Is EDCA dead in the water?

By Perry Diaz

Fiery Cross Reef reclamation

Fiery Cross Reef reclamation

With all the hoopla following the signing of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the Philippines and the United States on April 28, 2014 in Manila, one would expect American military forces to be deployed to at least eight strategic locations to protect the Philippines from external forces intruding into her territory.

But 16 months have passed and not a single American troop has landed on Philippine soil. Meanwhile, China began reclaiming seven reefs in the Spratly archipelago – all within the Philippines’ 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) – and building artificial islands on them. And, on these “islands,” the Chinese are constructing military structures including a runway and harbor on Fiery Cross Reef that can accommodate China’s biggest bombers and large warships.

Ballistic missiles.

Ballistic missiles.

And from these “unsinkable aircraft carriers,” China can then send her warplanes or ballistic missiles to any region in the Philippines. With no missile defense shield, the Philippines is indefensible. This would be a situation that would compel the Philippines to invoke the U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT). But the question is: How long would it take for the U.S. to mobilize an expeditionary force to liberate the Philippines in the event that it was invaded? With her military forces thinly spread out all over the world, can the U.S. spare enough manpower and military assets to liberate the Philippines?

During the presidency of Ronald Reagan, his Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger devised a step-by-step guide to serve the military and policy makers who are planning to send U.S. troops to war. The Weinberger Doctrine was developed to avoid the pitfalls of the Vietnam War that ended in ignominious defeat for the U.S. The stigma of losing the war devastated America, which made her hesitant to go to war again… until Reagan’s successor, George H.W. Bush, sent American troops to Saudi Arabia on August 2, 1990 to prepare for the liberation of Kuwait from Iraqi invasion. On January 17, 1991, the American forces attacked Iraq. The Gulf War, as it was called, ended on February 28, 1991 when the Iraqi forces fled.

Powell Doctrine

Vice President Dick Cheney and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Colin Powell.

Vice President Dick Cheney and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Colin Powell.

The following year, Gen. Colin Powell, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, updated the Weinberger Doctrine, based on the lessons learned from the Gulf War. The modified Powell Doctrine contains eight steps, to wit:

1. Is a vital national security interest threatened?
2. Do we have a clear attainable objective?
3. Have the risks and costs been fully and frankly analyzed?
4. Have all other non-violent policy means been fully exhausted?
5. Is there a plausible exit strategy to avoid endless entanglement?
6. Have the consequences of our action been fully considered?
7. Is the action supported by the American people?
8. Do we have genuine broad international support?

If the Philippines invoked the MDT to repel foreign invasion, the American decision-makers have to go through each step of the Powell Doctrine before deciding to send troops and weaponry to the Philippines.

An oft-repeated question from leftist and nationalist groups in the Philippines is: “Why is it that the U.S. would defend Japan and South Korea but wouldn’t defend the Philippines in the event of a foreign invasion?” The answer to this question is in step one of the Powell Doctrine: “Is a vital national security interest threatened?” The answer is “No.”

Tripping the wire

Subic Bay

Subic Bay

However, it would have been a different situation if there were American bases in the Philippines, which was the case before the Philippine Senate evicted the bases in 1992. The presence of American forces on Philippine soil would serve as a “tripwire,” which could trigger immediate reaction from American troops stationed in the Philippines.

A case in point is Japan and South Korea where 50,000 and 28,000 U.S. troops are stationed, respectively. There are American airbases in both countries. The U.S. also deploys a carrier battle group to a forward operating base in Yokosuka, Japan. If war breaks out, there is no need to go through the Powell Doctrine because American forces are already there.

EDCA would have provided the “tripwire” mechanism. With at least eight strategic locations spread throughout the Philippines, a foreign invader wouldn’t dare come near the country, lest she would trip the wire that would alert U.S. forces. But where are the American forces that EDCA was supposed to provide?

Sad to say, EDCA is not yet operational. Several petitions have been filed in the Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of EDCA. But instead of tackling the complaint due to the urgency of the matter, the Supreme Court hasn’t done anything yet, which makes one wonder if the high court couldn’t muster a majority to rule in favor of EDCA?

Alignment with a superpower

US-vs-ChinaSome people say that the Philippines should start rearming. That’s fine and she should – nay, must! But no matter how much the country spends on rearmament, she wouldn’t be able to match China’s firepower.

There is only one way to defend Philippine territory and that is to align militarily with a superpower. Now, of course, the Philippines has a choice between the U.S. and China, the only two superpowers that have security interests in the Asia-Pacific region. But given the “special” relationship between the Philippines and the U.S. as opposed to her adversarial relationship with China, it is in the best interest of the Philippines to align with the U.S. Otherwise, the risk of the Philippines becoming a vassal or client state of China is very high. And this is where the Supreme Court should hinge her arguments in ruling on the constitutionality of EDCA.

Mutual Defense Treaty

US-Philippine-flagsIf the high court fails to act on EDCA favorably, then EDCA is dead in the water. Without EDCA, the MDT would be nothing more than a piece of worthless paper. If the Philippines were invaded by a foreign power, the U.S. would not be obligated to defend the country automatically. No, sir! First of all, there is the Powell Doctrine, which has to be applied. And, secondly, Article IV of the MDT states that an attack on either party will be acted upon in accordance with their constitutional processes and that any armed attack on either party will be brought to the attention of the United Nations for immediate action. Once the United Nations has issued such orders all hostile actions between the signatories of this treaty and opposing parties will be terminated.

But how can the U.N. intervene when China is a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council and as such has veto power? And with no warships and no warplanes — and no Uncle Sam to help her — how can the Philippines protect her sovereignty and territorial integrity from foreign aggression?

And this is where military alliances matter.


10 Responses. Have your say.

  1. Don Azarias says:


    It’s not only dead in the water. It has been dead on arrival (DOA) ever since the U.S. and the Philippines signed this MDT aka EDCA.

    First, there are lots of conditions attached to it that, I do believe, will make it unenforceable. I also believe that this doesn’t have the full support on Capitol Hill. The current White House occupant has shown that he is wishy-washy when it comes to using America’s military might. Remember the hollowed threats he made on Iran, North Korea, China Syria, Libya and now, Russia, that Vladimir Putin is laughing off? Make no mistake, Barack Obama won’t allow his legacy to be tainted by making him accountable for going to war with China or other hostile countries. For him, his Nobel Prize reigns supreme.

    And the single most important impediment to EDCA? The war-weary American people; they won’t allow and support another deadly and costly war with an emerging superpower in Asia for the sake of another country whose government is considered by many, to be one of the most corrupt on the face of the earth.


    • perry says:

      Hi Don,

      I couldn’t have said it better. Obama is leading America to oblivion as a world power. His Obama Doctrine failed miserably. We lost Crimea to Russia and the Spratly Islands to China. And now Russia, soon to be followed by China, is building her air and naval forces in Syria. Pretty soon it would be Iraq in partnership with Iran. Even the small country Djibouti is evicting U.S. forces in a second U.S. base, which will be converted to China’s first military base in Africa with a planned 10,000-strong Chinese contingent. I’m afraid that at the rate Obama is retreating U.S. forces around the world, it would become a third-rate military power by the time Obama steps down in 2017.


  2. Sluggo Rigor says:

    We all realize that Unc Sam acts only in his own interest. We’ve got to assess the situation as best we can…also for our own interest. Now is the time when Filipinos need genuinely patriotic, strong, thinking leaders. God bless the Land of Our forefathers…

  3. pat talens says:

    it’s wishful thinking to expect or to force China to observe restraint in its military build-up and conquest of strategic inlets claimed as owned by the Philippines. China is playing its winning card of a weakened United States—all brought by President Obama’s failed presidential leadership of the United States in foreign policy matters. China and Russia and Iran are enjoying and taking advantage of 1 1/2 yr more of President Obama’s helm of the USA—never before has the mighty USA experienced such a destructive descent in its world stature as an economic and military powerhouse.

    • pat talens says:

      And such will be President Obama’s sorrowful legacy—the decline of the United States as a world powe,r and his being the Neville Chamberlain of the modern world in terms of his insight and vision in world affairs.

      • pat talens says:

        In President Obama’s hands and actions came the triumph-turned-defeat in Iraq, the rise of violent ISIS, the disintegration of the Middle East in which Muslims— now masked in the name of migrants, refugees, persecuted ones—are invading Europe to soon permanently alter its social and religious landscape, the unrelenting land aggressions by China and Russia, and the soon rise to economic and nuclear power of Iran, the single most powerful nemesis of the United States in the Middle East.

        What is happening now is classic outcome and newly established model for study when the United States abdicates its moral and military leadership, and appeasement its guiding principles around the world.

        Current American generation can only hope the new American President will succeed in reversing such gigantic failed and sorrowful Obama legacies—for the succeeding generations.

      • perry says:

        Hi Pat,

        It’s sad that Obama is blinded by his misguided belief that diplomacy is the best way to resolve geopolitical issues. But what he doesn’t realize is that diplomacy works only if backed by a strong military.

  4. Nony Abrajano says:

    Think about it that President Obama laid down his non-confrontational policy around the world and in retreat since he took office. If you watched the documentary film “Dream of my Father” that D’Souza made on the life of the president and analyze it it tells you exactly his true direction of his life to weaken the U.S. economically, domestically, and in foreign affairs. He became the President by ACCIDENT who is anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist, anti-colonialist, and anti-war like his father. He was unprepared to tackle complex issues confronting our country. Unfortunately, EDCA is in limbo until a Republican president comes into power and China use this weakness of the United States to fill the vacuum. The U.S. is powerless under President Obama against the expansion agenda and influence of Putin, China, Isis and Iran. He only loves to talk and make promises with nothing to support it. That’s a true sign of a weakling.

    • perry says:

      Hi Nony,

      Something is wrong with his way of thinking. He has a one-track mind and doesn’t look beyond the tip of his nose. He didn’t foresee the danger of withdrawing all American forces from Iraq and leaving a small contingent of troops in Afghanistan. Now ISIS is in control of Iraq and Syria pretty soon. The Taliban in Afghanistan is gaining strength. Meanwhile, China is busy grabbing islands in the South China Sea and it’s making Japan, Taiwan, and the Philippines nervous. Australia’s new Prime Minister Marshall Turnbull wants to reassess Australia’s security relationship with the U.S. vis a vis it’s economic relationship with China. Even Israel is getting friendly with Russia. Egypt is getting close to Russia. Earlier this year, Egypt bought $2 billion worth of fighter jets and helicopters because Obama refused to sell to Egypt because the Egyptian military overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood from power. Even the Arab states are getting closer to Russia. Djibouti is evicting the U.S. military base in Obock to allow China to take over the base and bring in 10,000 troops.

      • pat talens says:

        There is slight silver lining behind all the morass of domestic and foreign policy failures by the United States. This will be when President Obama is to leave office and a systematic transition of power ensues. This is our American democracy, when no revolution surmounts to topple such incompetent leader— and the rule of law and Constitution prevails in this great model nation.

        For our President Obama could have been toppled and the nation would have been changed in violent ways—had we been a different nation and people, in the face of such gargantuan incompetence in Presidential leadership, and in the United States being so humiliated, so embarrassed, so weakened in world influence by such incompetence and misguided vision in world affairs.

        Our American democratic system gives us lights after the tunnel—that an election will soon come to pass to give us a new Leader, a better President that is.

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