it recognizes itself 
as such, a country can be called an empire when 
it projects substantial power with the aim of 
asserting and maintaining dominance over other 
regions.  Those policies succeed when wealth is 
extracted from peripheral areas, and 
redistributed to the imperial center.  Empires, 
then, have historically been associated with a 
growing gap between the wealth and welfare of the 
powerful center and the regions it dominates. 
Alongside and supporting these goals has often 
been elevated self-regard in the imperial power, 
or a sense of racial, cultural, or social superiority.

The descriptors empire and imperialism have been 
applied to the Romans, Incas, Mongols, Persians, 
Portuguese, Spanish, Ottomans, Dutch, British, 
Germans, Soviets, Chinese, Japanese, and 
Americans, among others. Despite the striking 
differences between each of these cases, each 
used military bases to maintain some forms of 
rule over regions far from their center.  The 
bases eroded the sovereignty of allied states on 
which they were established by treaty; the Roman 
Empire was accomplished not only by conquest, but 
also “by taking her weaker [but still sovereign] 
neighbors under her wing and protecting them 
against her and their stronger neighbors
most that Rome asked of them in terms of 
territory was the cessation, here and there, of a 
patch of ground for the plantation of a Roman fortress” (Magdoff et al. 2002).

What have military bases accomplished for these 
empires through history?  Bases are usually 
presented, above all, as having rational, 
strategic purposes; the imperial power claims 
that they provide forward defense for the 
homeland, supply other nations with security, and 
facilitate the control of trade routes and 
resources.  They have been used to protect 
non-economic actors and their agendas as well – 
missionaries, political operatives, and aid 
workers among them.  Bases have been used to 
control the political and economic life of the 
host nation. Politically, bases serve to 
encourage other governments’ endorsement of the 
empire’s military and other foreign policies. 
Corporations and the military itself as an 
organization have a powerful stake in bases’ 
continued existence regardless of their strategic value (Johnson 2004).

Alongside their military and economic functions, 
bases have symbolic and psychological 
dimensions.  They are highly visible expressions 
of a nation’s will to status and 
power.  Strategic elites have built bases as a 
visible sign of the nation’s standing, much as 
they have constructed monuments and battleships. 
So, too, contemporary US politicians and the 
public have treated the number of their bases as 
indicators of the nation’s hyperstatus and 
hyperpower.  More darkly, overseas military bases 
can also be seen as symptoms of irrational or 
untethered fears, even paranoia, as they are 
built with the long-term goal of taming a world 
perceived to be out of control.  Empires 
frequently misperceive the world as rife with 
threats and themselves as objects of violent 
hostility from others.  Militaries’ interest in 
organizational survival has also contributed to 
the amplification of this fear and imperial 
basing structures as the solution as they “sell 
themselves” to their populace by exaggerating 
threats, underestimating the costs of basing and 
war itself, as well as understating the obstacles 
facing preemption and belligerence (Van Evera 2001).

As the world economy and its technological 
substructures have changed, so have the roles of 
foreign bases. By 1500, new sailing technologies 
allowed much longer distance voyages, even 
circumnavigational ones, and so empires could 
aspire to long networks of coastal naval bases to 
facilitate the control of sea lanes and trade. 
They were established at distances that would 
allow provisioning the ship, taking on fresh 
fruit that would protect sailors from scurvy, and 
so on.  By the 21st century, technological 
advances have at least theoretically eliminated 
many of the reasons for foreign bases, given the 
possibilities of in transit refueling of jets and 
aircraft carriers, the nuclear powering of 
submarines and battleships, and other advances in 
sea and airlift of military personnel and 
equipment.  Bases have, nevertheless, continued their ineluctable expansion.

States that invest their people’s wealth in 
overseas bases have paid direct as well as 
opportunity costs, whose consequences in the long 
run have usually been collapse of the empire. In 
The Rise and Fall of Great Powers, Kennedy notes 
that previous empires which established and 
tenaciously held onto overseas bases inevitably 
saw their wealth and power decay as they chose 
“to devote a large proportion of its total income 
to ‘protection,’ leaving less for ‘productive 
investment,’ it is likely to find its economic 
output slowing down, with dire implications for 
its long-term capacity to maintain both its 
citizens’ consumption demands and its 
international position” (Kennedy 1987:539).

Nonetheless, U.S. defense officials and scholars 
have continued to argue that bases lead to 
“enhanced national security and successful 
foreign policy” because they provide “a credible 
capacity to move, employ, and sustain military 
forces abroad,” (Blaker 1990:3) and the ability 
"to impose the will of the United States and its 
coalition partners on any adversaries."  This 
belief helps sustain the US basing structure, 
which far exceeds any the world has seen: this is 
so in terms of its global reach, depth, and cost, 
as well as its impact on geopolitics in all 
regions of the world, particularly the Asia-Pacific.

A short history of US basing

After consolidation of continental dominance, 
there were three periods of expansive global 
ambition in US history beginning in 1898, 1945, 
and 2001. Each is associated with the acquisition 
of significant numbers of new overseas military 
bases. The Spanish-American war resulted in the 
acquisition of a number of colonies, but the US 
basing system was far smaller than that of its 
political and economic peers including many 
European nations as well as Japan.  In the next 
four decades US soldiers were stationed in just 
14 bases, some quite small, in Puerto Rico, Cuba, 
Panama, and the Virgin Islands, but also, 
already, extending across the Pacific to Hawaii, 
Midway, Wake, and Guam, the Philippines, 
Shanghai, two in the Aleutians, American Samoa, 
and Johnston Island (Harkavy 1982). This small 
number was the result in part of a strong 
anti-statist and anti-militarist strain in US 
political culture (Sherry 1995). From the 
perspective of many in the US through the 
inter-war period, to build bases would be to risk 
unwarranted entanglement in others’ conflicts.

England had the most during this period, with 
some countries with large militaries and even 
some with expansive ambitions having relatively 
few overseas bases; Germany and the Soviet Union 
had almost none.  But the attempt to acquire such 
bases would be a contributing cause of World War II (Harkavy 1989:5).

 From 14 bases in 1938, by the end of WW II, the 
United States had built or acquired an astounding 
30,000 installations large and small in 
approximately 100 countries. While this number 
contracted significantly, it went on to provide 
the sinews for the rise to global hegemony of the 
United States (Blaker 1990:22).  Certain ideas 
about basing and what it accomplished were to be 
retained from World War II as well, including the 
belief that “its extensive overseas basing system 
was a legitimate and necessary instrument of U.S. 
power, morally justified and a rightful symbol of 
the U.S. role in the world” (Blaker 1990:28).

Nonetheless, pressure came from Australia, 
France, and England, as well as from Panama, 
Denmark and Iceland, for return of bases in their 
own territory or colonies, and domestically to 
demobilize the twelve million man military (a 
larger military would have been needed to 
maintain the vast basing system). More important 
than the shrinking number of bases, however, was 
the codification of US military access rights 
around the world in a comprehensive set of legal 
documents.  These established security alliances 
with multiple states within Europe (NATO), the 
Middle East and South Asia (CENTO), and Southeast 
Asia (SEATO), and they included bilateral 
arrangements with Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, 
Australia and New Zealand.  These alliances 
assumed a common security interest between the 
United States and other countries and were the 
charter for US basing in each place.  Status of 
Forces Agreements (SOFAs) were crafted in each 
country to specify what the military could do; 
these usually gave US soldiers broad immunity 
from prosecution for crimes committed and 
environmental damage created.  These agreements 
and subsequent base operations have usually been shrouded in secrecy.

In the United States, the National Security Act 
of 1947, along with a variety of executive 
orders, instituted what can be called a second, 
secret government or the “national security 
state”, which created the National Security 
Agency, National Security Council, and Central 
Intelligence Agency and gave the US president 
expansive new imperial powers.  From this point 
on, domestic and especially foreign military 
activities and bases were to be heavily masked 
from public oversight (Lens 1987).  Many of those 
unaccountable funds then and now go into use 
overseas, flowing out of US embassies and 
military bases. Including use to interfere in the 
domestic affairs of nations in which it has had 
or desired military access, including attempts to 
influence votes on and change anti-nuclear and 
anti-war provisions in the Constitutions of the 
Pacific nation of Belau and of Japan.

Nonetheless, over the second half of the 20th 
century, the United States was either evicted or 
voluntarily left bases in dozens of countries. 3 
Between 1947 and 1990, the US was asked to leave 
bases in France, Yugoslavia, Iran, Ethiopia, 
Libya, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria, 
Vietnam, Indonesia, Peru, Mexico, and Venezuela. 
Popular and political objection to the bases in 
Spain, the Philippines, Greece, and Turkey in the 
1980s enabled those governments to negotiate 
significantly more compensation from the United 
States. Portugal threatened to evict the US from 
important bases in the Azores, unless it ceased 
its support for independence for its African 
colonies, a demand with which the US complied. 4 
In the 1990s and later, the US was sent packing, 
most significantly, from the Philippines, Panama, 
Saudi Arabia, Vieques, and Uzbekistan (Simbulan 1985).

At the same time, remarkable numbers of new US 
bases were newly built (241) after 1947 in 
remarkable numbers in the Federal Republic of 
Germany, as well as in Italy, Britain, and Japan 
(Blaker 1990:45).  The defeated Axis powers 
continued to host the most significant numbers of 
US bases: at its height, Japan was peppered with 3,800 US installations.

As battles become bases, so bases become battles; 
the bases in East Asia acquired in the Spanish 
American War and in World War II, such as Guam, 
Okinawa and the Philippines, became the primary 
sites from which the United States waged war on 
Vietnam.  Without them, the costs and logistical 
obstacles for the US would have been 
immense.  The number of bombing runs over North 
and South Vietnam required tons of bombs to be 
unloaded, for example, at the Naval Station in 
Guam, stored at the Naval Magazine in the 
southern area of the island, and then shipped to 
be loaded onto B-52s at Andersen Air Force Base 
every day during years of the war.  The morale of 
ground troops based in Vietnam, as fragile as it 
was to become through the latter part of the 
1960s, depended on R & R at bases throughout East 
and Southeast Asia which allowed them to leave 
the war zone and be shipped back quickly and 
inexpensively for further fighting (Baker 
2004:76).  In addition to the bases’ role in 
fighting these large and overt wars, they 
facilitated the movement of military assets to 
accomplish the over 200 military interventions 
carried out by the US in the course of the Cold War period (Blum 1995).

While speed of deployment is framed as an 
important continued reason for forward basing, 
equally important is that troops could be 
deployed anywhere in the world from US bases 
without having to touch down en route.  In fact, 
US soldiers are being increasingly billeted on US 
territory, including such far-flung areas as 
Guam, which is presently slated for a larger 
buildup for this reason as well as to avoid the 
political and other costs of foreign deployment.

With the will to gain military control of space, 
as well as gather intelligence, the US over time, 
especially in the 1990s, established a large 
number of new military bases to facilitate the 
strategic use of communications and space 
technologies. Military R&D (the Pentagon spent 
over $52 billion in 2005 and employed over 90,000 
scientists) and corporate profits to be made in 
the development and deployment of the resulting 
technologies have been significant factors in the 
growing numbers of technical facilities on 
foreign soil. These include such things as 
missile early-warning radar, signals 
intelligence, space tracking telescopes and laser 
sources, satellite control, downwind air sampling 
monitors, and research facilities for everything 
from weapons testing to meteorology.  Missile 
defense systems and network centric warfare 
increasingly rely on satellite technology and 
drones with associated requirements for ground 
facilities.  These facilities have often been 
established in violation of arms control 
agreements such as the 1967 Outer Space Treaty 
meant to limit the militarization of space.

The assumption that US bases served local 
interests in a shared ideological and security 
project dominated into the 1960s: allowing base 
access showed a commitment to fight Communism and 
gratitude for US military assistance. But with 
decolonization and the US war in Vietnam, such 
arguments began to lose their power, and the 
number of US overseas bases declined from an 
early 1960s peak. Where access was once 
automatic, many countries now had increased 
leverage over what the US had to give in exchange 
for basing rights, and those rights could be 
restricted in a variety of important ways, 
including through environmental and other 
regulations. The bargaining chips used by the US 
were increasingly sophisticated weapons, as well 
as rent payments for the land on which bases were 
established. 5  These exchanges were often linked 
with trade and other kinds of agreements, such as 
access to oil and other raw materials and 
investment opportunities (Harkavy 1982:337). They 
also have had destabilizing effects on regional 
arms balances, particularly when advanced 
weaponry is the medium of exchange. From the 
earlier ideological rationale for the bases, 
global post-war recovery and decreasing 
inequality between the US and countries – mostly 
in the global North – that housed the majority of 
US bases, led to a more pragmatic or economic 
grounding to basing negotiations, albeit often 
thinly veiled by the language of friendship and 
common ideological bent. The 1980s saw countries 
whose populations and governments had strongly 
opposed US military presence, such as Greece, 
agree to US bases on their soil only because they 
were in need of the cash, and Burma, a neutral 
but very poor state, entered negotiations with 
the US over basing troops there (Harkavy 1989:4-5).

The third period of accelerated imperial ambition 
began in 2000, with the election of George Bush 
and the ascendancy to power of a group of leaders 
committed to a more aggressive and unilateral use 
of military power, their ability to expand the 
scope of US power increased by the attacks of 
9/11. They wanted "a network of 'deployment 
bases' or 'forward operating bases' to increase 
the reach of current and future forces" and 
focused on the need for bases in Iraq. While the 
unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the 
immediate justification, the need for a 
substantial American force presence in the Gulf 
transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam 
Hussein. This plan for expanded US military 
presence around the world has been put into 
action, particularly in the Middle East, the 
Russian perimeter, and, now, Africa.

Pentagon transformation plans result in the 
design of US military bases to operate ever more 
as offensive, expeditionary platforms from which 
to project military capabilities quickly 
anywhere.  Where bases in Korea, for example, 
were once meant primarily to defend South Korea 
from attack from the north, they are now, like 
bases everywhere, project power in many 
directions and serve as stepping stones to 
battles far from themselves.  The Global Defense 
Posture Review of 2004 announced these changes, 
focusing not just on reorienting the footprint of 
US bases away from Cold War locations, but on 
grounding imperial ambitions through remaking 
legal arrangements that support expanded military 
activities with other allied countries and 
prepositioning equipment in those countries to be 
able to “surge” military force quickly, anywhere.

The Department of Defense currently distinguishes 
three types of military facilities. “Main 
operating bases” are those with permanent 
personnel, strong infrastructure, and often 
including family housing, such as Kadena Air Base 
in Japan and Ramstein Air Force Base in 
Germany.  “Forward operating sites” are 
“expandable warm facilit[ies] maintained with a 
limited U.S. military support presence and 
possibly prepositioned equipment,” such as 
Incirlik Air Base in Turkey and Soto Cano Air 
Base in Honduras (US Defense Department 
2004:10).  Finally, “cooperative security 
locations” are sites with few or no permanent US 
personnel, which are maintained by contractors or 
the host nation for occasional use by the US 
military, and often referred to as “lily pads.” 
In Thailand, for example, U-Tapao Royal Thai Navy 
Airfield has been used extensively for US combat 
runs over Iraq and Afghanistan. Others are now 
cropping up around the world, especially 
throughout Africa, as in Dakar, Senegal where 
facilities and use rights have been newly established.

Are Guam’s bases domestic or overseas bases? Are 
there racial underpinnings to the differences in how Guam’s basing is handled?

The history just recounted mostly refers to US 
bases on other countries’ sovereign soil. Is 
Guam’s situation anomalous?  Is Guam’s Andersen 
AFB a domestic base or a foreign base?  As Guam 
is a US territory, it is neither a fully 
incorporated part of the US nor a free 
nation.  The island’s license plate, which notes 
it is “Where America’s Day Begins,” also reads, 
“Guam USA.” This expresses the wish of some, 
rather than the reality.  It perhaps would better 
read, Guam, US sort of A.  International legal 
norms make the status clear, however.  Guam is a 
colony, and primarily a military colony, in 
keeping with the idea that the US’ imperial 
history, especially in the second half of the 
20th century, has been a military colonialism around the world.

Guam’s status shifts by context, however.  The 
DoDs Base Structure Report places Guam and its 
39,287 “owned” acres (39 percent of the island’s 
territory) between Georgia (560,799 acres) and 
Hawaii (175,911 acres).  No Status of Forces 
Agreement (SOFA) regulates the US forces on Guam, 
and as far as I know, the DoD does not need to 
report each day to the government of Guam on how 
many soldiers have been brought in or sent out of 
Guam, nor is it negotiating with Guam about its 
plans to grow its bases on Guam.


Map of US military bases on Guam (1991)

One very important and empirical index of the 
degree to which Guam’s bases are foreign or 
domestic is the quality of care that has been 
taken with its environment and health (Castro 
2007).  Overseas bases have repeatedly inflicted 
environmental devastation.  Unexploded ordnance 
killed 21 people in Panama before the US was 
evicted and continues to threaten communities 
nearby.  In Germany, industrial solvents, 
firefighting chemicals, and varieties of waste 
have ruined ecological systems near some US 
bases.  The Koreans are finding extremely high 
levels of military toxins in bases returned to 
them by the US from near the DMZ. Ebeye atoll 
suffers severe water quality and quantity 
problems due to the US military presence (Soroko 2006).

While Guam’s environment has been treated 
carelessly through the years, environmental 
standards have not been high enough for domestic 
US bases either.  Fort Bragg in North Carolina, 
for example, engaged in outdoor burning of very 
large numbers of its unwanted, old wooden 
barracks at one point in the 1970s, and an 
ancient water treatment plant was used on Fort 
Bragg up until quite recently.  One can also 
point to the US Army Corps of Engineers’ Formerly 
Used Defense 
whose cleanup would be so expensive that they are 
termed “national sacrifice zones,” or permanent no man’s lands by some.

But activists have long considered the 
environmental and judicial standards that are 
negotiated into each country’s SOFA as an index 
of how much respect their country is 
accorded.  It is possible to measure the quantity 
of toxins variously introduced into the 
environment of Guam, Germany, the Philippines, 
California, and North Carolina, for example.  The 
broad differences in that quantity roughly occur 
on a scale that appears quite racial, with the US 
mainland at the top, Germany next, and the 
Philippines and Guam at the bottom.  If Guam’s 
political status were truly domestic, we might 
expect Guam to look more like the mainland in 
terms of how the environment has been cared for. It does not.

But the internal racial history of the US itself 
demonstrates that the military base has been a 
booby prize for many of the internally colonized 
in the US as well: the distinction between 
domestic and foreign bases has been blurry on the 
mainland as well.  All domestic military bases 
are in fact, of course, built on Native American 
land, and even after that land was taken, the 
bases were often intentionally sited on land 
inhabited by poor white, black and Indian 
farmers.  Thousands of them lost their land in 
North Carolina alone in the buildup to WW II (Lutz 2001).

And there, too, we can ask, as we ask on Guam, 
who benefited then and who benefits now from base 
building and base buildups?  What costs are 
externalized and borne by others?  And how has a 
rhetoric of national security over all 
contributed to the notion that the military can 
be and should be excepted from environmental protection standards?

The externalized costs of bases

The people of Guam have been engaged in a several 
year exercise of trying to detail the impact of 
military bases in order to gain some relief from 
the expected continuing externalization of the 
physical and social costs of military basing onto 
the people of Guam.  Among the health and 
environmental issues pertaining to base expansion 
are the long term maintenance of roads, the 
stressed and declining water supply, and the likely upswing in crime rates.

In this final section, the economic impact of 
bases is examined, as this has been crucial in 
Guam and elsewhere for the arguments made for 
military expansion.  Obviously the health and 
wellbeing of people affected by military basing 
are crucial, but the economic effects have been 
the primary thing that people in many base 
communities have focused on.  This is so for two 
reasons.  The first is that the military itself 
publicizes its arrival or expansion as an 
economic boon, noting the dollars brought in via 
soldier’s salaries, civilian work on post, and 
construction and other sub-contracts that could 
provide jobs. So the First Hawaiian Bank 
published a Guam Economic Forecast that claimed 
“The military expansion is anticipated to benefit 
Guam’s economy in the amount of $1.5 billion per 
year once the process begins." 6

The second reason for the economic focus is that 
they appear overall to be positive, unlike the 
environmental, sovereignty, cultural, crime, and 
noise effects. But one of the reasons they look 
positive is because the powerful benefit and have 
the resources to convince others that they, too, 
benefit even when they palpably do 
not.  Moreover, the military has large numbers of 
personnel, military and civilian, doing public 
relations work with media and communities to make 
their case for simple economic positives. In 
addition, those locals who are most likely to 
benefit financially have the funding and 
motivation to do similar public relations 
work.  For example, the Chamber of Commerce 
funded a 2008 survey that found that “71 per cent 
of Guam residents supported an increase in the 
United States military presence, with nearly 80 
per cent of the view that the increasing military 
presence would result in additional jobs and tax 
revenue; according to the poll, 60 per cent felt 
the additional Marines on the island would have a 
positive effect and would ultimately improve the 
island’s quality of life.” 7  This poll was as 
much an attempt to create reality as to reflect 
it. It builds on an existing cultural narrative, 
one that is purchased with media time and power, 
a narrative that says “you will all benefit.”

What are the economic effects of bases?  Three 
major factors can be identified. First, the 
economic effects are primarily redistributional 
rather than generative (unlike, for example, 
manufacturing or education jobs). Certain sectors 
atrophy and others grow in military districts, 
often in very strong fluctuations. In 2007 in 
Guam, for example, “While employment in 
manufacturing, transportation and public 
utilities and retail trade decreased, increases 
were seen for jobs in the service sector and 
public sector; with the construction sector 
experiencing the largest increase, that is, 1,450 
jobs, or 35 per cent.” 8  Usually, retail jobs 
are the main type of work created around military 
bases. Unfortunately, those jobs pay less than 
any other category of work, accelerating the 
growth of inequality in military communities.

Second, the military is a highly toxic industrial 
operation and it externalizes many of its costs 
of operation to the communities that host it and 
serve it. These costs include such things as 
environmental waste, PTSD in returning war 
veterans and high rates of domestic violence, 
rapid deterioration of roads and other public 
amenities, and, in many communities, decline in 
human capital development of populations that 
have gone into the military (Lutz and Bartlett 
1995, Lutz 2001). JROTC, for example, only 
appears to add resources to school districts 
while it in fact draws on significant local 
education resources, while serving as recruiting 
devices. The math on these costs – the 
subtraction from the general welfare and general public funds – is rarely done.

Finally, military economies are volatile.  While 
the “war cycle” is different than the business 
cycle, it also has booms and busts.  For example, 
businesses in military personnel cities like 
Fayetteville, North Carolina regularly go under 
when service members are deployed to US war 
zones.  Any major deployment from Guam’s bases 
can be expected to significantly harm local 
enterprise dependent on military 
business.  Moreover, a volatile real estate 
market catering to foreign military personnel 
sends property prices spiralling and forces local 
working families into more substandard housing.


There are legal questions in the Guam military 
buildup as well. In her testimony before the UN 
Committee of 24 in 2008, Sabina Flores Peres 
referred to the extremity of “the level and 
grossness of the infraction” of the UN Charter by 
the US in its further militarization of the 
island. This is not hyperbole, because Guam’s 
militarization is objectively more extreme in its 
concentration than that found virtually anywhere 
else on earth.  There are only a few other areas 
that are in similar condition – all, not 
coincidentally islands such as Okinawa, Diego 
Garcia, and, in the past, Vieques, Puerto Rico 
(see e.g., Inoue 2004, Yoshida 2010 and McCaffrey 
2002).  This was the product of an island 
strategy for the US Navy, developed in the face 
of decolonization and anxieties about the fate of 
continental US bases in that context in the 1950s and 1960s (Vine 2009).

Guam, objectively, has the highest ratio of US 
military spending and military hardware and land 
takings from indigenous populations of any place 
on earth.  Here there might have been rivals in 
Diego Garcia or in some areas of the continental 
US if the US had not forcibly removed those 
indigenous landowners altogether or onto the 
equivalent of reservations, something the US had 
hoped to do in Guam as far back as 1945.  The 
level and grossness of the infraction has to do 
with the racial hierarchy that fundamentally 
guides the US in its “negotiations” with other 
peoples over the siting of its military bases and 
the treatment they are accorded once the US 
settles in.  As the military budget suddenly and 
intensely comes under scrutiny in the United 
States in the summer of 2010 during severe 
economic crisis, the hope must be that the 
project of building yet more military facilities 
on Guam will hit the chopping block.  As a human 
rights issue, however, the US treatment of Guam’s 
people should have no price tag.

Catherine Lutz is the Thomas J. Watson Jr. Family 
Professor in Anthropology and International 
Studies at the Watson Institute for International 
Studies at Brown University.  She is the author 
Bases of Empire: The Global Struggle against U.S. 
Military Posts and (with elin o’Hara slavick, 
Carol Mayvor and Howard Zinn), 
after Bomb: A Violent Cartography.

Recommended citation: Catherine Lutz, "US 
Military Bases on Guam in Global Perspective," 
The Asia-Pacific Journal, 30-3-10, July 26, 2010.


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1 This paper is an updated and revised version of 
an invited Presidential Lecture given at the 
University of Guam on April 14, 2009.  Portions 
appeared in the Introduction to The Bases of 
Empire: The Global Struggle against US Military 
Posts. New York: New York University Press, 2009.

2 The major concentrations of U.S. sites outside 
those war zones as of 2007 were in South Korea, 
with 106 sites and 29,000 troops, Japan with 130 
sites and 49,000 troops, most concentrated in 
Okinawa, and Germany with 287 sites and 64,000 
troops.  Guam with 28 facilities has nearly 6,600 
airmen and soldiers and is slated to radically 
expand over the next several years (Base Structure Report FY2007).

3 Between 1947 and 1988, the U.S. left 62 
countries, 40 of them outside the Pacific Islands (Blaker 1990:34).

4 Luis Nuno Rodrigues, ‘Trading “Human Rights” 
for “Base Rights”: Kennedy, Africa and the 
Azores’, Ms. Possession of the author, March 2006.

5 Harkavy (1982:337) calls this the 
“arms-transfer-basing nexus” and sees the U.S. 
weaponry as having been key to maintaining both 
basing access and control over the client states 
in which the bases are located.  Granting basing 
rights is not the only way to acquire advanced 
weaponry, however.  Many countries purchased arms 
from both superpowers during the Cold War, and 
they are less likely to have US bases on their soil.

6 Economic Forecast ­ Guam Edition 2006-2007, First Hawaiian Bank, pp. 8-9.

7 <http://www.guampdn.com>Link, 18 February 2008.

8 <http://www.guamdol.net>Link, September 2007, Current Employment Report.

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