Tuesday, April 12, 2016

A Blunder in the Works - Relying Solely on International Law

This was written in this forum in a username "geranhulmaster" in his graduation school paper. In this matter, it will discuss the disputes in the South China Sea (SCS) and the options of the Philippines, a nation which is affected the most, in this issue.

Before proceeding, read this note first:

The Pitzviews Note: This entry was indeed written by somebody and was then acknowledged to have it written in this forum with permission. Furthermore, the main purpose of this entry was to go public as per analysis and viewpoints pertaining to the one who originally wrote it. For citations, based it on the original writer through this website. Thank you.

PagAsa Island, Kalayaan Island Group.
Let us give an idea as for the purpose on why the author wrote his work in the first place, and his request pertaining to his work are as follows:

"So as you may know, I am taking up Master in International Studies in (De La Salle University) DLSU and we have to write something about international relations and/or security studies. I will greatly appreciate it if you guys will take the time to read what I produced (if it's thought provoking or my arguments are logical and all that). Thanks in advance and here it goes. My professor loves being challenged and well, and let's just say he thinks PNoy (President Aquino) is doing a stellar job with the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) Modernization program. I figured this is me challenging him... "



A Blunder in the Works
How Relying Solely on International Law Might Fail Manila on the SCS Issue. 

The Philippine Armed Forces. Source: Philippine Defense Forces Forum.
In 2014, the Philippines has finally filed a case challenging China’s grand territorial claims in the West Philippine Sea before the United Nations at the Hague. While a long time coming, Filipino officials were widely believed to have been further encouraged into filing the case by the signing of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the United states that happened in the same year. The case might lead to permanent estrangement with the People’s Republic of China, and the increase in chances of economic sanctions, such as when China blocked banana shipments from the Philippines last 2012 due to suspected pests and destroyed them outright early 2016, and military confrontations, as with the close calls during the 2012 Scarborough Standoff. Even if the Philippines wins the case, there is not a single mechanism that will ensure that China will adhere the outcome of the arbitration. International law is only binding on states who agreed to be bound. From the beginning, China has made known its intentions to refuse international arbitration regarding the issue, preferring one on one talks with the parties concerned. As things stand, international public opinion and unenforceable legality seem to be the only things that the Philippines will gain from the entire arbitration process. 

Along with the arbitration case, the Philippines under the administration of President Benigno Aquino III signed into law Republic Act 10349, a revision of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Modernization Program of the Ramos Administration from as far back as 1995. While the three preceeding administrations of Ramos, Estrada and Arroyo did very little to modernize the defense capabilities of the Philippines, Aquino appears to be much more determined compared to his peers, allocating 75 billion pesos for the military in his first five years. 

Chief among the defense hardwares procured under Aquino are twelve FA-50 lead-in fighter trainers from South Korea, the first supersonic aircraft in the Philippine Air Force since the retirment of the F-5s a decade ago, and two strategic sealift vessels from Indonesia. Other acquisitions include four C-130s and two Hamilton-class cutters from the United States, five landing crafts from Australia, two anti-submarine helicopters from Italy, and twelve artillery pieces from Israel. More hadwares are in different stages of the bidding process, with the most crucial among them two brand new frigates, with Garden Reach Shipbuilders from India reportedly in the final stage before actual construction. It seems then that the Philippines is taking the right approach to its West Philippine Sea dillemma – modernizing its military to attain its “minimum credible defense posture” while seeking international recognition through the proper legal channels.

A closer look however, puts the former into question. There have been troubling trends actually showing that the Aquino administration has a closeted unwillingness for the country to have substantial capability to defend its own territorial integrity alongside what the arbitration process will provide. 

First, politically, it is worth noting that of the seven chiefs of staff under the Aquino administration, only one, General Eduardo SL Oban Jr. of the Philippine Air Force who served from March 8 to December 12, 2011, was not from the army. In a time when the Philippine Navy should be at the forefront, for it is the branch of the AFP directly dealing with the problems posed by the situations in the West Philippine Sea, Aquino seems to share the bias for the Philippine Army that his forebears had. This can be traced to the long history of coup plots in the country, leading presidents to curry the favor of the army as a safeguard against destabilization plots, often at the expense of the Air Force and the Navy. 

This resulted in the “reprioritization” of a shore-based missile system deal with Israel worth $142-million (P6.5-billion), putting the budget instead for the purchase of more helmets and body armor for ground troops. While this would have undoubtedly been the most crucial and powerful statement that the Philippines is serious about protecting its territorial integrity in the disputed seas, the deal has been postponed and moved to the second of the three “horizon” plans of the AFP Modernization Program starting from 2018 up to 2023, well into the term of whoever will succeed Aquino in the coming May 2016 presidential elections, in order to focus on dealing with terrorism and insurgency, a move that undoubtedly pleased his army brass.

Second, it did not help that Aquino himself admitted that he shied away from the aforementioned SBMS deal since he feared Chinese retaliation. While the quantity of defense materiel purchased by the Aquino administration in his term may make it seem that the Philippines is in its first ever military shopping spree, the quality they add to the country’s warmaking and defensive capabilities are dubious at best. In the spirit of fairness, it must be recognized that the Armed Forces of the Philippines have more responsibilities than securing its territories from external aggressors. The Philippines is embroiled in an insurgency that has been going on since its independence from the United States shortly after the Second World War while at the same time constantly assisting efforts in mitigating and reconstructing damages brought about by natural calamities frequenting the country. While these validate the need for disaster reponse and transport assets in the arsenal of all three branches of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, they are still but secondary functions of the Philippine military, but they take the lion’s share of priorities in the defense posturing of the Aquino administration, making it seem that he is putting all the eggs in one basket with regards to the territorial integrity of the Philippines, that of the outcome of the arbitration. 

With the exception of the light fighters, the artillery pieces and the anti-submarine helicopters, every hardware acquired by Manila (not including the Hamilton-class Cutters given by the United States as Excess Defense Articles) under the current administration have transport and disaster response as their common denominators. The very specifications of the hardwares will reveal that hardwares acquired by Aquino Administration are for OOTW, or operations other than war, and not the minimum credible defense posture that his administration clams to pursue. Most of said defense deals were formalized shortly after Typhoon Haiyan hit, with Manila’s top brass themselves often justifying that the purchases were mainly for disaster response and rehabilitation.  

Following this trend, despite the initial acquisition of six Multi-Purpose Attack Crafts (MPACs) for Manila’s navy, the Department of National Defense postponed its purchase of acquiring missile systems for the vessels, thus delaying indefinitely its plans of forming a mosquito fleet of small missile ships to compensate for its lacks of major modern combatants. Even the new light fighters from South Korea were purchased without armaments, hence the need for the bids for bullets currently waiting for bidders. 

Yet the most glaring examply of Aquino preferring toothlessness for the AFP is his preferene for the FFBNW purchase, or fitted for but not with. The Philippine Government purchases only the baseline platforms with the add-ons for a later date. While not alone in this aspect (Australia did this with their ANZAC-frigates and the United Kingdom with HMS Daring and her sister ships), what makes the Philippine Government worse is that while other countries delay the purchase only of additional systems and their ships are confidently combat-ready upon turn over, the Philippines buys only the baseline platforms. Purchase for crucial offensive weapons systems have to go through a bidding process as rigorous as the ones for the platforms where they will be installed, leaving the ships highly vulnerable for an indefinite period of time considering that biddings held by the Philippine Government are often delayed due to legitimate transparency measures and politicking.

This is currently happening with the strategic sealift vessels from Indonesia and the two frigates on bid. The first of the two strategic vessels are already only a month away from being turned over to the Philippine Navy, yet it only has a token firepower in the form of machine guns. The missile and radar systems will be acquired later, without any timeframe set in stone, if at all. Without substantial firepower of its own, it will be a big risk for Manila to send its strategic sealift vessel to resupply its isolated detachment of eight marines on the West Philippine Sea, rendering the brand new ship a white elephant. The frigates too will be bought without a decent offensive weapons system installed, which again will be purchased at a later date. This will make the frigates with all their potential lethalities as  no more than a token improvement from the BRP Rajah Humabon, which at more than five decades old is one of the oldest active combatants afloat.

While the government blames this on financial constraints, the actual purse of the Philippine Government says otherwise. With a budget surplus of 15 billion the past year alone, it is unlikely that lack of money is not the reason for not purchasing such crucial systems and ammunitions. 

And here is why Manila might be committing the biggest blunder in the history of international politics.

International law has a glaring history of failure to give justice to nations bereaved by the aggression of another. The League of Nations, the undeniable progenitor to the United Nations, has miserably failed Ethiopia when it was invaded by Italy in 1935 and China the Japanese occupation of Manchuria four years prior. Mexico was the only country to seriously condemn the invasion of Ethiopia, and was amongst only six nations in 1937 who deny Italy recognition of its occupation, along with China, Spain, New Zealand, the United States and the Soviet Union. Three years later, only the USSR was left to officially recognize Ethiopia.

Yet even the United Nations has its share of failures which make Manila’s dreams of a favorable action on whatever the result of the arbitration nonexistent at best. The United Nations have been busy since its inception, but very rarely on those that matters most, particularly uniting people and ensuring international peace and security. Ever since its formation in 1945, the charters of the United Nations has been breached quite often. There have been 182 wars since 1945, give or take a few. Worse, the United Nations have become a combatant itself, with the Security Council which China is a part of authorizing the 1950 Korean War and the 1991 Gulf War. Similarly, the United States, Manila’s principal ally, and even the Philippines through its participation in the wars in Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq, have repeatedly violated Article II of the United Nations Charter Chapter 1, stating that “All members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered. All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.” 

For a more contemporary example, if the current mess between Russia and Ukraine is to be taken as an indication, then a determined aggressor with substantial military and political prowess will not be deterred by international backlash. It is also worth noting that China now is an even bigger political powerhouse than Russia is, perhaps more so than what the USSR ever was, leading to doubts as to if international backlash will force the Chinese government to back down from their claims in the West Philippine Sea regardless of the outcome of the case in The Hague. The final nail in the coffin is China’s permanent membership in the UN Security Council, the body that will be tasked to enforce whatever favorable ruling Manila might get. A veto from China for China will leave Manila with nothing.

With Aquino’s appointed succesor not doing well in surveys a mere month before the elections in May, it is likely that the coming Philippine’s approach to its West Philippine Sea dilemma will change depending on who will win. The candidate topping the surveys, independent Senator Grace Poe, claimed that she will press on the arbitration case and also picked on Aquino for the postponement of the SBMS. It is likely she will be the ony who will do what Aquino sought out to do, to bring the international community to the Philippine cause, but will also provide the AFP with actual minimum credible defense posture. The other two presidential candidates, namely left-leaning current Davao City mayor Rodrigo Duterte and Vice President Jejomar Binay, stated that they are willing to cooperate with China instead of pursuing the case, with the former even saying that the purchase of the light fighters a “waste of money”. These two might signify a major reversal of Aquino’s strategy with regards to China. 

Clearly, Manila has a long way to go before it even has a chance of getting its way in the West Philippine Sea. Whoever wins the coming Philippine Presidential Elections have one thing to remember: international law and an actual capability to defend its territorial integrity goes hand in hand. As the old adage says, there is no free lunch. 


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