Are PH negotiators talking to arms brokers?
By Bobby M. Tuazon
April 12th, 2014

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With the secrecy shrouding the US-PH negotiations, the agreement on “enhanced defense cooperation” looms as nothing but a means to boost arms trade between the two governments and the rest of Asia. A look at the US panel and the new security strategy framing the new accord will give a clue.

Heading the US panel is Eric G. John, the US State Department’s senior advisor for security negotiations and agreements at the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs. The bureau promotes US arms sales worldwide. In April 2013, John’s boss, Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Tom Kelly, told the US House foreign relations committee: “[Arms trade] is an issue that has the attention of every top-level official who’s working on foreign policy throughout the government, including the top officials of the State Department … in advocating on behalf of our companies and doing everything we can to make sure that these sales go through… We take it very, very seriously, and we’re constantly thinking of how we can do better.”

Military aid and arms acquisitions under the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ modernization budget fall under the US State Department’s Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program, the state-to-state mechanism for selling US defense equipment, services and training from the Pentagon’s private arms contractors. In charge of FMS is the State Department’s sales group, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, whose salesmen recently met with local defense authorities on future arms deals.

The driver of the new US-PH defense agreement is US President Barack Obama’s “pivot/rebalancing” to Asia, or the prepositioning of 60 percent of US global forces in the Asia Pacific by 2020. But rebalancing also refocuses America’s arms market. With lower demands in the Middle East due to US troop withdrawals in Iraq and the dwindling EU market, America’s military industrial base has trained its sights on Asia. Declaring his “pivot/rebalancing” to Asia in November 2011, Obama singled out the region as a major arms export market and moved to ease export controls to help weapons companies sell more.

Elated, the arms trade group Aerospace Industries Association said Obama’s new strategy would mean “growing opportunities” for the industry. In 2012, sales agreements with the Pacific Command’s operational area rose to $13.7 billion, up 5.4 percent from a year before. The military sales brokered by the Pentagon and the State Department reached $63 billion.

Increased arms deals are at the core of Obama’s rebalancing. Strengthening defense treaties, forging new military partnerships and raising US allies’ defense wherewithal involve new arms contracts for new aircraft, surface ships, submarines, missile systems, facilities and services, as well as new investments in weapons R&D (research and development). These preconditions are nailed into the new security cooperation schemes—such as that with the Philippines—to guarantee the flow of US military goods and, thus, endless profits for arms contractors.

Arms contracts are practically brokered by US defense and state officials as they cut new security deals for the prepositioning and increased rotational presence of US forces. Coercive marketing is often resorted to. For instance, in 2002 Reuters reported that after losing bids to supply military aircraft to Nato, the Pentagon “played its Afghanistan card … reminding shoppers … of the job US aircraft have been doing there and urging them to buy American.”

Big business is most influential in US legislation and foreign/security policymaking. Defense contractors maintain cozy ties with politicians—e.g., they are said to gift key members of Congress’ committees on foreign relations, armed services and appropriations with billions of dollars for the election campaign kitty. They hire former State Department and defense honchos to help corner government contracts. Annual military budgets—a big chunk of which goes to arms deals—are planned in tandem with defense contractors. Political patronage allows the defense contractors to influence policies, fabricate war scenarios and impose terms in crafting security cooperation.

Now, the new deal with Manila gives America the right to preposition forces and arsenal, including nuke-armed ships, in Subic, Clark, Palawan and other places on a massive scale. The Philippines is a key platform for the US encirclement of China, linking key points of the Asia Pacific, South/East China Sea, Indian Ocean, as well as north of China. The Aquino administration will use the “minimum defense capability” accruing from the accord as a deterrent to China’s assertiveness in the disputed waters.

But is the Philippines ready to face the new fireworks in the troubled waters that will ensue from having US forces and vessels eyeball-to-eyeball with the Chinese coast guard and Navy now operating there? Yes, assured of US military aid, the Philippines will take a tougher stance to assert its territorial claims. But will America defend its junior ally in armed skirmishes between China and the Philippines?

Most unlikely. The United States has repeatedly said it will stay neutral in the maritime feuds; China’s top leaders continue to seek “constructive and nonadversarial” ties with Washington. The economies of the two countries are soldered: China is America’s biggest creditor. The “economic globalists” under Obama want cooperation with China to continue; the “interventionists” inflate China as a rising hegemon only because it is good for the arms business. More tensions and war jitters mean a bonanza for the arms merchants.

Recall this statement from Sen. J. William Fulbright as Rear Adm. Draper L. Kauffman, commander of the US naval forces in the Philippines, faced the US Senate committee on foreign relations in October 1969: “We are not really there to protect the Philippines. We are there to serve our own purposes, to maintain our base … our forward protection against China.” James M. Wilson Jr., minister of the US Embassy in Manila, said that if the Philippines is attacked, America will retaliate only if its bases are “directly attacked.”

Bobby M. Tuazon, director for policy studies at the Center for People Empowerment in Governance, used to head the University of the Philippines Manila’s political science program.

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