Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has just given us notice he will be terminating the Visiting Forces Agreement that governs U.S. military personnel in the islands.
His notification starts the clock running on a six-month deadline. If no new agreement is negotiated, the VFA is dissolved.
The Pentagon is shaken. If there is no VFA, how do we continue to move forces in and out to guarantee our ability to honor the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty? Defense Secretary Mark Esper called Duterte’s action “a step in the wrong direction.”
President Donald Trump openly disagreed: “If they would like to do that, that’s fine. We’ll save a lot of money.”
The Philippine Islands are among the largest recipients of foreign aid in East Asia, and we’ve provided $1.3 billion in military assistance over the last two decades. But money shouldn’t be the largest consideration here.
Trump has been given a historic opportunity to reshape U.S. and Asia policy along the lines he ran on in 2016.
He should tell Duterte that we accept his decision and that we, too, are giving notice of our decision to let the 1951 treaty lapse. And following expiration of that treaty, the U.S. will be absolved of any legal obligation to come to the defense of the Philippines.
There is no U.S. vital interest at risk in these islands to justify an eternal war guarantee.
Trump should seize this opportunity to tell Duterte that when the VFA, which guarantees immunity for U.S. forces in the Philippines, is dissolved, the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty is dissolved.
A message would be sent to Asia, and the world, that Trump was serious when he said that he intends to revisit and review all the defense alliances and war guarantees entered into 60 and 70 years ago.
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