by Corey Bustamante
The protection of our national security, or securing our position as a world power? The intrinsic value of our natural resources, or the economic value of these resources? These are the types of questions I’ve continuously asked myself as I learned and continue to learn the problems facing Guam.
Of course, the most pressing and possibly controversial issue of the island is the proposed military defense buildup by the U.S. Army. In short, this buildup would add nearly 30,000 total people to the already overcrowded island, replace many acres of land (including ancient traditional lands) for base expansion, and destroy 71 acres of coral reef in Apra Harbor in order to dock an aircraft carrier.
But why such a large increase in presence? In a film we watched about this buildup, David Vice, the head of this buildup, argues that if the U.S. is not influencing in a given area, then someone else is, and that is a threat to our national security. I initially wanted to join many of my classmates in opposing the buildup because of the destruction it would cause, but I soon realized that I can not personally say that I know what is best for U.S. national security. In fact, I find it a bit comforting to know that halfway across the world, the U.S. is watching countries known to be a threat like North Korea and Iran and is in a position to protect us if an attack is launched. But is this really what we are fighting for? When is enough influence enough? Is this buildup just another way to try and maintain our position as a world power as countries like India and China surpass us in GDP and become more influential as players in global politics?
I can not say I honestly know the answer to these questions. But they definitely must be considered when thinking about these issues. What exactly are the motives to our actions? Do we really want to be a world power because we point the largest gun at our competitors? Or should we attempt to gain leverage by out-competing them in the economic market? I choose the latter, and it is for this reason I oppose the build-up.
This then brings me to the natural resources that would be lost. In my dive class, we dove in Apra Harbor, right over the coral reefs that would be dredged out for the placement of the aircraft carrier. This reef was truly beautiful with mounds and valleys of coral stretched out and forming fascinating contours in the land.
If the dredging occurs, this resource would be completely wiped out. In addition, 200 meters around the area affected by sedimentation would potentially be destroyed or badly damaged. But it is not for the sake of the marine life that I winced at the thought of their destruction. As I floated above the reef, I couldn’t help but think of the complete waste destroying this reef would cause. Corals take far too long to grow to expect that reef to recover in any scale of time relevant to humans. So years and years of potential revenue would be lost for motives that are not very clear. The most sought after solution I heard from Jason Biggs, a professor at the University of Guam and one of the leading commentators on the Environmental Impact Statement for this build up, was to place the aircraft carrier at Kilo Warf, an area with virtually no infrastructure to accommodate the ship. This would require much less dredging to any coral reef and still protect the carrier from potential attacks outside of the harbor. While this sounds great, advocates for this solution have to remember that the army is funded by our taxes. So if this solution was pursued, it is our income that will pay to build the infrastructure required to place it there. To decide whether or not it is worth such a cost, we have to know why and how much we value what we are protecting in place of it, the reef.
Guam is a fascinating case study because of the pivotal role it plays as an area with great importance to world politics but also a lot of natural resources to lose if that role is fully pursued. The choices that have to be made in Guam’s situation are going to be those humanity will increasingly face as we have to continuously deciding between military influence and ever decreasing natural resources. In order to properly deal with these situations as they come, my classmates, future leaders, and I will have to clearly define our own values and decide for what exactly we are willing to fight. It is this skill that I believe this class has the most to offer and is of much more importance than many of us realize.
Corey Bustamante is a Junior at the University of Southern California double majoring in Environmental Studies and Economics.