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June 24, 2017

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Philippine bases treaty to up US arms sales

The proposed Philippines-U.S. bases access accord should be scrutinized for its hidden motives, to remove chaff from grain. The agreement will chain the Philippines as a permanent station for bolstering America's military presence in Asia-Pacific and its arms trade. Building the Philippines' "minimum deterrence capability" in territorial feuds with China and ensuring a U.S. shield against external aggression are just sound bytes. The corporate agenda is concealed by security objectives.

Bases access was raised by Defence Secretary Voltaire Gazmin last year and again early this year in response to the territorial tensions with China in the West Philippine Sea and the North Korean missile crisis. This month, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III confirmed bilateral talks with the United States on the bases access accord. He said bases access is also open to Japan, which has its own territorial row with China.

To be clear, bases access is not the Philippines' plan. Air/sea access is required by the Pentagon's "pivot to Asia" or rebalancing strategy, which repositions 60 percent of America's global armed force to Asia by 2020, with Southeast Asia as a specific thrust.

The strategy of keeping U.S. supremacy in the region in the 21st century protects increased U.S. investments and trade in Asia — the world's leading economy — and minimizes China's economic footprint while containing its maritime power to its national boundaries. Big budget allocations boost U.S. air/sea power. Defense partnerships and air/sea access with the Philippines, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Thailand and other countries are refitted for Pentagon's geostrategic goals.

But that is just one side of the truth. The other is that the Pentagon and its global military architecture are linked to America's arms manufacturers led by Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Raytheon. Big chunks of its yearly budget — US$600 billion in 2013 — go to defense contracts. U.S. Navy and Air Force allocations are prioritized to support air/sea power rebalancing. Thus, the pivot strategy secures corporate war profits; it offsets the reduction of the arms manufacturers' profits due to troop withdrawals in the Middle East and a slowdown in European arms-buying.

Arms production is inextricably linked to naval and air access agreements as well as war exercises. Adm. Samuel J. Locklear, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, said rebalancing needs arms to modernize U.S. treaty alliances. Predictably, the Aerospace Industries Association, the trade group of leading arms manufacturers, says that the pivot "will result in growing opportunities for our industry to help equip our friends."

Indeed, multibillion-dollar defense contracts sustain the Pacific Fleet's 200-plus ships (including 11 carriers), 2,000 aircraft, and 250,000 sailors and marines. In 2011, U.S. corporations cornered US$66.3 billion (75 percent) of the US$85-billion global arms trade, with the bulk going to Asia Pacific — rising by 5.4 percent in 2011-2012. This year, the U.S. war industry plans to sell US$1.2-billion spy drones to South Korea, Australia and Singapore, and to Japan, US$421-million guided-missile destroyers, land-based X-Band radar systems, and US$5-billion F-35 fighter jets.

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