“Strategic choices being made today will help ensure that this [US military superiority] continues into the future.” – US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – When US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel visited the Philippines last Friday August 30 – the last stop in his four-nation South East Asian tour – he announced the impending visit of US President Barack Obama in October but gave scant details. The highlight of Hagel’s visit was the ASEAN meeting where he met with the defense ministers of South East Asian countries.
Hagel’s visit in the Philippines late last week came a week after the official start of a ‘negotiation’ between panels from US and Philippine defense and foreign affairs officials for a framework agreement allowing expanded presence of US troops in the Philippines. The negotiation officially started mid-August this year, but as early as February 2012, Foreign Affairs Secretary Ramon del Rosario had admitted that there were ongoing talks already regarding the expanded presence of US military in the Philippines. This dovetails the American government’s ‘pivot’ or rebalancing of 60-percent of its military forces to the Asia-Pacific region.
With the US president’s scheduled visit on October, there is a likelihood that the framework agreement may be up for signing by then. Though still on the negotiation table, the said framework agreement is already being protested and condemned as unconstitutional and a violation of Philippine sovereignty. The details of the proposed framework agreement are under wraps but some of the contents are coming out from the pronouncements of Philippine authorities and even those from US officials such as Hagel. Hagel’s visit was greeted by a protest march near the US Embassy in Manila by progressive patriotic groups in the Philippines led by Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan).
The ‘second leg’ of the negotiation for the framework agreement on increased US military presence in the Philippines started Thursday last week in Pentagon at Washington D.C., further fueling the apprehensions of patriotic Filipinos.
“From all indications, what is happening is not a negotiation but Philippine officials getting instructions from US Defense officials on what they want and how to explain it to the wary Filipino people,” said Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares.
Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Zarate commented that American and Filipino negotiators are “railroading” the negotiation, especially since attention in the Philippines is currently directed at the pork barrel scam and embezzlement of public funds.
Military basing agreement under a ‘new model’
U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said during his visit that “The United States does not seek permanent bases in the Philippines. That would represent a return to an outdated Cold War mentality.”
During the Cold War, the US and other advanced capitalist states engaged socialist states in an arms race and competition in expanding spheres of influence around the globe. Hence, the US maintained military bases scattered throughout the globe.
All these are now already “outdated” indeed. Major communist policies in states such as Russia and China had been reversed since the 80s when these countries began to implement neoliberal “economic reforms.” The implementation of capitalist “market reforms” in former socialist countries and the adoption of the policies of liberalization, deregulation and privatization in almost all countries in the world signaled the end of the Cold War. With it dawned “a new world order,” which progressive groups describe as “imperialist globalization.”
Globalization, which is aggressively being pushed by the US and other capitalist countries, meant the institutionalization of “free market” economic policies or neoliberal policies. It translated into the deregulation of the industrial, service and financial sectors, the liberalization of imports and investments, and the privatization of government services.
With the Cold war now passé, the US turned its warmongering rhetoric and military forces against “rogue states,” the “axis of evil,” and later “terrorist states,” which are comprised by governments that resist globalization. In the Philippines, both the US and Philippine governments lump together revolutionary armed groups led by the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing the New Peoples Army and progressive groups who protest against neoliberal policies, as “terrorists.”
In the current US drive to pivot to Asia-Pacific, China and North Korea are being presented as terrorist states to justify the US’s intention to shift the deployment of its forces to the Asia-Pacific region. It is also being done to justify the continued projection of US military hegemony in the region and around the world.
At less cost
Even amid a recession and soon-to-be implemented budget cuts in US defense spending, the US still is the world’s greatest military power. Hagel told US troops in Hawaii, shortly before departing for his four-nation South East Asia tour that ended in the Philippines this weekend, “Even with these cuts – and they are severe, and they may be even more severe – there is no question that America has the most significant military capability in the world.”
It is amid these budget cuts in the US military – to be implemented in the next 10 years – that the US would rebalance its forces to Asia-Pacific in its attempt to maintain its military hegemony while cornering trade and investments in a region that is host to more than half of the world’s population.
Despite the cuts, Hagel sounded confident of their prospects. “When you look at the balance sheet here, we are going to be the best, most capable, strongest military force in the world for a long time to come,” Hagel said on Aug. 22 before US Marines, in a statement posted at the US Department of Defense website.
“Strategic choices being made today will help ensure that this continues into the future,” Hagel had added.
Gauging from its past activities and current plans, its post-cold war “strategic choices” have mainly pursued a “lean and mean” military force. Its regular fighting forces have at its core multi-skilled, intensively trained soldiers belonging to Special Forces units, who work with “surrogate forces” from willing host countries such as the Philippines and its Armed Forces, thus, the frequent joint military “interoperability’ exercises.
Various reports also reveal that the US military also supplements its fighting forces with mercenaries from private defense contractors such as the infamous Blackwater Worldwide security contractor. These private security contractors perform functions that used to be done by US regular forces such as maintenance, construction, logistical support, camp maintenance, etc. Independent sources alleged that aside from these auxiliary functions, the US Armed Forces make these private security contractors do the “dirty work” for them such as the abduction, torture and killings of suspected terrorists, and the terrorizing and suppression of defiant communities and peoples.
Also, even with the budget cuts, the US reportedly would not give up its edge in military technology. “We would trade away size for high-end capability,” Hagel and other US defense officials had been quoted as saying.
Its efforts today to expand its military presence in the Philippines, through a military basing agreement under “a new model,” falls within its post-Cold War, lean and mean projection of US military might. Based on Hagel’s statements, the US would prioritize capability over capacity. Hagel said this month, in sharing the conclusion of the US Defense Review last March, the US Congress’ defense budget cut would result in a “basic trade off” between capacity – the number of army brigades, navy ships, air force squadrons and marine battalions – and capability (ability to modernize weapons, keep the US military’s technological edge, ensure combat readiness and quick response, and capability to engage in multiple theaters of war.)
The “Framework Agreement in Increased Rotational Presence” being ironed out by US and Philippine authorities is taking shape in this context. Even without the old basing agreement, US troops are being stationed and are operating in the country but on what they call as a “rotating” or “visiting” basis.
When the American and Filipino negotiating panels are done, they are likely to present an agreement allowing the increased frequency of “visits” of US troops, warships, submarines, fighter jets, the increased frequency of joint “interoperability” military exercises, the greater access to ports, landing strips, military camp facilities, the stockpiling of weapons and storage of equipment in the country, and the deployment of radars and drones for surveillance. All these fall within the current thrust of the US Armed Forces of maintaining “forward operating bases,” instead of costly permanent military installations, and training and developing “interoperability” capacity with “surrogate forces,” instead of deploying a big number of troops across Asia and the Pacific.
– Naomi Klein, “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism,” Knopf Canada, 2007
– Dr. Edberto Villegas, et al., “Unmasking the War on Terror: US Imperialist Hegemony and Crisis,” Center for Anti-Imperialist Studies (CAIS), Quezon City, 2002
– Anna Rich, “US Exports Arms to the World,” Resist Newsletter, USA
– “U.S. Military Will Remain Strong Despite Budget Cuts, Hagel Tells Hawaii Marines,” US Department of Defense Press Release, Aug 22, 2013
– “Pentagon chief vows US focus on Asia as Syria looms,” Agence France Presse, Aug 28, 2013