Academic journal article International Social Science Review

China, Rebalance, and the "Silent War"

Academic journal article International Social Science Review

China, Rebalance, and the "Silent War"

Article excerpt

China, Rebalance, and the "Silent War"

Building upon select facets of Victor Corpus' Silent War, the goal of this paper is to reintroduce strategic analysis and political geography to the study of nationalist-leftist insurgencies in the Philippines, a field that has been dominated by the developmental paradigm since the 1980s. To reintroduce strategic analysis, this paper assumes that the standard endgame of government counterinsurgency is to eradicate or neutralize guerilla threats to the state, while the endgame of insurgents is regime change, i.e. to seize the capital city and create a new system of government. To advance strategic analysis beyond national-level variables, this paper employs geopolitics, defined as the intersection of political geography and the international balance of power. (1) Geopolitics is normally limited to grand strategies, diplomacy, and other great powers' interactions. However, in small and relatively weak states that are most vulnerable to great power wars, geopolitical conflicts may disrupt territories and capital cities like a storm, leaving behind a trail of destruction, dislocation, and new regimes. This paper therefore tracks how changes in the geopolitical center of gravity, defined as the physical locus of conflict among the great powers in East and Southeast Asia, have impacted Philippine insurgencies.

The impact of geopolitics on guerilla wars depends on two layers of Philippine geography. The first, external, layer is best defined by contrast to the now-defunct state of South Vietnam. Similar to South Vietnam, the Philippines is relatively narrow from east to west, but very long from north to south, which seems to create a comparable national territory to be contested by governments and insurgents. Unlike South Vietnam, however, the Philippines has no land borders (as long as the claim to Malaysian Sabah remains null) that could be exploited by hostile actors at home or abroad. This first layer would be even more robust if allied forces were to help Manila interdict enemy air and sea-borne incursions, a role that has played to the comparative strengths of the U.S. military since 1945.

The second, internal, layer combines the sheer size and the archipelagic structure of the national territory. The distance between northern Luzon and southern Mindanao, the two largest islands, is tantamount to that between Canada and Georgia in North America, and is fractured by mountains, valleys, lakes, and seas. This dimension has historically degraded the ability of Manila, which is located at the foot of Central Luzon, to govern the entire country. By the same token, it has limited the capacity of insurgents outside Central Luzon to threaten the capital city. (2)

The primary argument of this paper is that geopolitics has shaped the strategic endgames and options available to Philippine insurgents and counterinsurgents dating back over a century. During the Spanish-American and Second World Wars, the geopolitical center of gravity passed over Central Luzon and resulted in the regime changes in Manila sought by contemporary insurgents. Since 1945, the geopolitical center of gravity has bypassed Luzon, which has created a tremendous advantage for Manila and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and made it easier for counterinsurgents to neutralize the Hukbalahap (Huks) in the 1950s and contain the New People's Army (NPA) to outer provinces since the 1960s. In the present day, the regional focus of geopolitics has shifted to China and the South China Sea; however an analysis of the current situation, again based on political geography, indicates that China has little reason to invade Central Luzon, even in the event of war over disputed islands. Moreover, communist insurgent zones are not close enough to Manila to force the guerillas into the new strategic considerations of China, the United States, or the Philippines. These factors make it unlikely that China will seek to rekindle its Vietnam-era alliance with the NPA in the near future. …

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