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Friendship from a Distance: The U.S.-Philippine Alliance and Allied Access in Wartime

Issues & Insights Vol. 22, SR1, pp. 15-23


The United States and the Philippines share a long history and alliance relationship. Yet, since the closure of U.S. military bases in Subic Bay and Clark, the Philippines has been the only U.S. treaty ally in Asia not hosting permanent U.S. forces. The threat posed by China to Philippine interests in the South China Sea has grown in recent years, but should China and the Philippines become involved in a military conflict, it is unclear how effective the U.S. contribution to the alliance would be given its current posture in the region. To maximize the alliance’s deterrent capacity and operational effect, Manila and Washington should revisit this potential shortcoming and extend the work begun under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Act (EDCA) to provide a more robust U.S. presence and greater Philippine self-defense capabilities.

To strengthen the alliance, the United States and Philippines should shape U.S. force posture by:

– Developing a permanent U.S. Marine Corps presence on Palawan by rotating units through the island equipped with anti-ship weaponry and the ability to operate dispersed in austere terrain;
– Rotating advanced intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and battle management aircraft through the Philippines on a regular basis;
– Homeporting a small surface action group with advanced anti-ship and anti-air capabilities at Subic Bay;
– Ensuring U.S. and Philippine military units use a common datalink for sharing sensor data, information, and operational communications; and
– Improving access to Thitu Island by dredging the harbor and extending the runway, and upgrading its organic self-defense capabilities by installing new air defense and ISR systems.

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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.

Graham W. Jenkins is a senior principal analyst with the Strategic Assessment unit in Northrop Grumman’s Aeronautics Sector. He is responsible for strategic analysis, operations research, and long-range planning affecting the development of advanced technologies and aircraft design across a wide range of scenarios and capabilities. His background lies in international security and defense, nuclear weapons, and wargaming and red-teaming. Graham previously worked as an intelligence analyst focused on East Asia and influence operations as a contractor for the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence. He has also worked as a consultant at EY, strategic analyst at the Scitor Corporation, and a research assistant at the Institute for Defense Analyses, focusing on risk management, nuclear policy, and wargame design. Graham is a Pacific Forum Young Leader and adjunct fellow with the American Security Project; he was previously an Energy Security Fellow with Securing America’s Future Energy, a Penn Kemble Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy, and a Nuclear Scholar with the CSIS Project on Nuclear Issues. Graham holds an MSc in Theory and History of International Relations from the London School of Economics and a BA in history and international affairs from Sarah Lawrence College.

Photo: The amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1) sits along a pier in Subic Bay during a port visit as part of Exercise Balikatan, April 1, 2019. Source: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Daniel Barker/Public Domain