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Advancing the Philippines-U.S. Alliance for Conflict Resolution in the South China Sea: Policy Options From an Issues Approach

Issues & Insights Vol. 22, SR1, pp. 38-44


Conventional wisdom suggests that advancing the Philippines-U.S. alliance is not conducive to resolving the South China Sea disputes because the United States is external to the conflict. This paper challenges that assertion and explores the range of policy options available to the Philippines and the United States that would contribute to conflict resolution in the South China Sea. The issues approach to international relations is employed to reveal the specific component issues of the South China Sea disputes and identify the direct parties involved and types of conflict resolution implied in each issue. Issue-based analysis affirms that the United States is a direct party on the issues of settling the extent to which coastal states may regulate the activities of user states and managing the risk of miscalculation associated with military operations in the South China Sea. This opens opportunities for Philippines-U.S. cooperation on actual conflict resolution, conflict prevention, and conflict management. There is also an opportunity to cooperate on conflict transformation. The United States could support building Philippine military capabilities and its capacity to handle nonmilitary threats in the South China Sea. Together with the Philippines, the United States could also launch regional and international initiatives to combat common maritime threats in the South China Sea and beyond. Ultimately, sensitivity to the distinct legal, military, and nonmilitary issues that make up the South China Sea disputes could help Filipino and U.S. policymakers appreciate the landscape of policy areas in which Philippine-U.S. cooperation might make a positive difference.

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About this Volume

Authors of this volume participated in the inaugural U.S.- Philippines Next-Generation Leaders Initiative, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, through the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines. With backgrounds from academia, public policy, civil society and industry, the cohort brings rich insights on the past, present, and future of the U.S.-Philippines bilateral security relations.

The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their respective organizations and affiliations. Pacific Forum’s publications do not necessarily reflect the positions of its staff, donors and sponsors.

Edcel John A. Ibarra is Foreign Affairs Research Specialist at the Philippine Foreign Service Institute working on territorial and maritime security concerns. He is pursuing a master’s degree in international studies at the Department of Political Science, University of the Philippines Diliman. He received a bachelor’s degree in political science, magna cum laude, from the same university in 2015.

Caption: U.S. Marines and Philippine Marines conduct an amphibious landing at the Philippines’ Naval Education Training Command during exercise KAMANDAG 2, October 6, 2018. KAMANDAG helps maintain a high level of readiness and enhances bilateral military-to-military relations and capabilities. Source: U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Christine Phelps/Public Domain