Broadening Philippine-Australia Defence Relations in the Post 9/11 Era: Issues and Prospects

By Banlaoi, Rommel C. | Contemporary Southeast Asia, December 2003 | Go to article overview
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Broadening Philippine-Australia Defence Relations in the Post 9/11 Era: Issues and Prospects

Banlaoi, Rommel C., Contemporary Southeast Asia

September 11 and the Spectre of Terrorism

Since the terrorist Bali bombings in October 2002, Australia has been initiating various strategic initiatives to strengthen its web of bilateral defence relations in Southeast Asia. Canberra has signed an anti-terrorism agreement with Southeast Asian countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand. This is part of Australia's overarching strategy of expanding its bilateral relations in Southeast Asia to advance its national interests which are perceived to be threatened by traditional and non-traditional security issues in Asia, particularly the spectre of international terrorism. (1) Among countries in the region, the Philippines has the potential to forge a defence partnership with Australia in Southeast Asia due in large part to geographic proximity and cultural familiarity. Yet, the deeper basis for broadening their defence ties lies in their shared regional security perspectives.

This article examines the state of Philippine-Australia defence relations since September 11 and identifies some issues and prospects for expanding their defence relations. The article argues that besides geographic proximity and cultural familiarity, the more pressing convergence lies in their security interests in the region, especially in the context of the global campaign against terrorism. It concludes that the broadening of Philippine-Australia defence ties can contribute to the web of bilateral defence relations of like-minded states in Southeast Asia necessary for the promotion of regional peace and stability.

The Origin of Philippine-Australia Defence Relations

Although the Philippines and Australia have robust interactions in various multilateral forums such as the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), and the ASEAN-Australia Dialogue, among others, broadening their bilateral relations is still a more manageable and efficient way to advance their common security interests. In fact, security studies theory argues that sovereign states adopt bilateralism because there are interests that are better advanced by maintaining separate relationships with other actors. (2) Moreover, bilateralism creates a "hub and spokes" pattern of alliance development and maintenance for states to pursue their common security interests. (3)

Philippine official sources trace the origin of Philippine-Australia bilateral relations to the 19th century when Australian missionaries came to the Philippine islands to proselytize the inhabitants. Although commercial relations were already recorded during that period, the scale of bilateral trade between both countries was very modest. (4) Trade relations only improved in the early part of the 20th century when Australia became the Philippines' fifth largest source of imports, particularly of coal and beef. (5)

Australia became an important part of Philippine history when President Manuel L. Quezon established his government-in-exile in Australia at the height of the Japanese occupation of the Philippines in the 1940s. During the Second World War, Australia, as an American ally in the Asia Pacific, deployed some troops to the Philippines to help liberate the country from the Japanese imperial forces. When the Philippines achieved its independence, Canberra opened a consular office in Manila in 1946 and assisted the economic reconstruction of the Philippines within the framework of the Colombo Plan established in 1951.

The defence relationship of both countries officially started in 1954 when they joined the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO). The formation of SEATO was an American experiment of alliance strategy in Southeast Asia using the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) of Europe as its model. (6) The Philippines and Australia joined the organization because both shared the perception of common threat posed by communist expansionism in Southeast Asia.

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Broadening Philippine-Australia Defence Relations in the Post 9/11 Era: Issues and Prospects


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