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We Need to Respect Oceania More

When we think of the regions that are most important in U.S. national security, our minds will generally land on the Americas or Europe. But there’s an immensely important region we often ignore: Oceania. 

With the U.S. State of Hawaii, U.S. territories of Midway Island, Howland Island, Jarvis Island, Baker Island, Johnston Atoll, Kingman Reef, Palmyra Atoll, Wake Island, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, and the compact of free association states (COFAs) of The Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia and Palau, the U.S. controls a contiguous territory in north Polynesia and Micronesia that is equal to that of the continental United States. 

This area allows for the U.S. to militarily regulate the world’s main shipping lane between the two largest economies: Mainland China and the United States. 

But recently, Mainland China has been exerting influence in this region as they attempt to break up U.S.-aligned control of the Pacific. This has been a resounding negative for oceanic countries, which have experienced corruption and lower levels of democracy. Further, territories like American Samoa and countries like Australia are now bordering nations aligned with spying adversaries

While many politicians have dismissed this threat because of Oceania’s low population and low total GDP, three key issues have been ignored. 

One, the greatest worldwide economic transformation through which people in every country have become richer is directly tied to post-World War II U.S.-aligned control of the world’s commons, the largest of which is found in the Pacific. A whopping 19% of world trade goes through the Asian-North American shipping route alone. The U.S. and its allies have previously controlled most of the Pacific, from the Aleutian Islands down to the Macquarie Islands and from Busan to Los Angeles, in order to secure free trade.

Two, if war begins to brew between the U.S. and Mainland China, the Pacific may be a battleground. We need to continue to hold our island alliance chains as buffer zones and to cut off enemies from reaching their supply lines. 

More importantly, military control via these vast sea territories allows the U.S. to intervene in any areas focused on shutting down American trade or harming U.S. interests, providing the deterrence necessary to stop conflict in the first place.

This becomes especially important when U.S. companies or interests become tied to the South China Sea, East Indies or Indian Ocean, which account for 60% of maritime trade and half the world’s population. The U.S. Navy and allies can project strength from the Pacific and from their Indian Ocean ports to create a necessity for decreased tensions, improving American relations in a vast number of ocean regions.

Three, we should care about the people in Oceania. Western democracy and religious freedom are centrally important to many of these people, and Mainland China poses a threat to both.

Relations with oceanic populations also allowed for massive political victories in the U.N., assembling votes that helped give the US credibility for its foreign policy objectives. 

Yet, the importance of Oceania is often lost on the American voter. The Communist Party of China is banking on this ignorance to influence even more of the Pacific against the wishes of Oceanian citizens and against the would-be wishes of Americans if only they were better informed. 

The U.S. needs to re-engage its citizens and policies to place Oceania on a level playing field with Europe and the Americas. Americans need to realize that Oceania is the region that provides us with the most national security capital for the least amount of funding. We have an obligation to protect Oceania, both for the sake of U.S. national security and for the well-being of those living there. 

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author.


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