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Feffer: Small Step Forward in Resolving Okinawa Base Impasse

May 9, 2012 

John Feffer, the editor of Foreign Policy In Focus and a leader with the Network for Okinawa has written an excellent article “Small Step Forward in Resolving Okinawa Base Impasse” (May 3, 2012) that analyzes the implications of the U.S.-Japan deal to move 9000 Marines from Okinawa and distribute them to different locations in the Pacific:

It’s a deal that’s been more than 15 years in the making and the unmaking. The United States and Japan have been struggling since the 1990s to transform the U.S. military presence on the island of Okinawa, the southernmost prefecture of Japan.

In preparation for this week’s visit of Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda to Washington, the two sides rolled out the latest attempt to resolve what has grown into a major sticking point in alliance relations.

According to the most recent deal, 9,000 U.S. Marines will leave Okinawa, thus fulfilling a longstanding U.S. promise to reduce the overall military footprint on the island. Half of that number will go to expanded facilities on Guam while the remainder will rotate through other bases in the region, including Australia, the Philippines, and Hawaii.

Japan will cover a little more than three billion dollars out of the estimated 8.6-billion-dollar cost of the Guam transfer.

“These adjustments are necessary to realize a U.S. force posture in the Asia-Pacific region that is more geographically distributed, operationally resilient, and politically sustainable,” according to a joint statement issued by Washington and Tokyo.

[...]

Key critics of the process of Pacific realignment – including John McCain, Carl Levin and Jim Webb – remain sceptical of the latest agreement since the review has not yet been completed.

Also skeptical are anti-base activists in the places where the Marine presence will increase.

“Hawaii does not need more military,” says Koohan Paik, a media professor at Kauai Community College.

“There are already 161 military installations in Hawaii, which have resulted in hundreds of sites contaminated with PCBs, trichloroethylene, jet fuel and diesel, mercury, lead, radioactive Cobalt 60, unexploded ordnance, perchlorate, and depleted uranium. And they call this security? The only ‘security’ this brings is economic security to military contractors.”

[...]

The latest U.S.-Japan deal comes at a time of considerable uncertainty regarding military spending. The Pentagon is under pressure to reduce costs in order to meet new spending limits dictated by concerns over rising national debt.

However, the Barack Obama administration’s “Pacific pivot”, announced last year, is difficult to achieve on the cheap. U.S. allies are concerned that they will have to shoulder an increasing amount of the costs of this realignment. Included in this bill will be the cost of upgrading the Futenma facility while Tokyo and Washington debate the base’s future.

U.S. military reductions in Okinawa adds up to more militarization of Hawai’i

February 22, 2012 

Despite much bellyaching from the Pentagon about having to go on a diet, President Obama himself stated, “Over the next 10 years, the growth in the defense budget will slow, but the fact of the matter is this: It will still grow, because we have global responsibilities that demand our leadership.” The new defense strategy reflects reductions in the rate of growth of the military budget.   The Atlantic published an interesting article “The Real Defense Budget” (February 20, 2012) that reports the Pentagon budget is actually closer to $1 trillion!

Senator Inouye told the media that despite these changes in the military budget and in basing plans in east Asia, Hawai’i will not get relief from militarization. In fact, the military may grow in some areas to absorb some of the Marines being pushed out of Okinawa.  The Honolulu Star Advertiser reported  “Isles hold on to military might” (February 21, 2012):

As military communities around the nation fret about defense cuts, U.S. Sen. Daniel Ino­uye said Hawaii expects to receive about 1,000 more Marines from Oki­nawa, have the same number or more ships based at Pearl Harbor and see a slight increase in shipyard work here.

Inouye confirmed Monday that with continuing problems with a 2006 agreement to relocate some Marines on Oki­nawa and move about 8,000 to Guam, the plan has changed.

About half the total, or 4,000 Marines, will now go to Guam, he said.

“Instead of all (8,000) going to Guam, they’ll go elsewhere — Australia, Hawaii and Guam,” Ino­uye said

[...]

“But the question now arises, Will those troops be rotating-type troops, or will they be stationed here with dependents, which would require schools, etc.? We have not reached that stage (of decision) yet.”

One  disturbing revelation was that Marines could be housed in Kona on Hawai’i island. This follows similar remarks by Governor Abercrombie several months ago:

From a logistics and transportation standpoint, the Army’s Schofield Barracks on Oahu or the Kona side of Hawaii island could be looked at to house more Marines, he said

Inouye also confirmed that Singapore and the Philippines are being targeted for increased militarization:

Inouye said, “It’s serious business — the fact that we will be adding vessels in Singapore, we’ll be setting up a rotating-type of base in Australia, and I don’t know if the people of Hawaii have caught it, but we have now restored discussions with the Filipinos.”

[...]

HIS MAIN POINTS

U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye says:

MARINES

The Pentagon is looking at shifting about 1,000 Marines from Okinawa to Hawaii. The move could be as part of permanent stations or rotational duty through Hawaii. About 500 could be accommodated at the Kaneohe Bay Marine Corps base. Schofield Barracks and the Kona side of Hawaii island are being looked at as possibilities.

SHIPYARD

Pearl Harbor shipyard work will increase slightly.

PEARL HARBOR

The specific surface ships stationed at Pearl Harbor will change, but the base will retain 11 — the number it now has — or even more.

In an earlier article, the Honolulu Star Advertiser reported “$487B in Defense cuts would take 2 cruisers from Pearl Harbor” (February 15, 2012):

The Navy plans to retire two of three cruisers at Pearl Harbor under a leaner defense budget — a move that, along with other cutbacks, is expected to have a negative effect on Hawaii’s economy.

Officials at the Pentagon confirmed that the USS Port Royal — the newest cruiser in the Navy inventory and one with ballistic missile shoot-down capability — is expected to be decommissioned in fiscal year 2013.

The USS Chosin, which is in Pearl Harbor shipyard receiving $112.5 million in repairs and upgrades, would be retired in 2014.

In a statement submitted Tuesday to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the Pentagon is “retiring seven lower-priority Navy cruisers that have not been upgraded with ballistic missile defense capability or that would require significant repairs.”

The Defense Department’s budget request for 2013, released Monday, sets out $487 billion in cuts over the next 10 years. Also affected would be the towering Sea-Based X-Band Radar, a regular visitor to Hawaii’s shores.

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency said it plans to sideline the $1 billion one-of-a-kind missile tracker by placing it “in a limited test and contingency operations status” to save $500 million over five years.

As the article mentions, one of the ships to be decommissioned, the USS Port Royal, is the newest cruiser. The ship cost $1 billion to build.  In 2009, the USS Port Royal ran aground on the reef outside of Pearl Harbor, causing extensive damage to the coral as well as to the ship.  The repairs were estimated to cost $25 million to $40 million.  However, shipyard sources reported that the damage to the frame could not be fully repaired.  This probably explains the early retirement of this state of the art missile cruiser.

 

U.S. military’s Pacific ‘pivot’ and Okinawa drawdown unsettles the region

February 14, 2012 

After several weeks of speculation and anonymous ‘leaks’ about possible changes to the U.S.-Japan plan to relocate the Futenma Marine base to Henoko, Okinawa, government officials announced that the U.S. would begin moving some troops out of Okinawa, independent of the base relocation to Henoko. But the news is having an unsettling effect across the entire region.  Here are a sampling of the articles.

The AP reported “Okinawa Marines going to Guam, Australia, Hawaii and Philippines” (February 7, 2012):

Japan and the United States agreed Wednesday to proceed with plans to transfer thousands of U.S. troops out of the southern Japanese island of Okinawa, leaving behind the stalled discussion about closing a major U.S. Marine base there.

The transfer, a key to U.S. troop restructuring in the Pacific, has been in limbo for years because it was linked to the closure and replacement of the strategically important base that Okinawans fiercely oppose.

The announcement Wednesday follows high-level talks to rework a 2006 agreement for 8,000 Marines to transfer to the U.S. territory of Guam by 2014 if a replacement for Marine Corps Air Station Futenma could be built elsewhere on Okinawa.

That agreement has been effectively scuttled by opposition on Okinawa, where many residents believe the base should simply be closed and moved overseas or elsewhere in Japan. More than half of the 50,000 U.S. troops in Japan, including 18,000 Marines, are stationed on Okinawa, taking up around 10 percent of the island with nearly 40 bases and facilities.

The two governments said in a joint statement that the transfer of thousands of U.S. Marines to Guam would not require the prior closure of Futenma, as the original pact required. Details of the realignment will be discussed further, but about 10,000 troops will remain on Okinawa, as in the original agreement.

The reduced number of troops projected to move to Guam may be encouraging to grassroots groups who have fought against the military expansion in Guam. However the Governor of the U.S. colony, and the many businesses that hoped to cash in on the boom, were disappointed:

Guam, meanwhie, has pushed hard for the troop buildup because of the potential economic boom.

“We are the closest U.S. community to Asia. We are very patriotic citizens. And unlike many foreign countries and even some U.S. communities, we welcome an increased military presence,” Gov. Eddie Calvo said in a statement last week.

Guam, which is being built up to play a greater role in Washington’s Asia-Pacific strategy, could also stand to get far fewer Marines than expected if the new plan goes through. The tiny U.S. territory had been counting on a huge boost from the restructuring plan, and may have to revise its forecasts.

But officials said the revised number could be more manageable.

A smaller contingent of Marines would alleviate concerns on Guam that the swelling military presence would overwhelm the island’s infrastructure and environment.

Mark G. Calvo, the director of Guam’s military buildup office, said the territory has been briefed by the Department of Defense about the talks with Japan and supports the transfer, even if it is smaller than expected. He said the idea of reducing it to about 4,000 Marines had been discussed after an environmental impact assessment two years ago pointed to possible problems.

“There are concerns about a loss of economic benefits, but it puts us in a better position to adjust our infrastructure,” he said.

The AFP reported “US Marines may leave Japan before base closure” (Febraury 8, 2012):

Thousands of US Marines could leave Japan’s Okinawa island before a controversial American base is closed, Washington and Tokyo announced Wednesday, in the latest twist in a long-running saga.

In a densely-worded joint statement, the two sides said they were talking about “delinking” the redeployment of 8,000 Marines from a 2006 agreement to close the base in the crowded urban area of Futenma.

It has been widely reported in Japan that Washington has now set its sights on shifting 4,700 Marines to Guam without waiting for Japan to stop its foot-dragging over the accord, which would see a new facility built in a sparsely populated coastal area.

The original agreement offered the carrot of a Marine drawdown in exchange for Okinawans allowing the construction of an airstrip at Henoko.

The Washington Post headline was “U.S. likely to scale down plans for bases in Japan and Guam” (February 8, 2012):

The U.S. military will probably scale back plans to build key bases in Japan and Guam because of political obstacles and budget pressures, according to U.S. and Japanese officials, complicating the Obama administration’s efforts to strengthen its troop presence in Asia.

Under a deal announced Wednesday with Japanese officials, the U.S. government said it will accelerate plans to withdraw 8,000 Marines from the island of Okinawa. The decision came after several years of stalled talks to find a site for a new Marine base nearby.

Washington’s inability to resolve its basing arrangements on Okinawa, as well as the rising price tag of a related plan for a $23 billion military buildup on Guam, underscore the challenges facing the Obama administration as it seeks to make a strategic “pivot” toward the Pacific after a decade of fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Japanese government said it is still committed to a 2006 accord with the United States to find a new base location for other Marines who will remain on Okinawa. But officials in Tokyo acknowledged that they had made little progress in the face of fierce resistance from islanders opposed to the long-standing U.S. military presence there. Bleak public finances in the United States and in Japan have also undermined the effort.

The article also described the proposal to rotate troops to different locations in the Asia-Pacific region, including an expanded U.S. military presence in Singapore:

The administration has moved on a series of fronts to bolster the U.S. military presence in Asia and the Pacific recently. Officials reached a deal with Australia to deploy a small number of Marines to Darwin and are holding talks with the Philippines about expanding military ties.

Those moves, along with an agreement to station Navy ships in Singapore, are part of a broader strategy aimed at countering China’s rising influence in the region. Although the Obama administration wants to retain the bulk of U.S. forces in South Korea and Japan, where they have maintained a heavy presence since World War II and the Korean War, officials said they are looking to expand their presence in Southeast Asia.

An Asia Times article Okinawans see duplicity in US withdrawal” (February 11, 2012) was more critical and emphasized the Okinawan reaction to the announcement:

With the United States shifting its axis of security toward the Asia-Pacific by expanding its military footprint in Australia, the Philippines and Vietnam, it may be high time for the United States Marine Corps to leave Japan’s Okinawa.

A shifting security dynamic in the region, most notably due to China’s enhanced strike capabilities, will likely marginalize the marines’ presence on the island.

The Asia Times article explored how the U.S. strategy is directed at countering China’s rise, but it tended to overemphasize the military threat from China as the reason for moving troops from Okinawa:

The planned transfer of thousands of marines to Guam without progress on the Futenma relocation is also part of an ongoing US strategy to counter China’s military build-up, especially its growing naval power in the West Pacific.

The Pentagon is closely watching China’s “anti-access/area denial” strategy, which envisions blocking freedom of movement for US ships. By creating two lines of coastal defenses in the region, military analysts believe Beijing aims to nullify the capabilities of US aircraft carriers and air defenses within the zone.

The so-called AirSea battle concept combines US air and naval strengths. It departs from the Cold War-era AirLand Battle doctrine drafted to prepare for an invasion by the former Soviet Union.

The AirSea battle concept meant to combat China’s growing military might doesn’t fit with high troop levels on Okinawa, since the latter cannot be moved swiftly and could be easily targeted by China’s middle-range ballistic missiles such as the DF-21.

The new battle strategy forces the Pentagon to keep key US forces out of China’s strike range.

“It’s better for US Marines to keep at a safe distance from China,” Japanese military analyst Toshiyuki Shikata told Asia Times Online. “I expect the US to fortify Guam as a strong military base from now on.”

The Asia Times also revealed that in addition to shifting troops to Guam, Hawai’i, Australia and the Philippines, there have been talks about moving Marines to South Korea or other parts of Japan:

Japanese media have reported that apart from moving 4,700 marines from Okinawa to Guam, the Pentagon is also considering rotating 3,300 to other overseas bases in the Pacific such as Hawaii, Australia and the Philippines.

Of the 3,300 marines, media have reported that 1,000 will be deployed to Hawaii and 800 to the US mainland. Meanwhile, other media have said 2,300 will go to Darwin in northern Australia and 1,000 to Hawaii.

It’s also been reported that the US has sounded out Tokyo on transferring about 1,500 marines to the Iwakuni marine base in Yamaguchi Prefecture – the only Marine Corps Air Station on mainland Japan – with central and local governments flatly rejecting the idea.

Some US Marines stationed in Okinawa will likely move to South Korea, Chosun Ilbo also has reported. Pentagon spokesperson Leslie Hull-Ryde on Friday denied the South Korean newspaper’s report by saying, “there has been no discussion between the US and the Republic of Korea [South Korea] on this issue”.

Unclear figures on how many US Marines are actually on Okinawa – due to expeditions and rotating shifts – has also aggravated the Japanese public. While both the US and Japanese governments claim 18,000 marines are normally based on Okinawa, the Okinawa prefectural government says only 14,958 marines were based on the island as of September 2009.

Military experts estimate the number at 12,000-14,000 at best in recent years because of deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Then Japanese defense minister Toshimi Kitazawa said in February 2010 that there were only 4,000 to 5,000 marines stationed on Okinawa due to Iraqi and Afghanistan deployments.

The US and Japanese governments say there will 10,000 marines in Okinawa even after shifting 8,000 marines around the island. But the claim could be just a pretext to avoid military budget cuts.

Plans for deep US defense cuts are another major likely reason why moving the marines out of Okinawa has been disconnected from the relocation of the Futenma airbase.

The Marine Corps Times published an article “More Marines may deploy to South Korea” (February 14, 2012) expounding on the possible stationing of more Marines in South Korea:

Recent South Korean media reports have highlighted two items of interest. The first was a Jan. 19 meeting in Seoul attended by the commanding generals of Marine Corps Forces-Korea and the Republic of Korea Marine Corps. There, the two sides agreed to expand combined training exercises, including a large joint-landing operation planned for the first half of this year.

The second report is potentially more sensitive. Two articles, one Feb. 8 and another Feb. 10, published in the Chosun Ilbo, a national daily newspaper, indicate that as part of the planned move of U.S. Marines from Okinawa, an undetermined number may end up going to South Korea on a rotational basis.

A Defense Department spokeswoman, Lt. Cmdr. Leslie Hull-Ryde, had no immediate comment on either of the South Korean media reports, saying no decisions have been finalized concerning the scope of planned personnel shifts in the Pacific.

Reuters published an interesting article “Exclusive: U.S. military seeks more access in Philippines” (February 9, 2012) on the proposed expansion of the U.S. military presence and activities in the Philippines. Calling it “access, not bases,” the Philippines government hopes to deflect public protest for violating the 1987 constitutional ban on any permanent foreign military presence. The Philippines has been a laboratory for new types of basing arrangements, where U.S. troops, equipment and supplies are “temporarily” stationed in the country for training missions:

The United States is seeking more access to Philippines ports and airfields to re-fuel and service its warships and planes, diplomatic and military sources said on Thursday, expanding its presence at a time of tension with China in the South China Sea.

But it is not trying to reopen military bases there.

Washington’s growing cooperation in the Philippines, a U.S. ally which voted to remove huge American naval and air bases 20 years ago, follows the U.S. announcement last year of plans to set up a Marine base in northern Australia and possibly station warships in Singapore.

It also coincides with diplomatic and military friction in the South China Sea and its oil-rich Spratly Islands, which are subject to disputed claims by China, the Philippines and other Southeast Asian nations.

Last month, senior Philippine defense and foreign affairs officials met their U.S. counterparts in Washington to discuss ways to increase the number and frequency of joint exercises, training, ship and aircraft visits and other activities.

“It’s access, not bases,” a foreign affairs department official familiar with the strategic dialogue told Reuters.

“Our talks focus on strengthening cooperation on military and non-military activities, such as disaster response and humanitarian assistance, counter-terrorism, non-proliferation. There were no discussions about new U.S. bases,” he said.

These activities would allow the U.S. military more access in the Philippines, stretching its presence beyond local military facilities and training grounds into central Cebu province or to Batanes island near the northern borders with Taiwan. (Emphasis added)

Meanwhile, the New York Times reported “Admiral Seeks Freer Hand in Deployment of Elite Forces” (February 12, 2012) that the Commander of the Special Operations Command wants more autonomy for special forces, which as Filipino activists point out, is the main branch of the military involved in counterinsurgency operations in Mindanao:

The officer, Adm. William H. McRaven, who leads the Special Operations Command, is pushing for a larger role for his elite units who have traditionally operated in the dark corners of American foreign policy. The plan would give him more autonomy to position his forces and their war-fighting equipment where intelligence and global events indicate they are most needed.

It would also allow the Special Operations forces to expand their presence in regions where they have not operated in large numbers for the past decade, especially in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Filipino reactions to the news has ranged from outrage to sarcasm.  Erick San Juan wrote an opinion piece in the Zamboanga Today Online,Let’s get our acts together! (February 14, 2012), in which he suggested that Senator Inouye’s visit to the Philippines last year was a prospecting mission for expanding the U.S. military presence:

Americans are our friends. But, let us all be wary every time Uncle Sam’s top officials and representatives visit the country. . .

In May of last year, I wrote about the “visit” of US Senators Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and William Thad Cochran (R- Mississippi) to the country for a “possible return of the US naval base in Subic.” Of course, the US embassy here denied this and that the visit was “to see the economic progress in the Subic Freeport area that has been made over the years and to ask how the US can collaborate.”

And, could it be that the said visit of the two elder senators from the US Senate Appropriations committee was to test the water, so to speak of what could be the reaction of the populace?

[...]

US troops never left and they are using our military camps as portable bases via the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). In this way, they are actually saving a lot of dollars because in reality the annual joint military exercises has benefitted them a lot more than our Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

Actually that “smaller base” in the south has been there as the aftermath of Bush’s synthetic war on terror. And now, according to reports, Uncle Sam will send its marines and navy men in Subic Bay on rotation with its other allies.

*Floating Base

Speaking of portable base, Washington has plans of deploying of what they call “floating base”, first in the Middle East this summer. According to news release from the New York Times online dated 1/27/2012 – The conversion of the Ponce, which had been scheduled for retirement, would be an interim step to providing the military with its first afloat staging base.

The Pentagon’s new budget proposals, unveiled Thursday, included money to turn a freighter hull into a full-time floating base that could be moved around the world for military operations or humanitarian missions.

Seriously? That familiar line again – for humanitarian missions?

Disarray or disinformation? – Shifting U.S. military plans in the Asia Pacific region

February 6, 2012 

Over the past week there have been confusing and contradictory reports about plans to relocate U.S. military bases in Okinawa. Do they reflect the actual state of disarray in the U.S.-Japan alliance or psychological operations to pressure local communities into accepting base relocation plans in Okinawa and Guam?

On February 1, the Kyodo News Service reported that:

The U.S. Defense Department is considering shifting part of some 8,000 Marine troops in Okinawa Prefecture to Hawaii and other Pacific areas instead of Guam, Pentagon sources said Tuesday.

This alarmed the Pacific Daily News in Guam: “BREAKING NEWS: Kyodo reports that 3,000 Marines may move to Hawaii instead of Guam.”  However its concern was that Guam would lose out on the economic “benefits” of the military buildup.  Meanwhile grassroots communities in Guam and Hawai’i brace to fight the latest threats of military expansion.

Then Bloomberg News reported “Obama Said to Curtail $21 Billion Guam Military Expansion”(February 3):

President Barack Obama plans to curtail a plan costing as much as $21.1 billion to expand the U.S. military’s presence in Guam and instead will rotate some of the Marines through the Asia-Pacific region, people familiar with the matter said.

The administration now intends to send about 4,500 U.S. Marines stationed in Japan to Guam and to rotate an additional 4,000 through Australia, Subic Bay and perhaps a smaller base in the Philippines and Hawaii, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the plan hasn’t been announced.

Joseph Gerson suggested that these news leaks may have been part of a psychological campaign to pressure Japan and Okinawa into accepting the 2006 “Roadmap” relocating the Futenma base to Henoko and moving 8000 Marines to Guam.    It appears that some elements of the base realignment will proceed, while others are put on hold.  On February 4, the Japan Times reported “Genba, U.S. huddle anew over ’06 base pact”:

“Both Japan and the U.S. remain unchanged in that we think relocating the Futenma base to Henoko is the best plan and that the number of marines who will remain in Okinawa will also be the same — 10,000,” Genba said.

Earlier this week, Kyodo News reported that out of the 8,000 marines that would be redeployed to Guam under the Futenma relocation plan, the U.S. was instead considering deploying some 3,000 of them elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific region, including Hawaii, because of Guam’s proximity to China.

On Friday, Bloomberg also reported that about half the marines would be rotated around the region, including Australia and Subic Bay in the Philippines, in line with Washington’s new defense strategy to increase the U.S. presence in Asia.

The bilateral 2006 realignment plan entailed shifting 8,000 marines and their dependants to Guam upon completion of the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to the Henoko coast in Nago farther north on Okinawa Island.

But on February 6, a Kyodo/Bloomberg article reported “Marine base to remain in Futenma: U.S.”:

A senior U.S. official told Japanese officials in late January that Futenma Air Station will have to stay in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, for the time being because of the standoff over its relocation plan, sources close to bilateral relations said Sunday.

This suggests that the facility, U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, is staying in the crowded city despite a formal bilateral agreement to return the land to Japanese control once a replacement facility is built for it elsewhere in the prefecture.

On Saturday, Japan and the United States reportedly agreed to move 4,700 marines in Okinawa to Guam instead of 8,000, delinking the transfer plan from the contentious Futenma relocation plan stipulated in the road map for realigning U.S. forces in Japan.

The developments have increased the likelihood that the relocation issue is headed for the back burner, which is likely to upset the already upset Okinawan public, which has been fighting the plan tooth and nail for well over a decade.

Meanwhile, the AP reported “Army reducing number of combat brigades to cut costs.”  Taking into account the Pentagon’s new concentration on the Asia Pacific region, it could mean an increase in the size of Army brigades in Hawai’i:

The Army plans to slash the number of combat brigades from 45 to as low as 32 in a broad restructuring of its fighting force aimed at cutting costs and reducing the service by about 80,000 soldiers, according to U.S. officials familiar with the plans.

Officials said the sweeping changes will likely increase the size of each combat brigade — generally by adding another battalion — in a long-term effort to ensure that those remaining brigades have the fighting capabilities they need when they go to war. A brigade is usually about 3,500 soldiers, but can be as large as 5,000 for the heavily armored units. A battalion is usually between 600-800 soldiers.

It’s time to reduce, not relocate U.S. bases and forces from the Asia Pacific and invest in “Trans Pacific Peace”!

Philippines lawyers union denounces possible U.S. military buildup

January 26, 2012 

A Philippines lawyers union denounced the possible increase of U.S. military forces and activities in the Philippines:

National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers 

Press Release

January 27, 2012

NUPL on reports about negotiations seeking for bigger US military role in PH

Mendicant errand boys beg US soldiers to use Philippines as war playground

On the reported negotiations between authorities of the United States (US) and the Philippines seeking to strike a deal for increased US military presence in the country, the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) said:

“The NUPL, as a nationwide association of lawyers united to stand for human rights and the assertion of the right to self determination and national sovereignty, raises its continuing objection over the proposed even bigger US military role in the country.

While we were intently watching and many of our people were distracted by the impeachment show, our top officials were selling us down the river.  We have not grown up as a nation and we shamelessly grovel for junk and gloat a master lapdog relationship that is unhealthy, archaic and onerous. This plan only validates the virtual and unjustified US military bully presence in blatant violation of our Constitution and International Laws.”

Reference: Atty. Edre U. Olalia, NUPL Secretary General, 09175113373

Philippines may allow greater U.S. presence in latest reaction to China’s rise

January 25, 2012 

As Kaleikoa Kaeo points out, if you imagine the U.S. military in Hawai’i to be a monstrous he’e (octopus) with tentacles strangling other lands and peoples around the Asia-Pacific region, its tentacles can regrow if they are cut off.  The Washington Post reported that the Philippines government may allow the U.S. to expand its military presence in the Philippines, despite U.S. bases having been thrown out twenty years ago:

Two decades after evicting U.S. forces from their biggest base in the Pacific, the Philippines is in talks with the Obama administration about expanding the American military presence in the island nation, the latest in a series of strategic moves aimed at China.

Although negotiations are in the early stages, officials from both governments said they are favorably inclined toward a deal. They are scheduled to intensify their discussions Thursday and Friday in Washington prior to higher-level meetings in March. If an arrangement is reached, it would follow other recent agreements to base thousands of U.S. Marines in northern Australia and station Navy warships in Singapore.

Among the options under consideration are operating Navy ships from the Philippines, deploying troops on a rotational basis and staging more frequent joint exercises. Under each of the scenarios, U.S. forces would effectively serve as guests at existing foreign bases.

The sudden rush by many in the Pacific region to embrace Washington is a direct reaction to China’s rise as a military power and its assertiveness in staking claims to disputed territories, such as the energy-rich South China Sea.

After 9/11/2001, the U.S. began to creep back into the Philippines under the guise of fighting a second front in the Global War on Terror:

The Pentagon already has about 600 Special Operations Forces members in the Philippines, where they advise local troops in their fight with rebels affiliated with al-Qaeda. But the talks underway between Manila and Washington potentially involve a much more extensive partnership.

However, the nature of these new proposed bases is changing:

Instead of trying to establish giant bases reminiscent of the Cold War, however, Pentagon officials said they want to maintain a light footprint.

“We have no desire nor any interest in creating a U.S.-only base in Southeast Asia,” said Robert Scher, a deputy assistant secretary of defense who oversees security policy in the region. “In each one of these cases, the core decision and discussion is about how we work better with our friends and allies. And the key piece of that is working from their locations.”

The distinction is critical in the Philippines, which kicked the U.S. military out of its sprawling naval base at Subic Bay in 1992 after lawmakers rejected a new treaty. Along with the nearby Clark Air Force Base, which the Pentagon abandoned in 1991 after a volcanic eruption, Subic Bay had served as a keystone of the U.S. military presence in Asia for nearly a century.

 READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE

 

Clinton convoy in paint attack in Philippines

November 16, 2011 

U.S. empire was also confronted by demonstrators in the Philippines, where protests threw red paint on Clinton’s convoy and clashed with security forces. The convoy was forced to detour:

Protesters clashed with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s security detail near the Malacañang Palace Wednesday, forcing her convoy to detour, an Agence France-Presse photographer on the scene said.

Filipino security men and at least one American jumped out with automatic rifles drawn after about 50 protesters kicked their vehicles and hurled red paint on the cars, but no shots were fired, the photographer said.

[...]

At a largely friendly public meeting that was broadcast on television, a demonstrator suddenly stood up with a banner and repeatedly shouted, “Drop VFA!” before staff at the event escorted the protester out.

The protester was referring to the Visiting Forces Agreement, which gives US troops legal safeguards when they visit the Philippines.

The pact has been controversial in the Philippines after alleged crimes by US troops in the former colony, as well as opposition among some groups for any American soldiers to be in their country.

Clinton brushed off the protest and said that it was a sign that “people are unafraid to express themselves” in the Philippines.

She was on a visit to the Philippines aimed at shoring up military cooperation amid high tension between Manila and Beijing over a territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

“Unfinished Business” – Twenty years since the Philippines kicked out U.S. bases, what is the Status of Forces?

September 17, 2011 

The Interaksyon news website has an excellent two-part series entitled “Unfinished Business: Transforming the former U.S. military bases into zones of peace and development remains a challenge, 20 years after a historic Senate vote scrapped the PH-US bases treaty.”

“Unfinished Business” by Joel C. Paredes begins:

Veteran nationalist lawmaker Wigberto Tañada still vividly recalls when his father, the late Senator Lorenzo Tañada lost in the 1957 election where he ran as vice presidential candidate of Don Claro M. Recto, the standard bearer of the short-lived National Citizens Party.

Their tandem was rallying the people behind the need to fight for sovereignty against continued US intervention in the country, and for that they lost in the elections. The younger  Tañada, who by then had completed his law studies, joined the campaign sorties, convinced that they had to push for the removal of all US military installations  on the islands.

It was the least he could do for a father who had gambled his political career, leaving the Liberal Party in order to help organize an obscure party which had dared challenge the US’ continued interference in its former colony. For Don Claro Recto, their fight was one meant to liberate government from a “mendicant foreign policy.”

“Our foreign policy was conducted from the very beginning, and is being pursued, on the erroneous assumption of an identity of American and Filipino interest or more correctly of the desirability, and even the necessity, of subordinating our interests to those of America,” he said.

Roots of our insecurity

It was policy that was actually crafted on July 4, 1946, when the Philippines was granted independence by the United States, but with the condition – embodied in the Bell Trade Act – that it must accord the American entrepreneurs “parity” rights to land ownership, resources exploitation, and other business activities.

According to Philippine scholar Patricio Abinales,  the destruction of Manila during the war, the displacement of landlord power in the adjoining provinces, and the plantation  agriculture had that time posed a combined challenge enough to destabilize the country. “The United States contributed to the problem when it demanded that the new government accept a ‘free trade’ treaty  heavily favoring the industrialized United States over the agrarian Philippines.”

A year later, the RP US Military Bases Agreement was forged, giving the United States the right to maintain military bases for 99 years and their military  advisers a major role in the development of the Philippine armed forces.

The article gives an excellent history of the Phlippines-U.S. bases agreement and the successful effort to terminate the treaty.

The second article is “Economics of conversion: the best is yet to come”.

But as previously reported on this site, despite the prohibition on U.S. bases and combat operations in the Philippines, U.S. troops have been engaged in combat operations in Mindanao.

Meanwhile, women in Mindanao employed a Lysistrata strategy to end violence.  They staged a “sex strike for peace” until the men stopped fighting:

Women in the southern Philippines brought peace to their strife-torn village by threatening to withhold sex if their men kept fighting, the UN refugee agency documents in a video posted on its website.

The “sex strike” in rural Dado village on the often lawless southern island of Mindanao in July helped end tensions and bring some prosperity to the 102 families living there, said UNHCR national officer Rico Salcedo.

“The area is in a town which is subject to conflict, family feuds, land disputes (locally referred to as ‘rido’). The idea came personally from the women,” Salcedo told the Agence France-Presse.

The idea was conceived by a group of women who had set up a sewing business but found that they could not deliver their products because the village road was closed by the threat of violence, Salcedo said.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE

WikiLeaks cables: US forces directly involved in Mindanao terror hunt

September 15, 2011 

Activists and U.S. troops have been saying this for years: U.S. forces in Mindanao are involved in military operations, not merely training and advising.  But recent cables released by Wikileaks confirm the extent that the State Department had knowledge of and was involved in the conspiracy to cover up this fact.  And the cables advise lying about the military operations.  They also reveal the role of Philippines officials in encouraging the expanded role for the U.S. military despite constitutional limitations against foreign bases and troops in the Philippines.  Here is a very fnformative article by Jojo Malig on abs-cbnNEWS.com.

WikiLeaks cables: US forces directly involved in Mindanao terror hunt

MANILA, Philippines – US Special Forces troops have been directly involved in hunting down suspected terrorists in Mindanao, several diplomatic cables released by anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks revealed.

Cable 06MANILA3401, classified secret and sent August 14, 2006 in the name of US embassy deputy chief of mission Paul Jones, said US Special Forces troops and ships gave “intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance support to the 87-plus maritime interdictions” in Jolo, Sulu during an Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) campaign in the said year against Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) leaders on the island.

It added that this was made possible because the US Navy’s Joint Venture and Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines’ (JSOTF-P) Mark V special operations crafts and rigid-hull inflatable boats are already fully integrated into the Philippine Navy.

The US embassy, however, wanted to hide this from the public.

In the cable’s “if asked – press guidance” section, US officials are told to say that “US forces are not directly involved in this operation, but are providing support. Our forces, in a support role, advise, train, and share information with AFP forces.”

Another cable, 06MANILA4439, said US troops also helped their Philippine counterparts intercept terrorists fleeing from Jolo in 2006.

“US and Philippine forces worked seamlessly to intercept two vessels (one of them high-speed) attempting to flee Jolo for Basilan,” said the confidential cable.

JSOTF-P in action

“Following reports that Umar Patek may have been trying to escape, U.S. P-3 aircraft; Joint Task Force 515 helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles; and Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) MK-V vessels shadowed the two boats and vectored an intercept by Philippine Navy and Philippine National Police Maritime Group units,” it said.

US troops under the 600-strong JSOTF-P were also involved in fighting in Jolo November 12 and 13 that involved an AFP operation to either capture or kill key ASG sub-commander Dr. Abu, according to secret cable 05MANILA5316.

“[JSOTF-P] liaison elements provided intelligence support and advice at the battalion-level and above during the operation. JSOTF-P was not involved in the planning phase of the operation until it was well underway, and was, therefore, unable to assist in developing its more detailed aspects,” said the cable, which has a “NOFORN,” or “Not Releasable to Foreign Nationals” caveat.

The JSOTF-P, which is composed of Special Forces personnel from the US Army, Navy, Air, Air Force, and Marines, is also mentioned in other cables published by WikiLeaks.

The headquarters of US Special Forces troops deployed in the Philippines  is based in Zamboanga City. The JSOTF-P has 3 subordinate regional task forces, as well as personnel in Manila who work with the US embassy and the AFP General Headquarters.

Forward deployment

Secret cable 06MANILA4378 also revealed that Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents also joined the JSOTF-P in testing the “forward deployment” of US federal agents.

“The concept works,” it said.

The cable said 2 FBI agents “examined and exploited for US law enforcement purposes” pieces of evidence seized during a raid by Philippine security forces on an Abu Sayyaf safe house in Jolo City and backpacks recovered after an encounter between Abu Sayyaf terrorists and AFP units in 2006.

The evidence was then sent to the FBI Crime Laboratory in Washington “for analysis and additional exploitation,” it added.

The FBI agents also helped the Philippine military gather and analyze other pieces of evidence. “They are helping to develop new procedures for securing sites and evidence handling,” the cable said.

“FBI deployment with JSOTF-P is an innovative concept that puts US law enforcement officers where they need to be to collect vital evidence on terrorists who target US interests.  We urge that this program be continued,” said the cable, purportedly sent by then US Ambassador Kristie Kenney

‘Push the envelope’

According to cable 05MANILA286, former Defense Secretary Avelino Cruz sought ways to expand joint Philippine-US counterterrorism operations “within the perceived limits of the Philippine constitution.”

“Attorney Norman Daanoy, Chief of the DND’s Office of Legal Affairs, in a January 13 legal brief to Secretary Cruz, argued that, while prohibited from engaging in combat except in self-defense, U.S. forces in the Philippines could engage in a range of ‘combat-related activities,’ to include providing intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance support to the AFP,” it added.

“Attorney Jose Pascual, Secretary Cruz’s Legal Counsel, seconded this view in talks with US counterparts, noting the Philippine Supreme Court (Lim vs. Executive Secretary, 380 SCRA 742) explicitly ‘authorized’ U.S. forces to assist, advise, and train GRP counterparts,” the cable said.

It quoted Pascqual to have told US officials that the DND, under Cruz, was trying to “push the envelope in respect to combat-related activities.”

“Pascual, who previously worked for Cruz as a member of the Malacañang legal staff, noted, however, any proposed activity should fall under “the rubric of exercise” because of the difficulty the word ’operation’ posed for the Filipino side,” it added.

Mubarak regime falls, but what will be the legacy?

February 12, 2011 

Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak has been toppled by a people’s power revolution. Al Jazeera reports:

Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, has resigned from his post, handing over power to the armed forces.

Omar Suleiman, the vice-president, announced in a televised address on Friday that the president was “waiving” his office, and had handed over authority to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

Suleiman’s short statement was received with a roar of approval and by celebratory chanting and flag-waving from a crowd of hundreds of thousands in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, as well as by other pro-democracy campaigners who attending protests across the country.

This is a great victory for the Egyptian people, but the struggle is not yet over.   What form the new government takes will be hotly contested.  And as Filipino anti-bases activist Corazon Fabros reminds us “Closer to, but not yet. The U.S. military aids must stop or it will be more of the same … just like in the Philippines…” She shared the following article by Malaysian scholar/activist Chandra Muzzafar:

THE EGYPTIAN REVOLUTION: THE TRIUMPH OF HUMAN DIGNITY

by Chandra Muzaffar.

The people of Egypt have won a great victory. They have defeated a dictator. They have ousted Hosni Mubarak.

Mubarak fell at the feet of people power. The Egyptian people showed tremendous courage in their struggle against the dictatorship. They persevered against great odds. Their sacrifice was monumental. According to UN sources, in the course of their 18 day protest against a President who had misruled for most of 30 years, some 300 hundred people died at the hands of hoodlums and thugs serving the Mubarak regime.

While thugs targeted the people, it is remarkable that those who fought for justice, freedom and dignity were largely non-violent. Simply put, it was a peaceful revolution— a revolution that had as its epicentre, Medan Tahrir, Liberation Square. The revolutionaries, as commentators have observed, were civil and courteous.

At the forefront of this revolution were young people, in their twenties and thirties. It was their idealism which was the fuel of this revolution. They utilised the new media to the hilt to mobilise and galvanise the masses.

The Egyptian Revolution was, in a sense, inspired by the Tunisian Revolution of 14th January 2011. Tunisians— again many of them young men and women— showed Egyptians and Arabs throughout West Asia and North Africa (WANA) that when human beings overcome fear, a hope, a distant goal, is suddenly transformed into reality.

Because Egypt is the heart of the Arab world, its Revolution, the Revolution of 11th February, will have a tremendous impact upon ordinary men and women in the region. It will give them strength and confidence. It will empower them. The Egyptian Revolution will become the beacon that inspires the masses to stand up against corrupt, greedy rulers who betray the trust of the people. It will become the banner around which will rally all those who cherish their dignity and independence and refuse to submit to foreign dictation and dominance that has been the curse of WANA. In this regard, the Egyptian Revolution will undoubtedly provide fresh impetus to the noble Palestinian struggle for self-determination..

By a strange coincidence, the Egyptian Revolution happened on the same day as Iran’s Islamic Revolution. It was on the 11th of February 1979 that the Islamic revolutionaries in Iran proclaimed victory after the military declared its neutrality and the revolutionaries took over public buildings and the Iranian State Radio and Television. 11th February is celebrated as a national holiday in Iran.

The powers-that-be in Tel Aviv, Washington, London, Paris and other Western capitals would not like to be reminded of this historical coincidence. It is a coincidence that will also send a shiver down the spine of many a monarch and president in the Arab world. More than this coincidence, both Revolutions succeeded in harnessing the energies of millions of people in their respective countries. The Egyptian and Iranian Revolutions — some would argue—are the two most broad-based revolutions in human history.

At a great historical moment like this (I am writing this article a couple of hours after Vice-President Omar Sulaiman’s announcement over Egyptian Television that Mubarak is stepping down) we should recall the other illustrious revolutions in history— the French Revolution of 1789; the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, and the Chinese Revolution of 1949. There have also been people’s movements in recent decades that have succeeded in overthrowing dictatorial regimes that had lost credibility with the people. The people power movement in the Philippines in 1986 and the mass movement against the Indonesian President Suharto in 1998 would be two examples from Southeast Asia while the series of uprisings in Eastern Europe in 1989 would also testify to the power embodied in the people.

Revolutions and popular uprisings, however idealistic and altruistic its leaders and participants may be in the initial stages, do not always deliver on the freedom and justice they promise. There are many revolutions that have betrayed the people.. We do not know how the Egyptian Revolution will unfold in the coming days and months.

But for the time being, the people of Egypt, and indeed the people of the world, have every right and reason to celebrate. We have just witnessed the liberation of the soul of a nation. We have just embraced the triumph of human dignity.

Dr. Chandra Muzaffar is President of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST) and Professor of Global Studies at Universiti Sains Malaysia.

Malaysia.

12 February 2011

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