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Wait, what?

June 25, 2019


First of 2 parts

AFTER the collision between a Filipino fishing boat and a Chinese ship in Reed Bank on June 9, 2019, a series of ridiculously dangerous and idiotic statements and events ensued. Three of them stood out. Let’s start with the most dangerous one: Sen. Ping Lacson wanted the President to invoke the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT).

The 1951 MDT is a Cold War era treaty between the Philippines and the United States meant to solidify the former as part of the defensive perimeter of the latter in the Pacific theater. The treaty is one-sided: it has allowed the US to have military presence in the Philippines, but doesn’t provide for the latter to maintain a military presence in the territories of the former. After the lease of the US bases weren’t renewed by the Senate in 1991, the Americans were still able to maintain a military presence in the Philippines through the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).

Unlike the 1949 Washington Treaty (WT) of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Cold War military alliance between North America and countries in Europe, the MDT has no automaticity clause. I am very familiar with WT as it has been often discussed in our foreign policy and diplomacy class by our professor who was the 11th secretary-general of the NATO.

Both WT and MDT contain provisions on collective defense — Article 5 in the WT and Article 4 in the MDT. However, they differ on the level of obligation to act collectively.

Article 5 of WT: “The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defense recognized by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.”

Article 4 of MDT: “Each Party recognizes that an armed attack in the Pacific area on either of the Parties would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common dangers in accordance with its constitutional processes.”

Article 5 of WT unequivocally recognizes that an attack to one treaty party is an attack against all of them. This isn’t present in Article 4 of MDT. Article 4 of MDT only says that an attack to any of the parties is “recognized” by each party as “dangerous to its own peace and safety.” While WT is conclusive in the recognition that the attack on one is an attack on all, the MDT gives the treaty parties more flexibility in classifying the attack as merely “dangerous.” It doesn’t obligate the parties to recognize the attack on any of them as if they themselves have been attacked.

In Article 4 of MDT one can see the clause that the treaty parties “would act to meet the common dangers in accordance with its constitutional processes.” This extra-process of determining which action the parties would take isn’t present in Article 5 of WT, which automatically obligates treaty parties to provide assistance, including the use of their armed forces. No such automatic obligation is present in the MDT.

When Cabinet secretary Karlo Nograles and presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo pointed out to Lacson that the MDT can only be invoked in case of an armed attack, Lacson called this thinking “backward.”

“We should not wait for an armed aggression against our vessels to occur before we invoke the treaty,” Lacson said.

This is a grave misinterpretation of the MDT. The MDT doesn’t contain any provision for pre-emptive action. The treaty is clear in its language. Lacson should tell his researchers to consult first the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties before making him speak that exposes his ignorance on interpreting treaties.

The NATO treaty, which provides the highest level of obligation to act among all the defense treaties of the US, doesn’t even have preemptive provisions! Even during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, which was precipitated by Soviet Union’s placement of nuclear missiles in Cuba, WT’s Article 5 wasn’t invoked. In the entire history of NATO, it was only invoked once, after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the US.

In April 2012, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan considered invoking Article 5 to secure Turkey’s border against security threats spilling from the Syrian border because of the civil war. But this didn’t push through.

In Part 2, I will discuss Lacson’s incompetent use of the concept of balance of power and the idiotic view that joint investigation will undermine Philippine sovereignty or sovereign rights claims.

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