With all the hoopla following the signing of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the Philippines and the United States on April 28, 2014 in Manila, one would expect American military forces to be deployed to at least eight strategic locations to protect the Philippines from external forces intruding into her territory.
But 16 months have passed and not a single American troop has landed on Philippine soil. Meanwhile, China began reclaiming seven reefs in the Spratly archipelago – all within the Philippines’ 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) – and building artificial islands on them. And, on these “islands,” the Chinese are constructing military structures including a runway and harbor on Fiery Cross Reef that can accommodate China’s biggest bombers and large warships.
And from these “unsinkable aircraft carriers,” China can then send her warplanes or ballistic missiles to any region in the Philippines. With no missile defense shield, the Philippines is indefensible. This would be a situation that would compel the Philippines to invoke the U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT). But the question is: How long would it take for the U.S. to mobilize an expeditionary force to liberate the Philippines in the event that it was invaded? With her military forces thinly spread out all over the world, can the U.S. spare enough manpower and military assets to liberate the Philippines?
During the presidency of Ronald Reagan, his Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger devised a step-by-step guide to serve the military and policy makers who are planning to send U.S. troops to war. The Weinberger Doctrine was developed to avoid the pitfalls of the Vietnam War that ended in ignominious defeat for the U.S. The stigma of losing the war devastated America, which made her hesitant to go to war again… until Reagan’s successor, George H.W. Bush, sent American troops to Saudi Arabia on August 2, 1990 to prepare for the liberation of Kuwait from Iraqi invasion. On January 17, 1991, the American forces attacked Iraq. The Gulf War, as it was called, ended on February 28, 1991 when the Iraqi forces fled.
The following year, Gen. Colin Powell, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, updated the Weinberger Doctrine, based on the lessons learned from the Gulf War. The modified Powell Doctrine contains eight steps, to wit:
1. Is a vital national security interest threatened?
2. Do we have a clear attainable objective?
3. Have the risks and costs been fully and frankly analyzed?
4. Have all other non-violent policy means been fully exhausted?
5. Is there a plausible exit strategy to avoid endless entanglement?
6. Have the consequences of our action been fully considered?
7. Is the action supported by the American people?
8. Do we have genuine broad international support?
If the Philippines invoked the MDT to repel foreign invasion, the American decision-makers have to go through each step of the Powell Doctrine before deciding to send troops and weaponry to the Philippines.
An oft-repeated question from leftist and nationalist groups in the Philippines is: “Why is it that the U.S. would defend Japan and South Korea but wouldn’t defend the Philippines in the event of a foreign invasion?” The answer to this question is in step one of the Powell Doctrine: “Is a vital national security interest threatened?” The answer is “No.”
Tripping the wire
However, it would have been a different situation if there were American bases in the Philippines, which was the case before the Philippine Senate evicted the bases in 1992. The presence of American forces on Philippine soil would serve as a “tripwire,” which could trigger immediate reaction from American troops stationed in the Philippines.
A case in point is Japan and South Korea where 50,000 and 28,000 U.S. troops are stationed, respectively. There are American airbases in both countries. The U.S. also deploys a carrier battle group to a forward operating base in Yokosuka, Japan. If war breaks out, there is no need to go through the Powell Doctrine because American forces are already there.
EDCA would have provided the “tripwire” mechanism. With at least eight strategic locations spread throughout the Philippines, a foreign invader wouldn’t dare come near the country, lest she would trip the wire that would alert U.S. forces. But where are the American forces that EDCA was supposed to provide?
Sad to say, EDCA is not yet operational. Several petitions have been filed in the Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of EDCA. But instead of tackling the complaint due to the urgency of the matter, the Supreme Court hasn’t done anything yet, which makes one wonder if the high court couldn’t muster a majority to rule in favor of EDCA?
Alignment with a superpower
Some people say that the Philippines should start rearming. That’s fine and she should – nay, must! But no matter how much the country spends on rearmament, she wouldn’t be able to match China’s firepower.
There is only one way to defend Philippine territory and that is to align militarily with a superpower. Now, of course, the Philippines has a choice between the U.S. and China, the only two superpowers that have security interests in the Asia-Pacific region. But given the “special” relationship between the Philippines and the U.S. as opposed to her adversarial relationship with China, it is in the best interest of the Philippines to align with the U.S. Otherwise, the risk of the Philippines becoming a vassal or client state of China is very high. And this is where the Supreme Court should hinge her arguments in ruling on the constitutionality of EDCA.
Mutual Defense Treaty
If the high court fails to act on EDCA favorably, then EDCA is dead in the water. Without EDCA, the MDT would be nothing more than a piece of worthless paper. If the Philippines were invaded by a foreign power, the U.S. would not be obligated to defend the country automatically. No, sir! First of all, there is the Powell Doctrine, which has to be applied. And, secondly, Article IV of the MDT states that an attack on either party will be acted upon in accordance with their constitutional processes and that any armed attack on either party will be brought to the attention of the United Nations for immediate action. Once the United Nations has issued such orders all hostile actions between the signatories of this treaty and opposing parties will be terminated.
But how can the U.N. intervene when China is a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council and as such has veto power? And with no warships and no warplanes — and no Uncle Sam to help her — how can the Philippines protect her sovereignty and territorial integrity from foreign aggression?
And this is where military alliances matter.