Can the Philippines have a strong external defense without the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement boosting America’s military deployment and access to Philippine bases?
There’s something wrong with that question. Even with more US forces in the Philippines under the agreement, they will not fight to defend our territorial claims, so why would scrapping the EDCA matter?
America never intervened when China seized Mischief Reef in 1995 and Scarborough Shoal in 2012, and Commander-in-Chief Obama did not commit any response if, as Palace reporters twice asked in 2014, Sino-Philippine maritime frictions turned violent.
Even with China’s massive reclamation and facilities building in the Spratlys, the US could only mouth its rote protestations, and the sole action mooted so far is joint sea patrols with the Philippine Navy.
Hence, the EDCA isn’t a factor in addressing the country’s paramount external security problem today: territorial confrontations with China.
As for the archipelago itself, that is not under immediate or foreseeable threat, at least before the EDCA allowed more nuclear-capable US assets into the archipelago. And even without the new pact, the United States is committed under the Mutual Defense Treaty to take action if our main territory or our armed forces are attacked.
To repeat: The MDT covers US defense of the main Philippine territory, which faces no threat of invasion. But both the MDT and the EDCA do not commit American forces to counter Chinese encroachments into islets and shoals claimed by the Philippines.
Mitigate the threats
Okay, so how do we enhance national security, with or without the EDCA?
First, reduce the threats. That enhances security even before boosting defenses.
The top security threat today and moving forward, especially if more nuclear-capable US forces deploy in the archipelago, is the risk of attack by China on American forces capable of nuking it, plus the bases and facilities supporting them.
Don’t believe anyone saying that China, facing nuclear attack from US assets in the Philippines, 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 United States 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.
Make no mistake about it: China will also go to war if it is threatened with nukes.
Hence, the most important step to enhance Philippine security is to ensure that no nuclear weapons enter our territory, as the Constitution expressly forbids and the Supreme Court’s EDCA decision reiterates.
That means pressing the government to demand US guarantees that no vessels or aircraft would enter the archipelago with atomic weapons, as the Tuesday column urged (see http://www.manilatimes.net/how-to-stop-the-edca/240157/ ).
The No. 2 security threat, also partly provoked by the EDCA, is Beijing’s build-up of military-capable aviation and maritime facilities on reclaimed islands in the Spratlys. To counter this peril, we must persuade China to devote the facilities mainly to civilian use, and desist from building more.
Yeah right, many would snicker. Well, in fact, there is something Beijing wants, and for that, it may be willing to de-militarize Fire Cross Reef. In exchange for reduced American deployment in the Philippines, the Chinese may agree to rein in its military build-up in the South China Sea.
That militarization is in large part to defend vital sealanes, where four-fifths of Chinese oil imports pass. If America’s own build-up in the Philippines is reined in, there is less reason for China to escalate its force deployment near the archipelago.
Will Beijing agree to curtail military use of Fire Cross Reef in exchange for ratcheting down US forces in our country?
Why not? China’s alternative is an expensive and internationally unpopular defense build-up on the high seas, which would still take many years and tens of billions of renminbi to match the Seventh Fleet, backed by eight Philippine bases.
It would be a no-brainer for Beijing: turn Fiery Cross Reef into an international tourism and maritime facility, and for that, drastically slash US forces in the Philippines.
Deploy the right defenses
The problem, of course, with threat-reduction efforts is that China may still make encroachments, and even see conciliatory initiatives as a sign of weakness to exploit.
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 gear. We also received two American coast guard cutters, Japanese patrol boats, and Australian gear.
These assets, however, won’t deter 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 km for the Indo-Russian BrahMos projectile — enough to cover most of the country’s exclusive economic zone. Vietnam is in advanced talks to buy it.
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.
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.
Rather than EDCA, the Philippines’ external defense formula should be RT-A2AD. Reduce threats and deploy anti-access, area denial armaments. Plus NN: No nukes.