We need to talk about Guam

Image credit: U.S. Navy photo by Senior Chief Mass Communication Specialist Spike Call

Guam brought us Pia Mia, various coconut candies, and the adorable ko’ko bird; whilst also regularly contesting Hawaii for the title of the world’s leading consumer of spam.

But the small island in the middle of the Pacific now finds itself suddenly at the epicentre of a conflict which, though harmlessly simmering away for years, now threatens to spill across the surface of the globe. And whilst Guam may have had its fair share of diplomatic crises; most notably the horrific Japanese military occupation from 1941 to 1944, the recent heightening of tensions between the United States and North Korea is leaving the small nation more vulnerable than ever before to a threat that could cause its annihilation.

The state-run KCNA news agency have this week claimed the North Koreans are weighing up a pre-emptive strike on the heavily militarised Guam to create an “enveloping fire” around the island and “send a serious warning signal to the US”; arguably a response to Trump’s improvised threat of “fire and fury” - which, rather dishearteningly, came just days after the 72nd anniversary of the atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima. And though it remains to be seen whether the threats will come to fruition or are mere explosions of rhetoric; the fact is that we now have two unstable and increasingly volatile leaders facing each other in a diplomatic conflict that can only be described as a battle of pride. It is a clash unlike any other before it, and nobody wants to surrender.

But the steps forward are also fraught with uncertainty. The American military is now, finally, rearing its head; with bombers being flown over the Korean peninsula and scrambled efforts to try to work out exactly what the North Koreans are planning – but all in all, this may be too little, too late. Kim Jong-un must know he has everything to lose for five minutes of fame – and yet he remains glued to his nuclear programme, surprising the international stage time and again with yet more missile tests, as sanctions continue to have little influence on his ambitions. Though his regime will undoubtedly be obliterated if any whiff of a genuine danger is perceived by the US, Kim is still insistent on proving he has clout. Which is why the possibility that his threat to Guam (confusingly dated Tuesday) was not in response to Trump’s comment and in fact came before it, is even more alarming.

NBC News calls these tensions a “dispute”; as if they can be resolved by a spell on the naughty-step for Trump and Kim, and a handshake over two bowls of jelly. But make no question: the firing of any nuclear warheads, be it one or twenty, will always be an act of horror on an apocalyptic scale. If the conflict escalates to that level – which experts are confident that it won’t – nobody wins; a battle involving such gruesome weapons of mass-destruction is a failure at the moment of its birth; regardless of whether it topples a toxic regime that has been terrorising the people of North Korea, and the outside world, for nearly seventy years. But whilst the ever-strained relationship between the US and North Korea remains, the Chamorro people (indigenous to Guam) have the burden of a target set firm on their shoulders. The US may have stronger military prowess, and the North Koreans may know that it would be political suicide to mount a strike on the island; but Guam remains the first nation to have been explicitly threatened by the military of North Korea – and that, alone, is worth worrying about.

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