THIS is in response to your July 21st news article, “NMI's top priority in talks with military: Protection of environment and local culture.”
Protecting CNMI’s environment and local culture are vital goals. Yet working against U.S. military objectives is unlikely to be successful. So the CNMI should pursue its aims in the context of stability and security in the Asian Pacific region.
The CNMI and the U.S. military have conflicting priorities. Governor’s Torres is correct in prioritizing the protection of the environment and local culture. These things are important to everyone in the CNMI. While the USINDOPACOM stated it “remains committed to the security and stability of the region and remains postured and ready to ensure a Free and Open Indo-Pacific.” That statement does not mention protecting the environment or local culture. So how can the CNMI protect its culture and environment in the shadow of the military’s different priorities?
Start with working within the USINDOPACOM stated aim. Governor Torres should continue to advocate now. But expect the military to pursue its aims regardless of other concerns. Long-term, the CNMI needs to find ways to accommodate those aims while protecting the environment and local culture.
Is a military buildup on the back of the Marianas the best way to pursue regional security and stability? This is something for military strategists to debate. It’s possible the answer in no.
The unstated goal of the USINDOPACOM is to check other military influence in the Pacific. Can U.S. military presence alone achieve this? The South China Sea suggests no. Despite U.S. naval presence, China has still militarized the sea at the cost of neighboring countries like the Philippines and Vietnam. These countries have been too underdeveloped and uncoordinated to defend their collective interests, regardless of U.S. military presence. There needs to be a better strategy, one that is also friendly to the CNMI.
One possibility is increased cooperation between well-developed allies to ensure the security and stability across the Asian Pacific region. The U.S. can lead and support its regional allies in a broad defensive network, rather than solely building up its own forces at the cost of the Marianas. Basically cooperation among many actors might increase security while reducing environmental and cultural costs to the Marianas, achieving both the military’s and the CNMI’s goals.
Of course development and cooperation between the U.S. and its regional allies is going to require constant diplomatic and business discussion. The CNMI, as a U.S. Commonwealth conveniently located to Asia and the Pacific, is a great place to conduct that work. Doing it here ensures the CNMI increases its importance beyond military training grounds, allowing CNMI more bargaining power in protecting the environment and local culture.
Protecting the environment and local culture is the rightful priority of the CNMI. Doing so in the context of the U.S. military’s objectives might be a difficult, but a beneficial long-term strategy towards those aims. Perhaps the CNMI might become a hub of regional cooperation that promotes security while respecting the Marianas. This and other ideas to preserve the environment and local culture are worth considering.
Chalan Piao, Saipan