Reasons for alliances

BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz - The Philippine Star

The extension and expansion of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) continues to be controversial among certain sectors of Philippine society. This agreement increases the number of Philippine bases from four to nine where the United States now has access. This allows US forces to preposition equipment and rotate armed personnel in nine Philippine military bases.

As I said in my last column, this is not an ideal agreement.

The best option is really for the Philippines to be allowed to defend its territorial sovereignty without the assistance from any foreign power. Unfortunately this is not the case. China has built bases in Philippine territory and is illegally claiming these areas as part of their territory. Even Filipino fishermen have been barred by Chinese naval vessels from fishing in internationally recognized Philippine waters.

The EDCA is therefore an alliance of convenience. It should be noted that alliances are formed based on common interests. In our particular case, the common interest is protection against Chinese aggression and expansionism in the West Philippine Sea.

It is possible that alliances can drag a country into wars. However, nations still form them when compatible interests provide the basis for cooperation. These phenomena is not new in history nor in the world today.

For example, the current alliance between the United States and South Korea rests on the fact that South Korea wants protection from North Korea and China, while the United States wants military bases and partners in projecting its power in East Asia. Each partner provides something that the other nation values.

In history, in the years before the Second World War, Britain and France agreed to defend Poland in case of invasion. This was not done out of the goodness of their hearts. They did so because they feared that if Germany was to conquer Poland, Germany would become militarily stronger, economically more self-sufficient and therefore, a greater threat to their own security. Thus, Britain, France and Poland shared common interest in defending Poland from a German invasion.

The strongest predictor of whether an alliance will succeed or not is if the partners have a common adversary.

Another important reason for the formation of alliances is the creation or preservation of a balance of power in a region or even in the world. A balance of power exists where no state or bloc has a clear military advantage over the other. Alliances form when it is in the interest of two or more nations to combine their capabilities in order to match the capabilities of another stronger state or bloc that poses a threat to their security. Nations may also form or join alliances not simply to balance power but also to counter threats, even if the most threatening state may not be the most powerful one.

Those states which are perceived as threatening depend on a number of factors. These may include geographic proximity, historical experience and the existence of high-value disputes.

In the case of the Philippines, the present threat is obviously from China due to the existence of territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea. The current policy of expansion and aggression by China does not necessarily pose a threat for every nation in the world. However, it poses a clear and present danger to Philippine territorial sovereignty.

The Philippines has therefore joined the Indo-Pacific alliance that has been organized to contain China’s expansionism. This includes countries like South Korea, Japan, Philippines, Australia and New Zealand. An unofficial member of this alliance is Taiwan.

As the Philippines joins this alliance, it should be clear to us that while there is a common interest in countering Chinese expansionism, each country may have its own set of interests. For example, the United States’ main interest would be to retain its great power status and prevent the ascendance of China into becoming a rival superpower. This may not necessarily be the main interest of the Philippines. Joining this Indo-Pacific alliance therefore does not necessarily mean that the Philippines wants to become a tool of the United States. It simply means that at the moment, we have a mutual interest in protecting our territories against Chinese intrusion.

It is very important to always remember that alliances of nations are made not because of love or admiration for any other country, but because of mutual vested interests.

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