Political Economy of United States Military Bases

Political Economy of United States Military Bases

In early 1991, the Philippine government was in ongoing negotiations with the United States on the future status of United States naval and air facilities at Subic Bay and Clark Air Base. What would normally be an issue of foreign policy and national security became a major domestic political issue and took on an economic dimension of considerable importance. At the domestic level, the conflict was between those who argued that the continuing presence of the United States bases was an infringement on Philippine sovereignty and a continuation of a neocolonial relationship and those who, for a combination of internal security, foreign relations, and economic reasons, saw the need for maintaining the presence of the bases. President Aquino, through 1990, refused to publicly commit herself to a position; however, it was clear that her government was working to reach accommodation with the United States. As negotiations progressed, the economic issue became prominent.

There were three economic considerations from the point of view of the Philippine government. First, the proportion of the Philippine budget allocated for its armed forces was the smallest in the region, a fact linked to the presence of United States air and naval forces in the Philippines, as well as direct military assistance. Second, in the latter half of the 1980s, the bases directly employed between 42,000 and 68,000 Filipinos and contracted for goods and services from Filipino businesses. During this period, yearly base purchases of goods and services in the Philippine economy (when corrected for the estimated import content of the goods purchased) was in the range of P6.0 billion to P8.3 billion.

A third and politically very important consideration, was the sum given to the Philippines by the United States in connection with the presence of the bases, referred to as aid by United States officials and as rent by the Filipinos. Base-related payments were first agreed to in 1979 when United States president Jimmy Carter made a "best effort" pledge to secure US$500 million for the Philippines from the United States Congress over a five-year period. In 1983 another five-year commitment was made, this time for US$900 million. In October 1988, the Philippines' Secretary of Foreign Affairs Raul Manglapus and United States' Secretary of State George Schultz signed a two-year agreement for US$962 million, an amount double the previous compensation but substantially less than the US$2.4 billion that the Philippines initially demanded. In 1991 talks over the future of the bases and the size and terms of the aid or rent that would be given in consideration for continued United States access to military facilities in the Philippines was the most important unresolved issue. The decision of the Philippine administration to bring Secretary of Finance Jesus Estanislao into the negotiations in March 1991 was a further indication of the economic importance of the bases to the Philippine government.

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