Preventing strategic first strike in PH

WHY should we worry about a strategic first strike by the United States? Why should the country be drawn to a scenario of preventing a competitor from achieving parity with or surpassing the US in economic, technological and military terms? Why should we be alarmed of the US conducting a preventive war? We all have lessons to learn from Ukraine, NATO and encircling Russia and threatening its survival. We all know that the number of deaths are not NATO forces or Russian but more and more Ukrainians are at the core of the destruction. So these questions of why are material to any talks on the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA). Why should we fight the war of the US? Is it in our interest to do so?

A preventive war is a "war or a military action which is initiated in order to prevent a belligerent or a neutral party from acquiring a capability for attacking. The party which is being attacked has a latent threat capability or it has shown that it intends to attack in the future, based on its past actions and posturing." A preventive war aims to forestall a shift in the balance of power by strategically attacking before the balance of power has had a chance to shift in favor of the targeted party. Preventive war is distinct from preemptive strike, which is the first strike when an attack is imminent.

The proximate basis of EDCA is the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) that we have with the United States, signed on Aug. 30, 1951, or 71 years ago. The year 1951 was five years after the US recognized the independence of the Philippines in 1946.

The world has changed so much that the realities of 1951 no longer holds water, and yet we have failed to update such mutual protocols to the detriment of the Philippines. The Philippines is stuck to such unequal terms that the US still feels the country is their vassal state. There were eight points agreed upon by the US and the Philippines in the MDT:

"Article I. The parties undertake, as set forth in the Charter of the United Nations, to settle any international disputes in which they may be involved by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and endangered and to refrain in their international relation from the of force in any the purposes of the United Nations.

"Article II. In order more effectively to achieve the objective of this treaty, the Parties separately and jointly by self-help and mutual aid will maintain and develop their individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack.

"Article III. The Parties, through their foreign ministers or their deputies, will consult together from time to time regarding the implementation of this Treaty and whenever in the opinion of either of them the territorial integrity, political independence or security of either of the Parties is threatened by external armed attack in the Pacific.

"Article IV. Each Party recognizes that an armed attack in the Pacific area on either of the Parties would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common dangers in accordance with its constitutional processes.

"Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall be immediately reported to the Security Council of the United Nations. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security.

"Article V. For the purpose of Article IV, an armed attack on either of the Parties is deemed to include an armed attack on the metropolitan territory of either of the Parties, or on the island territories under its jurisdiction in the Pacific Ocean, its armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific.

"Article VI. This treaty does not affect and shall not be interpreted as affecting in any way the rights and obligations of the Parties under the Charter of the United Nations or the responsibility of the United Nations for the maintenance of international peace and security.

"Article VII. This treaty shall be ratified by the Republic of the Philippines and the United States of America in accordance with their respective constitutional processes and will come into force when instruments of ratification thereof have been exchanged by them at Manila."

Clearly, when the Philippines lost the Scarborough Shoal (Panatag Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc), the US did not come to our defense. They invoked, "we do not interfere in territorial disputes." The US has harped on the arbitral ruling, further pointing at the incursions of China and yet, they stopped by our shores doing nothing.

The Philippines is in Asia, specifically in Southeast Asia. We are not fighting the wars of the United States because we chose to be "a friend to all, an enemy to none." China is our largest trade partner while the US is supposed to be an ally.

But the offensive of the US via the visit of VP Kamala Harris last November 21-22 to "reaffirm the US commitment to the defense alliance with the Philippines and strengthen economic ties" is sable-rattling in a sense because the optics was really aimed at two flashpoints: Taiwan and the West Philippine Sea. Harris met the President and the vice president, did a human rights forum with civil society, boarded a Philippine Navy patrol ship in her visit to Puerto Princesa, Palawan. Harris became the highest ranking US official ever to visit Palawan.

EDCA gives legal basis for service members of the US and the Philippines to participate in security cooperation exercises, joint and combined military training and humanitarian efforts. This complements the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty and the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement. The EDCA is an executive agreement and was signed April 28, 2014. The US asked for access to eight bases in the country: the former Subic Naval Base, Clark Air Base, and Philippine military camps in Cebu, Luzon and Palawan. On March 19, 2016, the Philippine and the US governments agreed on the five locations of military bases for use by the US troops under the EDCA: Antonio Bautista Air Base (Palawan), Basa Air Base (Pampanga), Fort Magsaysay (Nueva Ecija), Lumbia Airport (Cagayan de Oro) and Benito Ebuen Air Base (Cebu).

The initial term of EDCA is 10 years; that means the executive agreement will lapse in the second quarter of 2024. The charm offensive of Harris was exactly meant for that. And there were noises on human rights again. As if the Philippines maintains a Guantanamo. As if we have a consistent record of violations and involvement in wars. And as if our economy is built on a defense establishment that needs war to have a strong economy. We should not be dragged to the cliff by an ally who only remembers us in times of their wars.

"Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win."


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