• Gen Emmanuel T. Bautista AFP RET

US-Philippines Alliance: Strategic and Operational Value of the Alliance and its Future


Screen Capture from Center for Strategic and International Studies

The Philippines’ defense ties with the United States is the core that drives the overall bilateral relations forward. Institutionalized by the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, the military alliance has evolved, serving as the anchor of the relationship and sustaining it over time. Throughout its history, the resilience of PH-US defense relations has been tested and its cohesiveness challenged. The cohesiveness of the alliance is key to its credibility and its strength. Without it, the value of the alliance is lost.


The Alliance has both strategic and operational value.


At the strategic level, for both the US and the Philippines, the alliance serves their respective national interests.

  • On the part of the Philippines, the alliance will remain relevant for as long as there are threats that the country cannot address even with its full arsenal of capabilities. As history can attest, nations face an uncertain future. To be sure, many nations, weak or powerful, face that same dilemma relative to their threats. Given the Philippines’ situation, there is wisdom in providing for insurance to hedge against adversities.

  • On the other hand, the Philippines will remain valuable to the US in terms of power projection, legitimacy, and credibility. These are all essential if the United States wants to secure its position as the world’s leading power and guarantor of the current world order, a status which Americans believe to be in their national interest.


At the operational level, the MDT is an essential feature of defense and military planning of both nations.

  • For the Philippines, the US-PH alliance is central to achieving a Minimum Credible Defense posture. From the military perspective, the MDT is the cornerstone of Philippine deterrence. The prospect of US intervention has dissuaded a more aggressive posture towards the Philippines by threats such as China. The center of gravity rests on the cohesiveness of the alliance manifested by a clear commitment from the US to come to the aid of the Philippines in a given contingency. This always forms part of China’s calculations before it undertakes any aggressive action.

  • In addition, the MDT aids in the development of Philippine military capability, another requisite for bolstering its deterrent posture.

  • For the United States, the geostrategic location of the Philippines is a valuable asset. Access to the Philippines enables the US military to project its power, and thereby secure its strategic and geopolitical interests. It’s partnership with the Philippines can also add to the legitimacy and credibility of its actions in the Indo-Pacific.


The future of the alliance


For as long as both parties find value in the alliance, it will remain a cornerstone of the relationship. This should motivate both nation’s political and military elite to continue to find ways to stabilize and further strengthen the relationship given the challenges to it. The trajectory of the alliance will be determined by how both parties are able to collectively will their way through these challenges. Among these challenges are the following:


First, because cohesiveness is key to its credibility, there is now a seemingly deliberate external effort to weaken if not totally degrade PH-US alliance. As China pursues its hegemonic ambition, it employs gray zone activities meant to weaken its adversaries. China’s information operations have targeted the Philippines’ political relations with the US. It exacerbates existing fissures and inflames political discord to draw a wedge in PH-US alliance. This is currently one of the most serious threat to the cohesiveness of the alliance and consequently, its credibility.


Second is internally driven. The ability of both countries to manage the alliance and navigate it through their respective national processes and discourse can define its trajectory. These are largely informed by domestic politics as well as their respective national interest. Surely, there have been vacillations in the cohesiveness of the alliance due to these factors, but it has always settled down to its default status. Nevertheless, this remains a continuing challenge that needs to be managed accordingly.


Finally, the relevance of the alliance will be defined by its ability to adjust to the changing environment and face the evolving challenges. China’s aggressive actions are now being played out in the Gray Zone using hybrid methodologies. While the alliance was initially premised on traditional threats, and therefore traditional ways of dealing with it, adjustments must now be made to make it more attuned to the nature of these current threats.


Conclusion


Keeping the alliance is an important decision we need to take bilaterally. The US-PH alliance has served both our country’s interest. We have preserved the alliance over time notwithstanding its imperfections. It will continue to serve us well and it remains as a collective insurance we can cash in, when our mutual interests so dictate. An alliance based on trust, equality, reciprocity and responsible partnership.


Retired General Bautista was the Former Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. He is presently a Trustee of the Institute for Solidarity in Asia, Counselor of the Amador Research Services, a member of the Board of Trustees of the Foundation for the National Interest. This article was first presented at The U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty at 70 organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

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