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Messages - dr demented

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3 other nations willing to supply diesel-electric submarines to PH

By Priam Nepomuceno August 22, 2018, 11:49 am

MANILA -- Aside from Russia, three other countries have expressed interest to supply the Philippine Navy with diesel-electric submarines.

"We are now studying the offers of (South) Korea, France and if I'm not mistaken, Indonesia as well," Department of National Defense spokesperson Arsenio Andolong said in an interview with reporters Wednesday, noting that all three have shipyards and facilities capable of constructing diesel-electric submarines.

No other details are available, Andolong said.

Earlier, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Russia is willing to provide advanced versions of its Kilo-class submarines to the Philippines through "soft loans" but clarified that the country is still looking for other sources.

Kilo-class submarines have a surface displacement of 2,350 tons, a length of 73.8 meters and capable of speeds up 17 to 20 knots and can be armed with a variety of torpedoes, missiles and naval mines.

It has a cruising range of about 6,000 to 7,500 nautical miles. In the ASEAN region, Vietnam is known to operate six improved Kilo-class submarines in its fleet.

Lorenzana earlier said that for an island nation like the Philippines, defense could be considered incomplete without a fleet of submarines.

"For a nation with maritime territory, especially (an) island nation, its national defense is incomplete without (a) submarine," he added.

The defense chief also said that an effective active submarine force is a great deterrent for would-be aggressors due to its capability to travel underwater unseen, giving it the element of surprise.

A submarine force is a great morale booster to the Armed Forces of the Philippines, he added. (PNA)

General Discussion / Russian visit first for PH Navy
« on: August 22, 2018, 11:07:28 PM »

Russian visit first for PH Navy

By Priam Nepomuceno August 22, 2018, 2:02 pm

MANILA -- The coming port visit of one of the two Tarlac-class strategic sealift vessels (SSVs) in Vladivostok is the first time a Philippine Navy (PN) ship will be visiting Russian territory.

This was confirmed by Navy spokesperson Cmdr. Jonathan Zata in a message to the PNA Wednesday.

"(The visit of the PN to Vladivostok, Russia is the) very first," he added.

Zata said the proposed schedule for the Russian port visit is by the end of September.

When asked on the number of officers and enlisted personnel, the PN spokesperson said the final figure is still being finalized.

"The final number is being confirmed since it (the visit) will also be a training opportunity for new personnel of the PN," Zata added.

The scheduled PN port call is in reciprocation of the visit of Russian warships in Manila last June and those of last year, Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana earlier said.

The Tarlac-class SSVs are the largest PN ships in service as of this posting. These vessels have an overall length of 120 meters, breadth of 21 meters, draft of five meters and can carry a payload of 2,800 tons.

Both have a cruising speed of 13 knots and maximum speed of 16 knots and a minimum operating range of 7,500 nautical miles. Both SSVs can carry 500 troops, two rigid-hull inflatable boats, two landing craft units and three helicopters. (PNA)

In the midst of writing all of this down this evening, an interesting thought occurred to me........

China has all of the leverage in this situation.  They have forces on the ground.  They have their Maginot Line of sand.  They could waltz right into Scarborough Shoal and essentially close the Wall of Sand's equivalent to the Belgian border.  So why did they stop?  An US' imposed "red line" perhaps?  Maybe.  But it doesn't explain why the Chinese graciously allowed Philippine fishermen to reenter the vicinity of Scarborough Shoal (if not inside the shoal itself).

Why would they ever want to cooperate in going down the road of Option #4?

One possibility is that President Duterte managed to extract concessions from Chinese using the one thing he said he wouldn't use:

Permanent Court of Arbitration Case No. 2013-19:  the Republic of the Philippines vs. the People's Republic of China.

But it wasn't in the way most of us expected it would be used.

If there was one thing the Chinese feared more than anything, it was that a losing ruling before the Tribunal would be used to beat them over the head.  That would have been hugely embarrassing, and resulted in serious loss of face.

It is conceivable that the administration went to the Chinese and extracted some "reasonable" concessions.  In exchange, the Philippine promised not to try to bludgeon the Chinese over the head with that ruling.

If there was one piece of leverage the Philippines had, the PCA ruling was it.  It's not a permanent solution.  But it stabilized the lines, so to speak.

What happens next?  Only time will tell.

With regard to issues surrounding the Chinese debt trap.........

To discuss this, we must be reminded of the reality that countries (and even individuals) are still motivated by self-interest.  And so any assistance from any country in any form will always be colored by the cold reality that no one is providing assistance out of the goodness of their own heart.

(and I needn't remind anyone here about the attitude of some in the Philippines that holds that other nations should be obligated give us this and give us that out of the goodness of their heart.)

That being said, with any offer of aid, whether it be from China or anyone else, the old phrase "caveat emptor" (let the buyer beware) would be a prudent reminder.

All the more with China, given their track record of dealings with other countries.  While the thesis points out countries, such as Israel and Indonesia, that have managed to steer clear of the debt trap, there have been a number of others also mentioned in the thesis that have run across the proverbial minefield.

Some have postulated that the Chinese use the debt traps as a means of control, in order to extract concessions from other countries, such as prime business opportunities, votes in the UN, basing rights, etc.  While the author of the thesis counsels that we need to learn from the mistakes of others, and thereby avoid the debt trap, I would advise caution and vigilance.  It would appear that China's intentions when it comes to the loans it provides and the infrastructure financing that it makes available are not so benign as we would like it to be.  Despite the fact that such financing is a source of badly needed capital, the long term costs may outweigh the benefits.

And no, we did not trade loans for artificial islands and reefs.  In the Chinese world view, those artificial islands and reefs already belong to them, and therefore they don't need to give anything to anyone for them.

If anything, in as much as the spotlight has been on Chinese funded projects for the Philippines, few, if any, have actually gotten off the ground.  The infrastructure projects that have gotten underway have mainly been Japanese funded projects.  Which would lend credence to the idea that it might be Japan that the Philippines is really engaging, and not China.

A side word on Option #2........

Both pro- and anti-administration supporters have pointed to the lack of West Philippine Sea patrols as evidence that we have embarked on an Option #2 scenario.  Anti-administration supporters have claimed that we have pulled naval and coast guard patrols out of the WPS and effectively conceded those waters to the Chinese.

Pro-administration supporters have claimed that having any form of naval patrols in the WPS is tantamount to an act of war.

Both sides appear be both right AND wrong.........two things can be equally true.

The assertion that there are no WPS patrols has been debunked by various reports at different times of Philippine Navy ships in the WPS.  The example cited in the thesis of the BRP Gregorio del Pilar anchoring off Pagasa Island is one such case.  But by in large these patrols apparently do continue, though not publicized. 

However, there is a lack of a presence afloat of Philippine vessels in the area.  Hence the claims of lack of patrols.  This is more a function of the lack of naval assets with the capability for extended patrols farther out into the WPS.  While patrols are taking place, the assets being sent out there are woefully inadequate in terms of number and quality.

One of the issues that should be addressed in this "buying time" period needs to be to address the patrol capability gap.  It addresses multiple issues, such as keeping adequate presence in the WPS.  And if the end game is to acclimatize the Chinese to Philippine presence, part of that process would arguably be to get them used to the presence of Philippine OPVs in those waters.  Plus, with all the talk in recent days of a possible deal with Austal, plus past hinting from Hanjin Subic of a possible deal with the DND, it does serve a purpose in terms of economic stimulus and SRDP.

The basic premise of the Fourth Option, this idea that financial gain would be China's motivation to play along, I find it.......well, I have my reservations about it.

It's not that I think it's a bad idea.  If anything, if you are going to try to get China to go for positive encouragement to play nice, then appealing to their sense financial gain would be not just the best way to do it, it's probably the only way to do it.

But that's not where my concerns about Option #4 come from.  It more stems from the thought that financial gain, while a very important objective, is not China's sole motivator.

First of all, the Chinese have a particularly acute sense of national honor.  That sense of national honor is very much tied in with their ideas about sovereignty.  This has been on display since the late 1980s, when began to embark on a national quest to reclaim "lost" territories, not just "lost" within recent history, but also "lost" within the last several centuries.  We saw this with China taking over the Paracels.  We saw this with the Chinese beginning to encroach into Philippine waters.  It culminated with China regaining sovereignty over Hong Kong and Macau.  It is at the roots of China's desire to get Taiwan back.  And it is very much in play with the disputes in the South China Sea.  It has become very much ingrained into the Chinese national psyche that those territories, including the South China Sea, belong to China.  Again, drawing from an example of US History, it has a lot of similarities to the 19th century American concept of "Manifest Destiny", the concept that the Americans had a God-given destiny to settle and rule the American continent.  Likewise, the Chinese feel that they have a similar Manifest Destiny to control East Asia and the Western Pacific.

So while appealing to that sense of financial gain may be a more logical approach, if a Manifest Destiny-like sense of national honor is at play, then that can border on the irrational.  While it could be argued that China could profit from cooperating with the Philippines and even going so far as recognizing Philippine claims, it could be superseded by the loss of face that would be felt by the Chinese nation by conceding something it believes belongs to it, particularly if that concession is made to a country that is perceived as an inferior power or vassal state, such as the Philippines.

This interrelationship between that sense of national honor and sovereignty is also exemplified every time China puts out a press release that pertains to sovereignty issues in the South China Sea, with the oft-repeated phrase "clear and indisputable sovereignty".  Time and again, the Chinese reiterates that it has "clear and indisputable sovereignty over the territories in the South China Sea", seemingly to drive home the point to the entire word as if to repeat the phrase often enough would make it come true. 

Which is what they might in fact be trying to do.

That phrase "clear and indisputable sovereignty" has been repeated so often, that it is apparent that the Chinese have drawn a very hard line with regard to sovereignty, and they have absolutely no intention of compromising, or coming down off of it.  Or at the very least, it's going to take a awful lot for the Chinese to come down off of that stance.

This is why, while others go berzerk whenever talk of joint exploration with the China gets mentioned, or go apes@#t at the talk of 60-40 splits, I just sit back, comfortable of the fact that the Chinese will never, ever accept joint exploration under those conditions.

And this is why they will never ever accept such terms:

If China believes that what we call the West Philippine Sea belongs to China, then the territories in question cannot be offered by the Philippines to China to be jointly explored.  As far as China is concerned, the Philippines is in no position to offer the use of territory which is not supposed to belong to them.

Therefore, if China were to accept such an offer of joint exploration in places like Reed (Recto) Bank, then China would effectively be admitting that the West Philippine Sea does not belong to it.  And this is something the Chinese government cannot do without "losing face".  While this may be a trivial matter in terms of the international scene, it may be more relevant to the Chinese government in terms of domestic politics.  Some have suggested that "face" is tied to the Chinese government's legitimacy, and that their obstinacy with regard to the South China Sea issue may stem from fears that any loss of face may erode their legitimacy in the eyes of the Chinese people.

If anything, it may be possible that the Duterte administration may be making such offers of joint exploration knowing full well that the Chinese would never accept such an offer.  In doing so, the administration can now turn and tell the world, "look, we're trying to be reasonable, they aren't.......who's the a@#hole now."

Of course, the Chinese themselves have made an offer of joint exploration themselves.  How does that reconcile with the fact that they won't accept a Philippine offer?

The Chinese, in their world view, believe that only they have the right to make such an offer.  They believe the territory to be theirs.  Therefore, in their minds, they should make the offer.  I suspect that what the Chinese have in mind is similar to the Pearl River Estuary exploration tracts off the coast of Hong Kong, which the Chinese have leased out to South Korean oil exploration firms.  What they might likely do is offer oil exploration tract to Philippine oil exploration firms in places like the Reed (Recto) Bank, and call that "joint exploration".  In that way, the Chinese would retain sovereignty, and the Philippines gets a piece of the action.

The only problem here is that the Philippines' concept of oil exploration is much like that of China's Pearl River Estuary the tracts out to foreign companies, let the foreigners do the dirty work while the Philippines pockets the money.  There are few, if any, purely Philippine companies that can handle that kind of work.  And so even if the Chinese were to make such an offer to the Philippines, the Philippines might not be able to take advantage of it.  Nor would it necessarily be wanting to do so, since excepting such an offer would be tantamount to conceding sovereignty over the disputed areas.

Secondly, it should be noted that the interplay between the Philippines and China does not take place in a bubble.  This is one important one, but nonetheless one component, of much larger issues, not just of the collective territorial and sovereignty disputes, but also of East Asian affairs, global politics, and the tango that is taking place between two superpowers:  the US and China.  And so changes with those much larger issues will inevitably upset the delicate milieu that is the relationship between the Philippines and China.

Where the 4th option could get upset stems from one basic fact:  in this particular relationship, we are not the party that holds the leverage.  China is holding a lot of the cards:  in terms of military might, in terms of being the force "on the ground" in the disputed territories, and in terms of being the bigger economic power with China accounting for around 20-25% of our exports.  And so with the Chinese holding the leverage, they can, to some extent, dictate the parameters of the relationship.

With that said, move away from the bubble, and let's go to Scarborough Shoal.

At present, Scarborough Shoal has settled into some semblance of a status quo.  While the Chinese still control the shoal, Philippine fisherman have at least been able to operate in the shoal's vicinity (but still not within the shoal itself).  While there are still reports of harassment, such as the forced "trade" of Philippine fishing catches, there aren't the reports of China Coast Guard vessels emptying their bilge keels on some poor hapless Filipino fisherman.

However, the fishing detente doesn't change Scarborough Shoal's strategic importance with regard to control over the South China Sea.  Scarborough Shoal is located in the South China Sea's northeast quadrant.  A base from the shoal would allow whoever occupied the shoal to control that quadrant and the strategically important Bashi Channel between Luzon and Taiwan.  For the Chinese, the Bashi Channel is an important egress point for the PLA Navy to operate in the open Pacific.  And more importantly, control over the Bashi Channel for the Chinese would prevent the US Navy from entering and operating in the South China Sea.

And so here is the conundrum........with the US increasing the frequency and scope of its FONOPs, is there a point where the Chinese decide that military expediency (i.e. countering or even inhibiting US Navy operations in the South China Sea) starts to take precedence over good relations with the Philippines?  And if so, does that result in the Chinese breaking the detente that the Duterte administration has carefully crafted with the Chinese?  Does this mean that the Chinese cross the "red line" and begin to fortify Scarborough Shoal?

And then what?  Do we drift toward Option #3?  Option #1?  Heaven forbid, Option #2?

Option #4 has been described in previous discussions as a way of "buying time".  Buying time often means trading ground for time.  However, with the situation in the West Philippine Sea, the Chinese have backed us up so much that we have now come to the point that "red lines" have become necessary.  We can no longer trade space for time because to back up further would lead to serious consequences and a grave threat to sovereignty, if not outright capitulation.

To say that time is of the essence would be an understatement.  An unpredictable change in the status quo of the region at any given time could upset the situation and find someone pushing hard against one of those "red lines".

Where the 4th option is particularly ingenious is its emphasis on longer-term measures, such as infrastructure projects and economic development.  This accomplishes two things.  First it places the country on a stronger economic foundation, and renders it less susceptible to economic coercion, which is one of the useful "short-of-war" measures that countries such as China and others can wield against the Philippines.  It helps the Philippines gain leverage of its own.  Secondly, a strong economy provides a stable tax base that generates revenue for the government........revenue that can be used to fund national defense projects (among other projects).

But these initiatives take time.  And the Philippines might necessarily have control over that time before it gets backed into a corner.  And so in order for this to work, decision makers need to force their way past the morass that usually characterizes the way things have traditionally gotten done in the Philippines.

But it may not be enough.  And decision makers may find themselves compelled to make additional concessions in order to buy time.  But I would be wary of having to repeatedly resort to that, as over time, we could find ourselves pushed by increasingly difficult concessions until something gets demanded which we are unwilling to concede under any circumstances.

More to follow........

A fourth option

Star Trek fans would recognize the Duterte administration’s chosen course of action as a “Kobayashi Maru” solution. A re-writing of the rules of the game to win a “no-win” scenario.

A favorable solution to the China-problem requires levels of out-of-the-box-thinking at the executive level traditionally absent from Malancanang. It calls for a uniquely Filipino solution that matures relations with traditional allies -- that are more accustomed to either an overly agreeable Philippine stance or a mendicant mindset; engages non-traditional players to broaden the country’s geopolitical engagements, and redefines PH-CN relations to the Philippines’ advantage. 

The audacious goal of the 4th option is, simply put: to convince China to see things our way. To conduct itself in a manner that conforms to our own laws, thus blurring — if not eliminating — the distinction between how we would conduct our affairs had China simply vanished from the face of the Earth and Duterte’s desired end-state that grants us unimpeded use and access to resources that are ours to begin with. It is full exercise of our sovereignty . . . but without, initially, the pomp and circumstance that comes with it

If China were a bully, Option 1 would have started a fight with the bully that could only end with us in either a wheelchair or the grave. Option 2, surrender, would leave us with nothing. Option 3 would have us pick a fight with the bully while hiding behind a big, but distracted neighbor that retains the option to go to the movies whenever he wants . . . regardless of our fitness to resort to option 1 when we are left alone.

Option 4 would have the bully wonder why he had to act like a douche bag in the first place . . . and learn to play nice. It would not make the bully go away, but would essentially make him leave us alone. All the while . . . wondering who we would side with if he ever decided to picked a fight with our big neighbor.

While the need to continue, even accelerate, the AFP modernization program remains, Option 4 will not be achieved by a feat of arms, as the Philippines currently lacks the martial power to enforce its policies, and its allies remain uncommitted to support Philippines claims. It will not be a result of international pressure, as force and shame simply gives China a domestic-politics-based incentive to dig in its heels.

It will require the use of a mix of incentives, gamesmanship, and polite resolve, to maneuver the kleptomaniac dragon into recognizing our claims, and to conduct its activities -- whatever they may be -- on our terms. IF this plan works . . . it will be a triumph of unconventional diplomacy AND financial deterrence.

Chinese financial self-interest -- not the threat of war -- will force China to respect Philippine law and Philippine claims.

If this approach sounds far fetched and fantastic, contrast it with the alternative:

Cowering behind our allies in the hope that they would fight our battles for us while we have no practical means to join the fight alongside them, and hope that our economy doesn’t stall in the meantime as they finish OUR job for us.

Would the US and our other allies really want to fight for us while we had no skin in the game? It’s worth noting that merely agitating China with diplomatic protests isn’t actually synonymous to “skin in the game”. Poking the dragon without an overall plan for success is a plan to fail.

Option 4 shows our allies that we have matured as a nation, are able to think for ourselves, and is now a capable partner for any nation that chooses to call us friend, rather than a dependent state to be propped up.

How do we know its working?
The key to understanding The President’s intentions is remembering that he is a nationalist first . . . all other labels second. Not communist . . . not internationalist . . . it is Pinoy-first. Any actions in pursuit of that holy-grailish 4th option must, therefore, be viewed in this context.

Words are infamously cheap. Therefore the average Filipino understandably expects to see proof of Duterte’s policies.

Such proof can be obtained in two forms:

What has been prevented
What has already, or is currently, being done

Finally, we get to the crux of the these, which is the 4th option.

Again, I will try to sift through this.  But as I have prefaced in my first reply post, this issues at play are exceedingly complex, with a lot of different factors involved.  And if the discourse I have outline here seems muddles, then it is, in my humble opinion, largely due to the complexity of the issue at hand.

As a general rule, in a complex problem such as this, it is best that one has as many options as possible, and not confine yourself to an either/or situation.  And so it is nice to have the clarity that is outlined here, that defines up to 4 possible options in this scenario.  And I would hope that the readers, both here and in the FB honeypot, would have similar clarity to try to define other possible options.

And so I cringe when one extreme side of the debate tries to define the discussion as the only real choice as being to fight it out to try to reclaim our territories, knowing full well that the inferior state of our armed forces in terms not just of quantity, but also of quality, makes such a conflict a little bit like a confrontation between a puppy and an 18-wheeler Mack truck.  This is Option #1 as outline in the thesis.

Likewise, I also cringe when the other extreme of the debate displays a preference for capitulation over the West Philippine Sea issue.  They mistakenly interpret the moves of the present Duterte administration as such (just as opponents of the administration sometimes describe present policy, but for the opposite reason).  However, those that favor capitulation tend to downplay and/or refuse to see the importance of the West Philippine Sea, not just in terms of sovereignty, but also its relevance with regard to mineral and aquatic resources, and more importantly the Philippines' access to sea lanes which are vital to the country's long term economic growth.  A few also believe that the country can gain "consuelo de bobo" benefits from China in much the same way Philippines once did with the United States.  Here is your Option #2.

Option #3 is never really off the table.  Because if the circumstances change such that Option #4 begins to break down, then the last line of defense becomes Option #3.

To some extent, this is reflected in the the statements put out by the Duterte government in May 2018 which drew "red lines" (reclamation/fortification of Scarborough Shoal, overt move against the BRP Sierra Madre at Ayungin Shoal, and unilateral resource extraction in the West Philippine Sea).  If those "red lines" are crossed, Duterte has said he would go to war.

While this may seem like an Option #1 move, then I would refer you back to my earlier comment about Option #1........the part about a puppy taking on a Mack truck.

The Duterte administration's announcement of a "red line" called to mind the US' 1823 promulgation of what became known as the "Monroe Doctrine".  For those not versed in American history, in 1823, then US President James Monroe announced in a State of the Union address that the United States would defend the newly independent nations of Latin America from European intervention.  Of course, the United States of 1823 was a weak military power, having just emerged from near defeat at the hands of the British in the War of 1812, and was hardly in a position to prevent European powers from going in and carving up Latin America.  However it turns out, the British made a similar declaration to the powers of Europe........hand off the Western Hemisphere.  The only difference is that the British could back up that declaration using ships-of-the-line and the cannon of the largest navy on the planet.

I make the analogy of the Duterte "red line" to the Monroe Doctrine in that the Philippines, given the present state of its armed forces is hardly in a position enforce such a "red line", and if anything, we're still struggling to get to the equivalent of the "six frigate" navy that the US had in the War of 1812.  What ultimately is going to enforce Duterte's "red line" is going to be a similar "red line" declaration the Americans have reportedly made regarding any reclamation activities at Scarborough Shoal.  That message was backed up by the overflight of American A-10s and other aircraft over the shoal in 2016, as well as the presence of American patrol aircraft during the 2014 Ayungin Shoal incident when the Chinese attempt to blockade an attempt to resupply the BRP Sierra Madre.

That smells like an Option #3 move to me.

Now, on to the 4th option itself......... (to be continued)

General Discussion / Re: RIMPAC 2018 -- Philippine Navy
« on: August 17, 2018, 01:09:22 PM »

PH Navy 'RIMPAC' contingent now in Guam

By Priam Nepomuceno August 16, 2018, 3:59 pm

MANILA -- The Philippine Navy (PN) contingent to the recently-concluded "Rim of the Pacific" (RIMPAC) naval exercises have arrived at Apra Harbor, Guam Wednesday.

The contingent is composed of the strategic sealift vessel BRP Davao Del Sur (LD-602) and frigate BRP Andres Bonifacio (FF-17) along with an AgustaWestland AW-109 helicopter and 700 sailors and marines.

This year's RIMPAC started June 27 and ended on August 2.

Cmdr. Jonathan Zata, PN spokesperson, said officials from the Philippine Consulate General in Guam headed by Consul Mark Francis C. Hamoy welcomed the naval units.

The head of the contingent, Naval Task Force 86, Capt. Ernesto O. Baldovino and his deputy, Capt. Joe Anthony Orbe, the commanding officers of the two sips, together with selected personnel of NTF 86 paid a courtesy call to the Philippine Consul General to Guam, Consul General Mariano R. De Borja, at the latter’s official residence in Jonestown, Tamuning.

The four-day visit is part of the contingent’s return voyage to the Philippines.

A series of activities were scheduled especially for Filipino communities residing in the area such as the PN-hosted reception and open ship tour.

"The Philippine Navy continues to conduct International Defense and Security Engagement as part of its diplomatic role. Said activity in Guam is one of the PN’s way of expressing patriotic pride that our Filipino community may look upon and gaining stakeholders support on the continuing efforts of the Navy towards its modernization," Zata added. (PNA)

Evaluating the "3rd option": MDT

A strategy that relies on the MDT is a line of thinking with direct lineage to the ill-fated pre-World War II “War Plan Orange” that was supposed to have sent the US Pacific fleet across the Pacific to repulse an Imperial Japanese attack. As USAFEE forces that retreated to Bataan as part of the plan discovered -- the hard way in April 9, 1942 -- the mere threat of retaliation did not prevent invasion, and the promise of reinforcement could be hampered by other more-pressing concerns. Unfortunately for the defenders of Bataan, the attack on Pearl Harbor had put the United States on the defensive and the security of the continental US had become paramount. They had become expendable.

In addition to keeping the Bataan experience in mind, when weighing the value of the MDT as shield, one must also be mindful of the wording of the treaty and the mechanics for enforcement.

Article 4 and 5 of the US-PH treaty states


Each Party recognizes that an armed attack in the Pacific Area on either of the Parties would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common dangers in accordance with its constitutional processes.

Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall be immediately reported to the Security Council of the United Nations. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security.


For the purpose of Article IV, an armed attack on either of the Parties is deemed to include an armed attack on the metropolitan territory of either of the Parties, or on the island territories under its jurisdiction in the Pacific or on its armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific.

Arguably, faith in the MDT’s use as a shield against China emanates from these two provisions in the treaty. Particularly in the segments that indicate that an attack on the “armed forces, vessels or aircraft” of either party will trigger the MDT.

But how does this treaty ACTUALLY compare with other mutual defense agreements that the US has with its other allies and how is it enforced?

Treaty that created NATO
Treaty between US and Japan

While the JP-US and PH-US mutual defense treaties both lack the automated response provision of the NATO treaty, the US has categorically declared that they recognize Japan’s claims to the Senkakus. The same cannot be said for the KIG.

The discretionary nature of MDT activation, and the lack of overt commitment to defense of the KIG -- both of which represented the status quo long before the current administration came to office -- should give anyone pause when opting to rely on the MDT as a shield against Chinese aggression.

If understanding the US and its policies is exceedingly complex, then understanding the relationship between the Philippines and the United States in terms of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty takes complexity to a whole new level.  If one were to try to simplify a description of this relationship, one might say that it is the sum total of the ups, downs, twists, and turns of the relationship between the two nations since the US granted full sovereignty to the Philippines on July 4, 1946..........and a whole lot of ambiguity.

A lot of that relationship was ingrained in the long time presence of American forces on Philippine soil vis-a-vis the large bases at Clark and Subic Bay, as well as several smaller bases.  As such, throughout much of that period, the Americans either provided excess defense articles, or in some cases subsidized Philippine military operations, as the Americans needed what it could get to help protect its prized bases in the country.  The Philippines had the personnel, but the Americans had the equipment.

However, beneath the surface, there was a constant cajoling and nagging on the part of the Americans to get the Philippines to do its part to defend itself.  A lot of it can be seen in the following 1972 US General Accounting Office report which outlined how a lot of the funding being sent to the Philippines that was supposed to be used to acquire newer and modern military equipment was being used instead to fund the AFPs normal day-to-day operations.  And that 1972 report essentially reiterated the same findings of an earlier 1966 report (

Thus, the dependency began.  The thinking on the part of Philippine decision makers was, "Why worry about our own defense when Tio Samuel can do it for us."  And judging by the GAO report, the Americans knew it, and were exasperated about it.  But if anything, the Philippines had the Americans by the cajones, and the Americans, if they wanted to maintain the strategic balance in Southeast Asia, could do little but indulge it.

But with the closure of the American bases in 1992, everything had changed.  The world had changed (the Cold War was over).  And the relationship had changed.  The child (the Philippines) decided it was better off on its own.  And the parent (the United States) had realized that it could no longer count on the unconditional cooperation of the child.

But what hadn't changed was the expectation of the child for the freebees and gifts and toys that it had been getting.  It was like the child gave the parent "the finger", but still expected to be spoiled.  It is a reflection of the poor understanding by the child of what the relationship with the parent was all about.  The US had done things that it didn't necessarily do for its other allies.  The US doesn't hand out free equipment to its allies.  The equipment may be dated, but few if any get freebees as the Philippines once did.  Even NATO allies have to pay for American equipment and weapons just like any other customer (with the exception of Iceland, which has no military, but its strategic position in the center of the Atlantic makes it prime real estate).  To this day, that "the Americans will take care of us" attitude still persists.  And while some have recognized the need for the Philippines to defend itself, that dependency has hampered the development of the AFP just as much as any of a number of other factors.

Meanwhile, on the American side, the Americans were still mindful of Philippine attitudes toward its own defense.  Then, as now, they've questioned the Philippines' reliability as an ally, and whether the Philippines would ever be worth the effort.  At the same time, American budgets have increasingly gotten tighter and tighter.  There's no longer the money to be thrown around as their federal budget has had an increasing number of obligations with ever shrinking revenues.  As such, giving dole outs to countries, such as the Philippines, which demonstrably have shown the ability to handle its own affairs, has become politically untenable in the United States as voters/taxpayers have questioned why their taxes should go to such places........and they do let their congressional representatives know about their objections.  And so "the good stuff" continues to go to countries who already shell out billions to buy American equipment and can demonstrate a commitment to their own defense (such as Israel), while countries that insist on playing the role of the needy girlfriend have been left out in the cold.

And then there's the MDT itself.

If anything, the terms of the MDT are ambiguous.

First of all, Article V of the treaty refers to an "an armed attack on the metropolitan territory of either of the Parties, or on the island territories under its jurisdiction in the Pacific or on its armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific."

In terms of the Philippines, "metropolitan territory" has been understood to mean those borders of the Republic of the Philippines that were in place at the time the Philippines gained sovereignty from the United States on July 4, 1946.......more or less.  I say "more or less" because since then, those borders have been adjusted to conform with international law, specifically UNCLOS.  These are more or less the borders that the United States recognizes, and these are the borders that are covered under the MDT.

However, that leaves the Kalayaan Island Group and Scarborough Shoal in a gray area.  While the Philippines claims these territories, the United States does not officially recognize Philippine sovereignty over these areas.  The official US policy on the territorial disputes is that it recognizes no one's claim in the disputed areas of the South China Sea, and that the disputes should be resolved peacefully.  As such, the MDT does not apply to the KIG and Scarborough Shoal.

However, the Philippines, rather astutely, has gotten around that by stationing troops in the KIG.  It has also created a makeshift outpost at Second Thomas (Ayungin) Shoal by stationing the derelict WW2-vintage transport BRP Sierra Madre at the shoal.  By virtue of the clause "n its armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific", the Philippines has placed indirect MDT coverage over these areas, since an attack on the troops or the ship would in theory trigger the treaty.

The problem, thus, becomes the other ambiguity.......what response would be triggered? 

Article IV of the treaty states:  "Each Party recognizes that an armed attack in the Pacific Area on either of the Parties would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common dangers in accordance with its constitutional processes.

Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall be immediately reported to the Security Council of the United Nations. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security. "

But the language is very vague in terms of what such a response would be.

It is presumed that in the event of an armed attack on the Philippines, an American president would invoke the 1973 War Powers Act.  Under the terms of the Act, the US President in his or her capacity as commander in chief of the armed forces can act to commit US forces in the event of an emergency.  The President would have 48 hours to inform the US Congress, and US forces can remain in place for up to 60 days, beyond which Congressional approval would be required.

However, the MDT provides no guarantees of such action.  And the US has never made any statement guaranteeing such action.

There may be some historical context.  In the past, the US has been known to implement a policy of "strategic ambiguity".  Such policies are implemented to keep foe AND friend in check, and preventing both sides from taking actions to escalate a conflict or dispute.  The most notable example of this is US policy toward Taiwan.  On the one hand, statements that the US was committed to Taiwan's defense was intended to deter mainland China from invading the island.  However, the US was deliberately ambiguous as to what it would do to defend Taiwan, in order to prevent Taiwan from making aggressive moves which would escalate the China-Taiwan dispute, such as an outright declaration of Taiwanese independence which would almost certainly lead to war.

The same "strategic ambiguity" may be in play in terms of the MDT.

Some of this may be the result of past moves on the part of the Philippines.  The one notable example was moves in the late 1960s/early 1970s to invade Sabah.  The thinking by Philippine decision makers was that they would give it a go, and if it went to hell, or Malaysia invoked its Five Power Defense Arrangement with Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore, it would go running to the Americans and invoke the MDT.

Nixon and his Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, put the kibosh on that, stating that the MDT was purely a defensive measure.  If the Philippines started something, it was on its own.

That line of thinking has been kept in place for the better part of 40 years.  And has affected how the South China Sea disputes have been dealt with.  The Americans are well aware that there is a temptation with Philippine decision makers to try to provoke some kind of confrontation such that the US could get dragged in vis-a-vis the MDT.  All in the hope that the Americans would do the Philippines' dirty work for it.

It does call to mind an anecdote that was relayed in the old Timawa forum.  Some admirals from the US Pacific Fleet came to Manila for a visit.  The local politicians were gleeful that they were there, saying that the Americans would fight the Chinese for them.  To which the admirals replied that if the Philippines would take their defense seriously and invest more in their defense, then they would be happy to help.  But if they expected the Americans to do the fighting for them, then they would be on their own.

It's like the bitter complaints once attributed to the GIs of the US 3rd Army during WW2, whose famed commander, Gen. George S. Patton, was referred to as "Old Blood and Guts".  To which the GIs replied, "Yeah, our blood.....his guts."

If the MDT has had any positive effect, it's that the Chinese haven't taken the old Dirty Harry challenge, and tested whether or not they feel lucky.  So far, they haven't taken any overt action, such as attacking the garrison on the BRP Sierra Madre at Ayungin Shoal.  The Chinese haven't quite been willing to try to figure out for themselves exactly what the US' MDT response would be.  However, they are still mindful of what the MDT is, and how they can play the MDT.  Actions such as blockading Ayungin Shoal, as well as shadowing the BRP Laguna during its KIG resupply runs in 2017, may serve not just to try to sever the logistical links with Philippine outposts in those far-flung areas.  They know full well that an error or the rash actions of a Philippine trooper could lead a Filipino firing the first shot.  That would make the MDT as worthless as the paper it's printed on, and give the Chinese full license to take whatever action it deemed appropriate.

The MDT may not quite be what many of us hope for.  The real value of the MDT if anything has been to maintain the tenuous status quo in the region.

Evaluating the "3rd option": UNCLOS

The cold hard fact about the UNCLOS ruling is that it did not actually grant the Philippines anything. All it did was nullify the 9-dashed line for the benefit of the world at large.

PCA Case No. 2013-19

In the Matter of the South China Sea Arbitration before the Aribitral Tribunal Constituted Under Annex VII to the 1982 United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea
Between the Republic of the Philippines and the People's Republic of China

From page 84 of the document

5. Exceptions and Limitations to Jurisdiction

161. Finally, the Tribunal examined the subject matter limitations to its jurisdiction set out in Articles 297 and 298 of the Convention. Article 297 automatically limits the jurisdiction a tribunal may exercise over disputes concerning marine scientific research or the living resources of the exclusive economic zone. Article 298 provides for further exceptions from compulsory settlement that a State may activate by declaration for disputes concerning (a) sea boundary delimitations, (b) historic bays and titles, (c) law enforcement activities, and (d) military activities. By declaration on 25 August 2006, China activated all of these exceptions.

The key bit to understand the text above is Article 298, which states

Article 298

Optional exceptions to applicability of section 2

1. When signing, ratifying or acceding to this Convention or at any time thereafter, a State may, without prejudice to the obligations arising under section 1, declare in writing that it does not accept any one or more of the procedures provided for in section 2 with respect to one or more of the following categories of disputes:

(a) (i) disputes concerning the interpretation or application of articles 15, 74 and 83 relating to sea boundary delimitations, or those involving historic bays or titles,
provided that a State having made such a declaration shall, when such a dispute arises subsequent to the entry into force of this Convention and where no agreement
within a reasonable period of time is reached in negotiations between the parties, at the request of any party to the dispute, accept submission of the matter to conciliation under Annex V, section 2; and provided further that any dispute that necessarily involves the concurrent consideration of any unsettled dispute concerning sovereignty or other rights over continental or insular land territory shall be excluded from such submission;

(ii) after the conciliation commission has presented its report, which shall state the reasons on which it is based, the parties shall negotiate an agreement on the basis of that report; if these negotiations do not result in an agreement, the parties shall, by mutual consent, submit the question to one of the procedures provided for in section 2, unless the parties otherwise agree;

(iii) this subparagraph does not apply to any sea boundary dispute finally settled by an arrangement between the parties, or to any such dispute which is to be settled in accordance with a bilateral or multilateral agreement binding upon those parties;

(b) disputes concerning military activities, including military activities by government vessels and aircraft engaged in non-commercial service, and disputes concerning law
enforcement activities in regard to the exercise of sovereign rights or jurisdiction excluded from the jurisdiction of a court or tribunal under article 297, paragraph 2 or 3;

(c) disputes in respect of which the Security Council of the United Nations is exercising the functions assigned to it by the Charter of the United Nations, unless the Security Council decides to remove the matter from its agenda or calls upon the parties to settle it by the means provided for in this Convention.

2. A State Party which has made a declaration under paragraph 1 may at any time withdraw it, or agree to submit a dispute excluded by such declaration to any procedure specified in this Convention.

3. A State Party which has made a declaration under paragraph 1 shall not be entitled to submit any dispute falling within the excepted category of disputes to any procedure in this Convention as against another State Party, without the consent of that party.

4. If one of the States Parties has made a declaration under paragraph 1(a), any other State Party may submit any dispute falling within an excepted category against the declarant party to the procedure specified in such declaration.

5. A new declaration, or the withdrawal of a declaration, does not in any way affect proceedings pending before a court or tribunal in accordance with this article, unless the parties otherwise agree.

6. Declarations and notices of withdrawal of declarations under this article shall be deposited with the Secretary-General of the United Nations, who shall transmit copies thereof to the States Parties.

There are a number of things that needed to be pointed out about UNCLOS and the July 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the case of the Republic of the Philippines vs. the People's Republic of China.

First of all, this was a case that the lawyers on the Philippine side designed to win.  As such, to ensure victory, it needed to limit the scope to parameters that could be winnable.  And so the case was never designed to affirm Philippine sovereignty over certain features.......that was a difficult case to prove and easier to disprove.  Add to this the fact that the PCA already made it clear that it did not have jurisdiction over sovereignty, but rather could resolve issues tied to UNCLOS.  What was a winnable case was if they could disprove the legality of China's "Nine Dash Line".  Ultimately, that was what happened, as the "Nine Dash Line" according to the Tribunal had no basis whatsoever under international law.  It also resolved other issues regarding the status of certain features, which has an effect on whether such features would be entitled to 200 nautical mile EEZs in addition to 12 nautical mile territorial seas.  Had any of the features, such as Pagasa Island and Itu Aba been granted "island" status, it would have complicated the issue by causing overlapping EEZs which would have to be settle separately.

As such, as pointed out in the thesis, the PCA decision succeeded in so far as disallowing any claim by China based on its "Nine Dash Line", or any claim based on its claimed "historical basis", and upholding the supremacy of international law.  However, the implied message was also "just because the feature is in your EEZ, does not automatically entitle you to it."  As such, the disputed features within the Philippines' EEZ may or may not belong to the Philippines.  It's just that the Permanent Court of Arbitration did not rule on it, nor did it have the jurisdiction to do so.

So he has the authority to make such a ruling?  To be honest, no one really knows.

Which leads to the second issue........UNCLOS itself, and its lack of an enforcement mechanism.

If anything, a lot of what the UN gets done is done in such a way that if ever there's a dispute, or something that needs to be resolved, it gets brought before the Security Council, with its 10 rotating members and 5 permanent members.

But if the Security Council has an "Achilles heel" its the possibility that the dispute involves one of its Permanent Members (the US, UK, France, Russia, and China), each of which has veto power and can kill a Security Council resolution with a single "no" vote.  Critics of the UN have cited this as the inherent weakness in the UN organization.

We have to remember that the concept of 5 permanent members is born out of the ghost of the UNs predecessor, the League of Nations.  While born of the great idea to prevent war by talking it out in a community of nations, the League lacked the power to force compliance.  And while the League called out nations such as Japan (for aggression in Manchuria) and Italy (for its invasion of Ethiopia), because it lacked the force to enforce, offenders simply thumbed its nose at the League, or in Japan's case, walked out altogether.

The whole idea of 5 permanent members is that the UN could round up the 5 biggest thugs it can find and "push" offending nations into complying and keeping order.  And to some extent it has worked in keeping relatively peace (or at least not outright world war) for over 70 years.

It still doesn't solve the problem:  what if the offender is a permanent member?

Add to that the fact that the biggest proponent in the development of UNCLOS, the United States, has not yet ratified the treaty.

US objections to the treaty have stemmed from provisions about undersea mining and involvement in international bodies and organizations which are seen to diminish US sovereignty in certain areas.  And while some of those issues have been addressed, it has not been enough to get through the ratification process.

Under the US Constitution, ratification of any treaty requires the vote of 2/3 of the US Senate.  At present, that requires 67 votes.  Each time the subject of ratification has come out, at least 34 senators have announced their attention to vote "no" which would kill the treaty.  The Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama administrations have all pushed for UNCLOS ratification.  Most recently in 2012.  However, enough senators came out against ratification that it had to be pulled back from a pending vote.  Had the vote gone through and had been defeated, the treaty can't be brought back again for ratification.

Ironically, the 2016 PCA ruling may have pushed the US even further from ratification.  The ruling reaffirmed the concept that what we would view as islands may really be high-tide features because they are unable to sustain human habitation.  This calls into question three US Pacific possessions:  Howland Island (the famed island where Amelia Earhart was supposed to land in her failed round-the-world trip), Baker Island, and Kingman Reef.  The US claims 200 nautical mile EEZ around all its possessions and under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama have turned them into marine sanctuaries.  However, the 2016 PCA ruling calls into question the legality of the EEZs around Howland, Baker, and Kingman Reef.  And the last thing anyone wants to see are Chinese fishing trawlers snooping around there.

In any case, although the US follows the spirit of UNCLOS in following its rules, it lacks the moral authority to force others, like China to comply, simply because it hasn't ratified the treaty.

Some have criticized UNCLOS because it can't be enforced.

However, there is the flip side.......we are having this discussion because UNCLOS exists.

UNCLOS codifies the rules by which the maritime entitlements of all nations are ensured of a 12 nautical mile territorial sea and a 200 nautical mile EEZ.  It is designed to create a fair framework so that all maritime nations are ensure of their rights.

Without UNCLOS, by what are we allowed to claim a 12 nautical mile territorial sea and 200 nautical mile EEZ?  Would we even be having this discussion if UNCLOS didn't exist?  Would the Chinese have simply walked right in and taken it.......end of discussion?  Would we only have the force of our arms to stop the Chinese from claiming our front yard?


ASEAN was not designed effectively engage China in a territorial dispute. First of all, it is not actually a military alliance the way NATO, or even the South East Asian Treaty Organization (SEATO), was. By definition, it is an economic and socio-economic alliance.


< Edited >


As set out in the ASEAN Declaration, the aims and purposes of ASEAN are:

To accelerate the economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region through joint endeavours in the spirit of equality and partnership in order to strengthen the foundation for a prosperous and peaceful community of Southeast Asian Nations;

To promote regional peace and stability through abiding respect for justice and the rule of law in the relationship among countries of the region and adherence to the principles of the United Nations Charter;

To promote active collaboration and mutual assistance on matters of common interest in the economic, social, cultural, technical, scientific and administrative fields;

< Edited >

It actually lacks any explicit obligation to defend associate member states. If anything, it emphasizes non-interference in each other’s affairs.

Furthermore, it is an association that relies on consensus to accomplish anything.




1. As a basic principle, decision-making in ASEAN shall be based on consultation and consensus.

2. Where consensus cannot be achieved, the ASEAN Summit may decide how a specific decision can be made.

3. Nothing in paragraphs 1 and 2 of this Article shall affect the mode of decision-making as contained in the relevant ASEAN legal instruments.

4. In the case of a serious breach of the Charter or non-compliance, the matter shall be referred to the ASEAN Summit for decision.

This makes ASEAN relatively easy for China to neutralize and assure that it does not become a venue for diplomatic opposition to its ambitions. While much has been said about Duterte’s refusal to use ASEAN as a venue for protesting Chinese actions in the West Philippine Sea, ASEAN had already been defanged years earlier when Cambodia actively blocked any attempt association statements that would be unfavorable to China. First in 2012, then again in 2016. Adding further insult to injury, China openly thanked Cambodia for taking its side at ASEAN.

As pointed out, ASEAN is hardly a cohesive alliance or even a coalition.  It runs purely be consensus.  And so one has to be careful about how you interpret ASEAN pronouncements.  At times, it will put out a water-down statement that merely achieves a weak consensus statement without substance only for the sake of saying that they achieved consensus on "something".  When in reality it is nothing at all.

As Sir Adroth pointed out, ASEAN got neutered long before Duterte appeared on the scene, when Cambodia, who was the ASEAN chair in 2012, killed an ASEAN communique which loudly criticized China's island reclamation activities.  This despite the Philippines and Vietnam openly pushing and lobbying for a strong statement.  By 2016, with the Philippines now under Duterte looking to constructively engage with China, Vietnam was left isolated in trying to push for strong action against China.  Vietnam is reportedly less than please with the Philippines.  Whereas before 2016, Vietnam felt that it found a partner in the Philippines is cooperatively pushing to stop Chinese expansion, afterward, Vietnam had felt that the Philippines had thrown it under a bus.  Reportedly, Vietnam planned to quickly file its own case before the Permanent Court of Arbitration, using the July 2016 PCA ruling in the case of the Philippines vs. the People's Republic of China as the precedent.  The Philippines backing away from the ruling effectively pulled the rug out from under Vietnam.

Even without the Philippines leaning one way or the other, pro-China ASEAN members, such as Cambodia and Laos are more than enough to prevent any form of consensus in ASEAN over the South China Sea disputes for the foreseeable future.

The one thing to watch for in ASEAN at this point is development of a Code of Conduct for the South China Sea.  Recent reports indicate that an initial draft has been developed.  Some reports indicate that the draft is very favorable toward China and, despite the intention and purpose of the Code of Conduct, non-binding.  Stay tuned.


Japan remains the US’ strongest ally in the region, and remains the Philippines’ top lender. While it has consistently flexed its muscles in response to Chinese aggression in the Senkaku islands, its engagements in the South China Sea remain focused on beefing up regional coast guards.

But even on the matter of Coast Guard strength, China's shipbuilding spree has eclipsed the Japanese Coast Guard, both in terms of number and size of vessels. Therefore a favorable repeat of a Japanese salvage operation in waters that China claimed to be its own, in 2002, is no longer a certainty. By 2015, China had wrestled the title "largest coast guard cutter" from Japan, when it commissioned the 12,000-ton cutter designated CGC 2901.

With Japan, the big "elephant in the room" has always been its postwar Constitution which renounces war as an instrument of foreign policy.  While it allows for self-defense, it has been interpreted such that Japanese governments steer clear of anything such as foreign deployments and the production of war and defense materials above and beyond what is strictly needed for Japan's defense requirements.

In comes Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.  Conservative, a man who believes in Japan's power.  He has no qualms about controversial visits to the Yasukuni Shrine which house the remains of convicted Class A war criminals (thereby reopening old wounds in China and Japan).  He would like to throw off those pacifist constitutional provisions.  He knows that the dispute with China in the Senkakus is a powder keg ready to go off.  He knows that China is an emerging power with a fleet and air force that can take down Japan.  He also knows that exporting defense materials would be a big boost to the Japanese economy.

Except that Japanese public polling runs 2 to 1 in favor of remaining pacifist.

In 2016, Abe's party handily won the elections in the upper house of the Diet (Japan's parliament).  However, with polling running in favor of continued pacifism, Abe publicly admitted that he had to back away from scrapping pacifist constitutional provisions.  Politically, he had no choice.  Even though his party controlled both the Upper and Lower Houses, forcing such a measure would have meant either parliamentary defeat, or a revolt by his own party because his MPs constituents wouldn't have stood for such a change.

However, Japan still had a problem.  With China gaining tighter control over the South China Sea, in meant that the Chinese could place a vice-grip on Japan anytime it wanted.  Japan is highly dependent on Middle Eastern oil.  And that oil flow through the volatile sea lanes of the South China Sea.

If lethal aid, such as warships and warplanes was constitutionally unacceptable, then nonlethal aid, in the form of coast guard vessels was possible.  And so the Japanese have bent the rules by aiding not just the Philippines, but also Malaysia and Vietnam.  At the same time, the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force has gone on goodwill trips and port calls in the Southeast Asia region, using the opportunity to help train up regional coast guards and navies.  If the JMSDF can't legally protect the sea lanes itself, then it could certainly help regional partners do so in cooperation with them.

Very quietly, both the Duterte administration, and under his predecessor President Aquino, the Philippines has engaged Japan in terms of building patrol capabilities, as well as infrastructure.

Japan has proven to be a willing partner.  However, that partnership comes with restraints.  And only time will tell if eventually those restrictions will be loosened.  A lot of that is dependent not on Japanese or Philippine policy makers, but rather on the temperament and values of the Japanese voting public.  It is merely for government officials in both countries to maximize the relationship to the extent that they can. 

United States

The US was in no shape to mount a conventional war. The two wars-without-end in Iraq and Afghanistan had left the US electorate with little appetite for yet another armed conflict. While the Global War on Terror continues even today, and has even expanded to Africa, these focus on counter-insurgency campaigns -- mounted by special operations forces -- designed to bolster the effectiveness of the armed forces of partner countries. These were not high-profile operations on the scale of either Gulf Wars I or II. In contrast, any direct conflict with China would be.

Domestic challenges associated with sequestration and the 2008 financial crisis arguably gave additional reason to pause and reconsider the wisdom of committing resources for war. Manifestations of the effect of these constraints on US military spending range from the USAF crisis with its fighter readiness, to the cancellation or reduction of big-ticket acquisitions.

Arguably both resulted in an anemic “Pivot to Asia” that left China emboldened.

The timidity of the US -- and NATO -- response to Russian annexation of the Crimea in 2014, as well as successful nullification of the UN Security Council in the matter of the Syrian Civil War in 2012 -- by way of a joint Russia-China veto, proved to Beijing that it would be able to challenge international order with little consequence to itself.

While the Mutual Defense Treaty between the Philippines and the United States remains relevant, proper acknowledgement of the fact that the MDT does not give the Philippines license to do whatever it wants -- and then expect the US defend it blindly -- is essential to any rational geopolitical calculation.

Any discussion of the role of the United States in all of this is by its very nature going to be an exceedingly complex discussion.  It is interwoven with issues not just germane to the current existing relationship between the Philippines and the United States, but also takes into account the historic relationship between the two countries, geopolitics, American domestic issues, and a bunch of other things.  The current state of the United States is also a major factor as the policies of its current administration have been arguably in flux.

Sir Adroth's statement that the American populace has no stomach for involving itself in another major war is largely accurate.  And at the very least this has been true for the last decade, and stem largely from the stalemate in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and the premature declaration of victory of the George W. Bush administration in both theaters even though combat troops remain on the ground to this very day.  That stalemate is believed to be one of the contributing factors to Barack Obama's election in 2009 when American voters made it clear that it wanted American involvement in foreign wars scaled back and more emphasis on repairing a weakened economy.

The Obama administration focused its policies more toward diplomacy and repairing damaged relationships with foreign partners.  When it needed to get involved militarily, it tried as much as possible to minimize the involvement of actual troops and personnel, and tended to focus more on drone strikes.  What few troops were needed were kept to a minimal level, such as the special forces raid into Pakistan to take out Osama bin Laden in 2011.

That more pacifist slant also reflected itself in the Asia pivot which took place to the latter half of Obama's term.  The Obama administration should be credited with recognizing that the rise of China represented a bigger threat, and the necessity of reallocating US forces to put a deterrent force in the region.  But that "rebalance" has been hampered by internal budget battles between the Obama administration and the Republican-controlled Congress which led to the "sequester" which compromised by denying budget funds across the board to all programs, hitting defense just as hard as any other program.  As a result, there weren't adequate defense assets (particularly naval assets) which could be rebalanced.  Naval assets slowly frittered away due to attrition.  Those remaining naval assets were stretched thin amongst several crisis areas (Syria, the Black Sea, the Middle East, etc.).  And what funds were available were being poured into high-value programs of dubious use (such as the LCS program).

But there is the other "elephant in the room" in Asia:  North Korea.

The United States, under the Obama administration, recognized North Korea as the biggest threat, given its nuclear ambitions, and concerns that it might be one of the few nations on the planet that might not hesitate to use such weapons.  Not to mention that its sizeable land army combine with its large artillery corps could quickly pour millions of troops over the DMZ to overrun South Korea, along with the 30,000 US troops stationed there.  Not to mention that a nuclear armed North Korea could cause South Korea and Japan to quickly follow suit and develop their own nuclear arsenals, thereby touching off a major regional arms race.

With diplomacy as the option of first resort, China has been seen as the key to getting North Korea to stand down.  China is North Korea's sole ally and biggest trading partner, and is believed to exercise influence over the Kim regime.

As such, a lot of the diplomatic maneuvering in the Korean crisis has consisted of the United States and other nations encouraging China to lean on North Korea.  This was true of the Obama administration, and the first year of the Trump administration with Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State.  However part of engaging China to help out with North Korea has involved not ruffling China's feathers to try to get its cooperation.

Forcing the issue in the South China Sea has been seen as one of those things that might ruffle Beijing's feathers.

And so the lack of aggressive US action in the South China Sea might be attributable to that issue taking a back seat to the more urgent issues involving North Korea.  At best, US action has been seen as piecemeal, mainly consisting of Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs), with supposed "red lines" drawn at Scarborough Shoal.  However, there was not direct attempt to stop the island reclamation projects at 7 Spratlys Islands reefs and shoals in clear violation of international law.  While there is no evidence to indicate that such was the case, the US-brokered agreement over the April 2011 Scarborough Shoal incident would be consistent with an attempt to defuse the situation and not ruffle Beijing's feathers.

With Mike Pompeo now in charge at the State Department, it's hard to say if the prior use China to lean on North Korea policy is still in place.  Trump and Kim Jong Il did meet in Singapore and claim to have brokered an agreement to curtail North Korea's nuclear program (without needing the Chinese as an intermediary).  However, recent intelligence reports have indicated that North Korea has been ramping up, rather than winding down, its nuclear program.

In any case, with the Department of Defense now under Jim Mattis, we have seen an increase in tempo of FONOPs, with increased military-like activity taking place with the 12 nautical mile zones claimed by Beijing.  They also publicly disinvited China from the recently concluded Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2018 exercises, citing Chinese activities in the South China Sea.  But only time will tell where things will go from here.

Add to this an air of unpredictability which comes with the man occupying the Oval Office, Donald J. Trump.  He has publicly criticized allied nations, to the point that many of them have questioned whether the United States would own up to its alliance and treaty obligations so long as Trump is president.  At the same time, Trump has cozied up to nations that have been traditional adversaries of the US, such as Russia.  And there are lingering suspicions that Russia may have had direct involvement in the election of Trump as president in 2016.  Likewise, there have also been reports that members of Trump's family have used their influence in government to facilitate business dealings in China and/or with the Chinese government.

Despite all this, Trump has proven a mixed bag when it comes to getting legislation in his program passed.  Despite his party having majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, little of his legislative agenda has been pushed through, apart from his tax reform program.  That program, which created billions of dollars in tax cuts directed at upper income individuals and corporations, is projected to add trillions to an already large national debt according to an independent US Congressional study.  And as such, it becomes questionable whether the funding would be there for important big ticket defense initiatives such as the expansion of the US Navy to 355 ships, Coast Guard modernization, and border security.   

Trump also seems to have a very different way of doing things.  Some believe that his approach is more bilateral in nature, preferring to deal one-on-one rather than work in coalitions as his predecessor did.  His thinking also tends to be more transactional, a reflection of his business background.

How this bodes for the's hard to say, given Trump's penchant for unpredictability and (from his Twitter posts) volatility.  He seems to get along well with President Duterte (much in the same way that he seems to get along with Kim Jong Il, Vladamir Putin, and Recep Erdogan), and have a common foe in terrorism.  But Trump's frequent clashes with close traditional allies have caused some to wonder whether the US could ever again be trusted to keep its word.

And then there's the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty between the Philippines and the United States, and all the historical complications that come with it.  But I leave that for the section on the MDT.

Addenda:  If there is a criticism to be leveled at the Obama administration, it is that it placed too much faith in the "rule-based approach" to the international order.  It idealistically believed that everyone followed the rules, and that diplomacy and subtle nudges with sanctions would get nations to come back into the fold.

Clearly that was not the case with Russia in the Crimea, nor was it the case with China and its artificial islands.  Those, and a few nations, reverted back to the "might makes right" way of doing business, which the "rules-based approach" proved inadequate to deal with.  Whether or not a "carrot-stick" approach would have worked, it's hard to say given the complexities of the situation, and how a situation in one part of the world gets interwoven with crises elsewhere.

This will probably be the first in a series of posts.  This will take some time.  I credit Sir Adroth on the sheer scale and comprehensiveness of the thesis that he has submitted before the group.  It's thoroughness mandates that an equally comprehensive critique is in order.  And to be honest, given my current busy work schedule, I am having trouble finding time to do this in one sitting.  And so the succeeding posts will come as they will, piece by piece, and will take segments of Sir Adroth's thesis to offer commentary and critique.  My thoughts are not intended to either support nor criticize the thesis before us.  But rather offer different analysis, points of view, and outlooks which may add to and/or provide alternative viewpoints to the thesis.

Most importantly, this is intended to stimulate discussion and dialogue, both here in the mother forum, as well as the Facebook honeypot.  With any luck, I hope that it will also further discussion in the larger Philippine defense community.

-- Dr. D.

General Discussion / PH to acquire more missiles for new ships
« on: August 10, 2018, 11:07:37 PM »

PH to acquire more missiles for new ships

By Priam Nepomuceno August 10, 2018, 1:05 pm

MANILA --- The Philippines will be acquiring more missile weaponry to arm its new ships, Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana disclosed Thursday.

Lorenzana made the announcement after the successful test-firing of the Philippine Navy's (PN) Rafael Advanced Defense Ltd. Spike-ER (extended range) surface-to-surface missile off Lamao Point in Limay, Bataan last August 9.

The weapon was fired from one of the PN's three Spike-ER armed multi-purpose assault craft (MPACs).

The MPACs were constructed by the Subic-based Propmech Corporation and activated on May 22, 2017.

"We are getting more of those ( missile weaponry) because we're planning (to acquire) more vessels. By the way, we have an offshore-patrol vessel order (for the Navy), six of which would be built here in the country. It will be built by Austal, which is a subsidiary of Austal in Australia, in Balamban, Cebu," Lorenzana said in a media interview.

Asked for the contract price for the six off-shore patrol vessels, the DND chief said he cannot give specific figures yet as the deal is still being finalized.

The DND chief said the implication of the August 9 Spike-ER missile test-firing is that it boosted the PN's capability to efficiently employ such weapon in its operations.

"A Spike-ER missile was fired and accurately hit the designated target at approximately 6 KM (kilometers) away from the firing platform. The target was hit dead center even if the sea state condition was moderately rough with wave of at least one meter high but within the normal firing conditions of the missile," PN spokesperson Cmdr. Jonathan Zata earlier said.

The PN MPAC Acquisition Project entered into a contract with Rafael, through SIBAT of the Israel Ministry of Defense, for the supply and integration of the weapons systems to MPAC Mark III platforms.

"Another actual live firing demonstration of the Spike ER missile will be scheduled with the Commander in-Chief, the President of the Philippines, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte in attendance," Zata said.

The Spike-ER system, which arrived in the country last April, is the PN's first missile weapon, capable of penetrating 1,000 mm (39 inches) of rolled homogeneous armor and having a range of eight kilometers. (PNA)

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