Free and Open Indo-Pacific/FOIPSoutheast Asia

Philippines, U.S. strengthen alliance with new defense guidelines

Maria T. Reyes

The Philippines and the United States finalized bilateral defense guidelines during Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s trip to Washington, D.C., in May 2023.

The guidelines are part of an effort to modernize and strengthen the alliance in support of the nations’ shared vision for a Free and Open Indo-Pacific, according to the U.S. Defense Department. (Pictured: Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., escorted by U.S. Army Col. David Rowland, reviews the troops during his visit to the U.S. Defense Department in Washington, D.C., in May 2023.)

The document, the first of its kind between the allies since their 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, is seen as a road map to enhancing interoperability in conventional and nonconventional domains.

“The release of the Bilateral Defense Guidelines marks an important milestone in the longstanding partnership between the Philippines and the United States,” the Philippines Department of National Defense said in a statement. “It serves as a testament to the strong and enduring partnership between the Philippines and the United States and reflects the shared commitment of both countries to uphold peace, stability and the rule of law in the region.

“The finalization of the Guidelines is in line with the announcement of President Marcos to strengthen and redefine Philippines-United States relations and the roles of the two countries in the Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific regions,” it said.

The guidelines address tensions in the South China Sea, reiterating that mutual defense commitments would be invoked if either nation is attacked in the disputed waterway. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) claims roughly 90% of the South China Sea, despite an international tribunal’s 2016 ruling that the territorial assertion is invalid. In addition to the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam claim portions of the sea.

The latest Philippine-U.S. agreement also includes a commitment to Manila’s military modernization and greater interoperability “with the aim of strengthening the United States and the Philippines’ combined deterrence in an evolving security environment.” It emphasizes procuring interoperable defense platforms sourced from U.S. programs and Philippine national defense procurement and funding initiatives.

The allies reiterated a plan to “identify priority defense platforms and force packages over the next five years to bolster our combined capabilities and capacity to resist coercion and deter aggression.”

The guidelines acknowledge threats that could arise across domains — including land, sea, air, space and cyberspace — and take the form of asymmetric, hybrid and irregular warfare, and gray-zone tactics.

Cybersecurity was also highlighted as an area of cooperation. The guidelines stress the need to “improve cyber defense and cybersecurity cooperation to secure critical infrastructure and build protection against attacks emanating from state and non-state actors by strengthening interoperability.”

The document doesn’t mention the PRC, although analysts noted Beijing’s aggressive posturing toward Manila. “The bilateral defense guidelines are important to articulate the new realpolitik in the geopolitical space in the Indo-Pacific region,” Chester Cabalza, founding president of the nonprofit policy research group International Development and Security Cooperation, told FORUM. “But overall, it is a blueprint for the revived military ties of the U.S. and the Philippines.”

Maria T. Reyes is a FORUM contributor reporting from Manila, Philippines.


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