By Victor Andres “Dindo” C. Manhit —
With all the change in the Philippines’ foreign relations, there is something to be said for going back to basics: understanding the foundations of our alliance, what it has accomplished, and its possible future. On March 16, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop of Australia returned to these fundamentals when she spoke in Manila on the rules-based order. Keeping on with this effort, the Albert Del Rosario Institute (ADRi) is launching a series of Special Studies, where we highlight Filipino expertise.
In “The Role of America’s Alliances in the Philippines’ Balancing Policy on China: From the Aquino to the Duterte Administration”, ADRi trustee Dr. Renato de Castro looks at the U.S.-led alliance system in Asia. The system has been the cornerstone of peace and prosperity in the Asia Pacific for almost seven decades. As Dr. De Castro shows, the Philippines has benefited from decades of international cooperation to address challenges in internal and maritime security, and natural disasters.
The alliance system
The U.S.-led security alliance system is composed of U.S. bilateral alliances with Japan, South Korea, Thailand, and the Philippines, and a trilateral one with Australia and New Zealand. The objective was to surround the Eurasian landmass with American and allied power to limit Communist expansion and deepen the United States’ participation in Asian security affairs.
After the Cold War, the system has evolved from the simple sums of national capabilities into a platform for harmonizing divergent national interests and building processes for political-security coordination. Out of their shared interests, members have sought to maintain their raison d’être, maximize their benefits and minimize alliance cost, and promote unity amid the turbulence of our times.
The alliance system has boosted the material capabilities of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and provided extended deterrence as the country continues to address threats to its security: from terrorism and political violence, assertiveness in the West Philippine Sea, and from natural disasters. First, the Philippine government received substantial U.S. support for its counterterror and counterinsurgency campaigns during the global war on terror.
Second, alarmed by China’s increasing actions to alter the status quo in the South China Sea since 2010, Manila and Washington decided to complement each other’s military capabilities, enhance interoperability between their armed forces, and strengthen the AFP’s territorial defense capabilities through tangible US security assistance and joint training exercises.
Third, in the aftermath of Supertyphoon Yolanda (Haiyan), the United States, Australian, Japanese, and South Korean militaries launched Operation Damayan. Demonstrating their strong solidarity, the allies supported the AFP’s humanitarian assistance and disaster response operations and helped transport displaced persons in affected areas.
Old friends, new friends
President Rodrigo Duterte has helped introduce uncertainty in the alliance system. His adoption of an “independent foreign policy” resembles more of discreet withdrawal from the alliance in favor of a new one with China and Russia, rather than a true diversification of strategic partnerships. This has threatened to reverse the Philippines’ previous gains from security ties. In the interest of the nation, Duterte ought to cultivate new friendships without severing ties with those who helped the country.
The Philippines is best served by fully implementing the Visiting Forces Agreement and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement; pursuing its partnerships with U.S. bilateral allies, namely Japan, South Korea and Australia; laying the groundwork for constructive negotiation with China, guided by the primacy of law; beefing up maritime capacity; and ensuring the complementarity of our foreign and defense policies with our partners through annual defense consultations, joint trainings in counter-terrorism, maritime security, and humanitarian assistance and disaster response. These steps will help the Philippines maximize its own potential to contribute to the international rules-based order.