Saturday, May 10, 2014

Deception and containment



“The Philippines give us a base at the door of all the East. Lines of navigation from our ports to the Orient and Australia; from the Isthmian Canal to Asia; from all Oriental ports to Australia, converge at and separate from the Philippines. They are a self-supporting, dividend-paying fleet, permanently anchored at a spot selected by the strategy of Providence commanding the Pacific. And the Pacific is the ocean of commerce of the future. Most future wars will be conflicts for commerce. The power that rules the Pacific, therefore, is the power that rules the world. And, with the Philippines, that power is and will forever be the American Republic.”

—U.S. Senator Alfred J. Beveridge, January 9, 1901

Map of Asia Pacific
America officially denies that the latest military agreement with the Philippines, inelegantly called the Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), aims to contain the rise of China as a superpower. U.S. President Barack Obama made this clear when asked if the U.S. military will defend the Philippines should territorial disputes with China escalate.
Obama said, “Our goal is not to counter China; our goal is not to contain China. Our goal is to make sure that international rules and norms are respected, and that includes the area of maritime disputes.”
Before the end of his duty, former U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines, Harry Thomas, Jr., made a similar declaration a year ago. “We’re here (in the Philippines) with JSOTF-P, our joint special operations task force, temporarily to eliminate terrorism, not to stage bases. We don’t want a conflict with China,” Thomas said.
This is the official line (or lie) by the U.S. government. The truth, however, is obvious and cannot be cloaked by any more pronouncements to the contrary by U.S. officials. There is no denying that it’s all about containing China. The U.S. rebalance of its military forces or pivot to Asia is clearly aimed toward containment of the second largest economy of the world to prevent its ascent to the level of America’s superpower. India might as well be an additional target of U.S. containment since it has recently displaced Japan as the third largest economy in the world, and it could well be another spectre looming with its nuclear capability.
American deception is so patently repugnant. Yet, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III and the rest of his officialdom and high-ranking generals are all too willing to turn a blind eye and swallow EDCA hook, line and sinker.

The Philippines and the Unites States sign 10-year defence agreement (Tribune cartoon).  Click link to read newsreport.
In the short term, EDCA will probably provide the much-needed buffer to China’s aggressiveness and bullying in the South China Sea. But this is a short-sighted objective. Over the long term, the country’s defence and military capability would just be as diminished as it was when the U.S. operated military bases in the country from 1947 to 1992. The Philippine military never modernized on account of the U.S. bases or their use by American troops for forward deployment during the wars in Korea and Vietnam, and whether this will be achieved under EDCA is also unlikely.
Containment was articulated by American diplomat George F. Kennan at the start of the Cold War as a means of preventing the spread of communism around the world, particularly in response to the expansion of the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe, China, Korea, Africa and Vietnam. It spurred the establishment of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a mutual defence pact between the United States and its European allies. The U.S. similarly entered into mutual defence treaties with Japan, Korea and the Philippines. The same containment strategy is now being put in motion by the U.S. and its European allies against Russian expansion in the Ukraine after Crimea voted to join the Russian federation.
Communism did not spread the way it was predicted by the advocates of containment, i.e., through Moscow and beyond. Communist movements in other countries were largely inspired by internal civil wars and nationalist struggles for self-determination. When the Soviet Union was disbanded in the 1990s, the Cold War fizzled out making the United States the last and only superpower standing.
The United States lost its military bases in the Philippines in 1992, coincidentally during the end of the Cold War. American troops returned in 1998 under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) to combat a new war: the war on terror. Communist rebels and separatist insurgents in the Philippines had been blacklisted by the U.S. State Department as terrorist organizations, especially Abu Sayaff who were operating in Jolo and Basilan in the south. The VFA gave the Americans legal cover to join the government’s drive against the insurgents and joint military exercises on a perpetual rotation basis. The military exercises have enabled the U.S. troops to become more prepared and better trained as they learned from the more experienced Filipino soldiers who have been fighting jungle and guerilla warfare for over 45 years.
But as early as 2001, military strategists in the U.S. government have already been itching to re-establish the bases in the Philippines. They needed to create a more permanent base for the forward deployment of troops to counter the surging Chinese economy and expansion of its military capability. China needed to be contained, not the spread of its communist ideology, but its sphere of influence in Asia. Communism is no longer the main enemy of containment as it was during the Cold War, but the hegemonic rise of economically powerful countries like China and India, and to some extent, Russia, even with its not-so-strong economy which the U.S. and NATO can effectively harass with sanctions.
After the 9/11 attacks in 2001, a steady stream of American troops has been arriving in the Philippines for regular and recurring military exercises. The Philippine government has allowed the U.S. to fly over the country’s air space, use its airfields and ports and travel on its sea lanes.
In November 2002, the U.S. and the Philippines entered into a Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA) allowing the U.S. to store and pre-position equipment in the country, construct structures and be provided with the full range of logistics and operational services it requires. Some American troops in rotation have also based themselves indefinitely in Southern Mindanao. In 2006, the U.S. and the Philippines signed another agreement establishing a Security Engagement Board (SEB), thus expanding the role of U.S. troops in the country. Then in 2007, a Status of Visiting Forces Agreement (SOVFA), giving similar legal privileges given to U.S. troops by the VFA, was signed with another U.S. ally, Australia, which in the past few years has also begun to be involved in military operations in the Philippines.
Between 2002 and 2006, the U.S. had been providing an average of $54 million per year in military aid to the Philippine government, up from $1.6 million annually in the period after the closure of the bases and before the signing of the VFA. Incrementally but steadily, the United States has been re-establishing the presence of its troops in the country and reinforcing its relationship with the Philippines.
US guided missile cruiser leads destroyers during military exercise in the Pacific
Ocean (AFP Photo/Toshifumi Kitamura)
In “At the Door of All the East: The Philippines in United States Military Strategy,” a report prepared for Focus on the Global South, Chulalongkorn University Social Research Institute (CUSRI) by Herbert Docena in November 2007, the author argued that the VFA and subsequent agreements between the U.S. and the Philippines were not adopted for the singular purpose of fighting the war on terror. According to the report, the re-establishment of American troops on Philippine soil has always been a component of the larger U.S. strategy to preserve its permanent global superiority by preventing the rise of rivals like China and maintain itself as the world’s sole superpower.
Docena further wrote that in order “to deter and defeat potential enemies or rivals anywhere in the world,” the United States must have the capacity “to operate across the globe through its worldwide network of forward-deployed troops, bases, and access agreements.”
The report also argued that of all the potential rivals of the U.S., “China poses the greatest threat and must therefore be contained before it becomes even more powerful. To make this threat credible, the U.S. is attempting to enlist countries around China to take its side and to encircle China with bases and troops.”
The report concluded, “Because of its strategic location, the Philippines is among the countries in which the U.S. wants to establish bases, secure access agreements, and station troops. But apart from the Philippines, the U.S. also wants the same in other countries in the region. The problem is that these other countries on whom it is relying for support do not necessarily want to go against China and are not necessarily willing to give the U.S. what it needs. Because of its favorable disposition towards the U.S. compared to other countries, the Philippines becomes even more critical to U.S. military strategy in the region and in the world.”
Seven years after the publication of the report, the United States and the Philippines signed EDCA during the state visit of U.S. President Obama last April 28, 2014, formalizing what has already been effectively allowed on the ground for several years— unimpeded access by American troops to military bases in the Philippines. Both the U.S. and Philippine government officials are running on deception mode when they insist that EDCA would promote the mutual obligations of the two countries as envisaged in the Mutual Defence Treaty (MDT) signed in 1951. MDT was of Cold War vintage, and EDCA is a newer containment strategy.
On the pretext of “enhanced defense cooperation,” EDCA guarantees U.S. military basing in the Philippines that is even more comprehensive than the 1947 Military Bases Agreement. The United States will be able to “preposition and store” military equipment, supplies, and materiel at AFP bases and other territories. Under U.S. operational control, American troops can use airfields, ports, public roads, and community areas; as well as construct infrastructures and other facilities in so-called “agreed locations.”
Why President Aquino would not involve the Philippine Senate in the adoption of EDCA is obvious for two reasons. First, Aquino fears he could not muster the same majority in the Senate that would approve EDCA that he had when Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona was impeached. And second, Aquino is simply acting true to form as the best Amboy in the Far East.
Since the Senate cannot force President Aquino to submit EDCA to the Senate for review and approval, the only option is for the Philippine Supreme Court to step in and render its interpretation. But given that Aquino has already stacked up the Supreme Court with his appointees, its decision is a foregone conclusion.
EDCA has been conceived in immaculate deception.
The Philippine government, from President Aquino to his military and foreign policy advisers, has willingly allowed to be duped by their American counterpart in rebalancing U.S. strategy in Asia to pursue its principal objective of containing the rise of China. This is why the Senate has been kept in the dark. And for a gratuitous show of American military muscle on the South China Sea that could intimidate China to rethink its military strategy, the Philippines paid the ultimate price. It gave up its sovereignty to the Americans, all for free.

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