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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, May 22, 2005

Military boom will test Islands

By Jerry Burris
Advertiser Editorial Editor

Over the years, Hawai'i has had a complicated — one might even say love-hate — relationship with the military here.

We value the military institutionally and as a neighbor, community supporter and important part of our economy.

But there are also conflicts ranging from land use to lifestyle differences.

On balance, most people conclude the bargain is worth it. But as we walk into the 21st century, the bargain will have to be re-evaluated.

At the moment, the big news is the military's impact on our economy. The Army plans to bring its Stryker Brigade here, with the pros-pect of new jobs and new economic opportunities.

Slightly less certain, although awesome in potential, is the prospect of an aircraft carrier group being stationed in the Islands. This would bring a "plug and play" high-tech industry to Hawai'i, with thousands of employees and attendant economic impact.

The question arises: Where will these people live? Where will their children go to school? How will we supply them with the proper ration of roads, water, electricity and other necessities?

Some answers already are apparent. Congress, through the work of Sen. Dan Inouye and Rep. Neil Abercrombie, has put into place millions of dollars for new or rehabilitated housing for military families.

This adds up to a substantial long-term boost for the local economy.

But some argue this is a devil's bargain.

Yes, the military brings money and jobs here, but it also puts Hawai'i squarely in the middle of the "military-industrial complex" that President Dwight D. Eisenhower so famously warned against.

We could — and in an ideal world, perhaps should — do without the military here. But in practical terms, that's unlikely.

In fact, as a recent article in the June issue of Atlantic magazine by Robert D. Kaplan points out, the importance of the military here is growing, not diminishing.

Our next great military contest — whether peaceful or contentious — he argues, is with China. And the controlling force, from our side, is here in Hawai'i at the U.S. Pacific Command, or PACOM.

"PACOM," he writes, "is a large but nimble construct, and its leaders understand what many in the media and the policy community do not: that the center of gravity of American strategic concern is already in the Pacific, not the Middle East."

Kaplan's argument is persuasive. And if he is right, the importance of the military in the Pacific — and in Hawai'i — will only grow over the coming decades.

The political challenge is to deal with that growth in a way that accommodates not only our national interests but the interests of a fragile, economically dependent and increasingly crowded Hawai'i as well.

Jerry Burris is The Advertiser's editorial page editor. Reach him at jburris@honoluluadvertiser.com.