The Philippines can be viewed as a sort of lost colony for the United States, which occupied the country up until World War II. Following the war, however, the country became independent, though American military forces maintained a large presence in the island nation. Since 1992, however, there has been no major American military presence on the island. Now, the Philippines are looking to invite American forces back in an effort to curb China’s increasing domination of the region.
The United States controlled the Philippines until WWII
The United States actually took the Philippines from Spain in 1898. This immediately set off the Philippines-American War, though the United States was largely able to maintain control of the island. During the Great Depression, the American government began to move towards granting full independence, which was supposed to be completed in 1946.
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In December of 1941, however, the Japanese launched their attack on the island and drove out American forces by the following spring. In 1943, Japan declared the Philippines an independent nation, though in fact continued to rule it. Regardless, when the Japanese were driven out, the United States honored the Philippines’ independence.
American military forces vacated the Philippines by 1992
Following World War II, the United States maintained major military bases in the Philippines. Essentially, all American forces had withdrawn by 1992 and the Filipino Constitution expressly forbids allowing foreigners to establish military bases in the country. By and large, the Filipino government has maintained the former military assets, and in theory the U.S. could quickly reoccupy its former bases if it chose to do so.
So far, the United States has remained mum on the request. While adding a base in the country would add to U.S. presence in the region, rising deficits and on-going budget constraints may make the cost of such a move unpalatable. Already, some analysts in the United States are questioning America’s need to staff massive bases in Japan, South Korea, and elsewhere. With South Korea and Japan having reached fully-developed status, they could arguably pay for their own self-defense.
China is wary of increased U.S. military presence in the Philippines
Further, while the United States has been trying to beef up its presence in the region, it has been doing so cautiously. China has become increasingly alarmed by the rising presence of United States military forces in the region and has accused America of trying to intimidate Asian countries. Already, the United States maintains bases in Japan, Korea, Australia, and outright “owns” Guam and other Asian islands as de facto colonies.
With such an extensive string of military bases across the region, adding another base in the Philippines will do little to boost American might. If anything, it will make U.S. military assets more vulnerable to Chinese missiles. A military presence in the Philippines would likely ratchet up tensions to all-time highs. With the Philippines and China engaged in a diplomatic conflict over access to the South China Seas, any moves by the U.S. to establish itself could be met with strong protests.
Possibility of increased military presence without increased footprint
What’s more likely is that the U.S. navy will start to dock at Filipino bases, and perhaps expand the small number of troops and advisers already on the island to conduct training and other exercises. Such a presence would help relieve Filipino concerns, without forcing the United States to increase its footprint in the region. At this point, it seems highly unlikely that the United States will be re-establishing a major base in the Philippines anytime soon.
Either way, the United States military and government officials are engaging with their Filipino counterparts. While America will likely not be establishing any more major military bases in the region any time soon, the Philippines’ increased desperation in the face of Chinese aggression will likely push the country further into the U.S. sphere of influence. While this may increase tensions between the United States and China, little is likely to come out of it except perhaps some strong words and criticisms from both sides.