ISSUE ANALYSIS No. 03
Series of 2014
On the Obama visit
Food and Jobs – Not More Arms
By the Policy Study, Publication, and Advocacy
Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG)
April 25, 2014
Is the Aquino government entering into the Agreement on Enhanced Defense Cooperation (AEDC) with the U.S. with a blind eye or simply out of trust – no matter how baseless - in Mother America?
This point comes to mind on the heels of Communications Secretary Sonny Coloma’s recent clarificatory question which, he said, will be asked of U.S. President Barack Obama in his Manila visit, April 28-29. Obama will be asked to clarify America’s “strategic partnership” with the Philippines – a former colony which doesn’t blink on the U.S. radar of global engagements though is now gaining some attention with the scheduled signing of the AEDC during the U.S. president’s short visit.
Under negotiations by both countries for two years now, the AEDC gives the U.S. the right to use Philippine military facilities for the former’s nuclear warships, warplanes, spy drones, troops, and other military arsenal for – based on reports - up to 20 years subject to renewal. The new agreement will transform the whole Philippines into a major military platform for Obama’s pivot or rebalancing in Asia military strategy that aims to redeploy 60% of U.S. global forces including naval fleets to Asia by 2020.
Rebalancing is the Pentagon’s latest maneuver to boost its containment strategy against China – which has been a blueprint since 1992 – to limit its rise to power without challenging American hegemony altogether. Rebalancing however involves strengthening America’s defense alliances with Japan, South Korea, Australia, Thailand, and the Philippines as well as developing new military ties with India, Vietnam, Indonesia, and other countries. Key to the strengthening of defense alliances and partnerships is the expansion, forward deployment, and rotational presence of U.S. forces and facilities in these countries and building the presumed U.S. allies’ defense capability.
And this is where the AEDC comes in.
As far as Aquino officials are concerned, the AEDC will boost the Philippine armed forces’ credible defense capability. As far as they are concerned, the increase of U.S. arsenal and forces in the Philippines and the new projection of U.S. power that this implies in the South China Sea (or West Philippine Sea) will serve as a deterrent to China’s assertiveness in the disputed areas and territories of the sea. The anticipation – repeated in several Philippine foreign affairs and defense statements – is that America will use its increased presence to fight on the side of the country in an outbreak of hostilities with the stronger China arising from the maritime feud.
In the realm of American commitments, ambiguity reigns. Indisputably, the U.S. will make a commitment – whether military, diplomatic, or economic – only if it serves its own geo-political and geo-economic interests. What “clarification” then is Coloma – President Aquino’s spokesperson –asking about? In American realpolitik, “strategic partnerships” are dictated by U.S. unilateralism and exceptionalism; especially with a subordinate client-state like the Philippines, they are imposed onerously precisely because the aim is to promote America’s hegemonic interests.
“Treaty obligations” by the U.S. have always been one-sided: the Military Bases Agreement (1947), Mutual Defense Pact (1951), and SEATO Treaty (1954) demanded Philippines compliance in support of American wars in Korea, Indochina, and the “Desert Storm” attack of Iraq in 1991. Conversely, the U.S. refused to back the Philippines in an imminent war with Malaysia over the Sabah claim in the mid-1960s. Reason: The U.S. refused to fight Malaysia to avoid antagonizing Britain – a key American ally. Today the U.S. claims it supports the arbitration case on the maritime row with China filed by the Aquino government with the ITLOS. Yet that support is qualified since the U.S. has not ratified the legal framework of the case – the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) - because it runs counter to American unilateralism. U.S. naval power recognizes no boundaries including exclusive economic zones (EEZ).
There is no “strategic partnership” between the U.S. and the Philippines if its nuances signify mutuality and reciprocity. Simply put, neither the AEDC nor the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA, 1998) allows Philippine forces and its antiquated navy ships to set foot on American soil and conduct exercises on its waters. When crimes are committed, will Filipino soldiers be scot-free and flown back to the Philippines just what erring American armed personnel do in mocking the host country’s sovereign law?
To the U.S. the new AEDC will no doubt enhance its strategic objectives in Asia Pacific by ensuring American hegemony in the region, countering China’s rise and, more importantly, creating a stimulus for America’s arms trade. Amid economic recession, U.S. troop withdrawals in Iraq and the uncertainty of the Afghanistan war, as well as a slowdown in the EU market for arms threatened to deflate U.S. arms trade profits. Thus in announcing his “pivot to Asia” paradigm in November 2011, Obama also made overseas arms sales “the pillar of U.S. foreign policy” in the region.
The surge of tensions that will be triggered by increased U.S. military projection particularly in SCS/WPS and East China Sea – where maritime claims pit China against other claimants - is already increasing arms buildup and acquisitions from Japan to South Korea, India, Singapore, the Philippines, and other countries – certainly a bonanza of arms trade to U.S. merchants of death. The strategic arms sales policy of Obama is budgeted by the U.S. Congress where lobbyists from powerful weapons manufacturers have a strong clout. A big chunk of the multi-billion yearly defense budget - representing 40% of the world total – goes to arms production. The AEDC provides the mechanism for arms sales on the pretext of “enhanced cooperation.” The more tensions the bigger the profit. Will the Americans go to war against China to defend the Philippines? (See Tuazon Commentary, Are PH negotiators talking to arms brokers? www.cenpeg.org)
Where does this leave the Philippines, a former US colony where a recent global survey by a Washington-based research center reveals 85% of Filipinos polled said they look up to America and more believe the former colonizer “greatly influences the country’s affairs.”
Why is it only now that the Aquino government is asking the U.S. to clarify what its “strategic partnership” is with the Philippines? In bilateral relations, it is absolutely important to define first what the “strategic partnership” between two countries is before a treaty or, in this case, an executive agreement is negotiated. In the first place, is “strategic partnership” supposed to be a work of two parties and not just by one let alone a superpower “ally”?
Is the Aquino government still groping in the dark about its relations with the Obama government? To fully grasp U.S. power politics one need not beg the Americans for an answer: The Philippine government needs strategic thinkers – which sadly it does not have – who should help steer an independent foreign policy and grasp the nuances of American power and its politics of unilateralism in dealing with the world. The lack of strategic thinkers in the Aquino government exposes its poverty of strategy in dealing with the U.S. not to mention in dealing with China. If any, the only “strategy” that Filipino presidents know is the “enduring special ties between the Philippines and Mother America” – a colonial relic from the 20th century that until today continues to tag the country in the community of nations as a puppet republic.
What credible defense capability are Aquino officials talking about if that potential is tied to or is heavily dependent on the increased presence of U.S. offensive forces in the Philippines? In the first place, defense capability is not built on military resources alone. It is built on a strong and sustainable economy – which the country lacks. The more defense capability relies on the use of guns the narrower the latitude becomes in resolving differences with other countries peacefully and by international law.
Aquino officials should now be aware that American imperial power is on the decline, its global hegemony more and more contingent on overstretched armed projection and interventionism. But armed projection is also threatened by periodic acute economic recessions thus forcing the U.S. government to cut defense budgets, trim down its overseas forces, and compel its allies to be on the frontline of defending U.S. global interests. American military power is shored up by boosting arms sales that satisfy the greed of the most powerful club in the U.S. – the military-industrial-congressional complex. This complex foments wars of intervention in the guise of fighting for democracy – as in Iraq and Afghanistan – and promotes tensions to amass more defense contracts and ensure the flow of profits for the arms industry. The AEDC serves this purpose.
The whole nation should quiver at the thought of blind leaders selling Philippine sovereignty treasonously and at will. The other danger is in fighting America’s wars when what Philippine leaders should be preoccupied with now and in the future is how to curb corruption and rebuild disaster-stricken provinces, ensure jobs to the unemployed, stop the massive exodus of discontented Filipinos abroad, and produce three square meals a day for every family. #