The Question of Philippine Neutrality

IN the House of Representatives, on May 1, last, the Committee on Insular Affairs reported favorably a joint resolution of the House and Senate authorizing the President to open negotiations with such foreign governments as in his judgment should be parties to the compact, ‘whereby the neutralization of the Philippine Islands shall be guaranteed and their independence recognized through international agreement,’ and suggesting that the year 1918 be selected for the awarding of independence and perpetual neutrality to our island possessions.

Nearly all Americans are aware that the Philippine Islands have entailed enormous expense upon our people. They represent an outlay impossible ever to estimate with certainty, involving as it does the cost of a regular army more than doubled, the protection of a distant coast-line, and the prosecution of a long-continued campaign against ignorance and disease. It has already reached an amount before the computation of which officials and statisticians have either failed or kept suggestive silence. A half billion of dollars is not too large a sum to place upon our fourteen years of sovereignty in the Islands, including their subjugation and defense. The late Senator Hoar declared ten years ago that the American Government had expended upon them over $600,000,000, and his statement has never been successfully challenged. Computing even to-day that the Government pays $1500 annually for each soldier in the foreign service, the cost under the head of military expenses alone amounts to $26,000,000 a year, not to speak of the sums expended in the construction and equipment of defensive fortifications.

Yet, for all this, the average American is not ten cents richer for their possession. The value of American exports to the Islands in 1911, exclusive of those for the army, navy, and administrative services, was $15,000,000, with imports amounting to under $17,000,000; and if every dollar of both combined had been clear profit instead of merely the value of the products exchanged, the whole amount would scarcely have paid the expenses of the same year’s military establishment.

Furthermore, the American government has placed a tariff on the principal articles of export from the Islands to the United States, sugar, rice, and tobacco, so that the Islands, so far as any special advantage is given to American trade, might just as well not belong to us at all. Is not this the time, therefore, and might it not now be wise to consider a cessation in the expenditure of those vast sums which Congress votes annually for the fortification and military occupation of the Islands?

In their report of the same date the Committee on Insular Affairs states that, in its opinion, there does not exist to-day any considerable sentiment in the United States favorable to the permanent retention of the Philippines, basing this assertion on the ground that the Democratic party has, in three successive national platforms, proposed the recognition of Philippine independence; while the leaders of the Republicans, including both the President and the ex-President, have repeatedly declared that the policy of their party was but to prepare the people of the Islands for independence in the future. In view of such statements, the question seems to be one merely of time and of the proper method to be employed.

It is not independence that is of supreme importance, but neutralization. A study of the subject will show that independence is not only unnecessary, if permanent neutrality is awarded, but also more difficult of imposition and maintenance, and much more doubtful as to its results. Neutralization is a European, not an American, institution. It is little known in this country, and, until two years ago, no treatise had been written in English on the subject. It is certain to have a different development on this hemisphere and in the Far East from that which it has had in Europe, where the need of buffer states is more apparent. But this at least is of value, that, although four entire countries have been neutralized, three of them independent states of Europe and one a union of dependent states in Africa, together with two colonies and a canal, we are assured by examples that it is not requisite, in granting permanent neutrality, to confer independence as well.

Savoy was neutralized while belonging both at the time and thereafter to the Kingdom of Sardinia. It is now, although neutralized, one of the departments of France. The Ionian Islands continued to belong to Greece after their neutralization, and the neutralized Basin of the Congo is apportioned among and owned to-day by four different powers. The Philippines are our property and we may neutralize them, with the cooperation of the Great Powers of the world, while retaining exclusive sovereignty over them. We may build their schools, keep order, inculcate ideals of American citizenship, influence in all legitimate ways the trade of the Islands to come to America, just as England is doing in India, with the added advantage that we shall benefit equally with all other nations in their trade, which, under our tariff provisions, is not altogether the case now.

Philippine independence, moreover, without being an essential factor in the neutralization of the Islands, might, if conferred at this present time, result unwisely for the United States. Supposing that we should grant independence to the Philippines, we should then have no assurance that they would not, in the future, following some political change not uncommon in new republics, erect a tariff wall against ourselves — a ludicrous and mortifying situation, but not impossible to the ingratitude of republics. It is certain that at the present moment they are not capable of self-government and the maintenance of stable foreign relations. Commercially interested nations, which now include the whole world, would hardly agree to our withdrawing guidance and protection and responsibility, and then failing to provide some authority to take our place.

If we step out, some one will step in, if only to protect their commerce with the world; and although Europe could not prevent our withdrawal, she could certainly refuse to neutralize the Islands under these conditions, leaving them rather to the first Power strong and determined enough to seize them and at the same time to satisfy Europe in the matter of equal participation in their trade. Until we have convinced not only ourselves, but also the world, of the ability of independent Philippine Islands to maintain foreign relations and stable self-government, it is useless to expect to receive the help of Europe in neutralizing them after withdrawing from them ourselves.

Neutralization, however, is not incompatible with continued sovereignty over the Islands, and we have only to consider what changes in our relations might occur if they were placed in permanent neutrality. We know that we may not levy soldiers there, nor cede a portion of territory, nor receive articles of a contraband nature from the Islands in time of war. But we may build fortifications to protect their perpetual neutrality, and keep an adequate force of troops there to preserve order, taxing the Islands, instead of ourselves, for the cost of their erection, equipment, and maintenance. We have precedents in the cases of Switzerland and Belgium, where fortresses have been retained, and new ones erected, solely to insure the complete neutrality of the respective States. Fortifications for the protection of neutralized lands and waterways are historically possible and, where the duty of protecting the neutrality of important harbors is concerned, assume the character of national obligations as well, falling, in the absence of agreement, upon the sovereign power.

The point of greatest objection and one where, if anywhere, the proposal for the neutralization of the Philippines would fail, is with the tariff. It would be necessary to establish free trade in the Islands, as there could be no exclusive tariff advantages between the United States and its neutralized possessions. We cannot neutralize the Philippine Islands and then expect to retain for ourselves the possibility of driving out all foreign trade and confining the commerce of the Islands to the United States. It is doubtful, indeed, whether we might do that with the Islands to-day, in the present state of world-relationships, and not incur the hate or hostility of the civilized world. Yet, even under free trade in the Islands, we would be giving up nothing from which we are now deriving any appreciable benefit. On the contrary, we might profit by the changed conditions, having laid a tariff on many articles imported from the Philippines, including their principal exports, while other nations, notably England with her free-trade provisions, have not, retaining meanwhile our advantage in comparison with Europe in matters of proximity and freight charges.

That we should be the chief gainers, together with all the world, by such an act, is apparent when we consider that it would make the Pacific in truth a peaceful sea, while reducing our navy at once to its proper spheres of home protection and the assurance of the principles of the Monroe Doctrine in North and South America. It might not mean a reduction in the Navy, which is not the question at issue; but it would at least do away with that anomalous sit - uation by which we maintain at great expense in far-away islands a garrison and a fleet which, we are perfectly aware, are inadequate to defend them, in order to retain territories which, as we are assured by our military authorities, we would not attempt to defend but would abandon in time of war. What effect does our military occupancy have, other than to bring us into a position to lose by capture or destruction some of our battleships and cruisers and a portion of our regular army?

Neutralization offers greater protection to the Philippine Islands than this nation alone can give; and with the expense of that protection shifted to the Islands, and its excess borne in common by all the guaranteeing Powers, we should have reached a most practical solution of our difficult question.

Again, if our exclusive possession of the Islands is doing us no visible good, but may serve later to irritate China by the presence of an armed Power in close geographical proximity to her own shores, why not deal with them some other way? Let us neutralize them and, cutting off an expense of nearly fifty millions a year, continue our relations with our possessions in commercial and educational ways. ‘Instead of establishing,’ as the report of the Committee says, ‘a protectorate, which would make this country individually responsible for the defense of the islands, a responsibility which will entail very considerable burdens and the possibility of trouble with foreign powers, it seems wiser to accomplish the same result by treaty with the other powers, which would make the islands neutral territory and secure from foreign invasion.’ We have done our duty toward the Islands and can now in no better way express the American purpose which we have always held toward them than by placing them, under our sovereignty, in permanent neutrality.

If we do this, granting free trade in the Islands, there is no nation that will object. On the contrary, it is probable that the Powers will meet advances in this direction with great cordiality. They give up nothing, as the Islands are not now open to occupation, and, once neutralized, no one, in the face of the interests of the entire world, would dare to seize them. Under the guarantee of the suggested Powers, Great Britain, Germany, France, Russia, Japan, and Spain, there is little danger that the Philippines would fail to enjoy unmolested peace.

The question is greater than one of mere privilege. We have seen that permanent neutrality has developed from its origin as a doubtful favor, applied to individual states, into a valuable resource available, in the interests of peace and commerce, to the colonyholding nations of to-day. There is no loss of honor to a state in accepting neutralization, and no occasion for shame in granting it to colonial possessions. The report of the Committee on Insular Affairs is not unworthy of the people of these United States.

The Philippine Islands once neutralized, a way would be opened to friendly and more stable relationships with the Orient, which could not fail to act as an example to the Powers. This result, in the furtherance of international peace in the East, and also — where its effects would be closely watched — in South America, would be inestimable; it is also possible.