Revisiting the U.S.-Philippine Alliance (Marcellus Policy Analysis)

By Daniel Remler, Fall 2020 Marcellus Policy Fellow

The U.S.-Philippine alliance must be changed to keep up with changes in the strategic environment in Asia. The alliance was first forged in the context of the Cold War struggle with the Soviet Union, before being redefined in the 1990s and 2000s as part of the Global War on Terror. Today, however, the alliance remains vital to managing the rise of China while moving away from the failures of the Global War on Terror.

The United States has two major strategic interests in Asia today: constraining Chinese expansionism and ensuring the political stability of key allies. The Philippines is of major interest in both cases, embroiled in disputes with China over economic rights and territory in the South China Sea as well as being beset by multiple domestic insurgencies and terrorist networks. The current approach has not met either of these challenges. China has successfully managed to confront the Philippines in the South China Sea on multiple occasions. U.S. military support for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in operations against Al-Qaeda and Islamic State aligned terrorists, first as part of Operation Enduring Freedom – Philippines (OEF-P) and now as part of Operation Pacific Eagle – Philippines (OPE-P), have failed to dislodge these terrorist networks or resolve the country’s insurgencies.

A new strategy to address these challenges will depend on two planks. First, strengthening the Philippines’ naval defense as part of a broader strategy of “integrated deterrence.” This is intended to ensure the Philippines can successfully deter China from further aggression in the South China Sea while limiting the moral hazard inherent in an open-ended U.S. commitment to support the Philippines in these disputes. The second plank is to reorient OPE-P away from its traditional counterterrorism mission toward a counterinsurgency advisory mission with clear mechanisms for accountability in the U.S. and Philippine militaries.