The June 2007 Australia-United States Talisman Saber exercise binds Australia into the US military expansion currently sweeping across the north-west Pacific Ocean. This increasing militarisation is anchored on the small island of Guam (known in the Indigenous Chamorro tongue as Guåhan), only four hours flight north of Cairns (east of the Philippines) which the US claims as its own.
Guam’s Apra Harbour is a home base for the Pacific Command’s (PACOM) Seventh Fleet of nuclear capable ships and submarines. Its Andersen Air Force Base is described in the official 36th Wing’s mission statements as: "Provid[ing] a US-based lethal warfighting platform for the employment, deployment, reception, and throughput of air and space forces in the Asia-Pacific Region".
PACOM has other forces throughout the region, particularly in South Korea and Japan (including Okinawa) but Guam plays a prominent role because it is the only US (-claimed) terrain in the north-western Pacific (Guam’s Return to Prominence. Sea Power). The Pentagon refers to the small island of Guam as its “tip of the spear” in the region. It is the US’s “hub for intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and strike operations” for the entire north-west Pacific; its “unsinkable aircraft carrier”.
Recent AUSMIN (Australia United States Ministerial Consultations - Communiqué) agreements have tied Australia inextricably to Guam. AUSMIN’s announced purpose is to foster closer co-operation in intelligence matters and improve joint training and interoperability of their military forces, including in missile defence research.
The key outcome of the AUSMIN 2004 meeting was to establish the Australian-United States Joint Combined Training Centre (JCTC) in which Shoalwater Bay plays a major role but is not the only facility.
In 2005, AUSMIN signed a Memorandum of Understanding which specifically linked the Talisman Saber exercises to Guam. The MoU states that the US needs to conduct exercises at Shoalwater Bay Training Area (SBTA) because it is “rebalancing its force presence in the Asia-Pacific region, including through the rotation of US strategic bomber aircraft through Guam”.
Under these agreements, Australia has become a major training ground for US troops and weapons systems operating in the north-west Pacific. The Australian Department of Defence describes SBTA as “Australia’s most premier training ground”; for the US Pacific Command (based in Hawaii) SBTA is “the primary training venue for [its] Commander Seventh Fleet as a Combined Task Force” (US Pacific Command website) in the region. The Seventh Fleet is home based on Guam. According to the Strategic Policy Institute at the Australian National University, Guam is directly linked to Shoalwater: “The more aircraft they base on Guam the more important it is for them to have access to the kind of large continental training areas Australia can provide”.
The US is developing a Global Strike Force on Guam and it needs the unique facilities only Australia can provide in the region to train them. While some bombing and targeting practice is carried out on Guam (for example, urban bombing raids) and some training is conducted in the even smaller islands of the Northern Marianas to Guam’s north, the US military recognises Shoalwater Bay as a major contributor to troop readiness: “Shoalwater Bay is the only place in Australia where air, land and sea forces can engage in joint, live-fire training exercises” (Environmental Concerns a top priority during Talisman Saber ’05)
Shoalwater Bay Training Area, Lancelin Training Area, and Delamere Air Weapons Range are unique locations in the western Pacific for the US to conduct training exercises. The US Pentagon rates Australia highly for its ability to provide training arenas for its troops. As the commander of the US 7th Fleet, Vice Admiral Archie Clemins said in 1995 in reference to the Lancelin Defence Training Area in Western Australia (where the US can conduct ship to shore and air to ground bombing):
You have to have places to drop bombs, you have to have places to shoot live weapons, places to fly planes over that make noise, places where you can actually test and exercise your capabilities. I think Australia in the future is going to be one of the places we'd like to exercise with the Australians, as well as with the US Navy. You now have some of the finest ranges in the Western Pacific which we cannot get anywhere else.
The majority of US troops, planes, ships and submarines which engage in military exercises such as Talisman Saber in Australia are either home based in Guam, are rotated to Guam, or transit through Guam from bases in Hawaii and the US continent. Thus, the AUSMIN agreements have located Shoalwater Bay (along with other Australian facilities) directly within the training parameters of the US forces on Guam.
Although it plays a core role in Australia’s contribution to US military expansion across the north-west Pacific, Talisman Saber is only one of many exercises - some large, other small - which implicate and embed Australia into the Pacific Command agenda. In 2005-2006 alone PACOM organised and/or hosted 1,700 military exercises engaging a vast conglomeration of foreign military forces in the Pacific-Indian Ocean region.
This paper is based on a public talk given by Dr Zohl dé Ishtar hosted by Shoalwater Wilderness Awareness Group at the Keppel Bay Sailing Club, Yeppoon, Queensland, Australia on April 19, 2007. It is presented here in recognition and honouring of the Indigenous Chamoru peoples of Guåhan (Guam) in the belief that the day will come when they will regain political control over their ancestral and spiritual homelands and waters.
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