NEXT week local and Western media will likely overflow with cheers over the July 12 ruling, expected to favor the Philippines, on the country’s UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) case against China. Then they will follow calls to get tough with Chinese encroachments, reclamation, and force deployment in the disputed Spratly Islands.
Before that frenzy erupts and clouds policy thinking, let’s go over key issues and options in defending Philippine security and territory.
Here’s the dominant thinking in media, both domestic and global, on asserting the Philippines’ maritime rights:
• Oppose Beijing’s “Nine-Dash Line” claim over nearly all the South China Sea.
• Mobilize international support through a United Nations ruling in our favor.
• Get US backing through the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).
And what has six years of this strategy brought?
China has turned Fiery Cross Reef into mammoth artificial islands with military-capable airfields and ports.
Beijing remains undeterred in asserting territorial claims, and has mounted an international campaign to counter the UNCLOS verdict.
The EDCA has allowed US forces to increase deployment in the country and use several Philippine bases, even with no commitment to back our maritime claims, unlike Washington’s ironclad pledge to defend the Tokyo-administered Senkaku Islands, called Diaoyutai by rival claimant Beijing.
President Rodrigo Duterte looks set to chart his own course in asserting maritime interests. In the shifting geopolitical and security picture and under a new Commander-in-Chief, what’s the way forward for the Philippines’ territorial and maritime defense?
President Duterte and the Cabinet should consider three key tenets, expounded in this column’s Jan. 21 article, “Defending the Philippines” < http://www.manilatimes.net/defending-the-philippines/240541/ >.
Acronymed RT-A2AD-NN, the strategies are: Reduce threats. Deploy anti-access/area denial weaponry. And no nukes.
Reducing threats enhances security even before a country boosts its defenses. President Duterte himself seems to have deployed this strategy in advancing domestic peace and order.
His peace initiatives with communist insurgents and Muslim rebels moderate those threats. His shock-and-awe tactics against crime syndicates have scared hundreds of drug dealers and users into surrendering, slashing the scourge.
Now, he has set aside his predecessor’s tough talk about defending Recto Bank like Recto Avenue. Instead, Duterte declared at the Philippine Air Force anniversary on Tuesday: “We are not prepared to go to war.”
Rather, he plans bilateral talks with China to resolve differences. Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay echoed Duterte’s conciliatory line: “We should make our statements in a manner that will not be provocative or exacerbate tensions, especially when the ruling could be in favor of the Philippines.”
Dialogue and joint undertakings with China would make both sides avoid provocative actions that undermine collaboration, such as encroachments on disputed areas.
Plainly, if China aims to collaborate, it cannot at the same time commit hostile acts like seizing Scarborough Shoal. Duterte’s dialogue push will reduce the threat of Chinese encroachments.
No nukes, please
Besides avoiding territorial conflict, the Philippines must address the risk of Chinese attack on American forces in the country, especially those capable of nuking it, plus the bases and facilities supporting them.
Don’t believe anyone saying that China, facing threats from US assets here, would not neutralize those forces, even if there is widespread collateral damage to our country, and even if it triggers thermonuclear war.
Back in 1962, when Russia tried to put rockets in Cuba after American projectiles were placed in Turkey, the US braced for full-scale war, even getting ballistic and bomber fleets ready to attack. Thankfully, the Cuban Missile Crisis ended after Moscow and Washington both took their rockets home.
That near-Armageddon crisis was over Russia’s plan to put nukes in Cuba. Now, there are already nuclear-capable US forces in the Philippines whose cruise missiles can hit most of China.
Hence, the Duterte government must ensure that no nuclear weapons enter our territory, as the Constitution expressly forbids and the Supreme Court’s EDCA decision reiterates.
Deploy the right defense
What if the US just pulls out its forces from the country instead of complying with the no-nukes policy? That’s what it did in New Zealand when the country enacted a law banning nuclear weaponry.
In fact, none of our allies have ever intervened in our confrontations with China. Even US President Barack Obama, facing Malacañang reporters after the EDCA signing in April 2014, did not pledge assistance to the Philippines in the event of violent conflict over disputed areas.
Hence, besides mitigating risks, the Philippines must still build up defenses—but not in the way America and other allies have been helping us do.
The country has spent more than P30 billion on Korea trainer jets, refurbished US helicopters, and other assets. We also received two American coast guard cutters, Japanese patrol boats, and Australian gear.
These assets, however, don’t scare the Chinese. Instead, as even American defense experts have said, we need anti-access, area denial weapons, which deter adversaries where these A2AD armaments are deployed.
Learn from Vietnam: it is buying submarines and anti-ship missiles. The former intimidate a vast area far beyond their actual position, since they are hard to detect and could be anywhere within the radius of their effective range.
Supersonic anti-ship missiles, meanwhile, can sink pretty much anything within its range. That’s 300 kilometers for the Indo-Russian BrahMos projectile—enough to cover most of the country’s exclusive economic zone, plus deter an invasion fleet. India recently agreed to sell the missile to Vietnam.
Former National Security Adviser and US Naval Academy graduate Roilo Golez urges deploying 200 BrahMos, which can be mounted three on a truck and moved anywhere, making them hard to find and able to deploy where needed.
The 200 missiles alone would offer significant deterrence, for a total bill of about P35 billion, including support infrastructure and operations training. Congress could allocate part of the Malampaya gas royalties, now around P150 billion, for the rockets—an energy-related project to defend offshore oil and gas resources.
Reduce threats. No nukes. A2/AD. Think about it.