The recent news that the US is coming back in force to the Philippines is a significant one. After the US lost access to basing rights in Subic Bay and at Clark Airforce Base in the early 1990s, US capabilities and the regional security interests of actors like the Philippines degraded, with the balance of power tipping towards China in the South China Sea. With expanded access for US forces, US’ power projection capabilities have enhanced in a region that is showing signs of increasing tension and war risk.
While it has not been made public as to which bases US
forces will have increased access to, speculation puts some of those bases on
the island of Luzon,
which could close the outermost ring between China, Taiwan, and the Pacific
Ocean. This is important because it serves to box China into the South China
Sea, reducing potential access to the Pacific Ocean, from where US Pacific
forces from Guam and Hawaii would reinforce the South China Sea theater, where there an outbreak of a shooting war between the US and China. Further, the bases are
at a distance such that both land-based and sea-based missile apparatuses can
fire from port and strike targets relevant to hostilities in and around Taiwan,
while likewise serving as an in-theater staging point for a conflict there. Finally,
it strengthens the US’ hand politically as the US seeks to strengthen regional
alliances in a bid to contain rising Chinese influence in the region.
The move comes amidst a backdrop of deepening
cooperation between the US and Japan as well as Japan and other nations like
the UK, which shows a
deepening web of alliances aimed at strengthening the Western position in the
region. In fact, negotiations are in the early stages over a new
deal in the works between Japan, the Philippines, and the US, which would
further strengthen regional defense cooperation between US' allied actors.
The moves in sum are meant to deter “Chinese aggression” against actors like
the Philippines and Japan, which find their position increasingly precarious
without US and others’ support. It remains to be seen whether the growing web
of defensive alliances and increased US forces regional deployment will serve
to deter war, or whether the moves instead point towards a brewing great power
conflict, the likes of which the world has not seen since the end of WWII.