Archive for the ‘United States’ Category


In my previous piece which I wrote in response to my good friend Ramon Casiple’s “China’s Dilemma,” I argued that it is the United States and the Philippines which actually have a dilemma over Ayungin.

I based my argument on the fact that the US Senate has yet to ratify the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), upon which the Philippine claim is based. The US does not recognize such concepts and principles as archipelagic state, archipelagic waters, and exclusive economic zone upon which the Philippine claim is based.

Since Ayungin and other disputed islands and features in the Western Philippine Sea (a part of the larger South China Sea) are not part of the metropolitan territory of the Republic, I foresee difficulties in invoking the Mutual Defense Treaty between the US and the Philippines to explain why the US cannot come immediately to our aid.


For the complete article, click on the link below:–being-a-us-protectorate-weakened-ph-position-vis-a-vis-china-in-dispute


PRC flag (taken at the Jinan University, Guangzhou, September 2013

PRC flag (taken at the Jinan University, Guangzhou, September 2013)

The People’s Republic of China is a revisionist rather than a status quo power. These rather old concepts still apply in this case. Despite appearing to have been socialized with the “civilized” behavior of the international community states, China seeks changes in the international order according to what it reads as best for its interests.

It may be a member of the United Nations Security Council, yet China is not secure. Compared to the Cold War period, the only improvement is rapprochement with Russia. On its flanks, China is hemmed in by hostiles like Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, and further afield–Australia.

China in Asia

China in Asia

China is basically a land power with a brown-water navy. While the US 7th fleet had a more formidable presence during the Cold War (it had an anti-Soviet orientation), this time American naval forces have an undisguised anti-Chinese orientation.

Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia

China seeks to build its forces steadily so it can over-match the opposition, the US included. It asserts its territorial claims for the twin purpose of interdicting sea lines of communications as well as pushing forward lines of defense. It has not entirely abandoned its charm offensive in so far as Cambodia, Myanmar, and Timor Leste are concerned. It wants to drive a wedge within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). It is cautious with Vietnam and other territorial claimants in Southeast Asia. Cambodia and Myanmar offer possible outlets to the Gulf of Thailand and the Indian Ocean via the Bay of Bengal.

Indian sub-continent

Indian sub-continent

Only the Philippines is treated in a different manner. The Chinese leadership have apparently written the Philippines off. The resort to hard power is addressed more to the United States than Manila. The question seems to be: what will you do for your ally beyond the issuance of official communiques? To themselves: to what extent can we push the envelope?

With the key powers in the sub-continents–India and Pakistan–China have good relations. It’s true that India was closer to the Soviet Union during the Cold War given that a war was fought with China over disputed territory. The US sought to improve relations with India post-Cold War but India refuses to be trapped in a monogamous relationship. In addition, the US has cohabited with Pakistan, India’s principal enemy, for a long time. Pakistan will not change its anti-India orientation but it is doubtful if it could be mobilized in an anti-China effort.

China’s activities in sub-Saharan Africa are intended to create friendly spheres of influence through soft power. What is interesting is China’s pointed willingness to do business with states and leaders that are frowned upon by the Western powers.

China is obviously not a global power. Its current programme is to achieve parity with the United States in the East Asian theater. Whether it will go beyond what its currently doing is an empirical matter.

Who are China’s allies in the East Asian theater?

Together with Russia, China is a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a Eurasian political, economic, and security organization. However, SCO is principally oriented to Central rather than East Asia.

Shanghai Cooperation Organization

Shanghai Cooperation Organization

In the Yellow Sea region, only North Korea is apparently China’s ally. Its reliability is rather suspect. Opposing China is Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and the American military forces.

Northeast Asia: The Yellow Sea region

Northeast Asia: The Yellow Sea region

The US alliances established during the Cold War with Thailand and the Philippines are still intact and the latter’s forces exercise regularly with the US and other American allies like Australia for inter-operability.

In short, China seems to be alone while the other side is heavily populated.

Why then is the apparently weaker and out-numbered side making very bold and provocative initiatives (at least vis-a-vis the Philippines and Japan)?

It is less risk-averse. Its moves are calibrated. It stops short of making a move that will invite catastrophic consequences. If an earlier move is more or less unanswered and gains are made, it will raise the ante until the returns are no longer attractive. It may lay low for a while and launch a new offensive in the future.

Such is the nature of revisionist powers. They will always take the initiative. I cannot imagine them to be merely reactive.

Flag of the People’s Republic of China

China may have strategic and psychological reasons behind its claims for much of the South China Sea. When the People’s Republic of China (PRC) was inaugurated in 1949, Chairman Mao proudly announced that China has risen; that it has risen  from the shame of colonial subjugation and defeat in war.  China was carved into separate spheres of influence by the Euopean powers and the US in the 19th century.  Its 1911 Revolution failed to improve the national condition.

Since 1949, it has transformed itself into an industrial and nuclear during Mao’s lifetime. While Mao’s rigid doctrines were rejected after his death, the pragmatic policies of his successors were intended to strengthen the country through the so-called Four Modernizations–including that of the economy and the military. The new Chinese leaders invited foreign investors and opened industrial zones and the country’s economy grew spectacularly through exports. China is now the second largest economy of the world.

Chairman Mao Zedong

Now that its economy has grown, China is now poised to project power commensurate to its prosperity. Its immediate objective is to secure its immediate periphery. Since Japan has invaded and conquered parts of China during the Second World War it seeks to pursue disputes in the East China Sea (ECS).

Together with Taiwan, both countries are in dispute over the Japan-administered Senkaku or Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea. Lest we forget, China also claims Taiwan as its province. And of course, we are aware of Chinese claims over the Spratly Islands, Paracels and the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea that are disputed by a number of Southeast Asian states and Taiwan. These Chinese claims intrude into or overlap with exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of other states.

Senkaku/Diaoyu/Tiaoyu islands

Disputed areas in the South China Sea

Apart from economic reasons, the Chinese claims should be seen as extensions of their defense lines. If they can indeed establish ownership over SCS waters, they can control important sea lanes of communication and interdict passage of warships. The SCS will be domestic waters which the PLA Navy can freely cruise. The United States is the power that will be most affected by this Chinese aggressive confidence. China is the reason behind the US pivot to Asia–the deployment of 60% of American military assets in Asia. If China owned Scarborough Shoal, its warships will be in a better position to take out a radar facility to be built by the US in the Philippines. To summarize, China’s territorial assertiveness is fueled by pride and strategic considerations and is based on a strong economy.

Republicans’ foreign affairs ‘expertise’.

Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney is considered by most survey respondents so far to be very weak in foreign affairs relative to incumbent President Barack Obama.

He decided to do something about it by travelling to the United Kingdom and Israel; the United Kingdom being the Americans’ closest ally in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and Israel, the most  reliable friend in the volatile Middle East.

Did the visits help?  Based on reports, it looks like they did not.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron

When he met British Prime Minister David Cameron, he pointedly asked if London had the capacity to host the 2012 Summer Olympics.

What was he thinking?  That he can do a better job, having managed the 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah?

For Mitt’s information, the Summer games are bigger with more events and athletes than the Winter edition.

Some Brits rightfully complained: Hey Mitt, isn’t your plate full enough?  You are already standing for the presidency; you still want to run OUR Olympics?

London Olympics 2012

You think that’s the end of it?

Mitt is just beginning!

Labour Party leader Ed Miliband

When he met Labour Party leader Ed Miliband, Mitt called the latter “Mr. Leader”.  Technically, Mitt was correct because Milliband led the Labour Party.  I am sure however that Milliband want to be called by his Christian, rather than generic, name.

Perhaps, Mitt’s aides heaved a sigh of relief as their jet left Heathrow for Tel Aviv.

Mitt was just warming up.

In Israel, Mitt espoused the thesis that cultural difference was the reason why Israeli GDP was twice that of Palestinian GDP.  

Sub-text: Palestinian culture is inferior to Israeli culture.  Since culture defines a people, then Palestinians are inferior to Israelis.

Romney delivering a speech in Israel

Of course, he won a lot of brownie points with the Israelis but obviously not with the Palestinians.

A survey commissioned by the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA), the Bar-Ilan University Center for International Communication and the Anti-Defamation League revealed that Israelis generally trust Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney more than current US President Barack Obama, according to the Jerusalem Post.

But Mitt’s remarks might not be a mistake after all because Jewish-Americans and the so-called Israel lobby are formidable political forces in the United States.

The liberal press back home pilloried Mitt as a racist and a bigot and for failing to recognize that continued Israeli occupation of Palestine had adverse effects on Palestinian productivity.  The conservative press, meanwhile, praised him for supposedly telling the truth.

Later, Romney recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in a round-about manner.   The Jewish state has long maintained that Jerusalem is its capital city, a claim that is contested by Palestinians and the international community. The claim also runs counter to U.S. policy. Most nations, including the United States, have their embassies in Tel Aviv.

Mitt at the Wailing Well, Jerusalem

Romney made Jerusalem a campaign issue.  In his latest ad, the voice-over intoned:  “[A]s President, Barack Obama has never visited Israel and refuses to recognize Jerusalem as its capital, Mitt Romney will be a different kind of president, a strong leader who stands by our allies. He knows America holds a deep and cherished relationship with Israel”.


Contemporary Republicans are either prone to gaffes or have strong convictions.

2008 Republican party VP candidate Sarah Palin

My personal favorite remains the party’s 2008 candidate for vice president Sarah Palin, who was governor of Alaska.

When asked about her foreign affairs acumen, she proudly declared that she had a lot.

Only the Bering Strait separates Alaska from Russia!



Asked to elaborate, she explained that Alaska is separated only from the Russian Federation by the narrow Bering Strait.


The state capital of Alaska is the city of Juneau where Governor Palin held offices, is tucked near the eastern pocket of the Gulf of Alaska and is adjacent to northern British Columbia.  Juneau is hundreds of miles from the Bering Strait.  


Her house in Wasilla, Alaska is further inland and does not give one a regular glimpse of the Russian homeland, a requirement she apparently allows one to claim a respectable foreign affairs resume.  If she stayed and held offices in Nome, then perhaps that would do the trick.  Crossing the Bering strait into Russia might also exercise immigration officials on both sides.  


And that, folks, may be the sum of Palin’s foreign affairs expertise!

Obama solves his quandary?

As late as a week ago, US President Barack Obama continued to shy away from a closer American involvement in the ongoing Syrian civil war.   He relied on a United Nations peace plan that was repeatedly stymied by Russia and China, permanent members of the UN Security Council.  He is aware that the American public does not want to get entangled in yet another war in the Middle East.  And in an election year, he has to be particularly careful.  This may be the reason the US played second-fiddle to NATO, France and Britain in the overthrow of the Khaddafi regime in Libya.

The most recent poll figures released by CBSNEWS ( should give Obama cause to pause and ponder.

Obama on the stump

The story reads:  “President Obama and Mitt Romney are effectively tied in the race for the presidency, according to a new CBS News/New York Times survey.

Forty-seven percent of registered voters nationwide who lean towards a candidate back Romney, while 46 percent support the president. Four percent are undecided. The 1 percentage point difference iss within the survey’s three-point margin of error.

Romney leads by eight points among men; the president leads by five points among women. 

Republican Party standard-bearer Mitt Romney

The president’s supporters are more likely to strongly back their candidate. Fifty-two percent strongly favor Mr. Obama, while just 29 percent of Romney voters strongly back the presumptive Republican nominee”.

While the polled voters considered Obama to be better than Romney in foreign policy (47 percent to 40 percent),  a less complicated international environment would be best for a president seeking the voters’ approval anew.  One other thing, this is the first time Romney caught up in the surveys despite weeks of blistering ads against his personal wealth, his role in Bain Capital, a private equity firm that supposedly outsourced jobs overseas at a time when Americans were suffering from severe unemployment, and his reluctance to reveal tax returns on any year while he supposedly was making hay at Bain.  For more details on the Bain issue, read this story from Time magazine,9171,2119903,00.html?xid=newsletter-weekly

Obama and Netanyahu

We remember Obama’s efforts earlier this year to cool Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s readiness to attack Iran’s nuclear reactors.   Any ratcheting up of the Iran situation will, among other things, cause a global spike in oil prices–endangering the tentative US economic recovery and torpedoing his chances at re-election. 

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad

Recent developments in Syria, including the strengthening of the Syrian rebel forces and the death of four of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad’s closest associates (including his brother-in-law), may have persuaded Obama to change tack.   Heckling from the Republicans and the American right may also have had some effect.  For one, Romney declared he will arm the Syrian rebels.

It looks like the Syrian rebels now have a better chance to prevail in the ongoing Syrian civil war.  Up to this writing, they have been contemptuous of American caution and were praising Turkey and Qatar as their reliable allies.  They may yet change their opinions about the US.

Rebels in Idlib province, Syria

A new US policy on the Syrian crisis was publicly announced in a news article published by the New York Times last 21 July 2012 (   A truncated version of the article is in today’s issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.  

A summary: abandonment of the diplomatic tack and the formation of a coalition of  like-minded countries  to forcibly bring down Assad’s government.

The named coalition members:  US, Israel, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey.

Key concerns:

  • Syria’s chemical weapons
  • Negative reaction to Israel’s participation in Assad’s ouster
  • Broad representation in post-Assad government (Alawites, Sunnis, and Christians) 

Will Obama’s gamble pay off?  Will Assad’s ouster insure his return to the White House?

The same NYT story quotes Andrew J. Tabler, a Syria expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who said: “We’re looking at the controlled demolition of the Assad regime.  But like any controlled demolition, anything can go wrong.”

Even a victory in Syria might not convince American voters grappling with an unemployment rate that remained flat at 8% for several months to date to vote for Obama.  

US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet today to unify  their countries’ positions vis-a-vis Iran and its nuclear program.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama

Iran had repeatedly vowed that its nuclear program is being developed only for peaceful purposes but Israel and its main ally in the world–the United States–cannot countenance the loss of Israel’s monopoly of nuclear weapons in the strategic Middle East region.  In fact, Israeli forces had attacked Iraqi and Syrian nuclear facilities even without the explicit permission of the United States.

Sanctions against Iraq have been imposed yet both allies have not ruled out the military option.  However, some disagreements supposedly exist between the two and must be ironed out; hence the necessity of today’s meeting.

According to Eli Lake, senior national security correspondent for Newsweek and The Daily Beast, the United States and Israel reportedly disagree on what the trigger or “red line” should be for striking Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. The Israelis seek to destroy Iran’s ability to manufacture an atomic weapon, whereas President Obama has pledged only to stop Iran from making a nuclear weapon.

Nuclear explosion

I honestly see not much difference between the two positions because at the end of the day, one may just have to use the military option either to destroy a country’s ability to manufacture a nuclear weapon or to stop it from making one.

Obama reportedly decried Israeli’s much too loose talk of war and implied that any precipitate action will not be supported except for a few states.  His tack: diplomacy and pressure will do the trick.

It is my reading that Israel wants the attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities be done as soon as possible before they become hard targets–that is, before they get enclosed in mountains.  Israel simply does want Iran to have the capability to build nuclear weapons and the latter’s nuclear facilities give it such capability even if a nuclear bomb has yet to be built.

And a public disagreement may be meant to force the hand of the United States.

Iranian nuclear facilities

It is conventional understanding that in a partnership between a stronger party and a weaker party, the will of the stronger party will prevail.  The US-Israeli relationship belies this common view and the deviation must be explained.

Of course, we have heard of the Israel Lobby.  John Mearsheimer and Stephan Walt, both international security experts, co-wrote the book entitled The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy.  The book refers to the Lobby as a loose coalition of individuals and organizations who actively work to steer U.S. foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction.

Stepan Walt (l) and John Mearsheimer (r)

In addition to the Lobby, I believe what contributes to Israel’s political support within the US is the greater integration of Jewish people into the American mainstream.  One reason is the shared Judeo-Christian ethic.  Another is the earlier Jewish diaspora to the US.

Another explanation is supplied by Hilton Root in his 2008 book, Alliance Curse.  In the book, Root was intrigued by the fact that most of the alliances the US had entered into since the Cold War and beyond were with dictatorships rather than with democracies.  He came up with an intriguing answer.  American voters want results in the form of foreign alliances, military basing rights, defense industries (to be based in their districts), etc.  Their elected representatives willingly oblige.  And dictators–who do not face internal opposition–are more than willing to deal with the Americans.  Americans also find it easier to deal with dictators with the absence of meddling legislatures.

Hilton Root

During martial law, the Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos leveraged the country’s strategic location astride sea lines of communication (SLOC) in the South China Sea to earn millions of dollars of military assistance annually from the US government.

The US may be stronger militarily than Israel but the latter has a unique trump card.  Israel is the most reliable US ally in the region and had leveraged this reliability into some form of power vis-a-vis the Americans.  For lack of a better term, this power is akin to the tail wagging the dog.  If the Israelis ‘misbehave’ in a major way, will the Americans abrogate their alliance?  Will they consider the Saudis their main ally in the region?

If Israel launches airstrikes against Iranian nuclear facilities, what credible sanctions can the US impose on it?  Will Obama be brave enough to impose such sanctions as he faces re-election?

Or are these questions trivial given the basic alignment of both states’ interests as far as Iranian nuclear weapons are concerned?