The proposed PH-US bases access accord should be scrutinized for its hidden motives, to remove chaff from grain. The agreement will chain the Philippines as a permanent station for bolstering America’s military presence in Asia-Pacific and its arms trade. Building the Philippines’ “minimum deterrence capability” in territorial feuds with China and ensuring a US shield against external aggression are just sound bytes. The corporate agenda is concealed by security objectives.
Bases access was raised by Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin last year and again early this year in response to the territorial tensions with China in the West Philippine Sea and the North Korean missile crisis. This month, President Aquino confirmed bilateral talks with the United States on the bases access accord. He said bases access is also open to Japan, which has its own territorial row with China.
To be clear, bases access is not the Philippines’ plan. Air/sea access is required by the Pentagon’s “pivot to Asia” or rebalancing strategy, which repositions 60 percent of America’s global armed force to Asia by 2020, with Southeast Asia as a specific thrust. The strategy of keeping US supremacy in the region in the 21st century protects increased US investments and trade in Asia—the world’s leading economy—and minimizes China’s economic footprint while containing its maritime power to its national boundaries. Big budget allocations boost US air/sea power. Defense partnerships and air/sea access with the Philippines, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Thailand and other countries are refitted for Pentagon’s geostrategic goals.
But that is just one side of the truth. The other is that the Pentagon and its global military architecture are linked to America’s arms manufacturers led by Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Raytheon. Big chunks of its yearly budget—$600 billion in 2013—go to defense contracts. US Navy and Air Force allocations are prioritized to support air/sea power rebalancing. Thus, the pivot strategy secures corporate war profits; it offsets the reduction of the arms manufacturers’ profits due to troop withdrawals in the Middle East and a slowdown in European arms-buying.
Arms production is inextricably linked to naval and air access agreements as well as war exercises. Adm. Samuel J. Locklear, commander of the US Pacific Command, said rebalancing needs arms to modernize US treaty alliances. Predictably, the Aerospace Industries Association, the trade group of leading arms manufacturers, says that the pivot “will result in growing opportunities for our industry to help equip our friends.”
Indeed, multibillion-dollar defense contracts sustain the Pacific Fleet’s 200-plus ships (including 11 carriers), 2,000 aircraft, and 250,000 sailors and marines. In 2011, US corporations cornered $66.3 billion (75 percent) of the $85-billion global arms trade, with the bulk going to Asia Pacific—rising by 5.4 percent in 2011-2012. This year, the US war industry plans to sell $1.2-billion spy drones to South Korea, Australia and Singapore, and to Japan, $421-million guided-missile destroyers, land-based X-Band radar systems, and $5-billion F-35 fighter jets.
Aside from the two old but multimillion-dollar Hamilton-class cutters bought from Washington, the Philippines will receive six river patrol boats from the US Navy. Four of 12 FA-50 fighter jets (worth P20 billion) will also be delivered to the Philippine military by Korean Aerospace Industries, which is connected to McDonell Douglas, Lockheed, and Boeing. The Philippine military’s shopping list includes radar systems, antisub helicopters, amphibious assault vehicles, and anti-aircraft guided missiles. Arms procurement forms the bulk of its P15-billion modernization this year.
A US arms contractor is also involved in the Philippine Navy’s P10-billion, 30-hectare expanded base access in Subic for fighter jets and warships. Amsec, a unit of Pentagon contractor Huntington Ingalls Industries, last year joined South Korea’s Hanjin Heavy Industries in a $2-billion maintenance and logistics hub project. According to Gazmin, the bases access accord will also tap the Lumbia international airfield in Cagayan de Oro, and other base facilities.
The bases access accord will have the effect of permanent US military facilities in the guise of “rotational deployments” and “interoperability.” Permanence evolves from the frequency, operability, and increase in the number of US forces parking at Subic and other bases. More war exercises mean more arms facilities entering. Besides serving as a shop window for US weapons, bases access will assign Philippine waters and inland territories to test America’s new arms technology.
Thus, America will have an unrestricted platform to flex its military muscle in the region and beyond. The increased operability of the Pacific Fleet will bring its warships and carriers eyeball to eyeball with China’s forces, especially in contested areas of the South China Sea. Tensions will heighten: China warns that while it respects freedom of navigation, it will not allow America to meddle in its “core interest” territorial claims. Giving the same bases access to Japan—which has its own territorial row with China—will escalate tensions and send a chilling message to other Southeast Asian countries that remain hostile to a militarily resurgent Tokyo.
It’s uncertain whether America will side with the Philippines when armed hostilities with China break out. Washington has repeatedly called for a peaceful resolution to the territorial disputes. But in fact, keeping tensions in the disputed seas alive without necessarily going to war is good business for its merchants of death.
Bobby M. Tuazon is the director for policy studies of the Center for People Empowerment in Governance and a former head of UP Manila’s political science program. He has coauthored and edited 10 books on policy issues.