By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star
Soon after the Supreme Court began en-banc deliberations on two petitions urging it to declare as unconstitutional the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (signed between the Philippine and United States governments last year), two interesting actions – both supporting the petitions – came up.
First, the Senate voted 14-1 (with 2 abstentions) on a resolution declaring the EDCA as a treaty that requires Senate concurrence to become valid. Second, a former US senator, through Filipino lawyers, filed a petition in intervention with the Court, warning that the EDCA could lead to war.
To recall: Through the Agreement, the US gains greater access to Philippine military camps, and can construct more facilities including for war-materiel storage; in fact, they can choose any location in the country for their purposes. Such facilities will be for the exclusive use by Americans – off-limits to Filipinos – for as long as they wish, without paying any compensation/rent to the government.
But under the 1987 Constitution “foreign military bases, troops, or facilities shall not be allowed in the Philippines except under a treaty duly concurred in by the Senate… and recognized as a treaty by the other contracting State.” To circumvent this, both the Aquino and Obama governments insist that the EDCA is a mere “executive agreement” purportedly implementing the 1951 RP-US Mutual Defense Treaty. Another provision of the Constitution states: “No treaty or international agreement shall be valid and effective unless concurred in by at least two-thirds of all the Members of the Senate.”
Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, author-sponsor of the resolution, is hoping the Supreme Court ruling would coincide with the Senate position. Otherwise, she said, two co-equal branches of the government would stand opposite each other on the issue. She’s made it clear she opposes the EDCA.
Pitching in, petitioner-intervener Maurice “Mike” Gravel (Democratic senator from Alaska, 1969-1981) dwells mainly on EDCA’s geopolitical implications: that it could aggravate tensions in Asia-Pacific, specifically by bringing into reality the growing fears of war over the South China Sea.
Gravel adverts to the “Thucydides trap,” which refers to the attendant danger of war when a rising power (China in this case) rivals a ruling power (the US, the lone superpower). It pertains to what happened in Greece 2,400 years ago when Athens challenged Sparta, and in 1914 when Germany did the same to Britain, resulting in the First World War. “It was the rise of Athens, and the fear that this inspired in Sparta, that made war inevitable,” asserted the Greek historian Thucydides in analyzing what set off the 30-year Peloponnesian War.
A study conducted by the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfor Center for Science and International Affairs appears to validate the so-called Thucydides trap. In 16 cases of rising-power-ruling-power rivalries over the past 500 years, the study shows, 12 resulted in war.
“Judging from this historical record, war is more likely than not between China and the United States in the decades ahead,” concludes Graham Allison, director of the Belfor Center. “The defining question about the global order for this generation is whether China and the (US) can escape the Thucydides trap,” he adds.
The key impulses in the rivalry dynamic, said Thucydides, were, for the rising power, “(its) growing entitlement, sense of its importance, and demand for greater say and sway”; and for the ruling power, “the fear, insecurity, and the determination to defend the status quo…”
Drawing a parallel with China and America today, Allison cites Thucydides’ observation that as Athens’ clout grew “so did its self-confidence, its consciousness of past injustices, its sensitivity to instances of disrespect, and its insistence that previous arrangements be revised to reflect the new realities of power.” Thucydides also deemed it natural that “Sparta interpreted Athens’ posture as unreasonable, ungrateful, and threatening to the system it had established.”
Sparta and Athens subsequently took steps to strengthen their respective alliances with other states (as the US has been doing in Asia-Pacific), hoping to counterbalance each other. That led to war. Sparta prevailed but at what cost? Both states were devastated..
In his Supreme Court petition. Gravel argues that, whether intentionally or by accident, the US is “skirting ever so close to the ‘Thucydides trap,’ ”with the political leadership unable to reverse that trajectory. A foreign national interest must step forward, he urges, “to protect Americans from their own government’s military foreign policies.”
To backstop his argument, Gravel cites the history of his country’s imperialist dealings with ours: the US conquered the Philippines with “cruelty and atrocity equal to the worst in the annals of conquest and war”; then, with “criminal complicity” it foisted on our country’s leaders “the prosecution of wars against fellow Southeast Asians [such as Vietnam].”
Gravel, who opposed the US war inx Vietnam (it was he who put into the US congressional records the Pentagon Papers that exposed the war’s dark aspects), thinks the EDCA is “only meant to provide (America) a strategic launching pad… in its supposed campaign to contain rising China.” He emphasizes:
“(This) should drive home the fact that US militarization of the Philippines is not really designed to protect Philippine interests but rather to afford the US a geographic advantage to confront China over its ascendant superpower status, which the US finds offensive to its global hegemonic status.”
Ergo, Gravel justifies his petition-intervention by averring that EDCA “is neither in the best interest of the Philippine people nor in the best interest of the American people.” Declaring his love for America, he quickly adds that he cannot abide the concept “my country right or wrong.” “When it is wrong,” he stresses, “I hope to propound an effective critique to negate that wrong.”
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Published in The Philippine Star
November 12, 2015