Internal reforms needed for PH defense posture -- Stratfor analyst
Aug 04, 2012 (The Manila Times - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
THE Philippines needs internal reforms to establish a minimum credible defense posture that will help it protect its territorial waters, now challenged by overlapping claims to areas of the West Philippine Sea (WPS or South China Sea), Robert Kaplan, a geopolitical analyst from the US think-tank Stratfor, said on Friday.
During an exclusive roundtable with The Manila Times, Kaplan said that the administration of President Benigno Aquino 3rd is facing challenges to its efforts to eradicate corruption in government, strengthen institutions, and reduce red tape in developing its defense system capability.
"Internal reforms will lead to better external respect [from the international community]," Kaplan said. He added that such reforms would encourage the United States to provide more military aid and hardware to the Philippines.
The analyst also said that the weakened state of the Armed Forces, which pose security threats to the country, "goes back to weak institutions." He stressed that the Philippines does not need state-of-the-art military hardware to defend its territories because "it cannot get into a fight with China."
Regarding the minimum credible defense posture, Kaplan said that it is "something that the United States and the Philippines can do together without the need for latest destroyers and submarines."
His statement follows that of Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, who had spoken about the importance of establishing such a posture to help the Armed Forces better protect the country's territorial waters.
Kaplan said that a "belligerent foreign policy on China is not sustainable," referring to Manila's ongoing word war with Beijing. He added that the Philippines needs China for trade and other economic opportunities because Beijing's growth will be significant presence in the next decade.
The analyst also said that when it comes to China, the Philippines must think of long-term foreign policies that will create a sustainable relationship between the two countries even amid the territorial rows.
Regarding President Aquino's seeming aggressive behavior toward China, Kaplan said that the President was merely "responding to changes in China's [foreign] policy."
"The Philippines has to find a way to live with an increasingly rising China, and note that it cannot drag the United States into war with China," he added.
Although Manila and Washington have reiterated its commitment to the decades-old Mutual Defense Treaty, which requires them to come to each other's aid in case of external armed attacks, Kaplan said that the Philippines cannot depend on the United States alone.
Even amid the global superpower's "legitimate interests" in the Asia-Pacific region, it has "to steer between two extremes" when dealing with China, he added.
"It [United States] cannot let China dominate the South China Sea because it will upset the balance of power in the [region], but it [also] cannot go to war with China because it has so many interests in the country--currency, trade, Syria and even Iraq," Kaplan said.
He admitted that the average American is concerned about China's rise as an emerging superpower, as well as the possibility that it may surpass the United States.
Kaplan said that the West Philippine Sea disputes are merely a "bronze medalist" in American news coverage, following the unrest in the Middle East and the European debt crisis.
"We are a continental nation. There are so many things going internally that the average American cannot bother itself with issues in this region," he said. "They [Americans] are concerned about economic conditions."
Kaplan also said that only the "foreign policy elite" in Washington and New York are concerned about the sea disputes.
Describing the Philippines as a "geographically insecure" country with "not much naval power," Kaplan said that it needs a close China-United States relations because it will be adversely affected by any imbalance of power between the two countries.
He added that the Philippines cannot solely depend on the United States to help it combat the increasingly aggressive nature of China's power.
He urged the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), whose member-countries are divided regarding its position on China's aggressive stance in the region, to build relations with emerging Asian powers like India and even Australia.
Asean is made up of Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Kaplan said that the bloc's weakness in dealing with China is largely because it "has too many weak countries whose main trading partner is China."
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