The US-Philippine Alliance: An Evolving Hedge against an Emerging China Challenge

By De Castro, Renato Cruz | Contemporary Southeast Asia, December 2009 | Go to article overview

The US-Philippine Alliance: An Evolving Hedge against an Emerging China Challenge


De Castro, Renato Cruz, Contemporary Southeast Asia


In the mid-1990s the Philippines and the United States revived their dormant alliance after China's occupied Mischief Reef, a small atoll in the disputed Spratlys archipelago and lying 130 miles off the country's easternmost island of Palawan. On the heels of the 11 September 2001 Al Qaeda attacks in the United States, the two allies further revitalized their security relationship to address transnational terrorism. In the process, Manila was able to secure vital US military and economic assistance for its counter-terrorism/insurgency campaign against domestic insurgents, i.e. Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), the New People's Army (NPA) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Since that time, the two allies have taken gradual but significant steps to transform their alliance as a hedge against the geostrategic challenges posed by China's rising power. This transformation involves deepening the two countries' military relations through organizational planning, professional training and the development of interoperability for a long-term mobilization strategy in a potential US-China military/diplomatic face-off.

This article examines recent trends that have gradually transformed the US-Philippine alliance from a product of the Cold War to a hedge against changes in the regional strategic equation generated by China's economic and political emergence. Hedging is primarily a long-term insurance policy that involves the following strategies: (i) the hedging states engage the potentially threatening state in an effort to socialize it into accepting certain norms of international behaviour; and (ii) the hedging states strengthen their diplomatic and military relations so that they can effectively influence the target state's foreign policy behaviour. Neither Manila nor Washington considers Beiiing as an imminent security threat. Both countries, in fact, are pursuing policies of active engagement with China. However, the two allies view that China has the potential to become an acute security challenge in East Asia due to its expansive claims in the South China Sea and ongoing military modernization. Should engagement fail, and should China adopt a more assertive posture that undermines the regional status quo, the US and the Philippines will have in place a cohesive and strengthened security relationship to constrain this emerging power's behaviour. This article specifically addresses one primary question: what recent developments have deepened the US-Philippine security relationship against international terrorism and in the process, slowly and incrementally transformed the alliance into a hedge strategy for dealing with a long-term China challenge? The article also tackles several corollary questions: First, what incidents led to the revival of US-Philippine security relations in the mid-1990s? Second, how is this revitalized alliance functioning in the current campaign against global terrorism? Third, how has China tried to create a cleavage in the alliance? Fourth, how has the US responded to China's economic and diplomatic gambits in the Philippines? And fifth, what is the future of the US-Philippine alliance in the face of China's rising power?

Alliances and Alliance Cohesion

States form alliances for the purposes of aggregating power, enhancing the capacities of each member through a deterrent guarantee provided by a more powerful state, or to increase their capabilities by pooling their resources to bolster their defence and security capabilities. As a form of interstate cooperation, an alliance is defined as an explicit "promise or commitment" of mutual military (and sometimes political) assistance between two or more sovereign states. (1) Thus in general, alliances involve the physical act of assisting allies through military cooperation and collaboration. Allies usually combine their efforts against a specific and common enemy, ordinarily another state, more powerful than either or any of the allies individually. …

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