Peace Science Digest

Genuine Security as an Alternative to U.S. Militarization of Oceania

This analysis summarizes and reflects on the following research: Na’puti, T. R., & Frain, S. C. (2023). Indigenous environmental perspectives: Challenging the oceanic security state. Security Dialogue, 54(2), 115-136.

Talking Points

  • U.S. control over the Pacific Ocean constitutes a form of colonial empire sustained by militarization and environmental exploitation.
  • The U.S. government frames issues as “security” threats to justify the militarization of oceanic spaces.
  • The U.S. utilizes oceanic spaces for military purposes while employing conservation narratives to mask environmentally harmful activities.
  • The concept of genuine security is an alternative to state-centric security, as it emphasizes collective well-being, environmental protection, and self-determination of the Indigenous peoples of Oceania.
  • In the face of the “oceanic security state,” Indigenous communities in Oceania deploy diverse forms of resistance, such as seafaring to reclaim waterways and disrupt the militarized compartmentalization of the ocean, direct action campaigns to challenge environmental destruction at military testing sites, and educational initiatives and healing workshops to rebuild cultural resilience and expose the harms of militarization.

Key Insight for Informing Practice

By embracing Indigenous perspectives and acknowledging the dynamic nature of oceanic boundaries, we can create a more just, decolonized, and environmentally sustainable future. This will require active participation and advocacy from both local and international civil society actors.


As perceived by the West, the vast Pacific Ocean is a predominantly empty space, dotted with archipelagos such as the Hawaiian Islands, the Mariana Islands, or American Samoa. Many Westerners envision these islands as paradisical beach destinations. Indigenous communities view the Pacific Ocean as a tapestry of “connecting pathways in relations with lands, peoples, and skies.” Meanwhile, the United States government sees the Pacific Ocean as a heavily controlled security space for military testing, training, and maintaining transit corridors in the name of national security.

Tiara Na’puti and Sylvia Frain argue that the U.S.’s control over the Pacific Ocean constitutes a form of colonial empire sustained by militarization and environmental exploitation. The authors reveal how oceanic spaces are militarized in the name of U.S. national security within delineated borders of Exclusive Economic Zones, Marine National Monuments, and Marine Protected Areas. Na’puti and Frain examine specific examples of U.S. militarization and environmental destruction in the Pacific, delving into the Mariana Islands Training and Testing (MITT) area and the Mariana Islands Range Complex (MIRC), the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (PMNM) and the Hawaii Range Complex (HRC), and the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) military exercises. This oceanic security state militarizes the ocean, disrupting marine life, increasing the risk of conflict, causing environmental destruction through pollution and climate change, and undermining Indigenous rights and sovereignty.

Oceanic security state: 

A system of militarization and environmental exploitation that extends beyond land borders to encompass the United States’ control of the Pacific Ocean.

Genuine security:

An alternative security framework that emphasizes several key principles: respect for Indigenous rights and sovereignty, environmental protection, peace and cooperation, and a focus on human needs.  It focuses on tangible actions and collaborations among diverse women to address the root causes of insecurity, such as militarism and violence. The aim is to achieve real changes in policies and systems to promote healing, self-determination, and the dismantling of oppressive structures.
Blue-washing: Refers to the U.S. government’s use of marine protection policies and conservation rhetoric to disguise its militarization of ocean spaces, masking environmental damage and undermining genuine sustainability efforts.

The article centers on Indigenous perspectives, understanding the ocean as interconnected pathways and challenging colonial geography imaginaries. The authors reveal how the U.S. government tends to consider issues related to oceanic spaces as “security” threats, which is used to justify militarization. They suggest an alternative approach of genuine security that prioritizes the well-being of all, environmental protection, and self-determination of Indigenous peoples. The methodology involves mapping case studies of the Mariana Islands, Hawai’i, and other regions of Oceania. The authors analyze information on military bases, training areas, and conservation designations in the Pacific.

The central argument posits that the oceanic security state perpetuates a dual narrative, presenting militarization as conservation. The research challenges the legitimacy of this narrative, emphasizing the environmental costs of militarization and its impacts on Indigenous communities.  The United States utilizes oceanic spaces for military purposes while employing conservation narratives to mask environmentally harmful activities. The authors uncover the phenomenon of blue-washing, wherein the U.S. military, despite being a significant contributor to environmental degradation, portrays itself as an environmental steward through policies and assertions of adherence to conservation measures.  In reality, military interests are prioritized over conservation, exemplified by the designation of Marine National Monuments as defense assets. Examples such as the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument and Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument show how the military uses seemingly protected areas for training and testing, encompassing activities like sonar tests and live-fire exercises. These practices result in irreparable environmental damage, such as harm to marine life (as evidenced by the beaching of whales and dolphins, pollution, disproportionate greenhouse gas emissions, the destruction of reefs, and the degradation of shoreline and land). 

The oceanic security state perpetuates colonial power dynamics, which manifest themselves in a range of negative impacts on Indigenous communities in Oceania. Access to marine protected areas and training zones is limited, directly affecting Indigenous engagement in traditional practices like fishing and navigation. Military activities and conservation measures result in environmental degradation, adversely affecting Indigenous livelihoods. Pollution, habitat destruction, and resource depletion pose significant threats. The disruption and destruction of cultural heritage sites, including sacred areas and burial grounds, further erode the cultural fabric of Indigenous communities. Health concerns arise due to exposure to toxic elements from military activities, impacting both physical and mental well-being.

In the face of the oceanic security state, Indigenous communities in Oceania deploy diverse forms of resistance. Seafaring and voyaging practices reclaim an ancestral connection to interconnected waterways, disrupting the militarized compartmentalization of the ocean into strategic areas. Direct action campaigns challenge environmental destruction at military testing sites. At the same time, educational initiatives and healing workshops rebuild cultural resilience and expose the harms of militarization.

In conclusion, the study calls for reevaluating security studies to incorporate Indigenous perspectives. It challenges the dominant discourses that frame oceanic spaces merely as territories for militarization. The findings underscore the urgent need to address the contradictions within the oceanic security state, where military activities contribute to the global climate crisis, contradicting conservation efforts. The article advocates for strategies of resistance and resilience informed by oceanic epistemologies, recognizing the fluid and interconnected nature of ocean boundaries. Indigenous perspectives “function as decolonial praxis that challenges imperial and militarized orientations of control over ocean spaces.” Ultimately, the study encourages a shift towards decolonial and demilitarized futures by acknowledging the complexities of federal control and militarization of oceanic spaces.

Informing Practice

The practical relevance of this article is multi-faceted, merging policy and advocacy realms.  The research underscores the urgent need for global discussions on military emissions that emphasize the ‘military emissions gap’ and the environmental consequences of granting automatic exemptions to militaries in climate agreements such as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. In our roles as advocates, we must elevate the environmental costs of military exemptions more forcefully, call for genuine security, and challenge the continued blue-washing of military operations as “sustainable practices.” The idyllic picture of protected marine spaces that blue-washing paints contrasts sharply with the reality of violence and devastation caused by war.

The study’s findings directly impact policy formulation and advocacy. Identifying blue-washing practices necessitates a reexamination of legal frameworks governing military activities and environmental protection. Policymakers should scrutinize existing laws, including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and the Endangered Species Act, all of which allow military deviations from regulations. Reforms should extend beyond aligning military operations with conservation goals and instead encompass a critical reassessment of security priorities. Guided by “genuine security,” advocates can pressure policymakers to disrupt the expansion of war infrastructure and prioritize diplomacy and peacebuilding over militarization. At the same time, reforms must ensure Indigenous representation in decision-making processes related to oceanic spaces. Policy initiatives should prioritize inclusivity, recognizing Indigenous communities’ unique perspectives and knowledge systems. This involves changing governance structures for Marine National Monuments and Exclusive Economic Zones to ensure that Indigenous voices play a central role in shaping policies impacting their lands and waters.

The research emphasizes the importance of raising awareness about the dual nature of oceanic spaces as both militarized zones and ecologically sensitive areas. Advocacy initiatives can be crucial in informing the public and policymakers about the environmental consequences of military activities. This includes fostering an understanding of the interconnectedness of oceanic spaces and the need for sustainable, community-centric approaches to their management.

Lastly, local and international NGOs, supported by donors, can support Indigenous-led initiatives that promote traditional knowledge, sustainable resource management, and cultural revitalization in Oceania. They can assist Indigenous resistance efforts and document and expose the negative impacts of the oceanic security state, raising awareness and mobilizing public support for change. Fostering solidarity between the communities affected by militarism and environmental injustice, advocates can document and amplify Indigenous resistance movements and alternative security frameworks such as “genuine security,” as introduced in this article, promoting their visibility and acceptance in policy discussions.  

By embracing Indigenous perspectives and acknowledging the dynamic nature of oceanic boundaries, we can create a more just, decolonized, and environmentally sustainable future. This will require active participation and advocacy from local and international civil society actors. [PH]

Questions Raised

How can genuine security frameworks challenge power dynamics between powerful states, such as the U.S. and Pacific Island nations? Can genuine security proposals resonate with and motivate diverse stakeholders, including Indigenous communities, governments, and international organizations?

How can the proposed genuine security concept be translated into tangible policy measures and implemented on a broader scale? What concrete actions can policymakers and activists take to advocate for and enact genuine security in Oceania?

Continued Reading

Crawford, N. C. (2019, June 12). The Defense Department is worried about climate change – and also a huge carbon emitter. The Conversation. Retrieved February 8, 2024, from

Crawford, N. C. (2019, November 13). Pentagon fuel use, climate change, and the costs of war. The Costs of War. Retrieved January 2, 2024, from

Ramirez, R. (2021, June 1). Pacific Islanders have been fighting environmental crises for centuries, if only the world would notice. Fix. Solutions Lab. Retrieved February 8, 2024, from

Tiezzi, S. (2020, November 4). How the US military wound up ‘poisoning the Pacific.’ The Diplomat. Retrieved February 8, 2024, from


Conflict and Environment Observatory & Concrete Impacts: The Military Emissions Gap:

Coalition Against U.S. Foreign Military Bases:

Key Words: genuine security, militarism, blue-washing, Indigenous resistance, Oceania, environmental peacebuilding

Photo credit: Theresa “Isa” Arriola

This analysis is featured in our Special Issue: Decolonial and Indigenous Approaches to Environmental Peacebuilding.