The Strategic Pacific

April 25, 1986

Report Outline
The Bases Question
Strategy Evolution
Debating the Options
Special Focus

The Bases Question

Coming Tokyo Summit Focuses Attention

When leaders of the seven principal non-communist industrial countries meet in Tokyo May 4–6 for their annual summit conference, world attention will inevitably follow. The vast Pacific Basin's economic and strategic importance will again be brought to the forefront of American public thought, which recently has fastened almost solely upon events in the Mediterranean. While the thrust of the conference is economic, especially Japan's role in international trade and finance, U.S. security interests in the Pacific are not left aside, even if they do not appear on the formal agenda. The Pacific Basin, in President Reagan's words, “is where the future of the world lies,” As if to underline the importance he ascribes to Asia, Reagan will make a side trip to Indonesia and attend a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations on the island of Bali before going on to Tokyo.

America's vision of a new, dominant Pacific era is nonetheless marred with trouble spots. The economic boom experienced by several of the countries has also brought political unrest, especially in the Philippines and South Korea. Often a growing middle class is demanding greater political freedom than the governments are willing to cede. The downfall of Ferdinand E. Marcos as president of the Philippines ended 20 years of despotic rule that is widely blamed for destroying the Pacific island nation's once burgeoning economy and driving many of its citizens into the arms of an insurgency that seeks to set up a communist government.

The growth of the insurgency despite the overwhelming support shown newly elected President Corazon Aquino has renewed concern about the fate of two U.S. military bases in the Philippines, for the removal of Subic Bay Naval Base and Clark Air Base—the two largest U.S. military installations outside the United States—remains a central demand of the insurgents. The Pentagon has proposed other sites for Pacific bases, but no new basing arrangement would offer the same combination of proximity to the East Asian mainland and vital sea lanes, large capacity and cheap labor as Clark and Subic, Moving the bases would mean dispersing U.S. forces among several smaller sites separated by long distances. Finally, construction costs as well as the cost of procuring more ships, aircraft and other weapons necessary to maintain the effectiveness of the Pacific forces would be exorbitant, possibly prohibitive, in an era of budget constraint in Washington.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
U.S. Policy in the Pacific
Apr. 20, 1990  Should the U.S. Reduce Its Pacific Forces?
Apr. 07, 1989  Pacific Rim Challenges
Apr. 25, 1986  The Strategic Pacific
Jul. 05, 1985  Dawn of the Pacific Era
Jun. 06, 1975  Changing Status of Micronesia
Aug. 17, 1966  Australia: Pacific Ally
Nov. 04, 1964  Indonesia vs. Malaysia
Jul. 24, 1963  Malaysian Federation: Union of Convenience
Jul. 05, 1962  West New Guinea: Pacific Trouble Spot
Jan. 28, 1953  Pacific Defense
Sep. 09, 1949  Pacific Dependencies
May 03, 1945  Trusteeship in the Pacific
Alliances and Security Agreements
Regional Political Affairs: East Asia and the Pacific