Friday, May 20, 2011

Proposal By Senators to Change Guam Development Raises Concerns

A proposal last week by three high-ranking US Senators that could threaten the scope of a $10 billion modernization of Guam's commercial port and local infrastructure is raising concerns by officials in Guam and Japan.

Senators Carl Levin (D-MI), John McCain (R-AZ) and Jim Webb (D-VA), from the Senate Armed Services Committee, issued a joint press release on May 11 proposing changes to the current Department of Defense plan to shift the structure of US forces in Asia. A key component of these realignment plans, first proposed in 2006 after years of negotiations between Japan and the US, is the shifting of at least 8,600 US Marines – including the entire III Marine Expeditionary Force – and their dependents and support staff, from Okinawa to Guam. To support this build-up on Guam, a nearly $2 billion revamp of the island nation's aging port facilities and local infrastructure has been slowly moving forward.

The senators called the current re-alignment plans, including the Guam build-up, "unrealistic, unworkable, and unaffordable."

Sen. Levin, chairman of the Senate committee, said that much has changed since the plans were first approved in 2006. He added that growth costs of the plans and the "projected times are totally unrealistic."
The three senators' proposal calls for scaling back the deployments on Guam, seriously reducing the number of troops shifted to Guam and thereby reducing the need for major development of the island nation's infrastructure.

Under the senators' proposal, Guam would only see a "permanently-assigned headquarters element bolstered by deployed, rotating combat units that are home-based elsewhere, and consideration of off-island training sites."

Guam Governor Eddie Calvo was informed May 13 that US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is currently updating the Guam military build-up master plan to make it more cost-effective as the DoD faces up to $400 billion in cuts in the near future.

However, US Navy Under Secretary Robert Work assured Gov. Calvo that the Guam build-up is still on.

"Recently, there has been a lot of discussion about press released on proposed plans that have caused some concern in the community," Gov. Calvo said after talking with Work.

"I want to be clear: despite all the talk, there will be a buildup on Guam. The DoD is committed to it. No one knows for certain how the buildup plans will change – not Congress, not the Obama administration, not the military. To speculate at this point is misleading and misguided.”

Japanese Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa also expressed concern about the three US senators' proposal calling it "unrealistic," and that it would be rejected by the people of Okinawa who have long called for the departure of the US military presence on their island.

Kitazawa, noting the 2009 Guam Treaty between the US and Japan covering the relocation of the Okinawa forces, said that the US senators' proposal is "a domestic matter of the United States that should be settled between the US government and Congress. At the government-to-government level, the Japan-US agreement exists and there is no change."

The Guam commercial port, operated by the island government's Port Authority of Guam, is undergoing a rapid expansion as it prepares for the build-up, which is expected to increase traffic through the Guam port by more than 100 percent, an increase that many fear the aging infrastructure at the port will not be able to handle without the modernization efforts.

US military officials said on May 17 that the US 2011 fiscal year federal budget contains enough Guam build-up funds to cover work on Guam roads and the second phase of an upgrade to Guam's commercial port at Apra Harbor. However, the total FY2011 allocations of $131 million represents a $300 million cut over what had been proposed. The DoD is hoping to make up the cuts in the FY2012 budget.

In all the US federal government has pledged $4 billion to help prepare Guam for the build-up. Japan has also pledged just under $6.1 billion to support the transfer.

Since funding began in 2008 through 2011, the US government had allocated about $484 million and Japan has allocated about $834 million to the transfer. Japan has also approved an additional $420 million that is slated for pay out this year.