Supported, but trapped: the Guamanian economy’s reliance on the US military

by | Sep 24, 2018 | Economy, Headlines | Comments

Far away from the United States mainland, the venerable B-52 bomber soars high above the Pacific Ocean. It’s on a training exercise, and is returning to base. It’s destination isn’t Hawaii though, it’s Guam.

The US territories, such as Guam, offer strategic staging points for the Air Force and the Navy, especially with the ongoing rise of the Chinese military. While Guam is the primary base, there are troops stationed in Puerto Rico, and the Army even recruits from American Samoa. Approximately 4,000 troops are stationed in Guam, roughly 3% of its population. This number is expected to rise as the US slowly shifts its military operations away from Japan and South Korea.

Many often forget how this supports the Guamanian economy.

Take the airport near the capital, for example. It enjoys access to places such as Japan, China the US, and South Korea. If a military base had not been established, it is likely that there wouldn’t be as big of a market and airlines would’ve passed over. This would limit people’s options on mobility, and would restrict foreign direct investment in Guam.

But there are many other supporting roles that are needed to accommodate a military base. In the short term, construction projects on military bases have helped provide work for local citizens. Tourism is also buoyed by American soldiers, who help support the economy through spending time on the island and shopping.

Unsurprisingly, Guam is above the rest of the US territories when it comes to GDP per capita, with the exception of the US Virgin Islands. As of 2015, it stood at $35,000 per resident.

Nevertheless, there is a price to be paid for military occupancy. It is reported that the military occupies ⅓ of the land in Guam, limiting options when it comes to development. Many local citizens are unhappy about this reality. In fact, Change.org is petitioning to review how the government got control of this land in the first place and return land. There are further signs of resentment among Guamanians. According to a 2017 poll conducted by USA Today, 56% did not approve of the military buildup, while 41% voiced support.

It appears that the military is here to stay in Guam. It was recently announced that a $165 million upgrade for the arrival of over 5000 Marines transitioning from Okinawa Island in Japan to Guam. Of course the construction of the facility will provide jobs, but there are also non-combatant jobs at Guam that can help provide skills. There is also an educational aspect to consider. Those who have served in the military can take advantage of college tuition reimbursement. Having such an opportunity provides an invaluable opportunity to learn and ascend to the middle class after serving. At what cost to the individual and the people of Guam? That is the defining question in the United States’ most Western territory.