In response to pressure from the Japanese to pull US troops out of Okinawa, the Department of Defense (DoD) has proposed to relocate 8000 US Marines and 9000 dependents from Okinawa to Guam. The minimum cost of the infrastructure to support this Guam Buildup is estimated to be between $10-15B, some $3B of which is expected to come from a loan from the Government of Japan. DoD has established a Program Management Office for the Guam Buildup and awarded a consulting contract to help manage the ambitious program. The final draft of the Environmental Impact Statement is expected in late 2009.
DoD opted to move the Marines from Okinawa to Guam rather than Hawaii or the US mainland, because they would be closer to potential hot spots in the Western Pacific. But what does the US really gain by being a couple hours closer in air time or a couple days closer in sailing time, and at what cost? It is virtually impossible to imagine a scenario where we would commit ground troops on foreign soil without a buildup of tensions and at least several days notice.
Rather than spend $15B upgrading Guam’s infrastructure and hazarding a very fragile island environment, it would be better to re-station the Marines at Camp Pendleton. Guam doesn’t have adequate space or facilities for training maneuvers; Pendleton does. While Pendleton would need some additional infrastructure to support the increase in population, it would be much less than that required for Guam. Guam’s water, waste water, roads, power, sanitary landfill, and port facilities are over cpacity now and way undersized to support the Marine relocation. At a minimum, DoD should consider stationing the troops at Pendleton and forward staging only equipment on Guam. They could forward deploy troops (without dependents) when and if international tensions truly warranted.
HIstorically the labor pool for major construction on Guam has been comprised largely of foreign nationals. Building Pendleton’s infrastructure vice Guam’s is consequently more likely to provide immediate jobs for more US citizens at a time when they are desperately needed. The environmental impact is also likely to be less at Pendleton than it is on the small island of Guam, which is roughly only 40 miles long and 8 miles wide at its widest point. Relocating the Marines from Okinawa to Pendleton vice Guam is more sustainable in the long run and can be done at considerably less cost and without unduly sacrificing any strategic advantage. Given our nation’s current economic crisis, the next Administration needs to re-think the DoD Buildup on Guam, and Congress needs to more fully evaluate DoD’s budget priorities.