By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star
Last Monday the Pentagon submitted its $496-billion budget for 2015 which, among others, would start to “shrink” the US Army from 570,000 to 450,000 troops by 2019. That would be the army’s smallest size since 1940, before its massive build-up to a 6-million force mobilized against Nazi Germany and Japan during World War II.
The manpower shrinking is impelled mainly by two factors: 1) fiscal austerity (huge budget cuts, in view of high levels of deficit and a $16-trillion debt) agreed on between President Barack Obama and the House of Representatives; and 2) Obama’s pledge in 2008 to end the US wars of aggression-intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq, launched in 2001 and 2002 by his predecessor George W. Bush.
The two wars have cost $4 trillion in American people’s money, and nearly 6,000 US soldiers killed and over 50,000 wounded.
It was during the “cold war” era (in rivalry with the Soviet Union) that the US reduced its army to 1.6 million from the 6-million force in World War II. Still, at that troop level, it was able to wage wars of intervention-aggression in South Korea (1952) and South Vietnam (1968 to 1975, ending in defeat).
The expected result of the (relatively) smaller budget, according to the International New York Times, would be “a military capable of defeating any adversary, but too small for protracted foreign occupation.”
Certain Pentagon officials, however, warned that budget cuts would pose greater risks for the US armed forces “if they are again ordered to carry out two large-scale military actions at the same time,” as these would entail much longer time to succeed (if ever) and a much larger number of casualties.
But don’t worry, assured the Pentagon: “We’re still going to have a significant-sized Army. But it’s going to be agile. It will be capable. It will be modern. It will be trained.”
The INYT (which reported in detail the Pentagon plan initiated in 2012 by former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and refined by current Secretary Chuck Hagel), concurred. Its February 27 editorial, titled “A military budget to fit the times,” says in part:
“But this reduction should not alarm anyone. The truth is that the United States cannot afford the larger force indefinitely, and it doesn’t need it. The country is tired of large-scale foreign occupations and, in any case, Pentagon planners do not expect they will be necessary in the future.
“Even with a smaller Army, America’s defenses will remain the world’s most formidable, especially given Mr. Hagel’s proposed increase in investments in special operations, cyberwarfare, and rebalancing the American presence in Asia.”
Obama had earlier assured sustained funding for special operations under his “light-footprint” doctrine (less soldiers on the ground), along with continued CIA-directed “drone warfare” (armed attacks on targeted individuals or groups by unmanned aerial vehicles directed from US military bases overseas).
He has likewise assured no funding cuts for the “pivot/rebalancing” to Asia-Pacific of 60% of America’s maritime forces.
Last Feb. 15, this column discussed how the US Special Operations forces have become a “growing form of overseas power projection” by their deployment to 134 countries under President Obama’s watch. This was a phenomenal 123% increase from only 60 countries towards the end of Bush’s term in 2008.
(The SOFs comprise teams of Green Berets and Rangers, Navy SEALs and Delta Force commandos, specialized helicopter crews, boat teams, and “civil affairs” personnel. Their missions are largely carried out without media scrutiny or “any type of outside oversight.��)
The American troops deployed in the Philippines on “rotational basis” since 2002, purportedly to advise and train Filipino troops under the Visiting Forces Agreement, are supervised by a Joint Special Operations Task Force. The JSOTF operates from an installation within the AFP’s Andrews Air Base in Zamboanga City.
The US installation has been off limits to Filipinos, military or civilian — a factor constituting an infringement or derogation of Philippine sovereignty.
In negotiations between the Philippine and US defense and foreign affairs secretaries since 2012, the Aquino government has agreed in principle — as concessions to the US military “pivot/rebalancing” in Asia — to increase the US troop presence and to gratuitously grant the US access to all Philippine military bases and facilities.
However, the negotiations towards a “Framework Agreement on Increased Rotational Presence” hit a snag last year, reportedly on the issue of Philippine “access and control” over facilities that may be built by the US.
With the talks set to resume early this month, President Aquino has expressed optimism that final agreement is getting close, because “I haven’t been presented major sticking points.” In a recent interview by Bloomberg, he tacitly confirmed the cause of the snag, saying:
“They’re still crafting the exact language as to how to address that (issue), but we do recognize we do need facilities to be able to enhance ours and their abilities.”
That cryptic statement makes one guess which side is gaining the upper hand in the negotiations. But by stating “we do need facilities to be able to enhance ours and their abilities,” P-Noy has practically conceded that the US can set up their military facilities.
What of Filipino access and control over such facilities? On that question P-Noy was silent.
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March 1, 2014