Economic interests behind push for greater US military presence in the region


If US military presence overseas is about ensuring peace and stability, why did it invade Afghanistan and Iraq, and why is it now provoking Iran? If the US is really serious about pushing for human rights and democracy, why is it constricting civil liberties through the Patriot Act and why is it cracking down on Occupy Wallstreet activists?

This is because promoting peace, stability, human rights and democracy are not the main reasons for US military presence abroad. It is to give muscle to the push for US economic interests.

This is summed up in an article written by US State Secretary Hillary Clinton with the title “American Pacific Century” in November 2011. She called those demanding for a downsizing of American engagement abroad (read: US military presence) as “misguided.” “From opening new markets for American businesses to curbing nuclear proliferation to keeping the sea lanes free for commerce and navigation, our work abroad holds the key to our prosperity and security at home.”

During the Bush Jr. administration, the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001 to secure oil and gas pipelines while it invaded Iraq in 2003 to corner the second largest oil reserves in the world. Also, the US intended to stimulate its economy through the production of war materials and reconstruction projects following the occupation. But these did not work and the US government came under pressure from the American public to pull out its troops in both countries.

Initially, the succeeding Obama administration tried to deflect these calls for US troop withdrawal by gradually reducing deployments in Iraq while increasing it in Afghanistan. But the costs of maintaining troops abroad and the pressure being exerted by the economic crisis, worsening unemployment, and the US debt burden forced the Obama administration to reduce government expenditures, including the Department of Defense. The Obama administration’s commitment to reduce expenditures was followed by its announcement that it would refocus its military presence from Iraq and Afghanistan to Asia and the Pacific.

Why is it so interested now in Asia and the Pacific?

Asia is home to 4.14 billion people or 59 percent of the world’s population and holds 67 percent of the world’s currency reserves. According to an article titled “US interests in the Asia Pacific Region ” published by the Peace Review in September 1999: “More than 40% of US trade is with Asia and more than 1/3 of US exports (supporting nearly 2.7 million American jobs) are destined for East Asia.”

According to Kurt M. Campbell, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs of the US, in his testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific delivered in March 31, 2011, “the 21 APEC economies, with approximately 2.7 billion consumers, purchase almost 60 percent of U.S. goods exports. Seven of the United States’ top fifteen trading partners are in APEC.”

Asia has taken a special importance for the US after US Pres. Barack Obama unveiled his centerpiece program the National Export Initiative, which is intended to enable the US economy to weather the crisis and create more jobs for Americans. A passage from Executive Order 13534, which launched the National Export Initiative in March 11, 2010, reads: “A critical component of stimulating economic growth in the United States is ensuring that U.S. businesses can actively participate in international markets by increasing their exports of goods, services, and agricultural products. Improved export performance will, in turn, create good high-paying jobs.”

The goal of the National Export Initiative is to double US exports by 2015. This, US President Obama hopes, would support two million American jobs. Through this initiative, the US aims “to increase financing, advocacy, and assistance for American businesses to locate, set up shop, and win new markets.” It also aims to stretch markets in Asia for exports of US multinational corporations.

Also in the article “American Pacific Century,” US State Secretary Hillary Clinton wrote, “Open markets in Asia provide the United States with unprecedented opportunities for investment, trade, and access to cutting-edge technology. Our economic recovery at home will depend on exports and the ability of American firms to tap into the vast and growing consumer base of Asia.”

An article written by Mary Bruce with the title “Obama’s Weekly Address: Asia Pacific Region Vital to US Economic Growth,” which was published by Political Punch on November 19,2011, quoted US President Obama as saying,“no market is more important to our economic future than the Asia Pacific – a region where our exports already support five million American jobs.”

In Asia, of particular interest to the US are Japan and China, which have huge trade surpluses with the US. These trade surpluses are reflected in the fact that these countries are the two largest holders of US debt, outside the US: China holds $906.8 billion while Japan has $877.4 billion in US Treasury Bonds.

The US has been pushing for the opening up of the Japanese market through agreements on trade protocols. While the US recognizes that part of the cause of its trade deficit with China is the fact that a lot of US companies have transferred its factories there, the US has been engaging the Chinese government in a Strategic and Economic Dialogue that covers the lowering of trade barriers, commitments of China to use legitimate software, delinking China’s procurement preferences, exchange rate reform, among others. China is being deemed by the US as a key export market for US goods and services.

So the Aquino government is either dreaming or fooling the people when it announced that it is in favor of increasing US military presence in the country to support the Philippines in case the conflict with China over the Spratly Islands escalates. While the Philippines is important to US military projection in the region because of the country’s strategic location and the government is more than willing to accept increased US military presence, China is more important to the US economically.

To quote Albert Einstein, “All of us who are concerned for peace and triumph of reason and justice must be keenly aware how small an influence reason and honest good will exert upon events in the political field.” In politics, economic interests rule. (

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