copyright Alan A. Lew, 2004, all rights reserved
Chapter 13 - US TERRITORIES AND GLOBAL RELATIONS
Note: Links marked with an asterisk (*) are optional.
Virtual Fieldtrip to Puerto Rico
The US has numerous interests that extend beyond the shores of the 50 states. These include a variety of territorial possessions and commonwealth political relationships, economic and military relationships, and US citizens traveling and residing abroad. This chapter presents an overview of some of the extraterritorial geography of the United States.
The US as the last Global Superpower
As the last remaining global superpower, events and opinions in the US hold considerable sway in virtually every corner of the globe today. Most Americans who travel abroad are aware of the ubiquitous presence of the US president on the cover of foreign language newspapers and nightly television news. People throughout the world follow US presidential election campaigns and can sometimes know more about the candidates than many of the Americans who are eligible to vote for them. The US is at the same time considered by many throughout the world to be the most desirable place to live, and the most feared. It is both envied and reviled.
Below are some of the major values, principles and conditions of the US that have expanded its relative position from a globally small and relatively isolated colony to one of great influence, and sometimes domination, over much of the world today. These are divided into Culture/ideology, Morality and Economic Structure.
US Cultural and Ideological Superiority
The US views itself as the most highly evolved and advanced country in the history of the world. The US was the first country to have (and use) the atomic bomb; the first and only country to land a man on the moon; and has had more Nobel Prize winners than any other country (primarily in sciences and economics, but not in literature or for peace). Economically the US has the highest productivity of any nation in the world, yet Americans also work more hours per year than any other developed country -- and most developing ones, as well. US popular culture dominates the world through movies, television, music and fast foods. Countries from Canada, to France and Germany, and to Indonesia have passed laws to protect their domestic culture from the U.S. intrusions.
Major aspects of American ideology include Liberal Democracy, Liberal Economics (the Free Market system), and Individual Civil Liberties. The US views itself as a beacon of democracy, although far fewer than 50% of eligible voters participate in most elections. In addition, some of the more recent democracies have adopted forms of government that involve higher and more equitable participation by their citizenry. The US is considered a leader in promoting Liberal Economics, which is more popularly known as Capitalism and the Free Market economic system. American society is business oriented, has a strong work ethic and allows for great social mobility (the ability to change social class), something that was virtually unknown in most of the world 100 years ago. NAFTA is an example of this aspect of US ideology. Human rights and civil liberties are another aspect of American ideology that is often considered superior to other countries, but which some societies also look upon as a threat to their own ideological traditions.
US Morality: Truth, Righteousness and Messianic Zeal
Americans tend to believe that God is on their side. The phrase "In God We Trust" has been on US currency since the 1950s when it was added during the period of anti-Communist McCarthyism. The related phrase, "One nation under God" was also added to the Pledge of Allegiance at this time. However, even during the colonial era, William Bradford (1589-1657), who had come to the US on the Mayflower, wrote that the new US will be "that one to respect and sanctify the God-given rights which every other nation has ignored". By the time the US became a colonial power in the late 1800s, it defined its objectives as colonialism with the goal of independence, or colonialism with a heart. On the other hand, the US maintained its colonial control over the Philippines (1898-1947) for decades longer than most Filipinos wanted.
Despite these perceived characteristics the US might not have had quite the impact on the rest of the world except that it also feels that it has an obligation to humanity to spread its superior knowledge, ideology and civilization. This is part of America's "Manifest Destiny", which expanded the 13 colonies to the Pacific Coast and subsequently beyond. Internationally, the US sees its role as being an educator and tutor for less fortunate countries (an attitude that has been especially strong toward Latin America.) It has also brought us into numerous wars in recent years, such as in Haiti, Somalia, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq. It is an aspect of the country that many of the world's oppressed and poor have looked to for hope, and one that many others have grown to distrust.
US Economic Structure - The Unending Search for Natural Resources and Markets
Capitalism as an economic system needs to grow and expand to be healthy. Economic growth requires expanding access to natural resources, which are not evenly distributed around the world. Some contend that the principal role of the US government should be to ensure that demands for natural resources are met, in order to prevent economic decline and the potential for social chaos. This was the justification for the confiscation of American Indian lands in 18th and 19th centuries, and numerous military intervention in Central American countries in 19th and 20th centuries. It is partially the reason for pursuing multilateral trade negotiations and forming trading blocks (such as NAFTA) in recent decades. The other part of the reason for these activities is the search for new markets. In 1854, US Admiral Perry forced Japan to open its shores to outside traders, especially US traders. GATT* (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) negotiations and the formation of the World Trade Organization in recent years have primarily been intended to bring down barriers to free trade, and thereby expanding the market for US goods. On the other hand, the US is not always as willing to reciprocate, and American labor unions are as fearful of allowing foreign goods into the US as many foreign countries are of freely letting in US products. In fact, most "Free Trade Agreements" would be better named "Sort-of Free Trade Agreements" because of the the often long list of restrictions that remain in place.
Until 1959, when Alaska (Chapter 11) and Hawaii (Chapter 12) became the 49th and 50th states, the US was easily conceived as a single, contiguous territorial entity. It comprised a good portion of the continent of North America, with significant shorelines on both the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts. In the 1800s, it was argued that the expansion of the US "from sea to shining sea" was the country's historical and unstoppable destiny. At the same time that many of the European powers were finding their own destinies through the colonization of lands and peoples in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, the US was adding to its territory through purchases, wars, negotiations, and outright confiscation of territory. The territories that comprise the 48 contiguous states today were not completely assimilated until 1912, when the Arizona Territory became the 48th state to be admitted to the union.
The Northwest Territories
The Northwest Territories were the first territorial possessions of the US when the boundary between the newly independent colonies and the British Territory of Canada was established following the Civil War. The Territory consisted of the current states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and part of Minnesota and was governed by the 1787 Northwest Ordinance. This ordinance stated that a territory can elect a territorial legislature and send a nonvoting member to Congress if it has 5,000 voting-age residents. It can apply for statehood if it has 60,000 voting-age residents. The Northwest Territory was known as an incorporated territory, meaning that the US Constitution applied fully to the residents of the territory. After Alaska and Hawaii became states, there were no longer any incorporated territories left in the US.
Unincorporated Possessions and Commonwealths
The US today, however, still has 12 unincorporated territories (also known as possessions) and two commonwealths. The major possessions are American Samoa, Guam, and the US Virgin Islands. All of these have a nonvoting representative in the US Congress. The major commonwealths are Puerto Rico and the Northern Marianas. Puerto Rico has a "resident commissioner" in the US Congress. Commonwealths have their own constitutions and greater autonomy than possessions, and Guam is currently in the process of moving from the status of unincorporated territory to commonwealth. The residents of all of these places (except American Samoa) are full US citizens, although they do not vote in national elections, they can run for US president and males still need to register for selective service (military draft). If they move to one of the 50 states, they can also register to vote in national elections. American Samoa residents are US nationals, but not citizens. They have fewer rights than citizens (they cannot vote or run for president) and fewer obligations (males are not subject to selective service). Most of these territories use the US dollar as their local currency.
How They Became Possessions
The ways in which the US gained control over these distant lands include
1. The Spanish-American War (1898), which marked emergence of the US as a great international power and signified the start of US overseas imperialism. Major territories ceded to the US from Spain include Puerto Rico, Guam, and until, 1947, the Philippines.
2. 1856 Guano Island Act, under which the US took possession of many small, uninhabited Pacific islands for the mining of seabird droppings (guano), an important source of fertilizer in the 19th century. Some of these islands were important military outposts in World War II. Johnston Atoll today is managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service as a wildlife refuge.
3. Special agreements between local residents and the US American Samoa is a good example of this.
4. International agreements -- mostly through the United Nations following World War II. The Northern Mariana Islands are an example of this.
5. Outright purchase, with Alaska and the US Virgin Islands being the best examples.
Unincorporated territories are similar
to American Indian reservations in that those with sufficient populations are
self-governing, with their administrative basis established by congressional
legislation under the jurisdiction of the Department of the Interior.
US Possessions and Commonwealths
Guam is a 209-square-mile island, with a population of 144,928 (1991) located about 1,300 miles due east of the Philippines. About half of the population is indigenous Chamorro, a Malay people who migrated to the island about 1,500 years ago. Most of the remainder are ethnically Filipino (25%), Caucasian (10%), and some Japanese. Ferdinand Magellan visited Guam in 1521, and Jesuit Priests arrived from Spain in 1668. The island was ceded to the US from Spain in 1899, following Spain's defeat in the Spanish-American War of 1898. (Spain also ceded Puerto Rico and the Philippines to the US at this time. The Philippines became a commonwealth in 1935 and gained full independence in 1946. (Puerto Rico is discussed below.) Guam was the only US territory occupied by Japan in World War II, when it was conquered in 1941. The major sources of income for the island are from the US military, which maintains a large facility there, tourism, and petroleum refining. The 'War in the Pacific' National Historic Park, administered by the National Park Service, is also located on Guam.
The US Virgin Islands
The Virgin Islands of the United States (USVI) consists of three main islands and some 50 smaller islands, most of which are uninhabited, located just east of Puerto Rico. The total land area is 136 square miles, with a population of 99,404 (1991). English is the official language, although Spanish and Creole are also spoken. Christopher Columbus visited the Virgin Islands in 1493, but it was the Danes who established the first colony at St. Thomas in 1672. By 1683, all of the Virgin Islands came under Danish control. The US purchased the islands from Denmark in 1917, following World War I. Today, tourism comprises 70% of the territory's economy, while the island of St. Croix houses the world's largest oil refinery.
American Samoa is administered as an unincorporated US territory through agreement between local residents and US government. This is why, unlike other US possessions, its residents are US nationals, rather than citizens. As nationals, American Samoans owe their allegiance to the US and are able to obtain a US passport and other federal services, but they do not have the right to vote, which only citizens can do. American Samoa consists of seven islands located between Hawaii and New Zealand. The largest island is Pago Pago at 76.1 square miles. The population is 43,052 (1991), 90% of whom are Samoan. (There were almost 63,000 ethnic Samoans residing in the 50 US states in the 1990 census.) US whalers first arrived in Samoa in the 1830s, and, in 1898, an international agreement (The Treaty of Paris) placed the entire Samoan island group under the joint jurisdiction of the US, Britain, and Germany. In 1900 and 1904 tribal leaders gave certain islands to the US, and these islands today comprise American Samoa. (The neighboring country of Western Samoa consists of nine islands and a population of over 190,000.) The major industries are tuna canning, agriculture, and some tourism.
Puerto Rico consists of the island of Puerto Rico plus numerous small islands around it, totaling 3,459 square miles (somewhat smaller than the Big Island of Hawaii). It has a population of 3.3 million (1991), most of whom speak Spanish. Christopher Columbus (an Italian whose real name was Cristobal Colon) landed on the island in 1493, and in 1502, Ponce de Leon brought the first settlers to San Juan, its capitol today. It remained a Spanish possession until 1898, when it was ceded to the US, which granted citizenship to Puerto Rico's residents in 1917. Puerto Rico achieved commonwealth status in 1952, when it adopted its own constitution. Today the island is evenly split between those who wish to maintain the commonwealth status and those who would prefer statehood. Supporters of total independence from the US form a very small minority. Sugar and coffee are the island's principal exports.
The Northern Marianas
The Northern Mariana Islands consist
of 183 square miles and 16 islands spread in a 300-mile-long archipelago north
of Guam. Only six of the islands are inhabited, with a total population of 43,345
(1990). Saipan is the largest and most populated island, with 38,896 residents.
The islands have experienced a string of colonial rulers, including Spain (1565),
Germany (1898), Japan (1918), and finally the US (1947). The US was given "trust"
jurisdiction over the Northern Mariana Islands by the United Nations following
World War II. Trusteeship ended in 1986 when the islanders adopted a constitution
that placed them in commonwealth status with the US. They were also made US
citizens at the same time. In addition to their own constitution, they are subject
to most US laws, with the exception of customs, immigration, minimum wages,
and taxation. Tourism is the mainstay of their economy, along with construction
and handicrafts. (Note: The Republic of Belau, also known as Palau, has very
similar characteristics and history to the Northern Mariana Islands but voted
in 1994 for full independence from the US. In December 1994 it became the 185th
country to join the United Nations.)
|Table 13.1. Small Island Possession: Mostly Uninhabited and Administered by the US Navy|
|Midway Island: Part of the Hawaiian Archipelago.|
|Palmyra Island: 50 islets, 4 square miles; part of the Line Island Group, south of Hawaii.|
|Kingman Reef: .4 square miles; part of the Line Island Group.|
|Wake Island: three islands, 2.5 square miles; in the western Pacific Ocean; containing 195 people (in 1990); US Air Force personnel and contractors.|
|Howland and Baker Islands: Mined for guano until 1898, now uninhabited.|
|Jarvis Islands: 1.85 square miles; Line Island Group.|
|Johnston Atoll: four islands, one inhabited; total 1.1 square miles, population of 1,325 (1990), all US government related.|
|Navassa Island: 2 square miles; between Jamaica, Haiti, and Cuba; uninhabited but contains a lighthouse managed by the US Coast Guard.|
and Military Ties
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and the subsequent breakup of the Soviet Union, the US has become the world's only undisputed and unchallenged superpower -- both in political and economic terms. America's strong economy, at least through the 1990s, has been a key factor in the country's maintaining its political leadership in the face of sometimes frustrating challenges of achieving global military security.
North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)*
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was established in 1949 by 12 countries: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom, and the US. Greece and Turkey joined in 1952, the Federal Republic of Germany in 1955, and Spain in 1982. In March 2004, NATO expanded to 26 countries with the addition of Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.
The original purpose of NATO was to deter potential Soviet aggression in Europe. To do this, member nations agreed that a military attack on any one of the NATO countries would be considered an attack on all of them. It was the first peacetime military alliance participated in by the US. Although primarily concerned with military defense, the alliance was also supposed to promote political, social, and economic ties among the members. Exceptions to this are Iceland, which has no military, and France, which withdrew from the military structure in 1966 and rejoined in November 1995 (just before NATO forces entered Bosnia).
The eastern Europe counterbalance to NATO was the Warsaw Treaty Organization (or Warsaw Pact), which was dominated by the Soviet Union. The Warsaw Pact was dissolved in 1991, and since then the issue of the relevance of NATO in the post-Cold War era has been raised. Some former Warsaw Pact members have expressed a strong interest in joining NATO. At the same time, the inability of NATO to help bring an end to the war in Bosnia-Herzogovina has shown the limitations of a military organization with numerous members with conflicting interests. Since 1991, the US has been reducing its level of participation in NATO, due both to the demise of the Soviet Union and budgetary problems in the US. The newer Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), which includes 33 European countries, plus the US and Canada, may serve as a more appropriate means of addressing the political issues in Europe.
Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC)*
The Pacific Rim, and the Asian side in particular, contains the fastest growing economies in the world today. Asia's newly industrializing countries (NICs), consisting of Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, and Hong Kong, have exceeded the standard of living in some European countries, while China, in recent years, has had the fastest growing economy in the world. The Asia/Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Conference brings together senior officials from the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, ASEAN (Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Indonesia, and the Philippines), Japan, China, and Taiwan periodically to discuss ways of decreasing barriers to free trade. The first APEC meeting took place in 1989 under the auspices of the Australian government, although the idea has been around for over 20 years. While Europe remains the leading trading region with the US (outside of our North American neighbors), Asia is rapidly gaining in importance. In 2000 the APEC group comprised 46.76% of global trade. The diversity of standards of living and economic development in the APEC countries, however, means that significant progress toward free trade among its members (as the US, Canada, and Mexico are moving toward) will likely take many years, if not decades, to achieve.
North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)*
Unlike APEC, which is considered too weak to significantly impact the American economy, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was hotly debated and vigorously opposed by both the far left and far right when it was first proposed. NAFTA is a trade agreement between the US, Canada, and Mexico that will eliminate all tariffs (taxes on commercial products crossing international borders), as well as many of the non-tariff trade barriers, such as import licenses. Most of these trade barriers had been removed between the US and Canada by 1998. They were to be completely removed by 2004, though post-9/11 security concerns have delayed that some. NAFTA supporters claim that through free trade, the countries participating in NAFTA will become more competitive, with stronger economies and more job creation -- similar to what a large country such as the US is able to do with free trade across 50 states. The far left opposes NAFTA because they fear job losses to lower-wage Mexico (a labor union concern) and the lowering of US environmental protection regulations to something closer to what Mexico has. The far right opposes NAFTA because they fear a loss of control and sovereignty to international judges and administrators who may not favor US interests in international economic disputes.
The US Abroad and Abroad in the US
On any given day, there are several
million US citizens abroad (Table 13-1). Many are working for the US government
or other non-business organizations. Many are tourists. The US has very close
relations with its nearest neighbors. The US was the second most visited country
in the world in 1997 (48 million visitors) -- with the largest numbers coming
from Canada (15 million) and Mexico (8 million), and it was one of the leading
tourist-generating countries, with 52.7 million trips in 1997, mostly to Mexico
and Canada. Next, we have close ties with the other leading industrial countries
of the world particularly, Japan, the UK, and Germany. While the world may be
getting smaller, much of that smallness is confined to the highly developed
|Table 13-2a. US Citizens Abroad -- May 1, 1989|
|Table 13-2b. US Citizens Abroad -- July 1999 - www.aca.ch/amabroad.pdf|
Total US Citizens Abroad
US Citizens % of Total Local Pop.
% of All US Citizens Abroad
|Table 13-2c. US Citizens Abroad -- July 1999 - www.aca.ch/amabroad.pdf|
Total US Citizens Abroad
US Citizens % of Total Local Pop.
% Of All US Citizens Abroad
|US CITIZENS AS HIGHEST % OF LOCAL POPULATION|
|Table 13-3. US Employees Working for Foreign-Owned Companies, 1985|
|Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa||71,000|
Americanization of the Globe
Unlike any empire before it, the
US expanded from the original colonies to become a continent-wide nation with
minimal military engagement. The Indian Wars and the Mexican War in the 19th
century were the only major barriers to this expansion, and both were overwhelmingly
won by the industrial warfare capabilities of this new country. America's westward
expansion occurred at the time that European powers were colonizing Africa and
Asia. Protected from potential European rivals by the Atlantic Ocean, the US
rapidly industrialized internally, joining the colonization game rather late
and only in a comparably modest way. By the mid-20th colonialism had changed
from political and military conquest to economic domination, which the US has
come to exemplify. There have been reactions against US economic and cultural
domination (especially in France and Iran), but in general the US has been able
to successfully meet the demands of its populace for expanding resources and
A symbol of the changing world order...
Globalization and a New Geography
Declining trade barriers are just
one sign that, in functional terms, the world has become far smaller today than
it was a century, or even a decade, ago. Distant places are no longer as remote
as they once were, in terms of both travel and communication. Geographers refer
to this phenomenon as "time-space convergence" -- the travel and communication
time between places is shrinking, resulting in a convergence, or closing in,
of functional space. (Absolute space remains unchanged -- a kilometer remains
a kilometer.) Time-space convergence has been taking place since well before
the industrial revolution but has dramatically accelerated at a phenomenal rate
in the late twentieth century. Does geography matter? Some argue that in the
current global environment of money and business, geography no longer matters.
Via the telephone, fax machine, and Internet, we are linked instantly with producers,
markets, and coworkers anywhere the world. Others, however, argue that geography
does still matter, although how it matters is qualitatively different today
than in the past, with new types of spatial relationships (via "cyberspace")
and new ways that places are expressing their distinctiveness ("localization")
in the face of globalization. Understanding the subtleties of human values,
politics and social and cultural change is also necessary to obtain a full geographic
sense of a place. Whatever forms these "new geographies" take, the US is likely
to be at the center of their creation and development. As such, the US will
both change and be changed by forces well beyond its geographic boundaries well
into the next century, and knowing North American geography will require an
appreciation of global processes as much as internal ones.
The Death of Distance
from Issues in Globalization (newsletter) - issue # 158 (2000)
In her provocative book, The Death of Distance (1997), Frances Cairncross asserts that geography, borders, and time-zones have become almost irrelevant to the way in which life is now conducted. This has been brought about by the revolutionary changes in communications: in the development of the Internet, but also of the telephone. Cairncross identifies six major trends that will have profound effects on the way in which the people of the world interact with one another. These six trends (paraphrased here) are:
1. The elimination of barriers to human movement, which will encourage countries to "bid down tax rates to attract high-income earners and profitable countries."
2. The strengthening and reinforcing of communities of shared culture through electronic communications.
3. The continuing rise of the English language.
4. Time zones will matter more than distance in determining where companies (and people) locate.
5. The delineation of where the "work place" and the "home place" differ will be blurred.
6. The new irrelevance of size: Offering services and products will no longer be controlled by the size of the company.
Terrorism and Global Order Post 9/11/01
On September 11, 2001, the al-Quaida terrorist network instigated a series of airplane hijackings that destroyed the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York and damaged the Pentagon Building in Washington, DC. This act had a huge impact on geopolitical relations between the US and the Middle East, as well as between the US and the rest of the world. In its relationship to the rest of the world, the US has become both more isolationist and more important. Much of the world has responded in a negative way to the US response to the attack (such as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the tightening of border, visa and air travel controls). At the same time, the US role as the 'global policeman' has come to be more important after the attacks than before, because, as with the Cold War with the USSR, there is no other country that is capable of dealing with the level of international terrorism that al-Quaida has initiated. A new global geography is being shaped by these forces, as new political and strategic alliances between the US and countries in the Middle East, countries in Europe, and elsewhere.
In the War Against Terrorism -- Are you a Jeffersonian , Wilsonian , Jacksonian or Hamiltonian?
of the World Trade Center days after Sept. 11, 2001*
- from September 11
New Geographies of the 21st Century
The trends outlined above are some of the parameters that will help shape the new global geography of the 21st century. Geography still matters, but it is a different geography than that at the turn of the 20th century, one hundred years ago. The pace of globalization since the 1990s has been dramatic as computer technology became miniaturized and culture became globalized. Since 2001, the world seems to have experienced a backlash against the "roaring 90s" in the form of economic decline, a rise in international terrorism, and the outbreak of new diseases and threats to health -- all of which have transcended international borders as easily as the Internet. As pointed out at the beginning of this chapter, the geographic situation of the US relative to the rest of the world was transformed by the fall of the European Communism in 1989. It has again been transformed with the rise of anti-American terrorism in the new century. New, and largely unpredictable challenges are likely to lie ahead. And each new challenge will further shape America's global economic and political geography.
Miscellaneous Related Websites
Third Culture Kids (TCK) - living and growing-up overseas
Overseas Living Links: http://www.naconnect.com/main7.html*
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