The US global war machine in the PH
The additional US Edca (Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement) bases on Philippine soil and the recent largest-ever “Balikatan” exercises have revived the debate on US military presence in the Philippines.
Two of America’s top experts on the US global war machine, Dr. Michael Klare and Dr. David Vine, recently had an online interview. Klare is a renowned international security expert and professor of peace and world security at the University of Massachusetts and the author of the books “Resource Wars,” “War Without End,” “Supplying Repression,” and “American Arms Supermarket.” Vine is a social anthropologist from American University in Washington who has authored “Base Nation” and “The United States of War: A Global History of America’s Endless Conflicts.”
Klare asserts that the US’ core interests in the Indo-Pacific are to remain the dominant military power in the Indo-Pacific and to prevent China from replacing its Pacific status as an “American Lake.” To achieve these goals, the US maintains a formidable military presence in the region surrounding China, according to Klare. The “US national security interests” are really euphemisms for corporate and elite interests. Vine asserts that US political and economic elites are trying to maintain the political-economic-military dominance of the US in an era where China’s power rivals that of the US in economic terms. Since they cannot anymore compete with China on economic terms, Vine states that “for years, US leaders have been using US military power to try to compete with China to maintain global dominance.”
On the other hand, US leaders have learned almost nothing from its wars of intervention. Klare states that US forces are not very successful against highly motivated insurgents fighting on their home turf, as in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and that it has replaced the global war on terror with great-power competition as its guiding strategic concept, assuming it has an advantage of the superiority of its weapons systems.
Klare states that these Edca bases in the Philippines “would support forward-deployed US forces by serving as logistical hubs and by housing such gear as air-and-missile-defense radars, command and control systems, HIMARS missile facilities, and other long-range fires.” The US seeks to use these installations in the Philippines as logistical hubs and temporary command centers in the case of a US-China war over Taiwan and as part of the build-up of the US military power in areas surrounding the Chinese border. Vine, on the other hand, has no doubt that the US bases in the Philippines would likely be part of a network of bases targeting China, and thus, “the Philippines would and surely is a target for the Chinese military given that the US bases in the country are a growing threat to China.” This, despite assurances by Philippine officials that the country will not allow these to be used offensively against China or other countries. Both Klare and Vine think that the Biden administration is moving in violation of the commitments it made to China when it recognized the mainland government as China’s legitimate government.
Ideally, it is best if the US and China could just compete economically. Beyond competition, the US and China can cooperate to overcome the world’s greatest challenges including global warming, pandemics, poverty, gender inequality, and more. But unfortunately, Klare hints that “the top goal of US grand strategy is to remain the dominant military power in the Indo-Pacific region and to prevent China from replacing it as the dominant power. Such entails dominance of the sea space off China’s coast, clashing with China’s fundamental national security interests, something that Klare declares as a “quintessentially” military competition and cannot be erased through economic competition alone.
War exercises have many purposes including to threaten targeted countries and to further commit countries involved into a US-led alliance and subsidiary role as a proxy or auxiliary military force within the US military. This is what “interoperability” means.
War is not inevitable, however. Both leaders of China and the US understand that the results would be catastrophic no matter who “wins.” In each case, the deployment by both sides of their air and naval forces in close proximity in the region produces a high risk of an accidental clash, with significant escalatory possibilities. The US’ hypermilitarized strategy of building up military bases and forces surrounding China is just increasing military tensions between the two countries, encouraging China to build up its own military power, and making war more likely than less.
Unfortunately, the US according to Klare, is ready to risk war with China, to ensure its dominance of the Western Pacific region and prevent China from replacing the US as the dominant power. This is to demonstrate its will to fight China in the latter’s own front yard, thus the risk of provocative military behaviors on China’s oceanic periphery.
Roland Simbulan, a retired UP professor, is vice chair of CenPeg and author of the book, “The Bases of Our Insecurity” (1983, 1985, 1987).