Monday, April 23, 2012

No gain, no respect


Never been tested since it was signed in 1951, the Mutual Defence Treaty (MDT) between the Philippines and the United States is a relic of the Cold War. In the language of the treaty, both countries are bound to support each other if either was to be attacked by another country.
The closest the treaty has been invoked was during the 1960s when Malaysian troops threatened to attack the Philippines for its claim over Sabah in the island of Borneo. Declining to assist the Philippines under the MDT, U.S. officials claimed that Malaysia was also an ally and that the American government would not interfere.
Just like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the MDT was designed to stave off the spread of communism, particularly from the Soviet Union. With the dismantling of the Soviet Union and effectively reining Germany’s appetite for military aggression, NATO now is an alliance in search of a common enemy and a clear purpose. NATO cannot survive simply by aligning itself with Washington’s security policies and its seemingly endless war against the Taliban or Al-Qaeda, so many of its member nations are now veering towards less dependency on American military protection.

MANILA (Nov. 16, 2011) - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is greeted by Cmdr. Brian Mutty, commanding officer of the guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald. Secretary Clinton, U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas, Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Albert del Rosario, and Philippine Secretary of National Defense Voltaire Gazmin signed the Manila Declaration, commemorating the 60th Anniversary of the Philippines-U.S. Mutual Defense Treaty, aboard the ship in Manila Bay. (U.S. Navy photo) Click link to view BAYAN'S statement "60 Years is Enough."
The threat of an armed attacked in the Pacific, which the Philippines and the United States had in their minds when they signed the MDT, never materialized. While North Korea remains belligerent to its southern neighbour, its military ambition has been effectively checked beyond the 38th parallel. Vietnam has been unified after its costly war with the United States and is not a threat to attack any of its neighbours or countries in the Pacific. Other wars in the regions have been localized and there is no danger of them spreading to other countries, much less to the Philippines. Japan has been effectively neutralized and we’re not going to see the re-emergence of an imperial Japanese power in the near or distant future. China is now the second largest economy in the world after the United States but is not likely seen as an imperialist power.

Thus, many Filipino nationalists have demanded the termination of the MDT because it has become a moribund instrument. For the Philippines in particular, the MDT is a useless treaty because it is the U.S. Congress which has the power to commit the United States to an armed conflict and therefore is never an assurance that the U.S. will come to the aid of the Philippines during a foreign attack on its territory.

Whether the United States through Congress or the U.S. President as commander-in-chief would deploy its troops to support the territorial claims of the Philippines over the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea remains more illusory than real. The United States cannot afford another big war. It has decided to get out of Iraq and Afghanistan and to help in the Arab Spring revolt in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya through leading by following, a much more indirect way of involvement.

Although it has publicly stated its new foreign policy pivot in Asia and the Pacific, the U.S. is not likely to be directly involved in any military conflict in the South China Sea. The most the United States would do, if the current impasse in the South China Sea escalates in a limited military confrontation, is to use the Philippines as its proxy in its emerging Cold War with China. In fact, President Benigno Aquino III is already on record, not as a do-nothing President, but as a willing and able spokesman and “fanboy” for the United States.

Out of the South China Sea conflict between the countries claiming territorial sovereignty over its islands and the waters around them, a new Cold War is coming into view.  These competing nations know in their hearts that military confrontation with China is an invitation to destruction. Show of force to reinforce their claims will plainly be a show, and nothing more.

The United States has seized their opportunity in the South China Sea to engage in a proxy war with China by using the Philippines as its fugleman. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has already committed to President Aquino to help the Philippines in its territorial sovereignty claim to the Spratly Islands.

Using the MDT as its cover, the United States is sending decommissioned military equipment to the Armed Forces of the Philippines such as old ambulances, old Huey helicopters, fighter and cargo planes, which the U.S. had used extensively during the Vietnam War. Lately, the U.S. has sent to the Philippines a decommissioned battleship for reconnaissance and patrol use in the South China Sea.

The U.S. military is also using the Visiting Forces Agreement between the two countries for conducting joint Balikatan training exercises to prepare Philippine troops for armed confrontation in the South China Sea, in addition to helping the Philippines combat the local communist insurgency and the Moslem separatists in Mindanao.
Philippine and U.S. soldiers conduct raid during 2012 Balikatan Exercise
 under the Visiting Forces Agreement at Fort Magsaysay. Photo by DVIDSHUB.
 Click  link
 to view "Spratlys Emerging Cold War."
So, the MDT has found a useful purpose for the United States to continue its involvement with the Philippine military, although not in accordance with the treaty’s original objective of helping each other during a foreign attack.  There is no foreign attack yet, which is unlikely to happen, but the U.S. government is directly involved in running the Armed Forces of the Philippines just the way it was before.

If this is how the MDT should be enforced, then the United States is virtually meddling with the Philippines in protecting itself from future external armed attack. For a sovereign country to allow a foreign power to dictate how it should prepare in case of foreign aggression, the Philippines is showing its true colours not only as a dependent state but as a middling puppet as well.  But then again, this is nothing really new.

The MDT has been the basis for several agreements between the U.S. and the Philippines such as the US-RP Military Assistance Agreement, later renamed as US-RP Military Advisory Group, the Visiting Forces Agreement and the Mutual Logistics Servicing Agreement. Even the U.S. military bases agreement which was finally abrogated in 1991 also traced its roots from the MDT. Thus, the MDT is known to many Filipino nationalists as the “mother of all unequal military treaties and agreements” the Philippines agreed to accept since achieving independence in 1946.

More than 60 years have passed since the MDT was signed, yet the Philippine military still remains dependent on the advice of the U.S. military for sourcing of materials, logistics and equipment, and training. The treaty never helped the AFP modernize. It only enhanced the false dependence of the Philippines on American military protection.

With the current impasse in the South China Sea, the United States is exploiting the MDT as an instrument for meddling in the conflict by using the Philippines as its proxy in the emerging Cold War with China. The U.S. State Department has officially stated that the Mutual Defence Treaty between the United States and the Philippines continues to serve as “cornerstone of our relationship and a source of stability in the region.”

The increasing threat of Chinese hegemony in the South China Sea has worried the United States—that its navy may not have full use of the sea lanes necessary for its strategic presence in the area—and its effect, too, on commercial ships that navigate from south to north of the China Sea. The U.S. does not expect, however, to be directly engaged in any military confrontation with the Chinese, which the latter can ill-afford given the state of their national economy. The American military has already been overstretched to the limits with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and another big overseas war would wreak more havoc to U.S. economic recovery.

A Cold War between the United States and China would be the best scenario for the U.S. to remain a powerful presence in Asia and the Pacific. With support from allies like Japan, Australia and the ASEAN nations, a Cold War will help the United States in the containment of China’s rise as a Pacific power.

The Cold War would simply be carried through military alliances, strategic conventional and force deployments, appeals to neutral nations and extensive aid to the countries in the region, but never direct military action. The United States and the Soviet Union have fought proxy wars before in Latin America and the Southeast Asia. It will be China’s first foray in a Cold War and the United States will take advantage of the Chinese lack of experience.

Right now, the U.S. is using as its proxies countries like the Philippines, Japan, South Korea, and Australia to stem the rise of Chinese hegemony in the region. The Philippines, in particular, plays a significant role because it has the MDT and other military agreements with the United States that enable the U.S. military to deploy its troops and warships in the guise of helping the Philippines. There are already American special forces stationed on Philippine soil and they are conducting war games with the Philippine military in waters close to the disputed area of the South China Sea.

The Philippines is drawing out the Chinese superpower to a cat-and-mouse game in the South China Sea by deploying its newest warship, courtesy of the United States, while China has responded by sending their powerful boats. This is a scenario that would be repeated many times over in the future and unless China and the other competing nations agree to a negotiated settlement of their territorial claims, the United States would only be too happy to stay in the background contented that China’s rise is at least contained at the moment.

It’s not going to be a win-win situation for the Philippines. It has already derogated its sovereignty to the United States with the MDT and other unequal military treaties, to the detriment of its own capacity to develop a self-sufficient military and to an inevitable erosion of respect from its ASEAN neighbours for its inability to stand alone.  

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