Sunday, February 10, 2019
Kerry B. Collison Asia News: Why The Philippines Wants To Review Mutual Defence...: Philippines’ Defence Secretary, Delfin Lorenzana at a press briefing at Camp Aguinaldo in late December last year spoke of the need...
Philippines’ Defence Secretary, Delfin Lorenzana at a press briefing at Camp Aguinaldo in late December last year spoke of the need for a review of the 1951 Mutual Defence Treaty (MDT) with the United States given the growing security concerns in the South China Sea. The Defence Secretary had mentioned, given the ambivalent stand of the United States with respect to the Philippines’ claim in the West Philippine Sea (as referred to by the Philippines), “the government had three options after the review: Maintain it, strengthen it, or scrap it.” The main premise of the MDT is “that the Philippines and the U.S. would assist each other when either of them is attacked by a foreign force.”
The MDT between the Philippines and the US was signed on August 30 1951, in Washington, D.C. After the Philippines gained independence on July 4 1946, a strong American presence persisted. Under the 1947 Military Bases Agreement, a number of US military bases were set up in the Philippines. Most notable ones being the Clark Air Base and the Subic Bay (US naval station). The bases were maintained and operated by the US until 1991 and 1992 respectively. Philippines has been the oldest treaty ally of the US in Southeast Asia. Besides the MDT, the two countries have signed other agreements as well like the Visiting Forces Agreement in 1998, The Enhanced Defence Cooperation in 2014. After the 1992 withdrawal of the US from Manila, the relationship between the two countries improved further in the economic, defence and the security realms. The major thrust of the security relationship rests on the 1951 MDT. Scholars have even branded the US as the Philippines’ ‘security umbrella’. In his September 2018 meeting with US Secretary of State, Michael Pompeo, Lorenzana had said, “Most in our defense establishments agree that the Philippines-US alliance remains robust based on an enduring history of close engagement and our unwavering commitment to work together on shared values.” Therefore, the current statement of Delfin Lorenzana in December last year “that this treaty was signed in the Cold War era, do we still have a Cold War today? Is it still relevant to our security? Maybe not anymore” comes as a surprise.
The main point of objection is the absence of an ‘instant retaliatory clause’ but to go through the constitutional processes, that is the need to consult the US Congress before taking any retaliatory action. Furthermore, Article 5 of the Treaty is, “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 Ocean, its armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific.” This clause has again triggered a lot of debate in Manila as to “what “Pacific” refers to. Does it mean the Pacific Ocean or the Pacific area of operations which encompasses everything west of the US West Coast up to the Indian Ocean?”
Philippines is currently facing its biggest external threat in the form of an expansionist China in the South China Sea according to Filipino analysts like Richard Heydarian. The Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague had awarded the Philippines sovereign rights and defined its maritime entitlements over three disputed areas in the Spratlys: Panganiban (Mischief) Reef, Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal and Recto (Reed) Bank. Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal off Zambales was declared as a common fishing ground over which no country has control. But China had completely ignored the ruling and built fortified artificial islands in the South China Sea including in the Panganiban Reef. The Chinese sealed off Panatag and harassed resupply operations to Filipino troops on Ayungin. The Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin has said in a statement recently that the Philippines will protest against the Chinese opening a maritime rescue centre in the Fiery Cross Reef. The territorial dispute is listed by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) as the primary source of the country’s external threat.
This has prompted Manila to demand that the US takes a stronger stand in the South China Sea issue in favor of its erstwhile treaty ally. Though the US is undertaking Freedom of Navigation and overflight exercises in the South China Sea, it still remains non-committal on whether it will defend the Philippines in times of an armed attack. The US had in the past taken no stand during the takeover by the Chinese of the Philippines’ claimed Mischief Reef in 1995 and also during the 2012 Scarborough Shoal standoff between the Philippines and China. This has not gone down well in the Filipino defence, security circles and most importantly the country’s citizens.
However in an address on the eve of Chinese New Year, the leader of the Philippines said the “friendship and cooperation forged between the Philippines and China” had led to “greater prosperity and economic growth”. Philippines unlike in the past where it was too pro- US, is now like most other countries in the region following a hedging strategy, which means the US needs to do much more to keep the trust of its treaty ally intact. Under the Trump administration, US’s Asia Policy has become a dicey one. On one hand, we saw President Trump pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but on December 31 2018, the release of the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act (ARIA) is focused on the promotion of American interests in the Indo-Pacific region in terms of defense and security partnerships. In the ARIA, the US “promotes a joint Indo-Pacific diplomatic strategy in Asian waters through joint maritime exercises in the East China Sea and the South China Sea.” It also reaffirms its treaty commitments to countries like the Thailand and the Philippines. Though the ARIA mentions about the appropriation of US$150,000,000 to the Indo-Pacific region for each fiscal year from 2019-2023. But at the same time, financial assistance will be subjected to a budget cut in countries such as Cambodia, Myanmar and US’s closest security ally in ASEAN, the Philippines, due to human rights issues. According to academics, Academics Gregory Poling and Eric Sayers, “if the Philippines withdraws from the MDT it would be a severe blow to US interests in the Indo-Pacific.”
This in a way is reflective of the yearning of smaller countries in this region for a more proactive role to be played that caters to their interests by the Big powers like the US. This yearning presents both challenges and opportunities for the Big Powers. Even countries like the US in the current times despite the ongoing trade war with China is delicately balancing its relations with Beijing. So to claim outright that it will take the side of its treaty ally during a clash with its very crucial trading partner puts the US in a tough spot. The Scarborough Shoal 2012 standoff had also put the Asia Pivot policy of the Obama administration under test and many had questioned the genuineness of the policy when the US maintained a neutral stand in the standoff. Philippines’ wish for a stronger MDT has again put the US in a difficult situation. The US-Philippines 2014 Enhanced Defence Co-operation Agreement (EDCA) also depends on the MDT. That agreement allows the US to construct facilities and pre-position and store defence equipment, supplies and material within Philippine military bases and to deploy troops on a rotational basis there. Given the Philippines’ change in attitude towards China and its new hedging strategy, according to Poling and Sayers, “continuance of the treaty and the EDCA is critical to US interests in the region, not necessarily to those of the Philippines whose relations with China may suffer.”
India is revamping her Indo-Pacific policy through its Act East and thereby also needs to take cognizance of the demands of the smaller countries in the Southeast Asian region beside countries like Vietnam, Indonesia, Singapore. The ASEAN has always believed in ‘consensus’ and the visions and desires of all the member countries will be taken into account when the ‘ASEAN vision or concept of the Indo-Pacific’ is formulated at the end of the ongoing deliberations on the Indo-Pacific at the platform of the ASEAN and the East Asia Summit. The ASEAN countries have propagated for an “inclusive Indo-Pacific framework”, therefore at the end, picking sides will not be a viable option for either the Big powers in case of sore issues like the South China Sea and even for the smaller countries in the emerging dynamics of the Indo-Pacific and the changing global order. Therefore, these demands of the smaller countries needs to be tackled by India with a lot of caution and diplomatic acumen.
By Premesha Saha
Observer Research Foundation
ORF was established on 5 September 1990 as a private, not for profit, ’think tank’ to influence public policy formulation. The Foundation brought together, for the first time, leading Indian economists and policymakers to present An Agenda for Economic Reforms in India. The idea was to help develop a consensus in favour of economic reforms.
Saturday, February 9, 2019
Kerry B. Collison Asia News: Brexit and Southeast Asia: Return Of British Naval...: Although it should not be exaggerated, a persistent British naval presence in Southeast Asia should be expected now that commitments ...
Although it should not be exaggerated, a persistent British naval presence in Southeast Asia should be expected now that commitments to Iraq and Afghanistan have reduced.
Sparked by recent comments by the British Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, there has been a good deal of excited speculation about the prospect of a large-scale British military re-appearance in Southeast Asia complete with aircraft carriers and new bases. Its critics argue that this can be simply attributed to the country’s desire to reinvent itself after Brexit. Is there a nostalgic desire to try to return to the days of Empire? In fact, it’s all a bit more complicated than that.
First of all, the United Kingdom’s intention to increase its engagement with Southeast Asia has long preceded the Brexit project (although that has probably accentuated the drive for a ‘global Britain’ that is international by design); and far from being a harking back to the old days is a response to some very modern realities and developments. Chief amongst these is the rate of growth in Southeast Asia and the extent of today’s mutually beneficial linkages between the economies of the UK and the region.
Less of Shift in Policy
Southeast Asia is the UK’s third largest non-EU export market and the UK is the second biggest EU investor in the area. Moreover Southeast Asia is the UK’s third biggest market for defence exports. For all these reasons, the British, like other Europeans, have concluded that they should try for a more persistent presence not just in Southeast Asia but in the whole of the Indo-Pacific region, as part of an ‘All of Asia’ project.
Equally clearly this is not to be part of a plan to compete with, still less contain, China, which is also an important trading partner. It is, however, designed to contribute to the defence of the rules-based order.
This is less of a shift in policy than is often realised. Back in the 1970s the ink had hardly dried on the Wilson Government’s controversial decision to abandon Singapore and its ‘East of Suez’ commitment, than the British naval staff, with Foreign Office approval, set about organising an annual series of ‘group deployments’ through the area and shortly after that established the so-called ‘Beira patrol’.
This was a permanent frigate force off the Gulf which little by little acted as a fore-runner for the substantial task group and semi-permanent mine countermeasures force that distinguished itself in the first Gulf War in the 1990s and afterwards.
When combined with the Five Power Defence Arrangements, the ‘Five Eyes’ relationship especially with Australia and New Zealand, the continuing deployment to Brunei and even the small oiling facility at Sembawang in Singapore, this all makes it seem less a question of the British ‘coming back’ to the region, more a recognition that they never really left.
More Visible British Naval Presence?
But certainly the expensive land-centric strategic distractions of Iraq and Afghanistan, together with the effects of great recession of 2008 and the harsh defence review of 2010 did lead to a significant diminution of the British naval presence. A more persistent naval presence in the region is now possible and is being sought.
For this some local logistic support is necessary but nothing like the old Singapore ‘base’ which would be ruinously expensive, politically highly controversial and operationally completely unnecessary. Instead the British, like other navies, not least the Chinese, seek enhanced facilities such as they have completed in Bahrain and just agreed at Duqm in Oman where ships can be refuelled, routine maintenance conducted and crews rested or rotated.
Already with most ambitious deployment for many years of three major assets, including the assault ship HMS Albion and with the Queen Elizabeth likely to make its operational debut in the region by the beginning of 2021, a greater British naval footprint is already emerging.
Moreover such an enhanced presence is likely to be conducted with traditional friends in the area, and this will help too. Relations with the navies of Southeast Asia are good. Moreover both the Australians and the Canadians have chosen the Royal Navy’s highly sophisticated Type 26 frigate for their fleet renewal programmes (and the New Zealanders might follow suit in some form) and this will greatly increase prospects for naval cooperation in the years to come.
The UK’s European partners are likewise interested in working with the Royal Navy, wherever it is, especially in exploring the disciplines of carrier escort, and of course have their own very similar reasons for wanting a presence in the Indo-Pacific region.
Nonetheless there are still major challenges ahead, quite apart from the obvious need to handle local reactions sensitively. The Type 26 programme, the more modest Type 31 frigate programme, the completion of the carrier and F-35b fighter project when added to the very high costs of the Successor ballistic missile firing submarine programme, simultaneously combine into a formidable charge on the UK Defence budget at a time of Brexit-induced uncertainty.
Nor is Southeast Asia the only area in which the UK has an interest it needs to signal. Russian truculence in European waters and the growing importance of the Far North and the Arctic demand a countervailing attention and will remain the top strategic priority. The Mediterranean, the Gulf, the Caribbean and the South Atlantic matter too.
It will be a challenge to meet such a diverse range of commitments with a frigate and destroyer fleet that has dropped from 32 at the time of the 1997/8 Strategic Defence review to just 19 now.
However, it would seem from last year’s relatively benign Modernising Defence Review that something of a renaissance is underway. In all probability, the British will in American revolutionary John Paul Jones’ words ‘be coming’ unless present intentions are derailed by some disastrous Brexit outcome or dramatic strategic deterioration in Europe, but in a cautious and considered way which will depend heavily on the degree of welcome accorded the UK by friends and partners in the region.
This will be measured by the degree of success achieved by the UK’s bid to engage with ASEAN through establishing linkages with ADMM+ and the Expert Working groups. The probable increase in the visibility of the Royal Navy in Southeast Asian waters after all is just one fairly small part of a much bigger package of political and economic efforts to engage with the region.
*Professor Geoffrey Till is an Advisor to the Maritime Security Programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore.
Friday, February 8, 2019
Kerry B. Collison Asia News: West Papuan Independence Movement succeeds in lodg...: The world is overlooking the danger of the current West Papuan resolve for independence from Indonesia. The West Papuan Freedom Movement...
West Papuan Independence Movement succeeds in lodging a 2 Million signature demand with the United Nations
The world is overlooking the danger of the current West Papuan resolve for independence from Indonesia. The West Papuan Freedom Movement has now successfully lodged a request with the United Nations to revisit the flawed 1969 plebiscite. This could bring Australia and Indonesia again into conflict! Read the new book release “Rockefeller and the Demise of Ibu Pertiwi” eBook and print on demand all online platforms.
Thursday, February 7, 2019
Kerry B. Collison Asia News: Trouble in the Tropics: The Legacy of the Bali Bom...: With the elections fast approaching in Indonesia, leaders are hard-pressed to maintain the population’s support despite recent challenge...