Hawaii and Guam: Strategic Convergent Zones for the United States Forward Defense Strategy inthe Pacific « Jim Kent:
Posted by Jim on February 28, 2011
In October of 2010 I had a short statement on the happenings in the Pacific Rim and promised a full update at a later time. This paper is the update. in developing this full update Dr. Eric Casino, John Ryan, Lee Weber (Guam based) and I visited the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu. We were hosted by Deputy Director Jame T. Hirai and had a full exchange of ideas including our new project on Moloka`i addressing Microenterprise development
Hawaii and Guam: Strategic Convergence Zones for the United States Forward Defense Strategy in the Pacific Rim
Robert Kaplan had an article in the May/June 2010 issue of Foreign Affairstitled “the Geography of Chinese Power: how far Can Beijing Reach on Land and at Sea?” his discussion of what the Chinese Navy calls the “first island chain” and the “second island chain” in the Pacific Ocean drew our attention. these two maritime constructs are not simply linear descriptions of the layout of islands but ones with value-added undertones for both Chinese and American geostrategists over the Pacific Rim. Among these undertones, three are discussed below. first is the
general observation that geography trumps politics in dealing with the emergent Chinese power. Second is that Guam and Hawaii because of their critically important position in the second island chain are historically poised to benefit the nations of the Pacific Rim by becoming new convergence zones. third the emerging trends and the actions needed to capture, benefit from and give leadership to these trends for the Pacific century are discussed.
An Aggressive Proposition
The “first island chain” consists of the Korean Peninsula, the Kuril Islands,
Japan (including the Ryukyo Islands), Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia,
and Australia (Kaplan, p. 33). the “second island chain” includes the U.S.
territories of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands (Kaplan, p. 34).
According to Kaplan the Chinese consider these two chains as
“archipelagic extensions of the Chinese landmass.” This is an aggressive
1“the Geography of Chinese Power: how far Can Beijing Reach on Land and at Sea?” by Robert Kaplan, Foreign Affairs,May/June 2010, Volume 89, Number 3, pp 22 to 41.
proposition, considering that Guam and the Marianas are within the
forward defense arc of the United States. There is a critical need to
question this China-centric perspective by expanding the strategic
framework of analysis to embrace the whole Pacific zone that includes
the two continents of North and South America as integral components of
the Pacific Rim (see page 2, Pacific Rim Global Resource Unit).
To better understand this unfolding, China-centric perspective, a historic
perspective is offered. the JKA Group between 1986 and 1992 was
working in China for US West, a telecommunications company, (now
Qwest) and the Philippines, for President Corazon Aquino. it was found
that the then existing definition of “Pacific Rim” was somewhat useless for
social, economic, and military purposes because it tended to limit the
view to the United States and China as bracketing parameters. the JKA
team set a course to define the Pacific Rim within a global resource unit
context. With the help of a broad team of practitioners from Asia, North
America, South America, and Australia, who had ongoing interests and
knowledge about market trends, trade routes, product development, and
social and cultural insights, the Pacific Rim was drawn in a new
geographic context. As one can imagine, it was hard to find a map of
the world that puts the Pacific Ocean in the middle. the traditional
Eurocentric map marginalized the Pacific to the degree that one could
not comprehend its vastness and structure. what cannot be seen
geographically does not exist – as far as the mind is concerned.
The Pacific Rim Map the JKA team created, displayed below, shows the
boundary line on the Eastern side of the Pacific follows the Andes
Mountains in South America, the 98th
meridian through the U.S., and the
water/vegetation line in Canada, and northward to Alaska. On the
Western side, the line comes down through Russia and continues on the
border that puts Mongolia, Xinjiang and Tibet on the Indian side of
geographic influence. the line actually follows the geographic area
where the head waters of the Yellow, Yangtze and Mekong rivers begin
their lives. Kaplan re-enforces this geographic line by pointing out
China’s use of force to keep the three geographic areas within their zone
of influence. in the end that will not work for them since geography will
2 the JKA Group employs Human Geographic Mapping to understand productive harmony between human and physical environments. By “entering the routines” of a community (The Discovery Process™), the actual functioning of the culture, its resilience and absorption capacity are described, including the geographic features that distinguish one population from another. Efforts to mobilize people in their environment and to foster empowerment in dealing with change arecalled Human Geographic Issue Management Systems (HGIMS)™.
HGIMS provides the natural boundaries necessary forfreeing the energy and creativity for people to act from a foundation of their geographic, place-based cultures
ultimately trump political control. This concept is important to recognize
for U.S. social, cultural and defense strategy in the Pacific
With this Pacific Rim Map a better understanding is gained of the Chinese
and their relationship to the “second island chain” which falls on the
“forward defense area” of the U.S. at Guam, the Marianas, the Carolines,
and southern Oceania. Potential Chinese military activities here have no
precedents historically. it was Japan, not China, which swept over most of
the Western Pacific. the massive U.S. military response to the Japanese
attack on Pearl Harbor and occupation of some islands in Oceania have
resulted in what Kaplan calls “legacy bases” along both the first and the
second island chains. There is little probability that China has the logistics
capability to physically breach U.S. hegemony in much of the Western
Pacific at this time. This, however, is rapidly changing with China’s foreign
aid and economic development programs targeted throughout the
3″ the Revenge of Geography”, Robert D. Kaplan, Foreign Policy Magazine, May/June 2009. Kaplan’s advice is thatWestern politicians and strategists need to “return to the map, and particularly to what he calls the political geography of the “shattered zones” of Eurasia. also see Sir Halford J. Mackinder, “the Geographical Pivot of History” the Royal Geographical Society, 1904 where the case is made for geography trumping politics: “Man and not nature imitates, butnature in large part controls”. Mackinder looked at European history as “subordinate” to that of Asia, for he saw European civilization as merely the outcome of the struggle against Asiatic invasion
Pacific island nations. the use of soft power, which they are using to gain
influence and control, is the only choice China currently has given the U.S.
administrative and military presence.
This second island chain is not comparable to the size, composition,
resources, and strategic value of the first island chain. in this first island
seascape the Chinese Navy will see little but trouble, says Kaplan. This is
because first island chain island units are themselves nation-states and are
wary of being under the shadow of Greater China hegemony. Japan
once tried to dominate much of this first island chain under its discredited
greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. furthermore there is the growing
consolidation of the 10-nation ASEAN political and economic
conglomerate that has a much greater frontage than China on the South
China Sea and therefore having common claim on it. Some western
geostrategists in the U.S. Naval War College consider the chain as a kind
of “Great Wall in reverse”, where a well-organized line of U.S. allies “serve
as sort of guard towers to monitor and possibly block China’s access to
the Pacific Ocean”.
The Potential for Unintended Consequences
This analogy is ambivalent with serious hidden contradictions. If one
accepts this line as marking China’s forward defense area, it unwittingly
reveals a willingness to recognize and concede China’s claim that the
South China Sea behind this wall is indeed China’s—a claim that the West
and countries in South Asia, Southeast Asia, and Northeast Asia are
naturally denying. any intention to box in China behind this first island
chain is contrary to the principles of freedom of navigation that the United
Nations desires all countries to respect in the case of the South China Sea.
Concern about encirclement appears to be one major reason for China’s
build up of Hainan Island as a major submarine base and is an open
preparation for defensive and assertive activity in maritime zones
surrounding China. in view of these developments, there is new thinking
that desires to define and reconfigure the South China Sea as the “Asian
Mediterranean”– a concept of maritime commons, open to free,
No nation has a monopoly or territorial claim on the Mediterranean, and
neither should there be in the Asian Mediterranean. the more the West
Ibid, page 40.
5 On the concept of “Asian Mediterranean,” see Eric Casino and Myongsup Shin, “South China Sea or ‘Asian Mediterranean Sea’: Re-conceptualizing a Common Regional Maritime Zone,” in International Area Review, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Spring 1999)pp. 43-63.
strives to box in China behind this wall, the more China is motivated to
counter by controlling navigation inside the South China Sea by
territorializing it as if it were a landmass. however there is one caveat that
is of critical importance. Taiwan has defense agreements with the U.S.
and is entwined with the countries in the first island chain. If China should
take over Taiwan (or “when” as some analysists say), it would open up this
geographic area to China’s influence literally over night by assuming
control of the trade and defense agreements that Taiwan has with
nations in the Pacific Rim, especially in the South China Sea. This
expectation makes the second island chain as the U.S. forward defense
area of critical importance to the whole Pacific region. This essentially
means that there has to be policy recognition and commitment that puts
Hawaii and Guam in a set of power relationships comparable to those of
the first island chain that have dominated the Pacific for centuries.
An Alternative to a Military Construct
Previous Pacific Rim international research and business engagements
show that both the first and second island-chain constructs need not be
defined in exclusive military terms of defense and offense, of platforms of
hard power projections. If we revert to alternative definitions of human
geographic units inside and around the Pacific Rim rather than exclusively
political units, increasing positive exchanges across the Pacific can be
seen that have roots going back to hundreds if not thousands of years.
Southeast Asia and Northeast Asia are the anchors of the first island chain,
and movement up and down this chain was predominantly in terms of
. We recognize, of course, that during the days of
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