By Haidee V. Eugenio
International tourists would pay top dollars for vacation in far-flung tropical islands with U.S. flags flying on them. But the United States has other plans that involve setting up live-fire training ranges and divert airfield on tiny islands in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI).
The U.S. Department of Defense says it is rebalancing military forces in the Asia-Pacific region. In line with this, it is proposing to increase its joint military training capabilities by developing live-fire ranges and training areas on Tinian and Pagan, some three-quarters of the way between Hawaii and the Philippines. Tinian and Pagan’s use will address the U.S. military’s unit-level and combined-level training deficiencies in the Western Pacific. Training areas in Guam, also a U.S. territory, are already being used to capacity. The U.S. Air Force is also planning to build a “divert” or alternative airfield on Saipan, CNMI’s capital island. This will be used in case the U.S. military’s main bases in Guam, for example, cannot be accessed such as when they are targeted by the enemy’s ballistic missiles.
Whether this is part of a plan to encircle China or North Korea with a chain of military bases and ports in the region, the CNMI’s location is once again playing an important role, long after World War II. CNMI Governor Eloy S. Inos said the Commonwealth could initiate talks on these military plans with the U.S. president or his representative pursuant to Section 902 of the Covenant that established the political relationship between the United States and the Northern Mariana Islands.
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