Instability in the Philippines: A Case Study for U.S. Disengagement

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As the world becomes a less dangerousplace for America, U.S. officials work moredesperately to preserve America's pervasiveinternational military presence. This policyis evident in the Philippines, with whichWashington recently concluded a VisitingForces Agreement.

The VFA reflects a resurgence of militaryties in the aftermath of America's departurefrom the Philippines in 1992. The UnitedStates has begun port visits, joint militaryexercises, and subsidized weapons transfers.Manila is hoping for much more, mostimportant U.S. support in its ongoing territorialdispute with China over the SpratlyIslands in the South China Sea.

However, Manila's claims are no betterthan those of Beijing, China has so far beenonly cautiously assertive, and the UnitedStates has no vital interests at stake in anyislands clash. Rather than take sides,Washington should encourage not only thePhilippines but also the other members ofthe Association of Southeast Asian Nationsto strengthen their militaries and buildcooperative relationships with larger powers,including Japan and India. Then thosecountries would be capable of defendingtheir own interests.

Some U.S. officials advocate thatWashington build up its military presenceto maintain regional stability. However,the gravest problems result from internalcauses, which Washington is incapable ofremedying. For instance, the Philippinessuffers from a weak economy, pervasivepoverty, domestic insurrection, and politicalchaos. None of those can be solved byAmerica.

In the coming years, Washington shouldpromote greater economic integration andsell weapons to Manila and neighboringstates seeking to augment their militaries.It should be loosening rather than tighteningits military relationships in the region,updating its policy to reflect today's world.

Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and author of Tripwire: Korea and U.S. Foreign Policy in a Changed World.