Government Politics

US withdrawal from Afghanistan a wake up call to Philippines — time to deal with their old fair-weather “friend”!

Members of the Philippines’ military-hating Opposition groups (and their communist chums) should read this Nikkei Asia piece “Asia’s US partners must work better together on defense” written by William Bratton. Bratton, citing recent events in Afghanistan, writes about how “America has a rich tradition of discarding allegiances once they are no longer important to its changing political, ideological or economic priorities.” As such, he sees this as a call to action for “Asian countries which view their U.S. partnerships as essential to their national security.”

This is particularly true for those smaller Asian countries such as the Philippines. As President Rodrigo Duterte once recognized in a moment of realpolitik candor, it is now simply unrealistic to assume that the U.S. will always be willing to lose lives and equipment in the defense of his country in any dispute against China.

The US withdrawal from Afghanistan casts serious doubts on US defense commitments to treaty partners such as the Philippines. Bratton proposes that ASEAN member countries add collective defense as one of group’s goals given the heightened tensions between China and the US. This doesn’t have positive prospects in the near-term given the disparate vested and often conflicting interests of individual ASEAN member countries, particularly those with competing claims in the disputed body of water. This is made more difficult by the pandemic which has seen a cutback in training exercises given the prevalence of the Delta variant in the region.

It is also hard to commit 2% of GDP as defense spending considering how less progressive members already have to borrow funds to finance pandemic response, primarily vaccine procurement. There is also the pressing need to increase healthcare capacity to cope with outbreaks which takes its toll on the public healthcare system. The Opposition should get its head screwed on straight to come to terms with these realities.

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