The U.S. should take full advantage of Hawaii’s cultural roots and business ties that extend well into in the Asia Pacific.
A quick trip to school classrooms and taste of local cuisine; visits to the East West Center, the Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies, and the Pacific Forum of the Center for Strategic and International Studies; and contacts with the myriad of local Asia Pacific-connected businesses and NGOs would confirm Hawaii’s deep rooted Asian ties.
The U.S. first recognized Hawaii’s strategic location in the mid-Pacific in the late 19th century when the U.S. used the Kingdom of Hawaii as a stopover point for shipping troops to the Philippines during the Spanish American War.
The Department of Defense (DOD) wisely targeted Hawaii as the home base for U.S. military operations in the Pacific and afforded commanders with the authorities and responsibilities necessary to promote and institute mutually viable military-to-military relations. This command structure has produced transparent dialog and built a level of trust among military peers that has become the cornerstone for securing peace and stability.
Today, the U.S. Pacific Command (USPACOM) and the Headquarters for U.S. Army Pacific, U.S. Pacific Fleet, Marine Corp Forces Pacific and Pacific Air Forces share joint responsibility in successfully implementing the DOD portion of President Obama’s security pivot to the Asia Pacific.
The U.S. military commands in Hawaii extend reach into the Pacific by inviting Asia Pacific military leaders to bi-lateral and multi-lateral conferences, meetings and seminars, and host hundreds of training exercises throughout the Pacific. Furthermore, the U.S Army has embedded an Australian general officer to serve as a Deputy Commanding General for U.S. Army Pacific, and the U.S. Navy invited China as one of the participants in this year’s Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) joint military exercise in July.
On the diplomatic front, Asia Pacific nations have a presence in Hawaii with consul general offices for Japan, South Korea, Australia and other nations operating in Honolulu. Each consul general is free to meet with Hawaii-based U.S. senior commanders on security matters and to coordinate humanitarian assistance and disaster relief support in the wake of natural disasters. The U.S. State Department (USDOS) has also assigned its own political advisors to Pacific command staffs to advise commanders on sensitive diplomatic matters.
This local availability of U.S. military and foreign diplomatic contacts and mil-to-mil cooperative events has provided commanders with the means by which to achieve DOD goals in regional security.
The U.S. could encourage a more robust USDOS presence in Hawaii to complement the DOD’s command structure by staffing an Asia Pacific Affairs office in Honolulu. This would truly establish Hawaii as America’s bridge to the Asia Pacific and engender a blossoming of budding diplomatic relations and stimulate unprecedented growth in commerce and trade throughout the region, thus fulfilling President Obama’s declared pivot to the Asia Pacific.