Mutual ‘Offense’ Treaty

Mutual ‘Offense’ Treaty

Washington and Manila are on track to deepening alliance as President Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr. concluded his visit to the United States. (Photo courtesy of Arab News)

The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting. If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.

— Chinese general Sun Tzu

CALOOCAN CITY, Metro Manila — Based on my research, what can be considered the first ever defense treaty between nations is that known as the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (commonly known as the Rio Treaty, the Rio Pact, the Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, or by the Spanish-language acronym TIAR from Tratado Interamericano de Asistencia Recíproca), which is an agreement signed in 1947 in Rio de Janeiro among many countries of the Americas.

And incorporated in the said treaty’s articles, the central principle contained is that “an attack against one is to be considered an attack against them all.” This was known as the ‘hemispheric defense’ doctrine, but despite this, several treaty members breached the mutual defense agreement on multiple occasions.

But according to historical records, the Treaty of Alliance in 1778 between France and the young United States may be considered an earlier agreement of mutual defense, which was signed immediately after the Treaty of Amity and Commerce, in which France was the first nation to formally recognize the US as a sovereign nation; this treaty had also established mutual commercial and navigational rights between the two nations, in direct defiance of the British Acts of Trade and Navigation, which restricted American access to foreign markets.

In contemplation that these commercial and diplomatic ties would result in hostilities between France and Britain, the Treaty of Alliance guaranteed French military support in just such an event. It also forbade either nation from making a separate peace with Britain and was contemplated as a permanent defensive pact.

It appears that these earlier defense agreements are a template of the Mutual Defense Treaty between Manila and Washington. US President Joseph Biden had recently reaffirmed this to President Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr., saying that his country’s “ironclad commitment” to defend the Philippines from an attack by a foreign aggressor.

The Mutual Defense Treaty, which has been in effect since 1951, compels the US and the Philippines to come to each other’s defense if one comes under attack. Though strained during the presidency of Marcos Jr.’s predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, who pivoted away from our traditional ally in favor of Beijing, the defense agreement remains in place.

Marcos told Biden that the Philippines and the US will always be partners: “We are your partners, we are your allies, we are your friends. And, in like fashion, we have always considered the United States our partner, our ally, and our friend.”

This looks good as the US remains a global superpower and has the most powerful military in the world with an army that outclasses all others in training and equipment (aside from battle experience) and a naval force that boasts of the biggest number of super-sized aircraft carriers.

Yet, we turn to developments around the world where we see so much aggression. Recently, Russia invaded Ukraine and there are pockets of conflict—if not full-blown wars—happening in several regions across the globe. Is it truly logical to depend on mutual defense treaties to secure our sovereignty?

In 1799, America’s first president wrote: “. . . make them believe, that offensive operations, often times, is the surest, if not the only (in some cases) means of defense.”

Mao Zedong opined that “the only real defense is active defense,” meaning defense for the purpose of counter-attacking and taking the offensive. Often success rests on destroying the enemy’s ability to attack. This principle is paralleled in the writings of Machiavelli and Sun Tzu.

Some martial arts emphasize attack over defense. Wing Chun, for example, is a style of kung fu that uses the maxim: “The hand which strikes also blocks.” During World War I, Germany planned to attack France so as to quickly knock it out of the war, thereby reducing the Entente’s numerical superiority and freeing up German troops to head east and defeat Russia.

And in his military treatise, ‘The Art of War, the well-known Chinese general and military expert Sun Tzu stated that “attack is the secret of defense; defense is the planning of an attack.”

With this in mind, should we still depend on a mutual defense treaty or should we now consider having a mutual ‘offense’ treaty?

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