The Philippines has chosen several approaches against the threat to its national security posed by China’s claim to part of its territory and economic zone. With none of the options by itself reassuring enough, our country has taken up the option of enhancing the defense cooperation it has under the 63-year old mutual defense treaty with the United States. How reassuring is this option ?
On the part of the United States, strengthening the military alliance with the Philippines is part of the announced new US policy of a “pivot” to Asia. The “pivot” has a direct relevance to Philippine concerns since it was prompted by, among other leading factors, “China’s growing military capabilities and its increasing assertiveness of claims to disputed maritime territory, with implicatioåns for freedom of navigation and the United States’ ability to project power in the region.” The opening of new areas for military cooperation with the Philippines is among the announced features of the “pivot.”
The word “pivot” lends itself to mean that the United States was focusing its attention away from the regions that it has hitherto been mainly occupied with. There has been a tendency to use the term “rebalancing” instead,
This has been so particularly of late because of developments in the Middle East with the resumption of violence in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, the instability brought by sectarian and ethnic rivalries spawned by the Arab Spring, the emergence of well-armed, well-organized extremist militants establishing an Islamic State of Syria and Iraq on the blood of non-Muslim minorities. In the meanwhile dark clouds have loomed in Europe with Russia’s support of pro-Russian separatist rebels in the Ukraine. The US cannot as yet fully “pivot” to Asia.
This means that the US may still have to balance its defense budget among several region, raising the likelihood that, considering budget constraints, resources will be spread thinly and operations will be of a lesser scale than envisioned.
It may give some comfort to anti-bases sectors in the country that these defense budget constraints have forced the US to conduct “pivot’ operations through rotational deployments of troops rather than the deployment of permanent bases.
The Philippine-US military alliance is unique in the Pacific in that it is between a developed country, a superpower, and a developing country, and it is one based on a colonial history. In colonial regimes it was not simply expected of colonizers to build a strong defense force for and among the colonized because it could be used by the latter against them. After independence, there was a tendency to rely on the security umbrella and military assistance provided by the treaty.
Filipinos cannot in any case leave their defense in the hands of a foreign power , however friendly and well-meaning. The treaty notwithstanding, we should be prepared to sacrifice and give greater priority to national defense in the allocation of national resources. In embarking on this enhanced defense cooperation, care and attention should be given to ensuring the strengthening of an independent modern defense and deterrent capacity. Toward this end, the relationship should favor investments in Philippine industries of military and security significance. At the end of the day, national defense should be rooted in self-reliance..
(Jaime J. Yambao is a retired ambassador. He served as Philippine Ambassador to Pakistan and Laos and Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva.) The PAFI Ambassadors’ Corner column is published under an agreement between the Philippine Ambassadors’ Foundation, Inc. and The Manila Times.