According to press reports, the U.S. and the Philippines have floated the possibility of building joint storage facilities for U.S. humanitarian and disaster relief equipment on Filipino territory.
Military cooperation between the two nations is already strong, but greater U.S. presence in the region would help the Philippines counter an increasingly aggressive China. Clashes between China and the Philippines over the South China Sea were up significantly in 2011 and 2012 and continue to spill over into 2013. And Chinese rhetoric asserting sovereignty right up to the Philippines shoreline has rarely been louder.
The Philippines relies on American technical support and training for its military. Support often comes in the form of joint training exercises, such as the Balikatan joint military exercises and the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training that just occurred earlier this month. The U.S. and the Philippines also run counterterrorism and counterinsurgency drills, perform civil-military operations, and engage in intelligence sharing.
Neither side is talking about a permanent U.S. presence at Filipino bases. They have made that clear repeatedly. At most, what is being discussed are new, regular rotations operating on a basis similar to U.S. special forces assisting Filipino troops in Mindanao. The U.S. had permanent bases in the Philippines until 1992, when changing geopolitical dynamics, domestic opposition to U.S. troop presence, and a failed negotiation over extension of the basing agreement led to their withdrawal. Those bases are not coming back; what is envisioned is a new, more equal relationship.
Filipino government officials say that it is their goal to have the base-sharing arrangement completed by 2016, before current President Benigno Aquino leaves office. History, however, is moving at a faster pace: Chinese ships at Scarborough and Second Thomas Shoal are testament to that. The allies ought to be more ambitious on time frames. Increased access to Filipino bases is a critical element in enhancing military ties in a way that can strengthen the position of both vis-à-vis China, according to Walter Lohman and Renato C. De Castro, who produced a three-part blueprint on exactly how do to that.
Whether countering terrorism or Chinese aggressiveness, the Philippines is a solid American ally in the Pacific. The potential of the alliance was revived during the Bush Administration, and with serious leadership now in place in the Philippines, the Obama Administration has the opportunity to take it to a whole new level. The allies ought to seize the opportunity for the sake of their mutual security.