Us navy 030225-n-0000x-002 an aerial view of apra harbor on u.s. naval base guam is seen during a fly-by, feb. 25, 2003

The Trans-Pacific Partnership, Pivot and Pathway

The TPP and its corresponding and supporting military "pivot" have been impacting the lives of Pacific peoples for years through military-industrial buildups, the removal of indigenous self-determination, environmental degradation and wealth extraction.

Negotiations recently concluded for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade agreement between the United States, Canada, Japan, Mexico, Peru, Chile, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, and Vietnam (read it here). The TPP will increase trade and investment, establish uniform rules for commerce, and remove “barriers to profit,” such as financial regulations, labor unions, environmental legislation, product and food safety laws, indigenous rights, and other protections. While analysts highlight how the TPP will impact the future, this editorial foregrounds how the TPP negotiations over the past decade have already affected the Mariana Islands, Hawaiʻi, and Pacific maritime territories.

The Pacific Pivot

The TPP represents 40 percent of the global economy, or nearly 30 trillion dollars. To secure this vast amount of commerce (as well as to police the populations whose rights and environments will be violated), the US plans to pivot and strengthen its Pacific military force.Key to this transition is the Marianas archipelago, a 15-island chain partitioned into two US colonial entities: the “unincorporated territory” of Guam (the largest and southernmost island) and the “commonwealth” of the northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). The Marianas is home to the native Chamorro people.

Throughout the 20th century, the Marianas functioned as a “strategic” military site, often referred to as “The Tip of America’s Spear in Asia.” However, since TPP negotiations began, the US has worked to further militarize the archipelago. In August 2015, the U.S. approved a plan that was first proposed in 2006: the Guam and Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) Military Relocation. This massive military buildup includes the relocation of 5,000 marines and their dependents from Okinawa to Guam, the berthing of nuclear powered aircraft carriers, the establishment of an Air and Missile Defense Task Force, and the creation of a live firing range complex around Litekyan (or Ritidian), a wildlife refuge and sanctuary in northern Guam. In 2010, the Mariana Islands Range Complex (MIRC) militarized the waters by establishing a half-billion square nautical miles live-fire training range around the archipelago. In 2015, the Mariana Islands Training and Testing Area (MITT) doubled the area of the MIRC to nearly a million square nautical miles, increasing the amount of allowable weapons testing.

Currently, the CNMI Joint Military Training (CJMT) proposal is being considered, which will allow the military to use two-thirds of the island of Tinian and the entire island of Pagan for live fire bombing and weapons training. Pagan is the Marianas’ most biologically diverse island, home to many endangered species. By next year, the Marianas will be one of America’s largest training and bombing ranges in the world, just in time to provide the military, security, and enforcement needs of the TPP.

Federal Recognition in Hawaiʻi

In 1898, the US illegally annexed the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi through a joint resolution and without a treaty of annexation. The fact that the Hawaiian nation has never relinquished its sovereignty or its legal title to nearly two million acres of crown, government, and public lands is a legal issue that remains unsettled. Federal recognition—the process used to constitute Native American tribal governments—has been sought for Native Hawaiians over the past two decades as a way to settle the legal issues. However, several versions of the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act (also known as the Akaka Bill) have all failed in Congress.

In 2011, former Governor Neil Abercrombie signed Act 195, which recognized Hawaiians as the state’s indigenous people and sparked an initiative, Kanaʻiolowalu, to complete the “roll” of the Hawaiian population, which failed to enroll a majority of Hawaiians (a previous registry also failed). A new strategy emerged in 2014: the Department of the Interior (DOI) proposed special rules and procedures to allow the DOI to facilitate federal recognition. In turn, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) funded the group Naʻi Aupuni to organize a constitutional convention. This month, those on the Kanaʻiolowalu roll will vote for delegates from a list of self-nominated candidates. The elected delegates will create a constitution and form a native governing entity that will then seek federal recognition.

The expedited timing of the special rules and the convention is directly linked to the completion of the TPP negotiations. As mentioned, the TPP aims to remove barriers to profit; in Hawaiʻi, the ongoing legal claims to land and sovereignty represent a major barrier. Federal recognition would effectively settle and extinguish Hawaiian claims. This “global settlement” will ultimately make it easier and more desirable for TPP corporations to invest in Hawaiʻi.

The Pacific Pathway

Massive amounts of TPP investment will happen on and below Pacific waters, including fisheries, shipping, offshore drilling, deep sea mining, GMO aquaculture, eco-tourism, film, and more. As such, the laws of the sea must also be brought under TPP commerce rules, which has led to a new maritime territorial claims. Secretary of State John Kerry referred to this as “the Pacific Pathway.”

Over the last decade, the U.S. has brought coastal and open ocean waters around the Marianas and Hawaiʻi under the control of the federal government. Utilizing the 1906 Antiquities Act, former President George W. Bush established the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (140,000 square miles) in 2006, and The Marianas Trench Marine National Monument (95,000 square miles), The Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument (87,000 square miles), and The Rose Atoll Marine National Monument (13,000 square miles) in 2009, right before he left office. In 2014, President Barack Obama expanded the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument from 87,000 to nearly 782,000 square miles. National monuments are administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, under the Department of Commerce, or by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, under the Department of the Interior.

Coinciding with the TPP negotiations, U.S.-allied Pacific nations, as well as every country engaged in the TPP, have quickly established “Marine Protected Areas” (MPAs) and expanded what will become the “Pacific Pathway.” As I have argued in previous editorials, these national monuments and protected areas are used to militarize and privatize the Pacific so that it is easier to secure and protect Trans-Pacific shipping and military routes, as well as to issue licenses and leases for maritime investment and development projects. This is “blue capitalism” under the guise of ocean conservation.

Trans-Pacific Connection

Why is the U.S. aggressively militarizing the Marianas into a massive training and weapons testing base? Why is the US aggressively pushing through federal recognition in Hawaiʻi despite widespread protests? Why have the US and other TPP countries aggressively taken federal control of vast expanses of the ocean?

These aggressive procedures and their expedited timing are directly related to the policies and timing of the TPP. The Pacific Pivot will assert U.S. military supremacy in the region to secure investment and enforce TPP rules and corporate exploits. The Pacific Pathway will allow the US military and its allies to secure trade routes, establish surveillance, and facilitate public-private investment and development in Pacific waters. Federal recognition in Hawaiʻi will finally settle and extinguish Hawaiian sovereignty and land claims, removing a major barrier to TPP profit. The TPP has already negatively impacted the Pacific. We must continue to vigilantly protest the TPP now that its destructive master plan has been unveiled.