Former Sen. Mike Gravel’s Amicus Brief to the Philippines Court



Nov. 10 (EIRNS)–Mike Gravel, former U.S. Senator from Alaska (1969 to 1981), recently filed an {amicus brief} with the Philippines court. The text, in full:


[by Mike Gravel, United States Senator 1969-1981] [MIKE BILLINGTON,] [October 15, 2015] Summary

The decision by the Philippine government to enter into an Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the United States government is neither in the best interest of the Philippine people nor in the best interest of the American people.

Throughout human history, conflicts that develop between national empires in decline ceding status and power to ascending nations have invariably led to war.  This occurrence is what General Martin Dempsey, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called the “Thucydides trap, where Athenian fear of a rising Sparta made the Peloponnesian War inevitable.” It is noteworthy that it was the democratic Athens that initiated the war not the autocratic Sparta. Fortunately, there are some instances in history where precarious superpower transitions have not lead to war.

China’s ascendency is primarily economic in nature, and no evidence suggests that it seeks global military hegemony even though its economic interests are global. To the contrary, China’s military expenditures in response to the irresponsible rhetoric of some American leaders have increased over the last decade but are still considerably less than a third of United States annual military expenditures, which amount equals half the world’s total military expenditures.

President Obama’s recent speech before the UN General Assembly quieted the chamber when he articulated the following threat: “I lead the strongest military that the world has ever known, and I will never hesitate to protect my country or our allies, unilaterally and by force where necessary.” This statement was immediately preceded by: “… we see in our debates about America’s role in the world a notion of strength that is defined by opposition to old enemies, perceived adversaries, a rising China, or a resurgent Russia; a revolutionary Iran, or an Islam that is incompatible with peace.”

I will argue below that the United States, whether intentionally or by accident, is skirting ever so close to the “Thucydides trap.” America’s political leadership is unable to reverse that trajectory.  Therefore, it is my hope that a foreign national interest will step forward to protect Americans from their own government’s military foreign policies.

The Philippines could possibly take up a portion of that task and in so doing safeguard its own sovereign interests while avoiding military engagements and a possible war that no one wants.

The decision of this esteemed Supreme Court can set in motion a chain of circumstances that could have an impact on whether the conflict caused by China’s global economic ascendency and the loss of United States hegemonic military primacy in the Indo-Pacific economic center gravity, will result in war by falling into the “Thucydides trap.”


We are most critical of what we hold most dear. I love my country but I cannot abide the concept “my country right or wrong.” When it is wrong I hope to propound an effective critique to negate that wrong.

As a young man I enlisted in the United States Army and graduated from the Infantry School’s Officer Candidate Program at Fort Benning, Georgia.  Most of my class went to Korea at the worst of the fighting. I had the good fortune, having been educated by the Army as a Counter Intelligence Corp (CIC) agent, of being sent to Europe as the Adjutant of the Communications Intelligence Service.  An agency that used the CIC as its cover. As a twenty-three-year old Second Lieutenant, I had the authority to classify and declassify military documents.

Advancing twenty years, little wonder as a forty-one-year old United States senator, I instantly accepted the responsibility from Daniel Ellsberg of officially releasing the Pentagon Papers, top secret documents that revealed the history of how four presidential administrations, and later a fifth, had lied to the American people about the reasons for our involvement in the quagmire of the Vietnam War. The Nixon Administration Justice Department sought my indictment, occasioning a case that was unanimously decided by the United States Supreme Court that a member of Congress could reveal any classified information within the confines of the Congress without being questioned by any other authority under the provisions of the “speech and debate clause” of the United States Constitution.

Though I am not an attorney, I did plead pro se before the United States Supreme Court, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in California, and the Supreme Court of the State of Washington.

As a legislator, I served as a representative and Speaker of the Alaska House of Representatives (1963 – 1966) and served two terms in the United States Senate representing the people of Alaska (1969 – 1981). Politically, I had the honor of enjoying the full electoral support of the Alaskan Philippine community.   During my senate career I had occasion to visit the Philippines as the guest of Ferdinand Marcos. A visit I found most instructive.

Since I was committed to the enactment of the Law of the Sea and played a leadership roll seeking its ratification in the Senate, I was appointed the delegate from the United States Senate to the 31st General Assembly of the United Nations.

As I stated above: I love my country, however, I hold my love of mankind above that of my country.  I hold the life of any human equal to that of any American.

I pray this distinguished Court will find the above credentials sufficient to warrant your attention to the views I express in this paper.

Mike Gravel, United States Senator 1969-1981

History forgotten is often repeated. Please keep in the forefront of your deliberations the history of the United States as it impacted the Philippines and the peoples of Southeast Asia. Understanding this history will clarify what possible effects the EDCA could have on the Philippine people.

As you know, after several centuries of Spanish colonial rule, the Katipunan revolt began in 1892 and was formalized with the Filipino War of Independence in 1896. Most of America’s media attention centered on Cuba. When the United States declared war against Spain in 1898, the Congressional declaration included the Teller Amendment, which disclaimed any intention of the U.S. to annex Cuba and promised to leave the island as soon as the war was over. No such declaratory reservation was made with respect to the Philippine archipelago, also in a revolt against Spain.

In one spectacular battle, Admiral George Dewey destroyed the entire Spanish fleet bottled up in Manila Bay.  He then invited Emilio Aguinaldo to return from exile to prosecute a land war against the Spanish –– American ground troops had yet to arrive –– with the inducement of prospective independence for a Philippine Republic.

Henceforth, a duplicitous manipulation ensued involving all the usual suspects: the U.S. President, the State Department, the Congress, the Navy, the Army, the jingoistic American media, and the ill-informed patriotic American public, oblivious to the trashing of its most fundamental values: liberty, freedom, national sovereignty and self-determination.  From such real-politic stagecraft under the administrations of William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson evolved a crushing insurgent war on the Philippine population, exhibiting a level of cruelty and atrocity equal to the worst in the annals of conquest and war. The result: all opposition was brutally crushed and the Filipino leadership and population remained supine to American interests, except for a brief interlude commencing on September 16, 1991.

At the Treaty of Paris, December 10, 1898, ending the Spanish American War –- Spain would not involve the “lowly” revolutionaries of Cuba or the Philippines in the surrender process, to which the U.S. did not object.  In the treaty, Spain renounced its rights to Cuba, acknowledging its independence, ceded Puerto Rico and the island of Guam to the U.S., and sold the Philippines to the United States for $20,000,000.  The sale was afforded a level of legitimacy to the U.S. ownership of the archipelago because of the earlier purchase of Alaska from Russia.

It was not until the presidential administration of Franklin Roosevelt in 1934 that the right of Filipino self-determination was acknowledged with a promise of independence — delayed until 1946 after the end of World War II, during which Filipinos fighters acquitted themselves with courage and resolve equal to that of any nation.

This history must be remembered if the past and future relations with the United States are truly to be understood by the Philippine people.  Add to this limited recitation of past facts the criminal complicity that the United States foisted on the Philippines with the prosecution of wars against fellow South Asians. I am not only referring to our conduct in Indochina, but also to the wanton invasions of Cambodia, Laos and the corruption of Thailand. Subic Bay and Clark Air Base were the main platforms outside the war zone to supply military resources to American forces to prosecute the Vietnam War in a manner not dissimilar to the pacification insurgent war pursued against the Philippine population at the turn of the century.

We need to remember that a commander of the American Air Force advocated the use of nuclear weapons to bomb the Vietnamese into submission — in effect depopulating the country to save it from going communist.  We should also remember that during the Korean War General Douglas MacArthur, the son of General Arthur MacArthur who figured prominently in the suppression of the Philippine insurgency, advocated the use of nuclear weapons in Korea and on China.  It is not unfair to conclude that some Western elites placed little value on Asian lives.

Even to this day, a significant leader in Congress and a former presidential candidate still believes that we should have won the Vietnam War, and that we only failed for lack of political resolve.  That war was never winnable, for the Vietnamese were prepared to pay any price to become an independent sovereign nation. When we decamped under pressure because of American protests at home, we left many of our Asian allies at the mercy of the enemies we had created for them. We also left a refugee crisis –- boat People — that had some impact on the Philippines.  At the height of the war, America’s leaders knew it was a mistake and had long given up on the Domino Theory. They were only concerned with a “face saving” exit.  Nevertheless, our global reputation was damaged. As a result, we punished the people of Southeast Asia with sanctions and trade embargoes for a generation.

The truth of this history, so hard to accept, is that the millions of Filipinos, Indo Chinese, Laotians, Cambodians and Americans, all died in vain.  The political ideology of communism we so abhorred still exists but now Vietnam enjoys most favored trade status with America. They did die in vain.

There is no question that the Philippines benefited economically from America’s war in Southeast Asia. However, I would maintain that the moral price and the militarization of the Filipino culture was far to high a price to pay.

The phenomena of this interlude in history baffle many Americans. We don’t know why these people who we have been so abused by us have forgiven us and still greet us with amity.  Do they not understand what we have done?


Pierre Trudeau, the long-serving prime minister of Canada, made a famous observation about his country’s proximity to the United States: when you sleep in bed with an elephant, you have to be very alert and careful when it rolls over during the night. I suspect that this is the relationship between the Philippines and China.

China has likely calculated that since America’s interests control the Philippine government, there is no point in pressing hard for a rapprochement. If that is China’s calculation, it need not be that of the Philippines.

The U.S. agitation over the Spratly islands created by China dredging and building up reefs has great propaganda value for America. However, the charge that they are military bases is somewhat specious. A military base presupposes that it would play some useful operational role in the event of hostilities. Physically these small islands are easily destroyed in the event of a conflict and therefore are not military bases in any sense of the word. These islands are outposts of a symbolic nature –– markers that would enhance legal arguments for rights at some future date.

However, from a Philippine and Chinese perspective, these disputes are serious. Filipino fishermen make their living fishing these waters, and the economic benefits from prospective oil and gas discoveries could be significant. The solution to these disputes, not only for the Philippines but for all the interested nations in the region are best dealt with diplomatically under the auspices of the United Nations and not by military confrontations.

In the Scarborough Reef incident, China confronted Filipino fishermen over their access to the reef. Even though the U.S. got involved the Filipinos were forced to back down. This successful incident in 2012 suggests a policy for China to go-it-alone in the South China Sea. It offers a model for continued Chinese confrontations, nibbling at the margins of the national interests of the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan, Indonesia, and Vietnam. At present, the issue rests with the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea. I would hope that the tribunal would use its influence to initiate a UN regional forum inviting all the interested parties to treat these sovereignty issues from a broader perspective than that of anyone single party. This should have appeal to China, which has advantaged economically all parties in the region with its spectacular global growth. This forum would permit China to showcase its Silk Road – one belt, one road – vision by including the disputants in the economic vision with specific development projects and thereby advance harmony by sharing the commons of the China Sea.

The Scarborough Reef incident should inform the Philippine leadership that when push turns to shove, the U.S. will not provoke a military showdown with China over Filipino fishing or mineral rights.  It should drive home the fact that U.S. militarization of the Philippines is not really designed to protect Philippine interests but rather to afford the U.S. a geographic advantage to confront China over its ascendant superpower status, which the U.S. finds offensive to its global hegemonic status.

It is somewhat disingenuous for the United States to claim that it is patrolling the South China Seas to protect the right of free maritime passage when the U.S. is one of very few nations that refuses to ratify the Law of the Sea (LOS) convention, which expressly codified in international law the protection of the oceans’ environment, its fisheries, the sovereign rights of bordering nations, free maritime passage, and provides a tribunal to adjudicate maritime disputes under the convention.

My personal assessment of China is not that of America’s conventional wisdom.  When President Obama praised the UN record during its 70-year existence for raising more than a billion people out of poverty into middle class, he failed to mention that half that number was Chinese. It was done in three decades — a record of human improvement never equaled in the recorded annals of civilization.  China is not a democracy, but a communist country operating as a meritocracy, struggling to limit corruption, a vice endemic to free-market capitalism. China’s accomplishment in improving the wellbeing of more than 500,000,000 people in a generation — a number more than one and a half times the entire population of the United States –– should have been noted by the American president.

The governance problems that China faces, and for that matter what India and Indonesia face, are almost beyond comprehension.  I do not pretend to know the nuanced relationship that existed between China and the Philippines over the last century, but I am sure some degree of fraternity must exist over the shared experience of colonial exploitation. That would be enough to build upon. I am not suggesting that the Philippines alienate itself from the United States, but I think it wise to divorce itself from any military entanglements, whether with the United States, Japan, the European Union or China. Is there a threat of invasion from China or from any other nation against the Philippines? If not, then why the fascination with taking on the burden of militarism and why pay for wasteful munitions when those monies can better be used to improve the life of Filipinos.

China, supported by the BRICS –– Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, has defined a 30-year vision, already undertaken, to unite the world’s economies through the construction of high-speed railroads, roads and fiber optic communications across the Eurasian land mass of Russia from western China to Europe, with extensions north into Scandinavian countries and South into Iran and Arab countries. This visionary plan makes good sense for China, which must productively utilize the excess industrial capacity it developed for its double-digit economic growth.

The Silk Road –– one belt, one road –– plan has a maritime component to build efficient port developments to increase world trade. The plan envisions a similar economic expansion to all continents. Hegemonic influences will not be tolerated, nor will it have a military component. The BRICS have already set up financial institutions to help underwrite developments undertaken by the plan. Embarrassingly, America tried to dissuade its allies, without success, from participating in the plan.

It would be a tremendous boon to the Philippine economy to avoid the American military expansion and instead join the BRICS in this sensible global economic development plan. The Philippines, India and China are not included in the U.S. led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which serves to add greater power to the multinational corporations who already control major portions of the world economy. This agreement is the U.S. strategy to confront the BRICS global economic alignment. In my view, it makes more sense for the Philippines to align itself with the BRICS and eschew the militarism offered by the United States.

Compare China’s vision for a successful, prosperous, economically unified world to what America offers by way of a militarized world that brooks no challenge to its hegemonic leadership. Compare the suffering of untold numbers of people in a plethora of nations around the world over the last 30 years.  A suffering inflicted by the hubris of backroom American neocons punishing people with economic sanctions to bring about regime change and their liberal interventionists wantonly invading sovereign nations that do not conform to their ideological standards.

Save Yourselves

If the history above fails to give insights into the character and nature of global American hegemonic leadership, then the Philippines are destined to suffer again the abuses of the past and face a much more dangerous exploitation.

As pointed out in the summary above, serious dangers for civilization in the atomic age exist when a hegemonic superpower is challenged by an ascending power. Bear in mind that the Chinese challenge is economic — not military. Nevertheless, American elites continue to respond militarily to this challenge. Listen to the jingoistic pronouncements of American Congressional leaders and the ridiculous threats of our presidential candidates and the biased propagandistic American media.  Will American political leaders listen to the rational pronouncement from General Martin Dempsey that confrontation with China is neither necessary nor wise?

Amitai Etzioni, professor of international affairs at George Washington University, discovered the Pentagon’s Air-Sea Battle (ASB) doctrine.  He published his findings in the Yale Journal of International Affairs, titled “Who Authorized Preparations for War with China?” It was Andrew Marshall, director of the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment who has, for the last 20 years, been painting China as the military threat of the future, along with his colleague Andrew Krepinevich, head of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, who is largely responsible for formulating the ASB doctrine. “The Pentagon has concluded that the time has come to prepare for war with China,” Etzioni writes, noting that the Pentagon has adopted the policy as part of its 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review. Etzioni calls this a “monstrous conclusion” that “will shape the United States’ defense systems, force posture and overall strategy for dealing with the economically and militarily resurgent China.” He warns that this “may well lead to an arms race with China, which could culminate in nuclear war …  ASB requires that the United States be able to take the war to the mainland with the goal of defeating China, which quite likely would require striking first.” Bear in mind the United States has never disavowed the nuclear first doctrine. U.S. first strike was amply demonstrated by our unprovoked invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The Wall Street Journal headline on October 9, 2015, proclaimed: “China Nudges Manila Toward U.S.” This is typical bias from a media controlled by America’s military-industrial complex, implying that China threatening the Philippines is what is pushing them to defend themselves, with the help of America, by training with American marines.

The facts, however, are the exact opposite of what the propagandistic headline is conveying to the American public. It is the United States that is pushing and has been pushing the Philippine government since 1991 to re-establish an American military presence in the Philippines with the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), the Mutual Logistics and Support Agreement (MLSA), and the secret negotiations that led to the rushed passage of the EDCA. The United States is attempting to make the Philippines the sharpened point of its offensive spear with which to confront China. Ultimately, Filipinos will find themselves impaled on that spear. The Philippines is the ideal strategic location for the U.S. to establish a military platform in East Asia, on China’s doorstep, in preparation for a possible war.

Chinese Navy unofficial spokesman Admiral Yin Zhuo (PLA Navy ret.) made the point recently: “if in the future, there is U.S.-China conflict, then it will likely take place on our doorstep. Speaking bluntly, fighting on our doorstep, we fear no one.” The doorstep he is referring to is the Philippines.

Without this platform, the U.S. would be constrained by the 1500-mile distance to its bases in Okinawa or the mid-Pacific line of Guam, logistically untenable locations from which to effectively harass China.

The other desirable locations, Japan or South Korea, are too powerful economically to be pushed around or expanded beyond the present military forces in-country.  The American military presence continues to be a political problem for both host countries.

The U.S. design on Philippine real estate is understandable. The more confusing question: Why would any country choose to place itself at the frictional edge of the world’s two conflicting superpowers? If there is a war, the conventional phase of it would first be fought on Philippine soil housing the American military, before moving to the nuclear phase of the war on the Chinese and American populations, in which case we are all doomed. Unfortunately, many American civilian and military leaders, intoxicated with the sense of superiority they feel towards the rest of the world, tend to miscalculate in their political and military planning. China when it was much weaker than today, took the measure of American forces during the Korean War. The vaunted nuclear carrier armadas the U.S. boasts of to protect its Asian allies – most particularly the Philippines – can be wiped out in minutes with anti-ship ballistic missiles and a plethora of China’s new classes of advanced supersonic cruise missiles.

What could possibly benefit the Philippines by turning its country over to a foreign power? Because that will be the case if the EDCA stands. Your country will be garrisoned to the hilt in order to back up America’s threats to anyone in Asia. Take a look at the neighborhoods around military bases to see what your country will become. Who other than military contractors would dare invest and develop alternate industries in such a circumstance? The economic activities that will follow military expansion will of necessity control and corrupt your political institutions to protect their investments. The government would prostitute itself to a foreign power and will then demand payments. However, such payments would be a pittance compared to what could be realized from the normal growth of a healthy independent economy blessed with an industrious people.

Save Us from Ourselves

As an American, realistic enough to understand the internal dilemma that afflicts my country, I sincerely ask for the help of this illustrious Court to take a decision that could set in motion a chain of circumstances that could possibly thwart the planned expansion of the America’s military presence in Asia, using the Philippines as its main base. This is what some call the “pivot to Asia.” Let me explain why it is impossible for some of us to alter or correct the present direction of our foreign and military policy.

Our culture is infused with a sense of superiority, enlarged beyond reality. Our nation was blessed by geography providing oceanic security, by a land welling up with vast resources, and an ever-expanding educated and industrious population.  After France midwifed our nation’s birth, we saw ourselves as the city on the hill, with a manifest destiny to transcend the continent.

Of course, we rarely acknowledge that we are a violent people who annihilated the indigenous population of the continent and institutionalized slavery in our Constitution, only to have it corrected by a calamitous Civil War, which left a legacy of racism that haunts us to this day at home and abroad. The seeds of hubris grew when we saved the world in the Second World War, while the communist Soviet Union did the heavy lifting. This left us as the only imperial power with the atomic bomb able to assume “the white man’s burden” from the British Empire. The acquisition of the bomb by the USSR and China altered that equation.

After the war, our elites reasoned that we could avoid another terrible depression if we kept the economy on a war footing. This policy was legislated into existence in 1947 with the National Security Act under the Truman administration and carried forward by the Eisenhower administration.  The military-industrial complex reasoned that if they located the military’s economic presence –– manufacturing and military bases –– in every congressional district they could control the Congress. And it has.

The Jewish community followed the model with extensive financial contributions at both the presidential and congressional levels in order to guarantee continuous financial and political support for Israel. Wall street, the insurance and pharmaceutical industries, etc, have followed the model. The ultimate extension of this model is the Citizens United Supreme Court decision dictating that corporations are not only human beings but are allowed to use their wealth –– as speech –– to directly affect all electoral and policy contests.

The U.S. Empire is in decline even though we still lead the European Union and North Asia around by the nose.  NATO, 90% funded by the U.S. and commanded by an American general, is the vehicle for the globalization of the military-industrial complex. American leadership and the public refuse to accept the fact of decline.  You need but look at our failing educational system, our health system controlled by the insurance industry, our bankrupt financial system, and the disrepair of our national infrastructure. In the face of all this, the defense budget remains sacrosanct.  The American public is not stupid but remains steeped in ignorance by a mainstream media controlled by six corporations responsible to Wall Street and the military-industrial complex. We are no longer a democracy in the real sense of the word. A democracy is not just elections. For elections to be meaningful, people must be informed in order to render intelligent judgment.  The American public is purposely kept in ignorance.

American political and military diplomacy is contriving to gain control of your archipelago for reasons that will not benefit the people who live there.


I pray this Court to accept my apology for the fact that his paper does not address the legal issues of this case. In fact, I am neither qualified professionally nor by nationality to make that case. The plaintiffs in the instant case are more than qualified to that task. However, I am qualified as a globalist, a student of international affairs, an experienced political observer, and somewhat of a constitutional scholar having devoted the last two decades of my life to the issues of human governance and their relationship to the electoral implementation of direct democracy.

The discussion above is made in an attempt to motivate this distinguish Court to render a judicial decision that will in effect transfer the deliberations on the EDCA from its secret confines to the Philippine Senate where arguments will be made in full public view. I hope my arguments made above will contribute to that debate. The extreme importance to the wellbeing of Filipinos and the survivability of Philippine democracy are at stake in that debate.

Your judicial decision could well set a chain of circumstances in motion that could ultimately affect the course of world affairs. In this regard, I am reminded of a famous statement made by the renowned sociologist Marguerite Meade: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
by Mike Gravel
October 15, 2015

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