Framework Matters: Maximizing the Full Potential of Philippine Defense Diplomacy
Iñigo A. González
Defense diplomacy, or peacetime military cooperation, plays a prominent role in modernizing the capabilities of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), as interactions with foreign counterparts introduce the country’s military and defense practitioners to advanced military technology, varying doctrines, and strategies. These strategic interactions in the form of exchange of personnel, ship and aircraft visits, high-level meetings, bilateral meetings and dialogues, and training and exercises contribute to the AFP’s logistical, technological, and operational capabilities.
Clear strategic guidance on such engagements is needed to maximize benefits from defense partners. A robust interagency coordination between the Department of National Defense (DND) and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) may be necessary for developing a strategic defense diplomacy framework to address the challenges in the defense sector.
Given the contemporary strategic environment, especially in the South China Sea (SCS), advocating for a vertical expansion of defense diplomacy may also be vital. This entails deepening engagements on multiple levels with a pool of defense partners and like-minded states.
Philippine Defense Diplomacy in Practice
The Philippine practice of defense diplomacy features a combination of high-level engagements with defense and military counterparts, high-impact military exercises, educational exchanges, and training, with the goal of contributing to the holistic modernization of the AFP needed to effectively uphold and protect the country’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity.1
The Philippines has an extensive defense diplomatic network.2 Multilaterally, it has a comprehensive defense relationship with its Southeast Asian neighbors through the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) Defence Officials’ Dialogue (DOD), ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting (ADMM), and ADMM-Plus, which also includes dialogue partners Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Russia and the United States. Bilaterally, the Philippines is a treaty ally of the United States and has varying levels of partnerships with Japan, South Korea, Australia, and Vietnam.
The trajectory of Philippine defense diplomacy features engagements with counterpart militaries and defense institutions to address the capability (materiel, facilities, ships, aircraft, etc.) and capacity (human capital of personnel) gaps of the AFP. For instance, after several high-level meetings and consultations, the Philippines and South Korea signed a frigate contract in 2016 that facilitated the procurement of BRP Jose Rizal from Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI).3
The Philippines was also among the first beneficiaries of Japan’s revised policy on defense equipment transfers.4 In 2020, Japan and the Philippines signed a contract to deliver four (4) Mitsubishi Electric Corporation (MELCO) manufactured air surveillance radar systems, which offer enhanced detection and tracking capabilities than conventional radar systems. This is considered a boost to the Philippines-Japan defense ties and is part of Japan’s continuous effort to support the defense capabilities of Southeast Asian states amid growing Chinese aggressiveness.
To further support the development of the Philippines’ maritime capabilities, a Joint Declaration on Australia-The Philippines Comprehensive Partnership was concluded in 2015. Australia vowed to continue close engagements with the Philippines in the maritime domain and defense modernization, including through bilateral and multilateral exercises.5 Pursuant to this joint declaration, the two states conducted the first replenishment at sea (RAS) operations as part of the Maritime Training Activity (MTA) Sama Sama-Lumbas combined PH-US and PH-Australia maritime exercises.6
The Philippines has been exploring defense cooperation beyond its traditional partners. For example, an MOU with Türkiye was agreed in 2017 for procuring six (6) Tactical Reconnaissance and Attack Helicopters, two (2) of which were delivered in March 2022.7 The MOU also opened opportunities for cooperation between the two countries’ respective defense industries.8
As of this writing, France has expressed interest in providing submarines to the Philippines. Although the two have the 2016 defense cooperation agreement that touches on naval cooperation, the specifics of acquiring submarines are still undergoing comprehensive review and negotiations.9 This only means that until the Philippine government makes a political decision to procure submarines from France, a framework facilitating its transfer could be drafted, which would set the expectations for the concerned parties.
In the case of the Philippines and India, an implementing arrangement was signed by the two countries in 2022, which paved the way for the purchase of three (3) batteries of BrahMos supersonic anti-ship missiles which is deemed by some analysts as the country’s “most strategic purchase” in years.10
Opportunities in Philippine Defense Diplomacy
To maximize the full potential of defense diplomacy for the AFP’s modernization, the Philippine government must be clear with its objectives from its pool of defense networks. Clarity of goals requires frank strategic dialogue backed up with substantial research data on existing cooperation frameworks to critically assess partnerships and potentially devise new frameworks of cooperation attuned to the strategic realities and needs of the Philippines. This can give the Philippine government a more grounded posture in its defense diplomacy approach that maximizes the opportunities enabled by its lineup of defense agreements. Furthermore, the assistance and expertise of those in foreign affairs to conduct an encompassing defense diplomacy strategy can be tapped.
Defense experts and government officials maintain that, at the national level, there is an opportunity to strengthen DND and DFA inter-agency coordination, specifically on policies and processes.11 A forum facilitating regular consultation mechanisms may be considered to accommodate more room for coordination between the two agencies.
Currently, the DND and DFA are members of several Cabinet Cluster mechanisms intended to harmonize processes and promote synergy among the different government agencies.12 The DND and DFA may consider these mechanisms an opportunity to replicate them and establish a regular forum to focus mainly on defense diplomacy. Through this forum, the two agencies could regularly discuss potential courses of action to achieve the optimum potential of defense diplomacy for the AFP’s modernization. Regular consultations are an opportunity to understand realities and varying opinions on specific issues. These can also serve as mechanisms to address problems concerning strategies and approaches.
At the international level, a vertical expansion of Philippine defense diplomacy implies deepening engagements with current defense partners on multiple stages. Some avenues that the Philippines can explore with its comprehensive defense network may involve joint military research, military-to-military exchanges, military technological transfer and training, intelligence exchange, and with the highest levels, including Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), among others. These undertakings facilitate greater interoperability with key defense partners to address future threats to the country and fulfill international obligations.
Strengthening Defense Diplomacy
Considering the importance of deepening inter-agency coordination between the DFA and DND, the Philippines may consider the following steps in strengthening defense diplomacy practices:
- Develop a DND-DFA framework of approach and engagement in defense diplomacy. This framework may serve as the foundation of the DND and DFA in conducting defense diplomacy. Through this framework, the two government agencies can clarify their degree of involvement in defense diplomacy and highlight vital specific areas of cooperation that will need complementary efforts. Moreover, it can detail several defense diplomacy approaches and strategies that align with the Philippines’ defense and national interests. Both agencies’ mandates could guide the framework in promoting and upholding national security in this volatile and evolving international strategic environment to create a solid base.
- Establish a specialized OSAIA-OSSSM-FSI13 trilateral consultative body on defense diplomacy. This consultative body could be a specialized group of researchers and decision-makers in these agencies and will not be an entirely new organization. Guided by the principle of a whole-of-nation approach, the sub-group could primarily seek opportunities to expand defense diplomacy through in-depth research and analysis of global security trends. This sub-group may have policy research functions on defense diplomacy and conduct feasibility studies on the capability and capacity development of Philippine defense. Furthermore, the group could explore future strategic partners, strategic defense and security thrusts, and other areas of cooperation with the Philippines’ pool of defense networks adherent to the country’s national interests.
- Promote mutually-beneficial defense diplomacy. In line with strengthening engagements with current defense partners, the Philippine government may consider reviewing existing frameworks with individual states before entering into other avenues of cooperation. It is also possible for the government to negotiate another framework if required. A framework provides a legal basis for states to engage while also allowing them to set certain expectations with each other. Since defense diplomacy is a two-way process, constantly engaging with defense and military counterparts facilitates an opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of shared interests between states.
Defense diplomacy is a vital tool to advance Philippine national security interests. A solid framework and clear strategy for defense diplomacy will further enhance its efficacy and utility to the country. Despite our country’s resource limitations, many opportunities abroad exist to strengthen our defense engagement network and capabilities. Accessing this through enhanced defense diplomacy will go a long way in achieving the Philippines’ goals of a credible defense posture.
1. Office of the President, “National Security Policy 2017-2022,” April 2017, 5
2. Lowy Institute, “Philippines,” 2021, https://power.lowyinstitute.org/countries/philippines/
3. Frances Mangosing, “A Timeline: Philippine Navy Rides Waves of Frigate Deals,” Inquirer.net, 24 May 2020, https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1279376/a-timeline-philippine-navy-rides-waves-of-frigates-deal
4. Daishi Abe, “Philippines Radar Deal Marks Japan’s First Arms Export,” Nikkei Asia, 29 August 2020, https://asia.nikkei.com/Business/Aerospace-Defense/Philippines-radar-deal-marks-Japan-s-first-arms-export
5. Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, “Joint Declaration on Australia-The Philippines Comprehensive Partnership,” 18 November 2015, https://www.dfat.gov.au/about-us/publications/Pages/joint-declaration-on-australia-the-philippines-comprehensive-partnership
6. Priam Nepomuceno, “BRP Jose Rizal Holds PH Navy’s 1st Replenishment at Sea Ops,” Philippine News Agency, 18 October 2022, https://www.pna.gov.ph/articles/1186427
7. Gokan Ergocun, “Turkish Attack Helicopters Enters Philippine Air Force’s Inventory,” Anadolu Agency, 06 April 2022, https://www.aa.com.tr/en/asia-pacific/turkish-attack-helicopter-enters-philippine-air-forces-inventory/2556746
8. APA Group LLC, “Philippines Gets Turkish-made Choppers with Eyes on Greater Cooperation,” 07 April 2022, https://apa.az/en/europe/philippines-gets-turkish-made-choppers-with-eyes-on-greater-cooperation-372790
9. Micahella Del Callar, “France Seeks Submarine Deal with Philippines,” GMA News, 14 September 2022, https://www.gmanetwork.com/news/topstories/nation/844844/france-seeks-submarine-deal-with-philippines/story/
10. Premesha Saha, “How India’s BrahMos Deal is not Just About Philippines but Gives a Stronger Message to the Region,” Observer Research Foundation, 12 February 2022, https://www.orfonline.org/research/how-indias-brahmos-deal-is-not-just-about-philippines/
11. During an oath-taking ceremony of AFP generals and flag officers, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. urged the military to “be more agile” in diplomacy, geopolitical negotiations, and fostering partnerships with allies in the international community. See Azer Parrocha, “AFP Must be More Agile in Diplomacy, Geopolitical Talks: Marcos,” Philippine News Agency, 06 February 2023, https://www.pna.gov.ph/articles/1194545
12. The DFA and DND are members of the following Clusters per Executive Order No. 24 signed 16 May 2017: Climate Change Adaptation, Mitigation and Disaster Risk Reduction Cluster (Section 5), and; Security, Justice and Peace (Section 6). See “Executive Order No. 24,” Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines, 16 May 2017, https://www.officialgazette.gov.ph/downloads/2017/05may/20170516-EO-24-RRD.pdf; The DFA and DND are also members of the National Task Force West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS). See “Memorandum Circular No. 94, s. 2016,” Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines, 17 March 2016, https://www.officialgazette.gov.ph/2016/03/17/memorandum-circular-no-94-s-2016/
13. The Office for Strategic Assessment and International Affairs (OSAIA), DND is responsible for developing geopolitical and defense related forecasts, and engaging with counterparts bilaterally and multilaterally; The Office for Strategic Studies and Strategy Management (OSSSM), AFP is responsible in conducting strategic, special, and policy studies to assist the Chief of Staff, AFP. The research capacities of these offices could complement the Foreign Service Institute’s efforts at widening the discourse on defense diplomacy.
Philippine Defense Diplomacy Engagements
1. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, Agreement Between the Government of Japan and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines Concerning Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology, 2016, https://www.mofa.go.jp/mofaj/files/000152490.pdf
2. J. Eduardo Malaya and Crystal Gale Dampil-Mandigma. Philippine Treaties in Force 2020. (Quezon City: Institute of International Legal Studies, 2021) 133; Alexis Romero and Jaime Laude, “Philippines, Russia Ink Pact on Military Technical Cooperation,” Philstar Global, 25 October 2017, https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2017/10/25/1752600/philippines-russia-ink-pact-military-technical-cooperation
3. “Memorandum of Understanding on Logistics and Defense Industry Cooperation,” United Nations, New York, (UN Treaty Series 1821, 60), as available on https://treaties.un.org/doc/Publication/UNTS/Volume%201821/volume-1821-I-31180-English.pdf
4. Malaya and Dampil-Mandigma, “Philippine Treaties,” 4; “Andrea Chloe Wong, “Philippines-Australia Strategic Partnership Amid US-China Rivalry,” Australian Institute of International Affairs, 06 July 2023, https://www.internationalaffairs.org.au/australianoutlook/philippines-australia-strategic-partnership-amid-us-china-rivalry/
5. Supreme Court of the Philippines, Agreement Between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the Government of the Republic of India Concerning Defense Cooperation, 2006, https://elibrary.judiciary.gov.ph/thebookshelf/showdocsfriendly/35/13110 (accessed 13 July 2023).
6. Supreme Court of the Philippines, Memorandum on Defense Cooperation and Exchanges Between the Department of National Defense of the Republic of the Philippines and the Ministry of Defense of Japan, 2015, https://elibrary.judiciary.gov.ph/thebookshelf/showdocs/35/91133 (accessed 13 July 2023).
7. Malaya and Dampil-Mandigma, “Philippine Treaties,” 150.
8. Malaya and Dampil-Mandigma, “Philippine Treaties,” 25; Alexis Romero and Jaime Laude, “Philippines, Russia Ink Pact on Military Technical Cooperation,” Philstar Global, 25 October 2017, https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2017/10/25/1752600/philippines-russia-ink-pact-military-technical-cooperation
9. Malaya and Dampil-Mandigma, “Philippine Treaties,” 79.
10. Agreement Between the Government of Japan and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines, 3
11. Memorandum of Understanding on Logistics and Defense Industry Cooperation, 62.
12. Martin Sadongdong, “Why PH, Sweden’s MOU on Defense Materiel Acquisition Matter,” Manila Bulletin, 04 June 2023, https://mb.com.ph/2023/6/4/why-ph-sweden-s-mou-on-defense-materiel-acquisition-matter
13. Malaya and Dampil-Mandigma, “Philippine Treaties,” 165; Frances Mangosing, “Philippines, Turkey Sign MOU on Defense Cooperation,” INQUIRER.net, 18 December 2018, https://globalnation.inquirer.net/172078/philippines-turkey-sign-mou-on-defense-cooperation
14. Malaya and Dampil-Mandigma, “Philippine Treaties,” 174-175; Roel Pareño, “US Delivers Weapons for PAF Amid Marawi Siege,” Philstar Global, 29 July 2017, https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2017/07/29/1722681/us-delivers-weapons-paf-amid-marawi-siege
15. Priam Nepomuceno, “PH, Spain Sign Intel Protection Pact,” PNA, 05 November 2021, https://www.pna.gov.ph/articles/1158916
16. Frances Mangosing, “PH-US Pact on Intel Sharing Taking Shape,” INQUIRER.net, 17 November 2021, https://globalnation.inquirer.net/200325/ph-us-pact-on-intel-sharing-taking-shape
17. Christine Lisette M. Castillo, “Defense Diplomacy as Soft Power for the Philippines,” NDCP Executive Policy Brief, no. 7, (30 September 2021), 4-5, https://www.ndcp.edu.ph/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/new-EPB-Castillo-2021-07.pdf
18. Mico A. Galang, “Suspending the Termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement: Navigating the Geopolitical Currents of the Philippines-US Alliance,” NDCP Executive Policy Brief, no. 4 (07 September 2020), 1-2, https://ndcp.edu.ph/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/EPB_2020-04_Galang.pdf
CIRSS Commentaries is a regular short publication of the Center for International Relations and Strategic Studies (CIRSS) of the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) focusing on the latest regional and global developments and issues.
The views expressed in this publication are of the authors alone and do not reflect the official position of the Foreign Service Institute, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Government of the Philippines.
Iñigo A. González is a Foreign Affairs Research Specialist with the Center for International Relations and Strategic Studies of the Foreign Service Institute.