Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Volume 2, Number 26              August 4-10,  2002            Quezon City, Philippines

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An Assessment of the Balikatan Exercises

By Danilo P. Vizmanos

Convenor, "US Troops Out Now!"


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The $5 million reward offer of the US government as a solution to the Abu Sayyaf problem is an admission of failure of the counter-terrorism aspect of the Balikatan exercises. A short-term objective of Balikatan 02-1 was to put an end to the depredations of the Abu Sayyaf group in the Basilan area. This was to be achieved through US Special Forces advice and special training of Filipino troops on effective counter-terrorism strategy and tactics. US military authorities underestimated the staying power of the enemy even as they tried to impress the public with the capability of their state-of-the-art weaponry and gadgetry.

The reward offer also suggests that US authorities have run out of options. This is the same ploy with which US colonial authorities enticed the Macabebes for the capture of the elusive Emilio Aguinaldo in 1901. Instead of enriching one or two informers, the money could perhaps serve a better purpose if it were used instead to compensate and alleviate the plight of thousands of victims of human rights violations committed by the adversaries in the conflict.

This ploy debunks the original assumption of US authorities that a terrorist group can itself be terrorized by a display and application of sophisticated weapons and devices.

The failed American experiment in Basilan raises some thought-provoking implications:

First, that the military capability of a superpower has its limitations, foremost of which are the political parameters that circumscribe military action.

Second, that high-tech weapons and equipment are prone to malfunctions and shortcomings arising from inherent vulnerabilities of complex machines.

Third, if the most modern and sophisticated weaponry and gadgetry cannot produce the desired results against a ragtag terrorist group on a 1,300 square kilometer island,  how much more against a people's army engaged in a people's war deployed throughout the country with a land area of 300,000 square kilometers.

Fourth, the military sledgehammer approach in dealing with a small ragtag terrorist group has taken a high and tragic toll of human lives, human suffering and needless destruction of towns, communities and properties. The end  does not justify the means.

A pitfall in US military thinking is its overdependence on high-tech military machines in solving today's complex socio-political contradictions and conflicts. The military bias of superpower resolution of socio-political contradictions ignore the fact that it is the human element, not military machines, that is the most complex and decisive factor in conflict resolutions. Failure to recognize this truism explains the US defeat in the Vietnam war. Also, despite the massive application of air power in Iraq and Afghanistan, the end results remain inconclusive and indecisive as far as wiping out the enemy is concerned.

Because of the crucial and decisive human and political factor in conflict resolution, despite sophisticated high-tech weapons at its disposal we can daresay that US imperialism will never be able to suppress the worldwide people's struggle for national liberation, economic emancipation and self-determination.

To return to the main topic, let me reiterate that Basilan and the Abu Sayyaf issue comprise but a tiny corner of a much bigger picture. The big picture I am referring to is the endless exercise of power politics by US imperialism for economic and political hegemony on a global scale.

Today the centerpiece of the superpower's economic thrust is imperialist globalization. This is the overpowering imposition that consigns the broad masses of all nations to perpetual servitude, wretchedness and misery for the benefit of the economic elite of the superpower.

If we want to know the real reasons behind US troop involvement in the series of Balikatan exercises, then we must seek the answer to the question of why there seems to be no end to continuing tensions, conflicts and wars in the world today.

It was President Dwight D. Eisenhower who, 50 years ago, voiced his concern over what he referred to as the dominant role of the "military-industrial complex" in American society. He underscored the danger to world peace posed by this very powerful and influential conglomerate whose vast war-oriented business enterprises and ever expanding instruments of war feed on continuing tensions and conflicts in all regions and corners of the world. Insatiable greed of giant corporations and vested interests of the US military hierarchy dictate the need for a "permanent war economy" that accounts for the very lucrative arms market and counterproductive and self-destructive wars that plague the world today.

Even if the September 11 tragedy did not happen and even if the Abu Sayyaf did not exist, the US power elite would still have imposed its will on the subservient Arroyo government for US military access and basing rights in the Philippines. This was already spelled out in the US Department of Defense East Asia Strategy Report as early as 1995. Let me cite its most relevant points:

"[This report] reaffirms our commitment to maintain a stable forward presence in the region, at the existing level of about 100,000 troops, for the foreseeable future… for maintaining forward deployment of US forces and access and basing rights for US and allied forces…. If the American presence in Asia were removed… our ability to affect the course of events would be constrained, our markets and our interests would be jeopardized."  

This may be translated  into the following requirements of US power politics in the region:

1)      To establish a base of operations for the imposition of Pax Americana and US hegemony in southeast Asia within the framework of a global strategy in furtherance of economic and geopolitical interests.

2)      To enhance US capability to control and interdict sea and air lanes traversing southeast Asia between the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean & between the Far East and southern hemisphere.

3)      For redeployment of US troops and facilities from Okinawa in the face of mountingopposition to continued US military presence on the island from the people of Okinawa.

4)      To suppress national liberation and anti-imperialist revolutionary and progressive forces and movements in southeast Asia in the guise of war against international terrorism.

US military forces were forced to withdraw from the Philippines following a nationalist-oriented Senate rejection of renewal of the RP-US military bases agreement in 1991.  But when Fidel Ramos became president in 1992, the US government wasted no time in attempts to restore US military presence in the country. First was ACSA or Acquisition & Cross-Servicing Agreement. This was followed by SOFA or Status of Forces Agreement. Both attempts were aborted due to strong public opposition. The US government finally succeeded in 1998 with  ratification of the Visiting Forces Agreement by a colonial-oriented and subservient majority in the Senate. The latest is the MLSA or Mutual Logistics Support Arrangement. This is another US imposition whose aim is to provide a logistics support base in anticipation of permanent US military presence in the country.

Exercises Balikatan 02-1 and 02-2 with venues in Mindanao and Luzon, respectively, involving almost 4,000 American troops are distinct from previous Balikatan exercises for a number of reasons:

First, Balikatan 02-1 is the first joint exercise to engage in full-fledge military operations in a war zone against positively identified enemies.

Second, the marked increase in involvement of American troops betrays US intentions to expand its military presence through even bigger Balikatan exercises in the future.

Third, extension of US troop participation, particularly in "civic action" and infrastructure projects is a way of conditioning the minds of the people into accepting permanent US military presence in the country.

Fourth, the open-ended and vague provisions of the Visiting Forces Agreement are being exploited by US authorities with impunity. Changes in original plans and schedules through direct dealing with Camp Aguinaldo reflect the US government's lack of respect for the Department of Foreign Affairs which is the nation's overseer for foreign relations.

The Filipino people should know that among ASEAN countries today, it is only the Philippines that has allowed US military presence and intervention in the country's internal affairs. This is because the other governments have leaders with a high sense of national dignity, national pride and self-respect. Unlike the Arroyo government they do not, and will not, allow themselves to be used as political prostitutes by the Bush government.

The latest experiment in the Basilan counterterrorism laboratory is the deployment of US Special Forces from battalion to company level. This marks a higher level of US involvement in combat operations in a war zone disguised as a joint military exercise. It further worsens the continuing violation of the Constitution and infringement of the national sovereignty.

These culpable violations abetted by government's methodical deception of the people in order to accommodate and satisfy the demands of US power politics are compounded by an utter lack of national dignity and sense of national pride and self-respect at the national leadership level. These are more than enough reasons to condemn President Arroyo and her coterie for their abject puppetry and subservience to foreign predatory interests in exchange for narrow political ends. What makes it even worse is that they have deceived, betrayed and treated the Filipino people no different from docile and innocent lambs being led to the slaughterhouse of imperialist power politics.

Tomorrow the nation will celebrate Independence Day that has lost its meaning and essence. Indefinite US military intervention and continuing intrusion of US government functionaries in the country's internal affairs have made a mockery and myth of what all along has been an illusion of national sovereignty.

11 June 2002. Bulatlat.com



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