L. EDGAR PRINA
From the end of
World War II, through the Korean and Vietnam conflicts and Desert Storm
in the Persian Gulf, the U.S. Navy maintained a key base in the
Philippines, one that played a major role in support of the national
strategy aimed at peace and stability in the Western Pacific. But when,
in 1992, the Philippine Senate rejected an agreement that would have
extended the U.S. stay at the Subic Bay base, the Navy had to move out
within three years.
then became this: Could the loss of Subic, which had contributed so much
to the training and readiness of U.S. forward-deployed forces, be offset
by making arrangements with other countries for access to bases within
their borders? The answer, of course, has been "not entirely."
Subic was special. But after the Navy terminated its presence there in
1992, the United States concluded a series of access agreements and
other arrangements with its Southeast Asian friends and allies who have
wanted a continued U.S. military presence in the area.
these countries is Singapore, a prosperous island-nation with a
population of three million--and a deep harbor. It sits astride the
junction of the Pacific and Indian Oceans near the southern tip of the
Malay Peninsula. Singapore was the site of a major British Royal Navy
base for more than a century--until Imperial Japanese Army forces, led
by Gen. Tomoyaki Yamashita, "the Tiger of Malaya," captured it
in 1942, in the early days of the war in the Pacific. Singapore became
an independent nation within the British Commonwealth in 1964. The
majority of its population is ethnic Chinese.
arrangements Washington has made with Singapore include the privilege of
port calls, the use of repair facilities and training ranges, logistic
support, and participation in combined naval exercises. As the U.S.
Defense Department noted in its East Asian Strategy Report last year,
these arrangements have become of increasing importance to the U.S.
presence overseas. For example, Singapore announced in early 1998 that
its Changi Naval Station, which will be operational in the year 2000,
would be available to U.S. naval combatants. The station includes a pier
that can accommodate U.S. Navy aircraft carriers.
Secretary William S. Cohen visited Singapore in October 1999, he and
Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and his deputy, Tony Tan, discussed the
importance of the Changi port expansion to the U.S. naval presence in
the region. Cohen visited Changi, where land is being reclaimed to push
the port further out to sea. "This is a sign of the strength and
scope of our security partnership," he told reporters. "The
United States is grateful for Singapore's support."
Goh enunciated the view of most members of the Assoc-iation of Southeast
Asian Nations (ASEAN) during his meeting with President George Bush in
early 1992. He said that a substantial U.S. economic and security
presence was needed to maintain a stable balance of power in the region,
and that peace was the dominant factor that had permitted ASEAN states
to expand their markets, especially to the United States.
has valued Singapore's cooperation for years. Its East Asian Strategy
Report, cited above, had this to say: "Singapore has been Southeast
Asia's leading advocate of a continued United States military presence.
Singapore actively searches for ways to keep the United States engaged
in the region, whether in multilateral institutions, such as the
Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum, or by expanding
U.S. military-access opportunities in Singapore itself."
the Report, even before the United States began negotiations with the
Philippines over the Subic naval base in the early 1990s, Singapore
offered to conclude an access agreement that would help disperse the
U.S. presence in the region and spread the political responsibility of
hosting American forces.
The 1990 Access
Memorandum of Understanding has been instrumental in sustaining U.S.
presence in Southeast Asia. Although fewer than 200 U.S. personnel are
permanently assigned to duty in Singapore, the United States conducts a
variety of naval and air training, most notably fighter-aircraft
deployments that occur approximately six times a year. A naval logistics
unit--Commander, Logistics Group, Western Pacific (COMLOGWESTPAC)--that
was relocated from Subic Bay assists in fleet support and coordinates
bilateral naval exercises in Southeast Asia. In addition to this
logistics center, which is headed by Rear Adm. Stephen R. Loeffler, the
Naval Regional Contract Center and six other agencies moved from Subic