The Middle East was not only beleaguered by wars between Israel and Arab nations but also by conflicts among the Arab nations themselves. When the government of Muhammad Reza Pahlavi ended on January 16, 1979, Iran’s religious leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, took over Iran under theocratic rule. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein saw the opportunity to take control over the Shatt al-Arab waterway.

On April 2, 1979, the Iranians complained of violations in their airspace by Iraq and on April 7 they reported of Iraqi artillery attacks on the border town of Qasr-e-Shirin.[66] There was a destabilization of relations between Iran and Iraq in 1979, exacerbated by the accession to the presidency of Iraq of Saddam Hussein in July 1979.[67]

In the next few months, the Iranian-Iraqi conflict entered a more provocative phase. This escalated in August into heavy fighting, involving tanks and artillery duels as well as air strikes.[68] The Iran-Iraq War formally ceased on August 8, 1988 with the signing of U.N. Security Council Resolution 598 ending all combat operations between the two countries. It cost the Iranian government more than 1 million casualties and the Iraqi government around 250,000 to 500,000 deaths.

The repercussions of the Arab-Israeli Wars and the Iran-Iraq Wars were not only on the number of casualties involved but also the economic implications to the world, especially in Asia. On October 1973, the members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) proclaimed an oil embargo to the United States of America for supporting Israel.

The Philippines was adversely affected by the oil crisis because of its close ties with the United States. However, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a policy statement on November 18, 1973 which clearly defined the Philippine stand on the Middle East issue. This included:[69]

  1. A condemnation of Israel’s occupation of Arab lands as an act of aggression in violation of the United Nations Charter;
  2. A declaration of Philippine support for UN Security Council Resolution No. 247, dated 22 November 1967, calling for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from all occupied Arab territories, the termination of all claims or states of belligerency, recognition of sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of all states in the area, and the right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threat or acts of force.
  3. A call for the restoration of legitimate rights of the Palestinian people.

The Philippines was identified by the Arab countries as eligible for oil embargo for the reason that petroleum refineries in the country were all American owned in the 1970s. The rise in world oil prices by 400% between 1973 to 1974 threatened to derail progress as the Philippines imported all of its oil.[70]

To accommodate the vast quantities of oil for fuel and industrialization, the Philippines decided to open diplomatic ties with Socialist countries. According to President Marcos’ concept of “The New Diplomacy”:

Ideology will no longer be a constraint in the widening of our relations with any country, whatever its political systems or ideological persuasions maybe. We shall endeavor to develop these relationships in order to promote development and progress for mutual benefit, which at the same time enhance our physical security from both internal and external threats. The linchpin that holds together these policy formulations is national interest, and none other.[71]

President Marcos’ view of foreign relations was thereby anchored in the national interest and the realistic outlook at that time. Without other sources of oil, the Philippine economy would surely collapse. Another option was to secure barrels of oil from the socialist countries, particularly the People’s Republic of China.

In the same way, the effects on the Philippine of the economic crisis of the 1970s was minimized because of more job opportunities and earnings from exports brought by the new diplomatic ties with the Socialist countries, i.e., the USSR, PRC, and the Eastern European socialist bloc. In the 1970s, President Marcos stressed:

But the biggest diplomatic initiatives were with the socialist countries, the latest of which is the USSR; potentially these countries could provide vast, insatiable markets for Philippine products.[72]

Conclusion

The unabated spread of communism in the Asia Pacific region was a bold manifestation that even the Philippines could fall in its domino effect anytime. The American defeat in the Vietnam War in 1975 saw President Richard Nixon espousing the doctrine of non-involvement in wars and the reduction of military presence in Asia. With this development, Marcos knew exactly what to do by seeking greater opportunities for other possible diplomatic ties. The downfall of Cambodia, Laos, and South Yemen served as wake-up calls for the Philippines to consider the possibility of communism being transplanted in the country. Even the vast African continent was an example on how countries became vulnerable to communist incursion and eventual dictatorship. Such was the case of the People’s Republics of Congo, Benin, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Angola and Somalia.

The worldwide oil crisis brought by regional conflicts in the Middle East also badly affected the Philippine economy. To serve as an economic cushion for the sudden oil price hike and oil embargo, a diplomatic and trade agreement was inked between the Philippines and the People’s Republic of China. With this, mainland China provided the Philippines with its much needed crude oil. At the same time, the establishment of Philippine-USSR relations paved the way for the importation of petroleum products as well.

In crafting a foreign policy, the promotion of national interests is always considered the paramount concern of every nation. Philippine foreign policy veered away from traditionally having close, intimate links with the United States and projected a flexible and pragmatic response to the realities posed by international events. Consequently, President Marcos directed the country’s foreign policy to be less dependent on the United States. Thus, Philippine diplomatic ties with the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China, and eastern European socialist countries were established.

References

[1] Benjamin B. Domingo, Marcos Foreign Policy (Manila: Marcos Presidential Center, Inc., 2007),ii.

[2] President Diosdado Macapagal’s resolve to have an Asian solution for Asian problems and his lukewarm support of the Vietnam War policy of the US were among the reasons that made him unpopular to the Americans. In the 1965 presidential election, he lost to Ferdinand E. Marcos, the Senate President at that time. During the election campaign, Marcos publicly opposed the plan of Macapagal to send an engineering battalion to Vietnam. Immediately after assuming the presidency in 1965, Marcos reversed his earlier stand against the sending of a military contingent to South Vietnam, after he obtained assurance from the US that the Philippines will receive equipment to support an AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) engineering brigade that would render civic action in remote regions of the country.

[3] Senator Claro M. Recto, “The Trade between the Free World and the Communist World, July 6, 1958 taken from Renato Constantino, Recto Reader: Excerpts from the Speeches of Claro M. Recto (Manila, Philippines: Recto Memorial Foundation, 1965), 66-68.

[4] Ferdinand E. Marcos. “The Philippines and the New Asia”, 1975 taken from Pacifico Castro, Marcos Diplomacy: Guide to Philippine Bilateral Relations (Manila, Philippines: Foreign Service Institute, 1983), ix.

[5] Rene de Castro, “Historical Review of the Concept, Issues and Proposals on An Independent Foreign Policy for the Philippines: 1955-1988” Asian Studies, Vol. 27 (1989), 21.

[6] Ferdinand E. Marcos, “We Must Survive in Asia: Postulates of Philippine Foreign Policy” speech at the Manila Overseas Press Club on 24 February 1968.

[7] Morris Rossabi, Modern Mongolia: From Khans to Commissars to Capitalists (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), 6.

[8] Robert Service, Comrades: A History of World Communism (United States of America: Macmillan Publishers, Ltd., 2007), 2.