Friday, June 16, 2017

Decolonization in the Caribbean #17: Militarization and Decolonization

At this year's Regional Seminar for the Committee of 24 in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, attendees were treated to two presentations by experts on decolonization from the UN perspective. I'll discuss both presentations through my "Decolonization in the Caribbean" posts, but today I wanted to focus on the remarks from Dr. Carlyle Corbin, from the US Virgin Islands, who is a longtime ally with Guam and the Chamorro people in their struggle for self-determination.

He offered a number of recommendations that the Committee could take up in terms of moving ahead with its mission of eradicating colonialism from the world and assisting the remaining non-self-governing territories. What is refreshing in terms of the seminar overall is the way it mixes scholars and experts with diplomats or government reps. The debate or discussions between country representatives and committee members tends to move in familiar and sometimes frustrating directions. Regardless of what is the substance of the seminar, certain countries tend to make the same points every year, only changing things as their diplomatic relationships change. This means that certain non-self-governing territories get a great deal of attention, usually because of the way sovereign control or rights between nations is being contested, but others are mentioned, are afforded a minute amount of space and then quickly cast aside.

This year there was a bit of urgency in finding some way to break the deadlock over decolonization, where not a single colony has been formally moved to self-government in close to two decades (the last being Timor Leste). At each seminar the experts offer innovative means of accomplishing this, but it is usually lost in the shuffle of diplomatic sparing or posturing.

A case in point this year was with Carlyle's intervention, which addressed a number of problematic issues that are taking place in the non-self-governing territories, which the UN and the C24 should have an interest in, but have long left unattended. The one which has always been an issue in the case of Guam, but is rarely attended to, is the issue of the US militarization or increasing of its military presence in its colonies. The UN resolutions have been very clear since the 1960s, that those who have colonies must not allow excess immigration of militarization to their possessions, as these policies will most likely become severe detriments to decolonization. In Guam, we can see this quite clearly, both in terms of Chamorros becoming a minority, where the US uses the impact of its own policies to justify the erasure of Chamorro rights, and also the increased strategic value, which becomes its own reason not to allow any political status change to the island.

I wrote about this last year in my Guam Daily Post column after a series of discussions in the Commission on Decolonization went nowhere in this very point. International conventions on this issue are clear, but locally it is not something people wish to discuss because of the way it may appear to be anti-American or not patriotic. Internationally other countries don't want to address it because of the way it may inhibit their own ability to militarize their territories or the way it may put them in the cross-hairs of the US diplomatically. But it is still a very important point that must be made repeatedly, as it is not something in the past that cannot be changed. It is something that continues to happen, a convention meant to protect the colonized people of the world, in this case the Chamorros, but is continually ignored.

I've pasted my column here for you to read. 


“To Militarize, or to Decolonize?”
by Michael Lujan Bevacqua
June 1, 2016
The Guam Daily Post

On August 28, 2015 the Department of Defense signed the Record of Decision (ROD) for their proposed military buildup to Guam. The military buildup and its impact on Guam has long been a topic of public debate. What has often been lost in the discussion of socioeconomic and environmental impacts is what effect a military increase of this magnitude may have on the Chamorro quest for self-determination and the decolonization of Guam.

Since 2011 I have been a member of the Commission on Decolonization, and although many people might think of issues of self-determination and military increases as being separate, we should think of them as being more closely connected. The overall mission of the Commission on Decolonization is to educate the island community on issues of political status, in particular related to the holding of a political status plebiscite in which those who are legally qualified will vote on one of three future political statuses for Guam (integration, free association or independence). But how does our value as a base affect the willingness or unwillingness of our colonizer to support us in our decolonization?  

The position of the United Nations on this issue has always been clear, but is scarcely reported locally. In its resolutions, military increases or strategic military importance should not be considered as reason to not decolonize territories, but this is generally used as an excuse to delay or deny action. We can find this point made in their numerous resolutions on the Question of Guam, such as this one from 1984:

The General Assembly of the United Nations “Reaffirms its strong conviction that the presence of military bases and installations in the Territory  [of Guam] could constitute a major obstacle to the implementation of the Declaration and that it is the responsibility of the administering Power to ensure that the existence of such bases and installations does not hinder the population of the Territory from exercising its right to self- determination and independence in conformity with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”

UN Resolution 1514 (X/V) in 1960 called upon all colonial powers to assist their colonial possessions in moving towards decolonization. It does not mention specifically military bases or military training. But by 1964 the United Nations had begun to notice that in non-self-governing territories like Guam, the colonial power’s military controlled a great deal of resources and had a great deal of sway over the destiny of the colonies. Since 1965 the United Nations has approved numerous resolutions calling upon all colonial powers (including the United States) to withdraw their military bases as they represent series obstacles to the exercising of self-determination by colonized peoples.

Bases help to enable to colonial power to see an island like Guam, not as a place in need of decolonization and redress, but as a strategically valuable piece of real estate, one necessary for the projection of military force and the maintaining of its geopolitical interests. Military facilities help colonial powers to deemphasize the inalienable human rights of colonized peoples and instead focus on the instrumentality and necessity of controlling their lands. The expansion of bases and the establishing of new training areas as outlined in the ROD is precisely the type of increased military presence the United Nations has long cautioned against. The United Nations has also cautioned countries like the United States from using their colonies in offensive wars or actions against other nations as this could potentially make enemies on behalf of the colony when it achieves decolonization. To illustrate this point the more that Guam is used for American military saber rattling in the Asia-Pacific region, the more it becomes a target for enemies of the United States today and should it ever achieve another political status.

The Department of Defense is aware of this concern and has acknowledged the potential for their military buildup to affect certain Chamorro issues or concerns, such as decolonization in their military buildup environmental impact studies. But as with most concerns related to the United Nations and decolonization they have chosen to wash their hands of this and argue they have no responsibility or obligation in the matter.

For those who think these matters are separate or that one doesn’t affect the other, that simply isn’t true. Our strategic military value to the United States has long affected what we can and cannot get from the United States. For decades the members of the Trust Territory of Micronesia negotiated with the United States, a process that led to the formation of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and three nation-states that have seats at the United Nations: the Republic of Belau (Palau), the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia. The United States did not allow Guam to participate in similar negotiations as its strategic value to the United States as a base, has consistently led to a denial of this basic human right.

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