US, Philippines to Debate Future of Military Bases Withdrawal Would Mean Shift Away from Keeping Forces Abroad

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NEGOTIATIONS begin today between the United States and the Philippines over the future of US military bases on the islands.

The talks present some watershed questions for the structure of American military power since World War II.

The Philippines bases support large-scale naval and air operations in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Their purpose has been to contain communism, especially Soviet communism, in Asia.

The array of US bases overseas has been eroding for several years, but any sharp withdrawal from the Philippines would mean a fundamental shift away from maintaining military forces abroad.

"The last major remnant of the postwar structure in the Pacific," defense policy expert Don Snider of the Center for Strategic and International Studies calls the bases.

The American leases on the base property expire Sept. 16, 1991. Since 1947, the lease agreements have been renegotiated and extended. But in the Philippines, the bases symbolize a lack of sovereignty in the face of American power. Anti-base sentiment is high in political circles. This time, an entirely new agreement is to be negotiated.

The talks could take months or longer. The possible outcomes range from a termination of the US leases at their expiration date to greater joint use with Philippine armed forces that phase out the US presence over decades.

The middle ground includes possibilities such as a gradual conversion of the bases into commercial uses that allow for both Philippine and US military use as well.

This option gives US warships a place to put to port in Southeast Asia while giving the Philippines full sovereignty, says Thomas McNaugher, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. "The question is, how fast do you move in that direction?" he says. US bases

Subic Bay Naval Station, the logistical hub of the US Seventh Fleet, can support battle operations for several aircraft-carrier battle groups at once, and employs nearly 8,000 Americans.

Clark Air Base is the only US tactical air base in Southeast Asia, with more than 10,000 US military personnel.

Of four smaller bases, perhaps the most critical, according to a recent RAND Corporation study, is the Crow Valley Weapons Range - 43,660 acres for practice combat missions.

The US bases employ more than 68,000 Filipinos. The US agreed to $481 million in annual compensation to the Philippines - a form of rent for the use of property - for this year and next.

The amount is in dispute as the talks begin. The US Congress cut the appropriation this year by $96 million, and the Filipinos argue that the US payment could be as much as $222 million short. …

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