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Strategic Denial Rights, EEZ's, Rare Minerals: Palau And US Neo-Colonialism

Written by: (Contributed) on 3 January 2024


(Above: the three island chains)

Palau is fast becoming a key strategic component in US-led regional military planning; the small Pacific country has increasingly been used by the Pentagon for military training and weapon technology transfer with Taiwan. Strategically placed within US-led Island Chain Theory (ICT), designed to restrict and control regional access and egress, Palau has recently signed a new agreement with the US to enforce their large Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), thought to be rich in resources and rare deep-seabed minerals. The so-called US-led Strategic Denial Right (SDR), and other recent initiatives, have transformed Palau into a military hub for US-led operations. Political opposition to the war-mongering has taken place in recent times, in line with the present Cold War.

The US recently began moves to establish work on over-the-horizon radar facilities in Palau, coinciding with President Surangel S. Whipps Jnr., requesting the US station the Patriot missile defence system in the country for permanent regional deployment.  

Palau, a tiny country sandwiched between the Philippines and Guam, has become highly strategic for US regional military planning in recent years. Palau is also particularly close, in diplomatic terms, to Taiwan; the recent moves to install military facilities in Palau have coincided with Taiwan and the US signing a $83 million deal in 2022 to upgrade defence systems. (1)  The present presidential administration wants to further strengthen their diplomatic links to provide even greater inclusion with Taiwan. (2)

It is not difficult to understand why pro-US presidential administrations in both places have acted accordingly; Taiwan forms part of the first Island Chain, whereas Palau is part of the second chain. They are, therefore, central to attempts by the US to restrict China's regional involvement in the Pacific.

A military intelligence assessment submitted to US Congress in early 2021, contained the initial plan for 'the fielding of an Integrated Joint Force with precision-strike networks along the first island chain and integrated air missile defence in the second island chain'. (3) The estimated cost of the military plan amounted to $27.4 billion over a six-year period from 2021 to 2027. (4) It was not intended as a narrowly defined defence and security gesture, but with capability to 'dispense and sustain combat operations for extended periods'. (5)

The moves have also rested upon even longer-term military planning over a decade ago when a statement issued by the Congressional Research Service noted the US was 'laying the foundations for a region-wide missile defence system that would combine US ballistic-missile defences with those of regional powers, particularly Japan, South Korea and Australia'. (6) The defence system was subsequently updated to the present Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS), with parameters from India, Japan, the US and Australia, to contain sensitive areas of the vast region. (7)

Palau, interestingly, is situated half-way between sensitive US military facilities at Pine Gap, central Australia, and their counterparts in Japan. (8) Other countries, close to Palau, have already hosted sensitive US military facilities, including satellite systems. (9)   

The fact the US has full diplomatic links with Palau, including an Embassy in the capital, Melekeok, and an Ambassador, Joel Ehrendreich, appointed in August, 2023, would clearly, highlight the importance placed on the tiny country with an estimated population of only 18,054, by Washington and the Pentagon. Palau, in the eyes of the Biden administration in the White House, cannot be regarded as a diplomatic backwater. Ehrendreich is noted on the official US Department of State website as a career diplomat, for example, with a 'deep and substantive background in East Asian and Pacific Affairs and previous regional assignments, coupled with nearly thirty years of Foreign Service experience make him a well-qualified candidate for Ambassador to Palau'. (10)  

Just what, therefore, does Washington and the Pentagon have in mind for Palau?

It is also particularly interesting to note the recent opposition in Palau to the US-led moves; fears have been raised about real-war scenarios with lethal AI-powered warfare, together with the country's Senate being opposed to the plans. (11) Due to the small size of the country and population, very little must be able to happen without residents becoming aware. Military facilities and fortifications must be easy to detect and visible. Palau, however, is a country strongly subject to US-led Cold War problems and it is difficult to establish how deep and widespread opposition is inside the country to the US military planning. Interests, perceived as being pro-China, are regularly met with accusations, even if not true. (12) Those willing to challenge US-led positions experience difficulty.

The recent moves by the US military have also included other initiatives, which appear more in line with traditional neo-colonial thinking. Recent diplomatic initiatives by China across the region, for example, have allowed it to gain access to about 80 per cent of the Pacific's EEZ's, which has been assessed as a serious threat to traditional US-led hegemonic positions. (13) The EEZ's are thought to be rich in natural resources, rare and deep-seabed minerals, which the US want to control and to restrict China's access.

The recent US-led military planning has, therefore, also included both Palau and neighbouring Micronesia signing deals with the US for warships to patrol their EEZ's to enforce 'strategic denial rights'; the Marshall Islands is also considering similar moves at the present time. The three countries possess huge EEZ's which straddle the first and second island chains, reaching almost to the Philippines and Indonesia. (14)

1.     Opinion: From Taiwan to Palau, The Island Times, 3 October 2023.
2.     Palau's president wants greater inclusion, BBC News, 16 December 2022.
3.     US Indo-Pacific Command proposes new missile capabilities to deter China, RFA., 5 March 2021.
4.     US to build anti-China missile network along first island chain, Nikkei, 5 March 2021.
5.     Ibid.
6.     US seeks new Asia defences, The Wall Street Journal, 24-26 August 2012.
7.     See: The reasons behind Washington's push for GSOMIA., Hankyoreh, 12 November 2019.
8.     See: Peters Projection, World Map, Actual Size.
9.     China now controls 80 per cent of the Pacific EEZ., US v. China, Japan Forward: Politics and Security, Rieko Hayakawa and Jennifer L. Anson, 14 February 2020.        
10.   Website: US Department of State, Ehrendreich, Joel, 28 March 2023.
11.   Palau joins chorus, The Island Times, 19 December 2023; and, Palau – Opinion Observer, The Global Times, 21 December 2023.
12.   See: Failed Palau media deal, ABC News, 21 July 2023.
13.   China now controls 80 per cent of the Pacific EEZ., op.cit., 14 February 2020.
14.   Opinion, Island Times, 3 October 2023.


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