AS early as August 19, 1945, just as World War 2 was drawing to a close, the US crafted its post-war strategic plan for the control of the China Sea for political and economic motives envisioning the military role of the Philippines, among other sites considered “strategic.”
As defined by the US its strategy in the Pacific would revolve “around a center line running north to the equator, through the Hawaiian Islands, the Marshalls, the Carolines, the Marianas and the Philippines, with the Northern flank protected by the Aleutians and the Kuriles and the southern flank by a mixture of islands.” This gave birth to naval and military bases such as Clark and Subic to be maintained by the US to assume responsibility for “keeping peace” in the Pacific and insure not only the freedom of navigation to protect the unhampered flow of such items as energy from the Middle East which supplied a substantial requirement of that country. It was assumed that this would also guarantee the rapid expansion of American economic interests and political influence in the area. The Seventh Fleet was intended to check any country or power challenging the American vision.
In sum, US foreign policy in the Pacific was calibrated “to maintain strategic control of the Pacific Ocean areas.” In pursuit of this end the maintenance of a total of 33 naval bases and airfield in 22 separate localities was designed. The US media described these developments as part of a grand design “to make an American lake out of the Pacific Ocean” complementing Washington’s other primary goal – to convert the Asia-Pacific region into an extension of the American market.
Politically these moves were the part of the Asian version of the Monroe Doctrine which brought Latin American states under the US security umbrella and economic co-prosperity sphere. It was also part of the containment policy to insulate Asia from Sino-Soviet control.
Indeed the thrust of President Truman’s containment doctrine was to assure American dominance in the Asia-Pacific region, including the strategic waterways linking the Indian Ocean to the South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean. An awareness of the region as a rich reservoir of raw materials, a cheap source of manpower and a vast market for American finished products and an outlet for investing its surplus capital dictated this thrust as an important motive for US involvement in the region.
To complement its “containment” policy, the US adopted the military strategy of “forward defense.” This stemmed from geo-political considerations where the oceans are utilized as barriers for the defense of the continental United States. It was also designed “to cover all of America’s essential interests, for the same oceans are avenues for the expansions of its military and political influence abroad and provide for international commerce which is essential to the sustained industrial output of the UD and its allies.” The “forward defense” strategy required the inter-positioning of substantial American forces in the western part of the Pacific Ocean, on or adjacent to the coast of mainland Asia, from a sprawling base complex in Japan, Okinawa, South Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines.
The 1947 Military Bases Agreement and the Mutual Defense Agreement of 1951 converted the Philippines into a vital link in the containment ring.
The principal architect of the “forward defense” strategy was Gen. Douglas McArthur, who at that time was the chief of the Allied occupation forces in Japan. He stated the doctrine that to project U.S. military power into mainland East Asia, it was essential to have “air striking power” launched from the offshore island rim, it was essential to have “air bases in the Aleutians, Japan, the former Japanese mandated islands, Clark Field in the Philippines, and Okinawa.” This strategy was ratified by both governments in the Mutual Defense Treaty between the Philippines and the US that President Elpidio Quirino and President Harry Truman on August 30, 1951 formally declared to be binding on the two parties.
A station for nuclear carriers and weapons
An indication that nuclear weapons are transported into or across Philippine territory was presented by US Rear Adm. Gene La Rocque (ret.) before a U.S. congressional hearing. La Rocque testified that ships carrying nuclear weapons regularly dock at Subic and it is the practice “that any ship that is capable of carrying nuclear weapons carries nuclear weapons. They do not offload them when they go into foreign ports . . . they normally keep them aboard ship at all times except when the ship is in overhaul or in for major repairs.”
The Washington-based Center for Defense Information (CDI) had likewise categorically declared that the Philippines is one of 12 foreign countries where nuclear carriers and weapons are stationed. The CDI reported an estimated 1, 700 tactical weapons that the U.S. maintains on land in Asia and the presence of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in Korea and the Philippines as well as at US installations on Guam and Midway adding that most of the weapons are for US fighter bombers.
Threats posed by RP-US agreements
In 1975 President Marcos declared that it was important to discuss whether the identity of interests which formed the basis of the Mutual Defense Treaty between the Philippines and the United States still existed insofar as the United States is concerned. ”If the purpose of American military bases is to strengthen American military posture in the Pacific, or in the Indian Ocean and throughout the world, does this not expose the Philippines to the animosities, suspicious and the conflicts arising out of the American military build-up – animosities and conflicts that we have no participation in making and do not these bases endanger the safety of the Filipinos and the Philippines not only from conventional armed attack, but from possible nuclear attack?” Marcos queried.
Marcos apprehension was reinforced by the conventional wisdom in the United States that officially considers the Philippines, along with Thailand and South Korea, among its “front-line” states which the US cannot countenance to let go.
China fills China Sea vacuum
With the end of the Vietnam War where the US suffered a bloody nose in the hands of the forces of Ho Chi Min, the US appetite for foreign entanglements waned and allowed itself to be elbowed out of the Philippines with the non-renewal of the bases agreement between the two countries. Thus a power vacuum was created in the China Sea which the Chinese was quick to fill. Indeed the Obama Pivot to Asia came a little too late in the face of the grim determination of the Asian behemoth to extend its defense perimeter as far as allied opinion would allow. When the Chinese pushed the envelope farther and farther forward and the RP-US response was weak she found a window of opportunity to challenge US hegemony in Asia and change the power balance.
Against this changing scenario China was quick to jump into the China Sea in order to gain tactical superiority and take over the first-island chain enclosing the sea. It had hoped to stretch the outward reach of its coastal air force all along its exposed seafront which had been seized by foreign invaders up to the Second World War. By building airstrips from reefs and shoals it can now extend decisively the flying time of its interceptor aircraft that now has to refuel while airborne. Moreover by dredging around the islets she could create full-blown harbors large enough for warships.
What is good for the goose is good for the gander China seems to say!
If its archrival in Asia, the mighty US can intimidate her huge continent by establishing forward positions for the US military by annexing territories near her harbors such as the Philippines, Hawaii, and Guam, China feels that she too has the right to counter by extending her defense perimeter at the expense of this country which after all surrendered its territory to the US during the first half of the last century and continues to play host to the mighty Western power
Indeed the Obama Pivot to Asia is now being countered by the New Silk Road, both of which strategies require dominance if not control of the disputed West and East China Sea!
In the meantime the US Navy Carrier Battle group of its Seventh Fleet looks menacingly at the China military build-up on man-made islands on the Fiery Cross and Subi Reefs which would serve as bases that could extend the offensive clout of the Chinese military by rendering logistical support to its warships and multi-role fighters. Worse still these islets could have the capability to launch its deadly DF-21D carrier-killer hypersonic missiles!
As the saying goes, when elephants fight the grass is trampled. Should we run for cover? Not yet, because we have not yet exhausted our deadly arsenal in the form of a multi-track approach towards China – diplomatic, political, economic, and social and most importantly, the power of prayer for peace in the region.