Guam is a territory of the United States situated in the Western Pacific Ocean, close to the equator. The island is located at the edge of the Mariana Trench, the deepest region on the planet. The Mariana Islands, a group of which Guam is part of, stretch approximately 1,550 miles southeast from the Japanese archipelago. To the east of the islands is the Philippine Sea while the south is bordered by the Caroline Islands. Guam is situated approximate 1,600 miles from North Korea.
Political and Social Landscape
North Korea and Guam are both divided countries, constructed politically and socially in a certain way, due to their respective histories. North Korea is an authoritarian and totalitarian regime that has isolated itself from the international community and acquired a reputation for oppressive control. Guam is subject to U.S. law and is tightly connected to other important American allies, such as Japan and South Korea.
Distant but Politically Important
Despite the geographical distance between them, events in either country have an impact on the other. Guam is of particular importance to the United States given its strategic geographical position in the Pacific. In his speech before the U.N General Assembly in 2017, the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, singled out the United States’ territory as a possible target of nuclear attack. Such famous countries as Russia and China, who have consistently expressed opposition to the U.S. foreign policy, have urged the North Korean leader to stop the rhetoric, ultimately avoiding a crisis in the region.
A Question of Distance
The distance between North Korea and Guam is difficult to accurately determine, as it varies according to the line of flight chosen by the aircraft. Flying over land, the estimated distance from North Korea to Guam is roughly 1,364 miles whereas the distance by sea is closer to 1,600 miles.
Proliferation of Weapons
The estimated distance between North Korea and Guam is important because of the proliferation of weapons in the region. Since the early 2000’s, the U.S. Navy has maintained a strong presence in the waters off the island, conducting reconnaissance and surveillance activities. The deployment of troops and the construction of military bases in Guam have been seen as a direct response to the North Korean nuclear program and the threat posed by the increased military activity in the Korean peninsula.
The distance separating North Korea and Guam has not prevented the two countries from engaging in limited economic exchange. In 2018, Guam hosted a number of North Korean involved vessels, some of them believed to be transporting dangerous materials, such as military equipment or illegal products. The vessels were captured by the U.S. authorities and with the permission of North Korea, the vessels were released back to the North Koreans.
Trade Relations with Guam
Trade relations between the two countries remain limited due to the restrictive economic sanctions imposed on North Korea by the United Nations. However, the island of Guam is a highly popular tourist destination for North Korean citizens in possession of valid passports. Such is the case of the group of ten North Korean citizens that made a five-day trip to Guam in 2019. The group reportedly visited cultural attractions, visited the U.S. Army bases, and even watched a Major League Baseball game.
United States Policy towards North Korea
The unilateral sanctions by the U.S. on North Korea have further exacerbated the tension between the two countries. Such sanctions are meant to restrict trade among the two countries, deter North Korea from developing nuclear weapons, and ultimately contain the North Korean aggression in the region. North Korea’s frequent missile and nuclear tests are met with a stern U.S. policy, stances that Guam has recently mirrored.
Guam and the United States Alliance
In spite of their geographical isolation, Guam plays an important role in U.S. foreign policy. The island firmly supports all of the United States’ allies in the Pacific, namely Japan and South Korea, as well as the United States itself. Such commitment to the United States’ foreign policy aims to deter North Korea from furthering their nuclear ambitions and thus, guaranteeing the safety of the pacific region.
The Role of China and Russia
In the context of the North Korean/ Guam dispute, both China and Russia have maintained a neutral stance, calling for the pursuance of a diplomatic solution. Both countries have repeatedly advocated for the North Korean’s right to determine their own foreign policy, rejecting the imposition of economic sanctions or the use of military force against North Korea.
The Role of Japan
The role of Japan in the North Korean/ Guam dispute is of particular importance, given the threat that the island has posed to the Japanese mainland, in addition to the island’s military bases, located less than 200 miles away from Tokyo. Japan has openly expressed their intention to send military forces in defense of Guam and implemented several economic sanctions against North Korea, in line with the United States’ policy.
Defense of Guam
The defense of Guam lies in the ample deployment of U.S. military bases and facilities throughout the island. With the presence of joint and American forces, the island is one of the Pacific’s most important military hubs, equipped with advanced defense weaponry and supported by the solid cooperation between military and local forces. Moreover, Guam is home to important submarine bases, air bases, and Missile Defense System, used to deter potential North Korean threats. Much of the island’s infrastructure is designed for the purpose of defense, making Guam well equipped to face attacks.
Despite the relative close proximity to North Korea, Guam is well prepared and supported to confront potential dangers and to uphold the interests of the United States in the Pacific. With the support of other U.S. allies, such as Japan, the territory of Guam is highly protected and prepared to withstand the pressure that the North Korean regime generates on the island. Ultimately, the distance between Guam and North Korea serves as a barrier between the two countries, separating Guam from the increasing threats of North Korea’s nuclear program.