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    Southeast Asia
     Feb 28, 2008
Page 1 of 2
IN THE DRAGON'S LAIR
US prowls for China in the Philippines
By Herbert Docena

Since the closure of its military bases in the country in 1991, the United States has incrementally regained, transformed and deepened its military presence and intervention in the Philippines. The manner in which the US has attempted to re-establish basing in the Philippines illustrates its attempts to radically overhaul its global offensive capabilities to become more agile and efficient while overcoming mounting domestic opposition to its presence around the world.

The objectives with which the United States has sought to achieve this in the Philippines - a country that is firmly within what US analysts and strategists call "the dragon's lair" - point to the



emerging US strategy toward what it has officially identified as the one country with "the greatest potential to compete with the United States" - China. In this strategy, the Philippines, by virtue both of its location as well as its political disposition towards the US relative to its neighbors, plays a crucial role.

Basing without bases
After George W Bush came to power, the US began to attempt in earnest to implement what its proponents bill as the most comprehensive reconfiguration of its global military presence since World War II. The underlying rationale is clear: the positioning and forms of US military bases of the past - built as they were for the Cold War - no longer suffice for the present. The US overseas basing must therefore be transformed so as to enable the US military to become leaner and meaner, quicker and more agile.

In the Philippines, as in a growing number of places around the world, the one persistent constraint for both the US and Philippine governments, however, has been the long-standing domestic sensitivity to US bases in the country. This opposition was actually an important - if not the decisive - factor in the decision to close the bases in 1991 and in the adoption in the post-Ferdinand Marcos 1987 constitution of provisions banning foreign military bases in the country.

As it has embarked on the project of transforming its global presence, the US has also sought to adapt to and undermine domestic opposition to its bases. In this, the US military's reconceptualization of its global military presence - no longer as merely a collection of physical structures but as a global "posture" - is illuminating. By posture, explained US Under Secretary of Defense Douglas J Feith, "We are not talking only about basing, we're talking about the ability of our forces to operate when and where they are needed."

Thus, recognizing that the local political situation is not yet ripe for the re-establishment of the kind of large military bases it once had in the Philippines, the United States has instead moved to achieve this ability in various other ways.

Recurring deployments
The United States has been deploying a growing number of its troops, ships and equipment all over the Philippines ostensibly for training exercises, humanitarian and engineering projects, and other missions. In 2006 alone, up to 37 military exercises were scheduled - up from around 24 in the preceding years. As many as 6,000 US troops are involved, depending on the exercise.

Although packaged as on-and-off temporary programs to train US and Filipino troops, such exercises are seen as an alternative way for the US military to secure access to the Philippines. "The habitual relationships built through exercises and training," former US Pacific Command head Admiral Thomas Fargo noted in March 2003, "is our biggest guarantor of access in time of need." He continued: "Access over time can develop into habitual use of certain facilities by deployed US forces with the eventual goal of being guaranteed use in a crisis, or permission to preposition logistics stocks and other critical material in strategic forward locations."

As US troops come and go in rotation for frequent and regular exercises, their presence - when taken together - makes up a formidable forward presence that brings them closer to areas of possible action without need for huge infrastructure to support them and without inciting a lot of public attention and opposition. As the US National Defense Strategy states, "Our posture also includes the many military activities in which we engage around the world. This means not only our physical presence in key regions, but also our training, exercises, and operations."

Along with troops, an increasing number of ships have also been entering the country's territorial waters and docking at various ports with growing frequency. Such ship visits are also seen as ways to establish presence. As the US Congressional Budget Office has pointed out, "[T]he Navy counts those ships as providing overseas presence full time, even when they are training or simply tied up at the pier."

Dual-use infrastructure
Apart from the troop deployments and ship visits, the US has also been constructing an increasing number of structures and facilities that could be useful for the US military when the contingency arises - while at the same time allowing it to buy political support from the national and local governments. In various parts of the country, especially in the southern regions of Mindanao, the US has been engaged in a flurry of construction activities, building or renovating airports, piers, wharves, roads and other infrastructure.

In General Santos City, for example, the US constructed a deep-water port and one of the most modern airports in the country, connected to each other by one of the country's best roads. Why the United States was so intent on financing and building this modern airport in a small city where relatively few passenger or cargo planes land could not be explained if not for its potential military use. In Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, where US troops routinely go for exercises, the airport has been renovated and its runway strengthened to carry the weight of C-130 planes. In Sulu, the US is renovating the airport, upgrading roads, and building ports that can berth huge ships.

All this is consistent with a US Air Force (USAF)-funded study which recommended having more deployments to have more infrastructure. By increasing deployments, notes the study, the United States can get into arrangements that "include measures to tailor local infrastructure to USAF operations by extending runways, improving air traffic control facilities, repairing parking aprons and the like".

Cooperative security locations
The US is also establishing in the Philippines a new category of military installations it calls "Cooperative Security Locations" (CSLs).

As part of the innovations introduced in the ongoing revamping of the global US network of bases, CSLs refer to facilities owned either by host-governments or even by private companies that are to be made available for use by the US military as needed. According to the Pentagon, these CSLs are to be run and maintained by either host governments or private contractors and are as useful for prepositioning logistics support or as venues for joint operations with host militaries. While intended to be small so as not to attract attention, they could be expanded to become larger bases when necessary.

In August 2005, the US Overseas Basing Commission, the official commission tasked to review US basing, categorically identified the Philippines as one of the countries where such CSLs are being developed by the US in the region. The Philippine government, however, has refused to disclose the locations and other details about these CSLs.

Base services without basing
The US has obliged the Philippines to provide it with a broad range of locally provided services that would enable it to launch and sustain operations from the Philippines when necessary.

In November 2002, the US and Philippine governments signed the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA), which researchers with the US Congressional Research Service describe as "allowing the United States to use the Philippines as a supply base for military operations throughout the region".

The MLSA obliges the Philippine government to provide the US with logistical supplies, support and services during exercises, training, operations, and other US military deployments. These supplies include food, water, petroleum, oils, clothing, ammunition, spare parts and components, billeting, transportation, communication, medical services, operation support, training services, repair and maintenance, storage

Continued 1 2 


Peace delayed in southern Philippines (Jan 3, '08)

US digs in deeper in the Philippines (Sep 5, '07)


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