American militarism and Filipino naivete creates no pragmatism

Prior to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s state visit to Japan, Filipino netizens reacted with mixed emotions about the approval and expansion of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA). Supporters of the EDCA and its expansion quickly pointed out that cooperation with the United States in responding against counter-terrorism and natural calamities would be greatly beneficial for the Philippines. On the other hand, pundits point out that this would escalate tensions and raise the stakes in the geopolitical dynamics of the Asia-Pacific, mentioning that American saber-rattling may agitate the People’s Republic of China (PROC) and prompt it to adopt a more aggressive and bellicose stance. What is definitely at play in the Asia-Pacific, and what should the Philippines be cautious about?

The geopolitical realities of the Asia-Pacific during the 1890’s were completely different, with a significantly weakening Spanish control of the Philippines. To its west was French Indochina, and to its south were the Dutch East Indies and British Malaya. On its north was an emerging expansionist great power in Japan. With the signing of the Treaty of Paris, the Philippine archipelago was officially under American occupation. As a way to differentiate Washington from its European colonial powers in London and Paris, the American government adopted a policy called benevolent assimilation, where the United States attempted to create a Philippines in its own image and likeness, most specially in its political systems and institutions.

After the harrowing end of the Second World War, Manila and Washington oversaw the signing of a mutual defense treaty, firmly placing the Philippines within American orbit. This treaty allows the United States to issue a declaration of war towards any aggressor state to the Philippines and vice versa, despite being subject to the approval of their respective Congresses. Paired with the Military Bases Agreement, such commitments proved useful for the United States, where Subic and Clark served as American staging points during the Vietnam War. However, the aforementioned agreement became too unpopular, which resulted in it not being renewed by the Philippine Senate in 1991.

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Before 1991 came to an end, a surprising development changed the world order with the Soviet Union’s dissolution. American political scientist Francis Fukuyama mentioned in his book “The End of History and the Last Man” that the humankind will eventually transform and adopt liberal democracy as its government system. This can be true for previously Soviet-aligned or incorporated countries like the Baltic states, Poland, Hungary, Czechia, and Slovakia, but it seems to be the complete opposite when one considers the biggest elephant in the room: China.

China’s transformation began under the tutelage of their paramount leader, Deng Xiaoping, who famously said that getting rich is glorious. Economic reforms went underway, where policies connected to “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics” were adopted. With reduced government oversight in economic development, creation of special economic zones, and lifting of economic restrictions, the People’s Republic was able to single-handedly lift millions of Chinese out of poverty. These resulted in China dethroning Japan as the largest Asian economy, with a massive 1.4 billion market and a burgeoning export-oriented manufacturing industry to back its tremendous size.

Learning from the failures of the Soviet Union, Deng Xiaoping was relatively conservative in enforcing political reforms. He pushed for less concentration of political power and influence, which was a complete opposite to his predecessor’s personality cult. He adopted a two-term limit for Chinese leaders, giving them a maximum of ten years, which he, himself, has followed. His successors in Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao served for two consecutive terms, until Xi Jinping abolished these limits, where he is currently serving his third, five-year term. Despite the rising authoritarianism of the police state in China, Deng Xiaoping’s foresight and pragmatism can be succinctly summarized with his “Black cat, white cat” proverb.

With a rising China and a stagnating America, confrontation in one way or another is inevitable. American investor Ray Dalio in his book “The Changing World Order” highlighted a number of historical instances when the ruling power was eventually challenged and overtaken by a different nation-state. The first example is when the Dutch emerged victorious in dethroning the Spanish during the 17th century with the Thirty Years’ War. The second example is when the British became too wealthy and powerful for Amsterdam to confront, where through the Napoleonic Wars, London became the most dominant power. The third example is when the Americans extended their influence to many parts of the world, with Britain eventually acquiescing due to its tremendous losses in both World Wars. All these instances have a common denominator in these power transitions, which are unimaginable bloodshed and damages to properties.

Unfortunately, geopolitical realities that continually challenge the status quo never change. For China, accessing the Pacific Ocean lies on the subjugation of the First Island Chain, which includes the territorial waters of Japan, Taiwan, and the Philippines. Aside from being the third largest economy, Japan is considered as a nuclear latent country, where it has all the capabilities of developing, mass-producing, and delivering nuclear weapons. Despite its measly population of slightly less than 25 million, Taiwan employs conscription and is a strategically important nation-state, with its virtual monopoly of manufacturing advanced semiconductors. Considering these factors, the Philippines is undoubtedly the weakest link. Manila doesn’t have a massive economy, nor does it have nuclear capabilities. Unlike Taiwan, conscription is not employed in the Philippines and has no resources nor material products that can come close to the strategic value of these technologically advanced chips. With these realities, why does the Philippines need to be involved in a possible military conflict that Filipinos have virtually nothing to gain from?

As a regional hegemon, the United States has maximized its chances for survival. Despite this, they are employing a Cold War strategy in confronting China, through “containment” as Washington has aligned the common interests of Tokyo, Taipei, Manila, New Delhi, and Canberra. Undoubtedly, an arms race is brewing in Asia Pacific, raising tensions in these contested territories. Then-US President Dwight Eisenhower’s words warning the whole world about the dangers of the military-industrial complex might seem proverbial as military conflicts raise the demand and sale of American materiel. This can be observed when stocks of American companies like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Raytheon becoming highly profitable. To complicate things further, stockholders of these companies are also members of the US Congress. What kind of cards will the Philippines have under its sleeves if the United States seems to be driven by war profiteering?

Deterring aggression from two superpowers will be a herculean task for any middling power like the Philippines, and it entails a meticulous balancing effort. Stationing American military personnel in Philippine territory by renegotiating EDCA would be a no-brainer to avoid alienating China. Implementation of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program should also be observed, while continuous investment in procuring advanced military hardware for the armed forces is a must. To sustainably fund this building up of military capabilities and assets, foreign investors must be allowed to freely own and operate businesses in the country through economic liberalization. After all, a strong, robust economy yields a strong, robust republic.

3 Replies to “American militarism and Filipino naivete creates no pragmatism”

  1. Philippines is the world’s prostitute. They run to the one that will dish out the money. The Philippines will never have a robust economy because they try to scam every investor out of their money. You would have to have some sort of mental illness to spend any money in that place or to even go there. Nepotism is rampant , ignorance is at an all time high and corruption is through the roof.
    Good luck with that dream you are having.

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