US Militarism from the Pacific Islands to Africa

On my  January 1st blog post, I mentioned the US patriarchal militarist state and it’s use of increasingly sophisticated surveillance technologies.  The US has just signed a ‘deal’ with Niger which will allow them to fly drones above, below and throughout the Sahara.  We are told the drones will be for surveillance purposes but as Jake Appellbaum explained in his excellent 29C3 keynote address how surveillance information is used - surveillance is the first step in the killing process.   Put bluntly, surveillance is straight up murder….

The targeting information for the thousands of DRONE killings is fed to the CIA [NSA and all the other members of patriarchal military surveillance state] from surveillance listening points [One is being built in Utah at this moment with relay stations around the US and very possibly overseas in Uganda, Kenya and other AFRICOM friendly states.] and from intelligence factories. In short there is a direct relationship between survelliance and support of straight up murder…..The way the Drone killings are carried out is that the central committee that is those who gets to decide who lives or dies or Obama’s  assassination star chamber — this is just  hop or two away from surveillance. So when you support the surveillance state this is just a stop away from killing children.   [paraphrased]

One can imagine the kind of deal the US government has made with Niger, hardly a powerhouse as far as African governments go and not surprisingly there has been no protest, not even a meaningless statement from the AU.  Niger provides a perfect base for AFRICOM. It’s on the edge of  the  Sahara giving the US a central position from which it survey the whole continent.   In order to fully understand the new militarist imperial expansion by the US  and the potential impact of  the Niger base and other already established bases in Africa, its worth examining US militarism  in the Asia Pacific region and specifically the “Pacific Pivot” which was launched in November 2011.  Hawian activist Koohan Paik explains….
The Pacific Pivot is the decidedly and considered shift of US military forces to the  Asia Pacific in response to  the combination of our collapsing economy and China’s rise, not just economically but culturally and technologically” [paraphrased]
60% of US military resources have been transferred from Europe and the Middle East to the Pacific region – over 200 bases on US territories and a further 200 in other Pacific countries plus it has recently increased the number of US troops in Australia.   In South Korea alone there are 100 bases and thousands of troops in Japan.  In Korea the US military can access any base whether it is a US or a Korean base.   The Korean island of Jeju was on the US list of sights for new military installations.   However there has been ‘fierce resistance’ from resiendents and so far they have managed to delay the project which has the potential to severely damange the island and it’s waters.
While in Gangjeong, I also marveled at the quality and abundance of some of the purest fresh water in the world, which could be contaminated by the base. After rain falls atop Mt. Halla, the sacred dormant volcano which gave birth to the island, it sinks deep into the volcanic bedrock, where it is lava-filtered, before rising up again in Gangjeong, creating a freshwater springs that supply the southern half of the island with drinking water. A navy base could contaminate this water supply with trichloroethylene, a carcinogenic chemical solvent used for degreasing aircraft and ships and found in the groundwater of every location where there is a functioning military base.
Its not clear what percentage of military operations have been moved from Europe to Africa but there is a clear growing trend of which Niger is just the latest.   The move has been by stealth beginning with the “Cooperative Security Locations” [CSL - Senegal, Gabon, Uganda]  and “Forward Operating Sites” [Morocco, Tunisia and Djibouti],  at least the official ones.  These do not include US military presence as ‘advisors’ and ‘training personnel’.  In terms of Mali, the US has been training Malian officers at least since 2010.  In addition Operation Enduring Freedom – Trans Sahara [OEF-TS] a counter-terrorism force, could be seen as a CSL initiative or force and it was three members of the OEF-TS that were killed along with three civilians last April in Mali.  Other Saharan countries which have received support and training from the US as part of it’s counter-terrorism strategy in West Africa in addition to those already mentioned are Nigeria, Algeria, Chad, and Mauritania.  In short, AFRICOM has been operating in north, west and east Africa for the past 7 years at least including drone attacks [See also Hidden History - America's Secret Drone War in Africa]  According to this report by John Pilger, the US is deploying troops in 35 countries. It would be naive to believe this huge deployment of troops and now drones is because of terrorists.  Similar to the Pacific Pivot, the US is consolidating its imperial presence so as to safeguard it’s corporate interests in the control of resources including water and land grab by US investment banks.

An MQ-8 Fire Scout robot helicopter lands aboard the Navy frigate USS Simpson off the African coast this year. Photo: Navy

Human and Environmental cost of  US bases in the Pacific region and Africa.  
Militarism is destructive to the environment, it distorts the economy  and disrupts the social and cultural fabric.   The military infrastructure and personnel strip local resources such as water and land, the consumption of imported food for the military can impacts on local farming and  environmentally toxins and radiation from equipment is released into the water and soil.  The cost of living will most likely begin to rise as more and more support personnel are employed.   The impact on women is tremendous as often they are trapped into sex work and an informal economy which operates on the margins of the military bases.  Without access to health care women working in these areas are vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases, alienated or driven out of their families and communities and to sexual and physical violence.  Koohan Paik gives Guam as an example of where the US military has ‘run rough shod ‘ over the people and the environment.
The history of US military operations in the Pacific has wiped out reefs and other marine ecosystems, threatened deep-ocean and shoreline wildlife and ecosystems, and impacted farmlands, forests, wetlands, and groundwater sources. And when the US military sets up a base next to island communities, it rapidly replaces sustainable subsistence economies with fast food restaurants, big-box stores, bars, brothels, and other consumptive demands to cater to the lifestyles of troops.
 However Recently, militarism has taken a new form.  In addition to or in place of a direct presence of US troops, private security firms and trans-national corporations producing military equipment take on the militarist role.
Private Security 
Ramzy Baroud describes the militarisation process as a “deadly trio of western governments, large corporations and of course, private security firms.”
Private security firms are essentially mercenaries who offer services to spare western governments the political cost of incurring too many casualties. While they are often based in western cities, many of their employees come from so-called Third World countries. For all involved, it’s much safer this way, for when Asian, African or Arab security personnel are wounded or killed on duty, the matter tends to register, if ever, as a mere news item, with little political consequence, Senate hearings or government enquiries.
In the Asia/Pacific region the US is in the process of blocking out a 1 million square mile zone where they will undertake all kinds of military training and impact games without knowing the short or long term environmental cost to the ocean,  islands and the Pacific people.  The region like the Sahara is also important for the potential natural resources and the US military presence serves to protect the transnational corporations which are or will be operating in the region and to enable them safe passage.   With possession of the Pacific and the islands on the west and the Atlantic with Africa  and the Caribbean particularly Haiti which is essentially occupied by the US, on the east – the US, like the Conquistadores will have consolidated it’s global reach far beyond any other nation.  The popular narratives of  “African countries” and more recently “Haiti” being ‘open for business’ serve to hide US militarism and expand the exploitation of US corporations.  It also serves to hide the real reason for the forced removal of the urban poor from cities like Lagos and Port-au-Prince which in turn  is tied to the increased surveillance and militarization of cities in the global south and the west.

The Last Word

I am no expert on Mali but once again AmerEuro imperialism including the media continue to frame interventions as humanitarian:  saving us from each other, saving us from ourselves even where the seeds of destruction were sown by the imperialists themselves,  and saving cultural heritages and texts  from savage ignorant  Islamists while the destruction of cultural heritages by drones is collateral damage which in their language is justification.  Emily O’Dell has an excellent article in Jadaliyyia which gives some historical, religious and political context to the destruction of ancient religious texts and shrines in Mali and elsewhere.

Cultural heritage is almost always a casualty of war. Yet it is only when such destruction is framed under the banner of Islam–especially as a prelude to foreign military intervention–that it garners widespread international attention and outrage. For instance, if cultural heritage is damaged by drones or in the digging of military trenches, it is framed as collateral damage, but if it is framed as a target or victim of religious ideology, its damage is lamented in the nightly news, and it becomes a rallying cause for global consternation.

As we express concern and dismay over the destruction of  texts*** which as O’Dell points out have taken on human form, on the other side of the world the same  imperialist intervening to save texts and people in Africa, have little concern for the very real  damage to the oceans, islands and people of the Pacific.   Really we must engage in a more critical reading  of events and actions and not rely on the imperialists mouth piece.

*** A Statement by the Director of the Timbuktu Manuscripts  contradicts the recent reports of burning of texts…

Since the start of this week there are reports about the destruction of library buildings and book collections in Timbuktu. It sounds as if the written heritage of the town went up in flames. According to our information this is not the case at all. The custodians of the libraries worked quietly throughout the rebel occupation of Timbuktu to ensure the safety of their materials. A limited number of items have been damaged or stolen, the infrastructure neglected and furnishings in the Ahmad Baba Institute library looted but from all our local sources — all intimately connected with the public and private collections in the town – there was no malicious destruction of any library or collection.