What You Need to Know Guam and the North Korea Missile Crisis
August 11, 2017/by Jordan Schachtel
North Korea has threatened to wipe out the western Pacific island of Guam, following ever-increasing rhetoric between Washington and Pyongyang.
On Wednesday, North Korea threatened to send a missile barrage at the U.S. territory, following President Trump’s insistence that the U.S. would retaliate against North Korean aggression with “fire and fury.”
Per PRI.org, North Korea’s Hwasong-12 missiles “flew about 489 miles in its latest test in May, when it was fired at a steep angle, and is believed to have a maximum range of about 3,106 miles.
“That puts Guam — around 2,050 miles from North Korea’s missile bases — well within range.”
Guam is the closest U.S. territory to North Korea, making it a vital defense post in the Pacific. But given its distance from the U.S. mainland, few Americans ever encounter the Pacific island territory.
Here’s what you need to know about Guam.
The small island (with a size of approximately 210 square miles), located 4,000 miles west of Hawaii, serves as an important strategic territory for the United States, given its relative proximity to the Asian continent and its important players, such as China, Japan, Indonesia, Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, and North and South Korea.
Spain claimed sovereignty over Guam in 1565, and proceeded to colonize the land in 1668. A smallpox epidemic came 20 years later, wiping out much of the indigenous Chamorro population on the Island.
After four centuries of Spanish rule, Guam (and Puerto Rico) was transferred over to the United States as part of the Treaty of Paris of 1898.
Immediately after its attack on Pearl Harbor, Imperial Japan invaded and occupied the American garrison in Guam during World War II. The Japanese occupied Guam for 31 months.
After WWII, the Guam Organic Act of 1950 re-designated Guam as an unincorporated U.S. territory. The law provided U.S. citizenship for all residents of Guam, including the indigenous Chamorro people, and allowed them to vote for their governor. The act also created an elected legislature.
During the Vietnam War, the Andersen Air Force Base in Guam served as a major platform for U.S. operations. American bombers primarily departed from Guam, for close air support and heavy bombing runs.
Today, Guam is home to roughly 7,000 American service members, consisting of members of the Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Coast Guard. The military presence takes up about 30 percent of the entire island’s land, according to Fox News.
Guam’s population is about 163,000 people. A little over one-third is indigenous to the land, and another quarter is foreign workers from the Philippines. Some 85 percent of the population identifies as Roman Catholic, and the officials languages are English and Chamorro.
The U.S. territory is currently represented in Washington, D.C., by Madeleine Bordallo, who serves as Guam’s non-voting delegate to the House of Representatives. The Democrat representative has represented Guam since 2002.
The governor of Guam is Eddie Calvo, a Republican and member of the indigenous Chamorro population. During the 2016 Republican primary, Calvo endorsed Texas Senator Ted Cruz. When Cruz dropped out of the race, he endorsed Donald Trump.
Appearing on Fox News Thursday evening, Calvo supported the president’s debated “fire and fury” comments, stating: “As far as I’m concerned, as an American citizen, I want a president that says that if any nation such as North Korea attack Guam, attack Honolulu, attack the west coast, they will be met with hell and fury.”
So, what happens if North Korea does indeed go through with a missile attack on Guam?
There are several military defenses stationed on or near Guam. The THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) missile defense system is currently deployed in Guam. THAAD is designed to detect and destroy a ballistic missile early on in its “boost phase.”
Several U.S. Navy ships possess SM-3 missiles, which are capable of hitting ballistic targets midflight in lower-earth orbit. And there is the Patriot missile, which also holds anti-ballistic capabilities.
Homeland Security officials in Guam continue to institute precautions and fact sheetsfor residents, should the defense systems fail to stop an attack. Yet through all the North Korean saber rattling, Gov. Calvo continues to reassure residents that the Island is “safe and sound.”