The Asia-Pacific region is passing through a shaky post-Cold war transition into a potentially dangerous period of instability and serious challenges for the United States and our democratic allies. Beijing is continuing an unprecedented military buildup, while taking advantage of instability in an increasingly weakened ASEAN, internal political rifts in Taiwan, a lack of quality leadership in Japan and duplicity by Kim Dae Jung in South Korea, to assert its influence politically, economically and militarily throughout the region. In addition, Beijing's new partnership with Russia has not only advanced the substantial PLA military buildup, but as seen in President Putin's visit to Vietnam and South Korea, is being used as a "multi-polar" tool to counter U.S. policies and interests.
It is imperative that the Bush-Cheney Administration rapidly formulate an integrated political-military-economic strategic vision and appoint the best possible diplomats or outside experts as ambassadors to all pertinent countries in the region. This policy should be based on supporting and strengthening our democratic allies such as Taiwan and the Philippines, supporting freedom and democratic movements in potential allies such as Vietnam and Burma, and not being led astray by manipulators such as Kim Dae Jung or the new "charm offensive" by Beijing. In addition to Indonesia's troubles, special attention should be focused on Thailand, where the rise to power of "robber barons" in league with Beijing and the SLORC is causing internal backlash. Focusing on the two key strategic allies I visited, here are some ideas:
We should approach China as Ronald Reagan approached the old Soviet Union, with strong deterrence and support of our treaty allies in the region, as well as supporting democratic change within. A freely-elected government in Taipei is seen by Beijing as a greater threat to its one-party rule than any "independence" movement. Beijing's efforts to undermine the new government have focused on both military intimidation, as well as the old-school "United Front" tactic by reaching out to bitter or opportunistic politicians of all Taiwanese parties, as well as influential business tycoons. The Clinton Administration's pro-Beijing appeasement policies and dissembling of Taiwan's military superiority by obstructing arms sales and military modernization has expedited the unraveling of political cohesion in Taipei. U.S. appeasement has earned Chinese contempt, as Beijing continues to proliferate weapons of mass destruction to rogue regimes and is forging ahead with its missile build-up opposite Taiwan. It's time for a change U.S. policy change.
Enhanced U.S. military and political support to Taiwan from the US would send a strong cross-Strait political message that we have not abandoned a democratic friend. As the Chinese communists are preparing for a potentially contentious Party Congress, seek to host the 2008 Olympics and are in the process of integrating new missile and conventional hi-tech weapons systems, they are not yet in a position of strength to risk an embarrassing military attack on Taiwan. But only if the United States shows it has not forsaken Taipei. If we do not send strong political signals by enhancing Taiwan's defense systems, and urging democratic cohesion in Taipei, Beijing could go for the gusto even before it reaches its full deployment of 600 cross-Strait missiles by 2005.
Air and missile defense systems: Taiwan is virtually defenseless against the 250 missiles now deployed by Beijing. This includes the need for long-range radar systems, software links to more rapidly tie together its disparate warning and response systems, and enhanced anti-missile weapons systems. From Defense Minister Shi-wen Wu to Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Yao-ming Tang to IW/EW Commander Lt. Gen Abe Lin to ship and submarine commanders in Kaoshiung, all emphasized the need for the Aegis naval system -- and not a neutered Aegis-T. They would purchase Kidd destroyers, as a throw in to the deal. But there is no substitute for the radar,C4I and defense systems of Aegis. This could be done while doing political jiu-jitsu on Beijing, by issuing a challenge that the PLA dismantle its missile threat to Taiwan - and by holding them to it.
Air-to-Air missile threat: The PLA is rapidly bringing a new generation of Russian-made fighters on line with advanced avionics and air-to-air missiles. It is a cruel joke to withhold U.S. Amraam missiles purchased by Taiwan in Hawaii until after the PLA begins firing at them. We should have learned from Vietnam. The current nonsensical policy is similar to Robert McNamara and his Whiz Kids in 1965. Taiwan should receive the Amraams now, to deter an attack. Also, the U.S. should share with Taiwan information and technology we possess on counter-measures, not only for the AA-12 air-to-air missiles, but also against S-300 ground-to air systems now deployed along China's coast that are demoralizing Taiwan's fighter pilots.
Submarines: The PLA navy now has 96 operational submarines, including state of the art diesel subs, compared to the 4 submarines of the Taiwan navy. Two of those submarines are Guppies built in 1946. I went inside a Guppy, the ROCN SS-792, which hasn't fired a torpedo in years - if such antique torpedoes even exist today. Yet, this sub would have to be used in the event of a blockade of Taiwan by the PLA. The U.S. should sell at least a few submarines to Taiwan, as well as provide advanced air and surface ASW assets.
1) The U.S. should begin bilateral J-3 planing and training with Taiwan.
2) Similar to State Department personnel at AIT, the cobwebs should be shaken from the AIT military office, which should be pro-active and manned by a temporarily-retired 06 or 07 military officer.
3) U.S. military CAPSTONE program delegations should visit Taiwan, as well as China. It is counter-productive for U.S. to train a new generation of flag officers to only hear only the communists' side of the picture. They should hear from our democratic allies, as well.
U.S. policy makers should consider the Philippines as a strategic cornerstone and primary democratic ally in the region. It is essential for democracy to succeed in the Philippines and Taiwan to have role models to counter China's support for non-democratic regimes in the region. The new Macapal-Arroyo Administration faces serious internal and external threats, including aggression by China in its off-shore islands in the South China Sea. Most recent Chinese probes have targeted Scarborough Shoal, adjacent to the strategic former U.S. naval base at Subic Bay.
The primary question is: Can the GMA Administration and the People Power Movement overcome the habitual corruption, self-aggrandizing caudillo culture and pettiness that has undermined Philippines development? This includes true reform and modernization within law enforcement and the military. In meeting with the new President and her advisory team, they are aware of their uphill political battle. However, there are positive developments for political and economic reform through a growing "civil society" anti-corruption movement. These courageous organizations provided the backbone for elected politicians to challenge and prosecute the corruption of the Estrada regime. The upcoming Senatorial elections in May - pitting the GMA slate of People Power Coalition candidates against the Estrada/Marcos-backed slate -- will be a bell-weather on whether true popular reform is taking root among the masas.
In addition, a new generation of pro-American national security reformers such as National Security Advisor Roilo Golez [graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Class of 1967], National Intelligence Director Gen. Alfredo Filler and Armed Forces Intel Chief Col. Victor Corpuz, all seek closer security ties with the United States. In extensive meetings with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Angelo Reyes, the Armed Forces J-5 planning staff, and other prominent military leaders, all expressed enthusiasm for U.S. assistance with the Philippines defense modernization program. In addition, U.S. Reserve or National Guard engineering units could assist infrastructure development as part of the peace process with Muslim communities in agriculturally rich but impoverished Mindanao.
There are no expectations or desires for the previous type of U.S. permanent bases in the Philippines. However, the Philippine government seeks the United States as an active partner in political and economic development, as well as for its defense. An expanded VFA is possible, as well as creating a regional target range that could replace the potential loss of U.S. facilities in Puerto Rico or Okinawa.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines faces internal Muslim and communist insurgencies in a number of remote provinces, as well as off-shore incursions by the Chinese navy and "fishermen" on strategic outcrops in the South China sea. The AFP has 5.8 billion pesos [roughly US$125 million] to spend this fiscal year on modernization, which barely scratches the surface of glaring naval, air force and army equipment, spare parts, C4I infrastructure and training needs. A recently-exposed Marine Corps procurement scandal brings more intensive scrutiny to the modernization process, hopefully curbing improprieties. Discussions by Peter Shaefer, Jeffrey Baxter and I with the Philippines armed forces leaders at all levels demonstrated their commitment to clean up the process. Based on a very frank and heated session with the AFP Deputy Chief MCEN Guillermo Lorenzo and his Joint J-5, and a detailed discussion with the most far-sighted AFP leader and Intel Chief Col.Victor Corpuz, here is where the U.S. could begin assistance.
Role of U.S. Military Attache: The military attache office in our Manila embassy should not simply be an agent of U.S. arms companies, trying to sell the Philippines high-priced weapons systems they can't afford. Instead, a common sense and economical approach to address the AFP's defense modernization and operational strategies is needed.
Helicopters: The entire Philippines military has a total of 26 helicopters, of which 20 may be operational at any given time. Given the overwhelming counter-insurgency, reconnaissance, logistics, search-and-rescue, medevac and counter-drug operation missions, additional helicopters and spare parts are urgently needed. The U.S. Excess Defense Articles program could cannibalize relevant old helicopters that are too expensive to upgrade or maintain for spare parts. In addition, the Philippines should be considered for old UH-1s discarded by our National Guard. In addition, the U.S. Customs may discard some older Blackhawks, and the U.S. Border Patrol may be discarding old helicopters during the next 2 or 3 years, which would be AFP suitable.
Night Vision Equipment: Night vision goggles and devices for aircraft and patrol boats are urgently needed for counter-insurgency and counter-narcotics operations.
Communications Equipment: C4I and small unit radio, computers and other communications equipment needed at all levels. The U.S. should have some excess articles available, as well as helping with financing for some economical basic systems.
Aircraft: The Philippines Ai Force is lucky to have 3 to 5 old F-5s available for combat missions at any given time. The AFP cannot afford to purchase or maintain F-16s. However, upgraded F-5E's, such as those in Taiwan, would be a substantial upgrade for the AFP's air defense needs. It would also be helpful to explore cost-effective UAV systems for the AFP's reconnaissance needs in the South China Sea.
Patrol Craft: In order to patrol it's vast coastal and maritime areas, the AFP requires a fleet of fast-boats which could be produced in the Philippines as a U.S.-Philippines joint venture.
Radar Systems: The AFP lacks radar systems to monitor its coastal areas and strategic islands in the South China Sea, which could be provided through the EDA program.
Reestablish annual Filipino cadet admissions to U.S. Military Academies: This is an excellent means to establish long term ties between our two armed forces.
USAID: The USAID agricultural project I visited in North Cotabato was successful and helping to hold the peace with former-MNLF fighters and their families who were involved. However, USAID projects are limited because of a lack of funding. In areas where programs are lacking, recruitment by the MILF, including MNLF soldiers going back to the bush, was escalating.
U.S. Military Engineers and National Guard: The U.S. military and national Guard could help the development of infrastructure in Mindanao with construction projects, such as were done in Central America during the Contra period. A rural development project could be integrated as part of the annual CINCPAC-AFP bilateral military exercise. This initiative can begin during the upcoming exercise.
Excess Defense Articles: Discarded U.S. military construction equipment could be included in this year's EDA allocation to the Philippines.
It is essential for the Philippines to become a democratic role model for the region. In order to succeed the U.S. must be come more active in a subtle manner in supporting the reforms advocated by the Arroyo Administration.
Civil Society Groups: The success of removing the corrupt Estrada clique from power was led by volunteer civil society organizations. The U.S. could help through leadership development programs involving the national Endowment for Democracy, the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute.
Law Enforcement Assistance: A substantial part of the ineffectiveness and improprieties in the Philippines National Police is a lack of resources, equipment and training. The U.S. should step up assistance to the PNP in all categories. This could include some U.S.-Philippines sister city programs or interaction with U.S. police associations.
NGO Humanitarian Assistance: In the past, U.S. NGO's have limited programs in the Philippines because of corruption and bureaucratic red tape. In a frank discussion with the new Secretary of the Interior and Local Government, Jose Lina, he stated that if international NGO's have red tape problems that the USG could contact him directly to resolve the problems. Hard-core NGOs, led by former-military people such as Andy Messing and Edward Artis, could help to set up private humanitarian aid test-programs.
Economic Reform: The Philippines location, English-speaking industrious work force and long-standing ties to the United States should make it an ideal investment location for American firms. During our meeting, President Arroyo recommended assistance from the USG and international development institutions in the following areas:
Visit by President Bush: President Arroyo emphasized the great boost that her government and Philippines would benefit by a visit by President Bush during his upcoming visit to Asia. This Presidential visit would also underscore America's commitment to democracy in the region.
Replace U.S. Embassy personnel: The Congressional visit was organized as unofficial because of our lack of confidence in the U.S. Embassy, which has not had an ambassador in close to one year. At a critical moment during the potentially-violent removal of the corrupt Estrada regime and the installation of the Arroyo Administration, the U.S. embassy released a statement to the media that was ambiguous at best, and could have been interpreted as tacit U.S. support for Estrada. And even after President Bush recognized and personally called to congratulate President Arroyo, the embassy has sent negative signals to the Philippines media on U.S. policy. For example, on February 25, after Congressman Rohrabacher was quoted as stating that the Arroyo administration was "legitimate" and that "the U.S. Government has recognized her authority," the embassy issued a statement to the press stating, the Congressman "was speaking for himself and not for the United States Government." A week later, the Philippines Supreme Court ruled 13-0 in favor of the Arroyo Administration's legitimacy. A competent new U.S. ambassador, DCM and senior staff is urgently needed in Manila.
Between February 17 and 27, I led an unofficial CODEL to Taiwan, the Philippines and to K`uwait. Attached is a report by my Special Assistant, Al Santoli, who is also a best-selling author of military history, on the CODEL's findings in Taiwan and the Philippines. It is very clear that we are entering a increasing volatile period of history in a region that is vital to America's economic and national security interests.
We were joined on the trip by Congressmen Roger Wicker and Darrell Issa, and by a team of defense and regional private experts. While the Members conducted meaningful discussions with political leaders and "showed the American flag" to a very warm welcome by large numbers of Filipino people at the former U.S. Naval base at Subic Bay, Mr. Santoli led the defense experts in very extensive meetings with all levels of the Taiwanese and the Philippine military, police and intelligence community. I whole heartedly concur with the findings in this trip report, and believe that it will provide you with poignant insight into a developing precarious security situation in the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea.
Thank you for permitting me to carry a congratulatory letter from you to the new Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who was very grateful for your message. With the exception of Taiwan and the Philippines, the democratic trend across Southeast Asia has swung in a troubling direction. Even in Thailand, an assassination attempt against their new Prime Minister underscores gathering storm clouds across the region. It is essential that our Committee work with the Bush Administration and carry out our oversight responsibilities in order to sustain our key democratic Asian allies. In the Philippines, targeted U.S. political and economic support and assistance for their defense capabilities against the growing military strength of Beijing is needed. And to deter war in the Taiwan Strait, we must prevent Taiwan from falling dangerously behind China's unprecedented military modernization. Please see the detailed enclosed text.