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02 Feb 23. U.S.-Philippine Alliance Strengthens as it Enters New Phase.
U.S. service members will be doing a lot more training and exercises alongside their Philippine allies, as the defense alliance between the two nations continues to grow.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III travelled to Manila and met with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos and Secretary of National Defense Carlito Galvez to chart the way forward for the treaty alliance between the Philippines and the United States.
During a meeting at the Malacanang Palace, Austin told Marcos that the United States wants to strengthen that relationship in every way possible. “You are a key ally and an important ally,” the secretary said. “And so, from the defense perspective, we will continue to work together with our great partners to build and modernize your capability as well as increase our interoperability.”
Marcos pointed to the security environment in the Indo-Pacific region during his meeting with Austin. “More specifically here, the Asia-Pacific region has become a terribly complicated situation,” he said. “It is something we can only navigate with the help of our partners and our allies.”
The United States and Philippines are treaty allies and have been since 1951 when the two countries signed the Mutual Defense Treaty. “It would be stating the obvious to say that our longest partner has been the United States,” Marcos said. He said the United States will remain — and should remain — a vibrant part of the region, because the United States is a Pacific power.
As Austin and Galvez left the palace to continue their discussions at the Department of National Security, the two nations announced that they planned “to accelerate the full implementation of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the agreement to designate four new agreed locations in strategic areas of the country and the substantial completion of the projects in the existing five agreed locations.”
U.S. officials were pleased with this announcement. They called the agreement a “pillar” of the U.S.-Philippine alliance. The agreement “supports combined training, exercises and interoperability between our forces,” the release said. “Expansion of the EDCA will make our alliance stronger and more resilient, and will accelerate modernization of our combined military capabilities.”
The release did not say which new locations would be in the agreement. The Philippine government would like time to speak to regional and local officials about the process before going public with the actual bases. The locations already in the agreement are Cesar Basa Air Base in Pampanga, Fort Magsaysay Military Reservation, Lumbia Air Base, Antonio Bautista Air Base and Mactan Benito Ebuen Air Base.
Austin and Galvez participated in a news conference at the end of their meeting. The two men worked on ways to strengthen and already strong alliance. “We conduct more than 500 defense engagements together every year,” Austin said. “And as President Biden has made clear, America’s commitment to the defense of the Philippines is ironclad.”
The Philippines and the United States share common values and principles. “Our alliance makes both of our democracies more secure — and helps uphold a free and open Indo-Pacific,” the secretary said.
Galvez and Austin also reaffirmed the mutual defense treaty commitments. Austin said the Mutual Defense Treaty applies to armed attacks on either countries’ defense assets to include vessels and aircraft anywhere in the West Philippine Sea — the name the Philippines prefer to South China Sea.
“We discussed concrete actions to address destabilizing activities and the waters surrounding the Philippines, including the West Philippine Sea, and we remain committed to strengthening our mutual capacities to resist armed attack,” Austin said.
Austin and Galvez also spoke about modernizing Philippine military capabilities. Austin said these “efforts are especially important as the People’s Republic of China continues to advance its illegitimate claims in the West Philippine Sea.”
Austin said he is proud of the work that has gone into the effort to strengthen the alliance on both sides. “I am optimistic about the future of our alliance,” he said. “And I am confident that we will continue to work together to defend our shared values of freedom, democracy and human dignity. The United States and the Philippines are more than just allies. We’re family.” (Source: US DoD)
02 Feb 23. Azerbaijan-Iran: Reported Iranian spy network crackdown will raise bilateral tensions, risk of attacks. On 1 February, local Azerbaijani media reported that the authorities detained about 40 individuals suspected of spying for Iran. The developments come amid a deterioration in relations between Azerbaijan and Iran, following a deadly shooting at the Azerbaijan embassy in Tehran in late January. The Azerbaijani authorities did not officially confirm these reports, and Tehran has not yet commented on the matter. If the arrests are confirmed, regional tensions between the two states will increase further. This will also elevate the likelihood of terrorist attacks in Azerbaijan, as well as drive physical security risks for Azerbaijani assets, diplomatic establishments and personnel in Iran. (Source: Sibylline)
02 Feb 23. Somalia: Al-Shabaab threats will likely persist despite regional support for government offensive. On 1 February, leaders in Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya agreed to begin ‘search and destroy’ operations to push al-Shabaab militants out of Somalia. The agreement comes amid successful ongoing Somali offensives against al-Shabaab territory in central Somalia. Authorities are currently preparing to increase pressure on al-Shabaab in its southern strongholds, which will likely be supported by regional partners. Regardless, the government will likely struggle to replicate successes in central Somalia, as this was highly dependent on a shift in the position of local clans who supported the anti-al-Shabaab push. The same support has largely not materialised in southern Somalia. As such, the group is highly likely to continue launching attacks on military and government facilities in an attempt to disrupt the state’s offensives. Such attacks will sustain heightened risks to bystanders in cities in central and southern districts, such as Mogadishu, including hotels that are often used by government officials. (Source: Sibylline)
02 Feb 23. Ethiopia: Clashes raise pressure on Ethiopia to police Fana militia, elevate protests risk in Amhara. On 31 January, Fano gunmen, a militia representing Ethiopia’s Amhara community, attacked Sudanese herders during an attempted cattle theft in the Bassanda locality, two kilometres within the border of Sudan’s al-Fashaqa area. Previous clashes along the al-Fashaqa border significantly increased tensions between Ethiopia and Sudan. However, the two governments agreed to jointly police the area in July 2022 and relations have been improving with Sudan announcing it will back Ethiopia’s Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam (GERD) following a state visit in January. Therefore, clashes are unlikely to significantly elevate regional tensions, but they will increase pressure on Ethiopian authorities to police Fano. This will likely further exacerbate rising tensions within the Amhara community over the possible return of territory to Tigray in the ongoing peace talks. As such, the likelihood of protests by Amhara ethno-nationalists in Amhara, including in Weldiya, Desse, and the regional capital Bahir Dar, is increasing. (Source: Sibylline)
02 Feb 23. Myanmar: Silent strike, fresh sanctions highlight continued opposition to junta rule. On 1 February, the two-year anniversary of the 2021 coup, a ‘silent strike’ was held across Myanmar to demonstrate opposition to the military government. Many private businesses in urban areas including Yangon, Naypyidaw and Mandalay closed despite threats from the junta, while residents largely remained indoors for the day. The military announced a six-month extension of the state of emergency on the same day, likely delaying this year’s general elections which in any case would not be freely contested. While mass street protests and other open displays of public dissent are not common due to security forces’ heavy-handed reprisal, the junta remains highly unpopular among a large portion of the population. The additional sanctions on Myanmar announced by Canada, the UK and the US and Canada will further isolate the junta government internationally. With no sign of compromise from the military, the volatile security, economic, and regulatory environment will continue for the foreseeable future. (Source: Sibylline)
02 Feb 23. Philippines-US: Expansion of military base access will raise regional tensions, government instability. On 2 February, the Philippines granted the US access to four additional military bases in the country under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) amid rising tensions in the South China Sea (see Sibylline Global Weekly Review – 18 January 2023). The US forces now have access to a total of nine Philippine military bases, albeit not a permanent presence. The bases’ locations were not immediately disclosed, but they will possibly be in northern Luzon (close to Taiwan) and Palawan (the South China Sea), with a likely aim of countering China. The announcement reinforces Manila’s efforts to bolster security relations with the US, whilst simultaneously seeking to improve bilateral trade with China. Regional tensions will rise in the South China Sea, as will Chinese retaliatory policy risks against the Philippines and US businesses. The agreement will also draw domestic opposition in the form of protests opposing the EDCA, which will drive moderate government stability risks during times of elevated national and regional tensions. (Source: Sibylline)
01 Feb 23. Philippines, U.S. Announce Four New EDCA Sites. Today, the Philippines and the United States are proud to announce their plans to accelerate the full implementation of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the agreement to designate four new Agreed Locations in strategic areas of the country and the substantial completion of the projects in the existing five Agreed Locations. The EDCA is a key pillar of the U.S.-Philippines alliance, which supports combined training, exercises, and interoperability between our forces. Expansion of the EDCA will make our alliance stronger and more resilient, and will accelerate modernization of our combined military capabilities. The addition of these new EDCA locations will allow more rapid support for humanitarian and climate-related disasters in the Philippines, and respond to other shared challenges. The United States has allocated over $82m toward infrastructure investments at the existing five sites under the EDCA, and is proud that these investments are supporting economic growth and job creation in local Philippine communities. The United States and the Philippines have committed to move quickly in agreeing to the necessary plans and investments for the new and existing EDCA locations. The Philippine-U.S. Alliance has stood the test of time and remains ironclad. We look forward to the opportunities these new sites will create to expand our cooperation together. (Source: US DoD)
01 Feb 23. Foreign and Defence representatives from Australia and the United Kingdom are expected to meet for their Annual “AUKMIN” ministerial meeting this week. Trade talks, security, climate, and troop training will feature highly as UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly and Defence Secretary Ben Wallace host Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong and Defence Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles in London, Salisbury, and Portsmouth. Foreign Secretary Cleverly said the meeting will discuss how to intensify efforts by both sides to support a free and open Indo-Pacific.
“The UK and Australia are the best of mates and for over a century, we have been hard-headed champions of freedom and democracy,” Secretary Cleverly said.
“In an increasingly volatile world, we are pursuing a forward-looking agenda with Australia as a trusted partner and friend.
“Together, we are promoting prosperity and security in the Indo-Pacific, boosting trade, and pursuing our vital climate targets.”
On 1 February, the ministers will visit Salisbury Plain to see Australian and UK troops training Ukrainian soldiers.
Soldiers from Canada, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Norway, New Zealand, Lithuania, and the Netherlands are also involved in the joint training exercises.
The ministers will gather at Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth on 2 February to discuss prosperity in the Indo-Pacific, broader cooperation on climate, security, and trade.
The ministers will also discuss how UK and Australia can step up their commitments to limit global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees, support the Pacific Island states facing climate emergency, transition to renewable energy and promote low-emission technologies as part of a joint clean tech partnership signed in 2021.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace MP said ministers will also discuss the progress of AUKUS, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), a £9trn free trade bloc, and ratifying the bilateral free trade agreement with Australia.
“Australia is our close and valued defence partner, with historic ties spanning the decades,” Mr Wallace said.
“The Australian Armed Forces are providing vital training for the brave Ukrainian men and women here in the UK, learning the skills they will need to return and defend their country.
“We are also progressing our collaboration over the AUKUS program, promoting security and prosperity across the Indo-Pacific.” (Source: Defence Connect)
01 Feb 23. Austin Visit to Philippine Base Highlights Benefits of U.S-Philippine Alliance. The Philippines and the United States are fundamentally agreed on the vision they see for the Indo-Pacific region — one that is free of coercion and where countries operate according to international law.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III is in the Philippines to strengthen the bonds between the two countries. He visited Camp Navarro in Mindanao where Philippine and U.S. service members are working closely together to ensure the long-term prosperity of the region.
A U.S. Joint Special Operations Task Force operates at the camp alongside Philippine service members as part of Operation Pacific Eagle-Philippines — the only named operation in the Indo-Pacific.
While Austin will meet with senior leaders in the Philippine government, he chose to visit Mindanao first to highlight “the consistency and the interoperability of the U.S.-Philippine alliance,” a senior defense official said.
“The alliance is about working on shared security challenges together that have an impact here in the Philippines and potentially in the region,” the official said. “And I think the successes we’ve had with counterterrorism cooperation are really emblematic of the alliance.”
The Philippines has been dogged by terrorism in the southern part of the 7,000-island Pacific archipelago. Abu Sayyaf, an affiliate of al Qaida, was active in the early 2000s and can still be a problem today. As recently as 2017, an Islamic State affiliate launched attacks on the city of Marawi, which led to five months of bitter, urban fighting.
“The assistance and the cooperation that the United States has provided with the Philippines is something that has not only helped them bring a lot more stability to the southern Philippines, but has been successful in enabling us and allies to prevent that violent extremist threat from moving elsewhere in the region,” the official said.
A second senior defense official noted that U.S. forces are in the Philippines at the express invitation of the government. He says the effort is a true partnership. “What we’re doing with Philippines is working with them,” he said. “So that together as an alliance, we can help ensure their future, and so they have the capability to defend their own sovereignty and prevent the kind of coercion that they’re facing on a day-to-day basis.”
China is the nation doing the coercion, even after losing a landmark ruling at an international tribunal in 2016, that official said. The tribunal in The Hague ruled that China’s excessive claims in the South China Sea were illegal according to international law. “What the Philippines is trying to do, is uphold its rights,” the official said. “And we’re trying to help them do that in the same way we are with other partners around the region. That’s what this is really about, not about simply countering China.”
The operation on Mindanao illustrates the way the two militaries work together. U.S. forces are training, advising and assisting Philippine forces. But the Philippines is leading the effort and conducting the counterterrorism operations quite skillfully, the first official said.
But this experience can be broadened, the official said. “We’ll need to address issues related to territorial defense for the Philippines and how we think about building on the successes,” the official said. “And the day-to-day ties that we have built together down south is an important part of how we’re thinking about moving forward.”
The alliance and the ties forged are very strong. Austin met with the leaders of the Philippine military at Camp Navarro and many of them attended U.S. military professional education courses. One general officer is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy and others graduated from the advanced Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia. Still more are graduates of the National Defense University at Fort Lesley J. McNair in Washington.
“Even the new secretary of national defense here did his advanced infantry officer training at Fort Benning where the secretary did his, as well,” the official said. “So, I think the people-to-people ties that we have in our military-to-military relationship in the Philippines are really important part of what makes the alliance so strong.” (Source: US DoD)
01 Feb 23. Mali: Further deterioration in relations with UN mission will disrupt NGO operations. On 31 January, UN experts called for an independent investigation into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the Malian armed forces as well as the Russian private military contractor Wagner Group. While Mali has denied Wagner is actively engaged in combat, there have been numerous reports that the group have supported Malian troops in operations targeting civilians, most notably in Moura in March 2022. Malian authorities have previously demonstrated high levels of sensitivity towards such allegations, revoking defence agreements with France after similar allegations were made. As such, it is likely that calls for investigations will further undermine relations between Mali and the UN mission in Mali, likely resulting in further limits on their operational freedom. Moreover, the allegations will likely drive protests from supporters of the junta calling for the UN to withdraw. This will impact NGO operations reliant on UN forces for security. (Source: Sibylline)
01 Feb 23. US-India: Strategic initiative on defence, technology will enhance bilateral relations; counter reliance on Chinese supply chains. On 31 January, the US and India announced a joint high-level initiative on Critical and Emerging Technologies (iCET) for defence, including the joint production of long-range artillery, military jet engines and infantry vehicles. The initiative will also facilitate cooperation on semiconductors and artificial intelligence. Currently, the US has restrictions on the transfer of military technology which will present a hurdle in the short term given India’s historical reliance on Russian military hardware. However, the initiative will be essential in countering China’s military posture in the Indo-Pacific, as well as the US reliance on Chinese supply chains. Tensions between both countries and China are expected to increase in the near term. (Source: Sibylline)
01 Feb 23. Iraq-Turkey: Rocket strikes on Turkish military assets in Iraq will sustain risks for contractors. On 1 February, at approximately 0800hrs (local time), eight missiles targeted the Turkish Zelikan military base in the Bashiqa district (Nineveh), near Mosul in northern Iraq. Two of the rockets reportedly landed inside the barracks which house Turkish troops. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack and there have been no reports of deaths or damage to facilities, though one Iraqi contractor was wounded. Frequent rocket attacks have targeted the base in recent months, including several claimed by Shia militia affiliated with the Iran-linked Popular Mobilisation Forces. Since the launch of Operation Claw-Sword in November 2022, Turkey has intensified its military operations against Kurdish militants in northern Iraq and Syria, driving an increase in the volatility of the regional security environment. Likely additional rocket attacks on Turkish military assets in Iraq in the coming weeks will sustain risks for contractors. (Source: Sibylline)
01 Feb 23. Ethiopia: Insecurity in Oromia elevates physical risks to foreign nationals. On 30 January, unidentified gunmen attacked Chinese citizens in Gebre Guracha, a town in the North Shewa Zone of Oromia, around 100 miles (160 kilometres) north of Addis Ababa, killing one. The incident follows unidentified gunmen briefly abducting 20 Nigerian workers in the Dangote Cement Factory in the Adea Berga district in West Shewa Zone of Oromia on 26 January. Conflict with the ethno-nationalist Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) has increased insecurity and facilitated a rise in ethnic violence, kidnaps and robberies. This environment is also empowering local communities to target foreign-owned projects, in part due to high levels of sensitivity over land use within Oromia. OLA insurgent tactics will prevent the government from fully re-exerting control over the region in the coming months, sustaining elevating threats to foreign personnel and assets in the region. (Source: Sibylline)
01 Feb 23. Australia, France reinforce regional partnership, industry collaboration, bilateral cooperation.
Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Richard Marles and Foreign Minister Penny Wong have used their joint statement with French counterparts — Catherine Colonna, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs of France and Sébastien Lecornu, Minister of the Armed Forces of France — to reinforce and renew the bilateral relationship.
Australia’s relationship with France has been something of a roller-coaster in the past five years, from the elated highs following the announcement of the Naval Group Shortfin Barracuda conventional submarine as the Attack Class to replace the Royal Australian Navy’s ageing Collins Class fleet, to the disastrous lows following the multi-bn dollar cancellation of the contract by the former government in favour of nuclear-powered submarines to be delivered under the AUKUS agreement.
The Albanese government has moved to distance itself from the perceived failings of the previous government and its handling of the Australia-France relationship in light of mounting global tensions and challenges to the post-Second World War geopolitical, economic, and strategic order.
As Russia steps up its attacks against Ukraine, despite increased Western support, and flagrantly skirts Western economic sanctions on oil, natural gas and other key Russian exports, the world is also contending with mounting tensions in the Indo-Pacific. With continued invasions of Taiwan’s air and maritime boundaries by China and the ever present threat of nuclear attacks from the unpredictable North Korean regime, the table appears set.
In light of these global circumstances, the bilateral relationship between Australia and France has emerged as one of the key geopolitical and strategic relationships pivotal to continuing peace, stability, and security in the Indo-Pacific, with broader economic impacts for both nations over the coming decades — recognising this, the Australian and French governments have moved to reaffirm the importance of this relationship.
The growing importance of this relationship has been highlighted in the joint statement, issued for the Second France-Australia Foreign and Defence Ministerial Consultations which covered a range of topics critical to the ongoing security of Europe and the Indo-Pacific.
Calling out Russia’s acts of aggression, sending a message to potential aggressors
Central to the joint statement was renewed and reinvigorated solidarity in the face of Russia’s reinvigorated attacks on Ukraine — with Australia and France committing to a host of agreements, namely: “Ministers reiterated their unequivocal condemnation of Russia’s illegal, immoral and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and called once more for Russia’s immediate withdrawal. They reaffirmed that Russia’s flagrant and repeated violations of the fundamental principles of the Charter of the United Nations and the Helsinki Decalogue will elicit a united and firm response as long as they continue.”
This condemnation was further reinforced by an industry partnership between Australia and France which will support Ukraine’s ongoing war effort by providing munitions, both parties agreed: “France and Australia expressed their shared commitment to Ukraine’s security and their strong resolve to continue to support Ukraine. Ministers announced their intent to provide support to Ukraine including through joint supply of 155-millimetre ammunition. The initiative leverages the complementarities of respective defence industries and meets Ukraine’s urgent need for 155-millimetre ammunition.”
This unique partnership will expand Australia’s defence industrial base and enhance the partnership between the two nations and lays the important foundation for strengthening the bilateral partnership and its impact in the Indo-Pacific. (Source: Defence Connect)
31 Jan 23. Japan identifies next-gen military wish list to counter China. In the face of growing tensions over Taiwan and repeated aggression from North Korea, Japan has stepped up its unprecedented military modernisation following South Korea’s efforts. The island powerhouse has launched its next round of acquisition, with eyes on some transformational, next-generation capabilities.
Beijing’s continued assertiveness in the South China Sea (SCS) and renewed antagonism towards Taiwan has attracted ever growing attention and concern across the Indo-Pacific. For nations like Japan, these rising tensions are further exacerbated by historic animosities between the established and rising powers of the region which have all combined to prompt Japan’s renewed period of military modernisation and expansion over the past five years.
Japan’s geostrategic realities, in particular, have rapidly evolved since the end of the Cold War, when the US could effectively guarantee the security of the island nation — accordingly, the Japanese government has responded with a period of unprecedented defence budgets as the pre-war power seeks to shake off the chains of the pacifist constitution enforced upon it by the US, UK, Australia and other allies following the end of the war in the Pacific.
Further compounded by growing Russian aggression toward the post-war order and the ever present spectre of North Korean nuclear attack, Japan has, much like it’s South Korean counterpart, launched a series of military expansion, modernisation and recapitalisation efforts to completely overhaul the Japanese Self-Defense Forces (JSDF), shifting away from the constraints of the post-Second World War pacifist constitution towards a developing a force of greater power projection, anti-access/area-denial and strategic deterrence capability.
Underpinning this dramatic shift in Japan’s strategic planning, the Japanese Ministry of Defense (MoD) has released an unprecedented list of priorities that will dramatically reshape the JSDF and its long-term capabilities in the region, with a suite of next-generation capabilities set to reshape the balance of power in the Indo-Pacific.
Hypersonics, strike and autonomous systems
Range, speed and decisiveness have been identified as a key avenue for Japan to level the balance of power, in areas that have seemingly been dominated by China’s own Strategic Rocket Force and the broader People’s Liberation Army (PLA), to complement Japan’s well-documented modernisation of their conventional military capabilities, like the already impressive Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF), Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) and Japan Ground Self-Defense Forces (JGSDF).
At the core of this development and modernisation plan, Japan has prioritised the research and development and mass production of hypersonic weapons, “high-speed glide vehicles”, advanced torpedoes, sea mines and surface-to-air and ground and ship-launched anti-ship missiles to extend the range the JSDF can engage and hold an adversary at bay, with speed providing the determining factor for not only deployed operations, but equally for defending the Japanese home islands.
Outlined in this new plan, the Japanese government has articulated the following:
- Research on hypersonic guided missiles [research and development].
- Development of high-velocity glide missiles (improved type) for island defense [research and development].
- Development of type 03 medium-range surface-to-air missile (improved type) with enhanced capabilities [research and development].
- Development of new mines (small mines) [research and development].
- Type 12 surface-to-ship guided missile enhanced type (ground launch type) (tentative name) [mass production].
- High-speed glide missile for island defense (provisional name) [mass production].
- Tomahawk [mass production].
Expanding on these plans, the Japanese government has also pushed for an expanded focus on autonomous and uncrewed underwater vehicles (UUV) systems to expand maritime intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations across the vast Japanese economic exclusion and critical maritime exclusion zones, while also serving as long range support for the JMSDF securing critical sea lines of communication.
Lessons for Australia’s future strategic planning
There is no doubt that Australia’s position and responsibilities in the Indo-Pacific region will depend on the nation’s ability to sustain itself economically, strategically and politically in the face of rising regional and global competition. Despite the nation’s virtually unrivalled wealth of natural resources, agricultural and industrial potential, there is a lack of a cohesive national security strategy integrating the development of individual, yet complementary public policy strategies to support a more robust Australian role in the region.
While contemporary Australia has been far removed from the harsh realities of conflict, with many generations never enduring the reality of rationing for food, energy, medical supplies or luxury goods, and even fewer within modern Australia understanding the socio-political and economic impact such rationing would have on the now world-leading Australian standard of living. (Source: Defence Connect)
31 Jan 23. U.S., South Korea Want Peace in Indo-Pacific. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III stressed that the goal of the U.S.-South Korean alliance is peace — not conflict—following meetings in Seoul, South Korea, today. The secretary made the remarks at a news conference following a meeting with Defense Minister Lee Jung-sup. The secretary is in South Korea to discuss the state of the alliance in wake of unprecedented provocations from North Korea. He also discussed ways the two nations — acting together — can enhance stability and security in the Indo-Pacific region.
The secretary noted that the United States and South Korea have worked together for 70 years “to deter large-scale conflict, to strengthen our combined capabilities, and to defend the rules-based international order that keeps us all secure.”
The North Korean provocations are disturbing, and they cement the commitment the United States has to stand with its South Korean allies. “Make no mistake: The United States stands united with the , and, together, we condemn these dangerous actions, which violate international law and threaten to destabilize the region,” he said. “Our commitment to the defense of the ROK remains ironclad.”
The secretary reiterated that the United States stands firm in its extended-deterrence commitment, which includes the full range of U.S. defense capabilities, “including our conventional, nuclear and missile-defense capabilities.”
In an op-ed piece published today by the South Korean news agency Yonhap, the secretary wrote about the partnership between the two countries. “The deep cooperation between our armed forces reflects the same fundamental truth that U.S. and ROK leaders affirmed when they signed the Mutual Defense Treaty: we are stronger and safer when we work together,” Austin wrote. “And over the past seven decades, we have built one of the most capable, interoperable and adaptable alliances in history.”
The United States has put resources, military capabilities and, most important, people into the alliance. There are 28,500 U.S. service members on the peninsula alongside Korean allies. These troops work with Korean forces daily, and the U.S. military and South Korean military are extremely interoperable—to the point of having a combined division and the Combined Forces Command — Korea.
“Over the past year, our two countries have made great progress in deepening our cooperation,” the secretary said. “We strengthened our combined readiness and training. We expanded the scope and scale of our exercises.”
Together, the alliance increased cooperation in response to North Korean threats to include “bilateral and trilateral responses that demonstrated the capability and readiness of our combined forces,” Austin said. “And let me underscore our mutual belief that trilateral cooperation with Japan enhances all of our security.”
In addition, the United States has deployed fifth-generation aircraft to the region, and the USS Ronald Reagan carrier battle group has exercised in the region and made port calls in Korea.
South Korea, a country literally destroyed by the Korean War of 1950-1953, has risen like a phoenix from the ashes and is one of the leading economies of the world and an exporter of peace and security.
South Korea is increasingly working with partners in Southeast Asia and beyond to sustain a free, open and prosperous Indo-Pacific. The country is working with nations to build their defense capabilities.
The secretary went on to meet with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol. He also held meetings with Army Gen. Paul J. LaCamera, the commander of U.S. Forces Korea and Combined Forces Command. (Source: US DoD)
31 Jan 23. China-Japan: Confrontation during coast guard patrols will sustain bilateral, regional tensions. On 30 January, the China Coast Guard (CCG) chased five Japanese civilian vessels away from the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea, the second such event in January. On the same day, the Japan Coast Guard (JCG) warned off four CCG ships from approaching Japanese private vessels and fishing boats in waters near the islands. Earlier this month, Tokyo stated it would bolster JCG patrols in contested waters. Such reciprocal encounters and activities by the CCG and JCG will sustain and possibly raise bilateral tensions for the foreseeable future. Moreover, tit-for-tat shows of force will continue following Japan’s revision of its national security strategy and defence planning, as Tokyo seeks to bolster its ties with the US and NATO. It is possible such activities will translate into heightened policy risks for Japanese firms operating in China. (Source: Sibylline)
31 Jan 23. Burkina Faso: Attacks underline worsening security environment, elevated bystander risks. On 30 January, jihadists attacked a combat unit in the town of Falagountou, in north-eastern Seno province, killing around ten soldiers, two volunteer force fighters and a civilian. The incident follows a series of attacks over the previous two days, against overland transport in the south-eastern Koulpelogo and Comoe provinces which killed 19 people. Recent attacks underline the worsening security environment, increasing bystander risks to staff near government and military assets as well as during the movement of goods in rural areas. The trend will be further exacerbated by the withdrawal of French troops and the likely arrival of Russian private military contractors, the Wagner Group, whose use of indiscriminate force will possibly boost support for jihadist groups. This will undermine government efforts to secure control of the roughly 30% of Burkinabe territory controlled by Islamist groups and raise jihadists’ capacity to threaten larger urban areas. (Source: Sibylline)
31 Jan 23. Colombia: Bilateral ceasefire with armed groups reportedly leads to reductions in violence. On 30 January, Interior Minister Alfonso Prada said that a ceasefire between the government and four armed groups had led to reductions in violence during the first month of 2023. Among the signatories of the ceasefire agreement are the Gulf Clan and the Self-Defence Forces of the Sierra Nevada as well as two FARC dissident splinter groups. Prada said that homicides in departments heavily affected by the groups had fallen by up to 68%. The Ministry of Defence similarly indicated that a possible area is being discussed for the concentration of illegal organisations that have agreed to demobilise. The plan appears to be similar to the 1998 ‘containment zone’ which was provided to the FARC guerrilla. This plan was later abandoned after the military confirmed that the area was being used to re-arm and increase narcotics production. Nevertheless, the apparent novel trend of diminishing attacks suggests the risk to military personnel is decreasing. (Source: Sibylline)
31 Jan 23. Joint Statement: Minister of National Defense Lee Jong-Sup and U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III.
ROK Minister of National Defense Lee Jong-Sup and U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III held a defense ministerial meeting on January 31, 2023 in Seoul. This was the fourth meeting between the two leaders and the first meeting of 2023, which marks the 70th anniversary of the U.S.-ROK Alliance.
During the meeting, the two leaders strongly condemned the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (DPRK) continued provocations and violations of United Nations Security Council resolutions, including its missile launches and recent drone incursions. They also affirmed that the ROK-U.S. Alliance, along with the international community, will continue to take a strong stance against any further provocations by the DPRK.
The Minister and the Secretary jointly reaffirmed measures to enhance the implementation of U.S. extended deterrence to underscore the U.S. security commitment to the ROK. As agreed upon during the ROK-U.S. Summit in May 2022 and the 54th Security Consultative Meeting, the two leaders emphasized that the two nations will continue to bolster the Alliance’s capabilities to deter and respond to DPRK nuclear and missile threats, as well as to enhance information sharing, joint planning and execution, and Alliance consultation mechanisms.
The two leaders reaffirmed that the two sides will make substantive progress in completing the revision of the Tailored Deterrence Strategy (TDS) before this year’s SCM.
The ROK Ministry of National Defense and the U.S. Department of Defense will hold the Deterrence Strategy Committee Table-top Exercise (DSC TTX) in February, in order to facilitate Alliance discussions on deterrence and response options to deal with the DPRK nuclear threat.
Furthermore, the two sides concurred that the recent combined air exercises, conducted in late 2022 and involving U.S. strategic bombers, demonstrated a range of deterrence capabilities of the U.S.-ROK Alliance. The two leaders additionally pledged to closely cooperate in order to continue to deploy U.S. strategic assets in a timely and coordinated manner in the future.
The two leaders also pledged to further expand and bolster the level and scale of this year’s combined exercises and training. To this end, the two leaders concurred on the need to take into account changes in the security environment, including the DPRK’s recent steps with respect to its nuclear and missile programs, to strengthen combined exercises and training, including the upcoming combined bilateral exercises. Both leaders agreed to expand the scope and scale of combined field training exercises and to conduct a large-scale combined joint fires demonstration this year.
Minister Lee and Secretary Austin also discussed measures to strengthen regional security cooperation including ROK-U.S.-Japan trilateral security cooperation. The two leaders committed to following up on developing specific courses of action to facilitate trilateral sharing of missile warning data, as agreed by the three countries’ leaders at the November 2022 Phnom Penh Summit. Minister Lee and Secretary Austin also concurred that this topic would be addressed at a future meeting of the Defense Trilateral Talks (DTT). To this end, they agreed to hold Defense Trilateral Talks (DTT) at the earliest opportunity to discuss concrete measures on how to strengthen security cooperation among the three nations.
Based on a shared commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific, the two leaders pledged to work towards aligning the respective U.S. and ROK Indo-Pacific strategies and exploring avenues of cooperation with partners in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands.
Finally, in light of the 70th anniversary of the ROK-U.S. Alliance and the Armistice Agreement, the two leaders resolved to continue to strengthen the Alliance and ensure it contributes to security in the region and around the world. The Minister and the Secretary also pledged to strengthen solidarity with United Nations Command Member States that share core values with the ROK and U.S. to promote security on the Korean Peninsula. In this light, Secretary Austin welcomed the ROK’s proposal for a ROK-UNC Member States Defense Ministerial Meeting in 2023. (Source: US DoD)
30 Jan 23. U.S. military poised to secure new access to key Philippine bases. The U.S. military is poised to secure expanded access to key bases in the Philippines on the heels of a significant revamp of U.S. force posture in Japan — developments that reflect the allies’ concern with an increasingly fraught security environment in the region and a desire to deepen alliances with the United States, according to U.S. and Philippine officials.
While negotiations are still ongoing, an announcement is expected as soon as this week when Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin meets in Manila with his counterpart and then with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
U.S., Japan set to announce shake-up of Marine Corps units to deter China
The expansion involves access to Philippine military bases, likely including two on the northern island of Luzon — which, analysts said, could give U.S. forces a strategic position from which to mount operations in the event of a conflict in Taiwan or the South China Sea. They will also facilitate cooperation on a range of security concerns, including more rapid responses to natural disasters and climate-related events.
Extensive work has been done over the past few months in the Philippines to assess and evaluate various sites, and at least two of them have been pinned down, said a State Department official, who like other officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the deliberations.
A Philippine defense official said an agreement for the additional sites had “more or less” been made but would be formalized when the two defense secretaries meet. Aides from the two offices were continuing to iron out key details in recent days, and at least two of the new sites are in Luzon, he said.
U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan discussed the matter with his counterpart Eduardo Año earlier this month as part of a White House effort to step up cooperation with Indo-Pacific allies, a U.S. official said.
The increased military cooperation with the United States “bodes well for our defense posture,” said the Philippine official. But, he emphasized, the Philippines’ push to bolster its security “is not aimed at any particular country.”
Marcos “realizes the dynamics of the region at the moment and that the Philippines really needs to step up,” said the official, adding that the president has been closely monitoring developments in the Taiwan Strait and in the West Philippine Sea. “We’ve already got incursions from multiple countries and the tensions are still expected to rise.”
While expanded base access is alone not the security linchpin for the region, “it’s a pretty big deal,” said Gregory Poling, director of the Southeast Asia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “This is significant not just in terms of what it means for a Taiwan or South China Sea contingency. This is a signal that the Philippines are all in on modernizing the alliance, and that they understand that a modern alliance means they have responsibilities, too.”
White House hosts first Pacific islands summit as China makes inroads
The Philippines, once a U.S. territory, has been a treaty ally since 1951. It hosted a massive U.S. presence after World War II, including the two of the largest American military facilities overseas — an arrangement that ended in 1991 when the Philippine Senate, asserting the country’s sovereignty was being violated, forced the Americans to relinquish all U.S. bases to the Philippines.
The mutual defense arrangement was further stressed under the administration of former president Rodrigo Duterte, arguably the Philippines’ most pro-Beijing and anti-American president. Duterte threatened to end the Visiting Forces Agreement, which gave legal protections to U.S. military in the Philippines. But after Austin visited in the summer of 2021, and in the face of increasing Chinese aggression in Philippine waters, Duterte withdrew the threat.
The election of Marcos last year continued a warming trend — President Biden was the first foreign leader to call to congratulate him. But the deepening of the alliance, officials say, is rooted in a recognition that the region is becoming a more dangerous place. In November, for instance, the Chinese coast guard forcibly seized Chinese rocket debris being towed by the Philippine navy near one of the Philippine-held islands. In December, Chinese militia ships were spotted swarming in the West Philippine Sea. And just last week, Chinese vessels drove Philippine fishermen away from one of the reefs at which the Philippines has exclusive fishing rights.
China is the Philippines’ largest trading partner and the Marcos family has historical ties to China: Marcos visited China in 1974 with his father, President Ferdinand E. Marcos, and his mother, Imelda Marcos, and met Chairman Mao Zedong. Nonetheless, Marcos has made clear he sees the gathering threat. Asked at the Davos Economic Forum in January whether the South China Sea issue keeps him up at night, he responded, “It keeps you up at night. It keeps you up in the day. It keeps you up most of the time.” (Source: Washington Post)
30 Jan 23. Azerbaijan-Iran: Evacuation of Azerbaijani embassy underscores growing regional tensions. On 29 January, Azerbaijan evacuated all of its embassy staff from Iran following a deadly shooting in the embassy on 27 January. While the Iranian authorities claim that personal issues were the motive behind the attack, Azerbaijani officials have described it as a terrorist attack. This development comes amid rising tensions between the two countries over Iran’s treatment of its large Azeri minority. On 28 January, Iranian state media reported on a drone strike targeting military sites near Isfahan (Isfahan province). While there has been no indication of Azeri involvement in the recent drone attack, warming relations between Azerbaijan and Israel will likely reinforce growing tensions between Baku and Tehran. While open hostilities between the two countries are unlikely at this stage, tensions will continue to grow. Furthermore, Iranian perceptions of Azeri support for Israel will reinforce the risk of regional escalation in the coming months. (Source: Sibylline)
30 Jan 23. Peru: Elevated domestic unrest risks will remain, despite president’s call for early elections. Peruvian President Dina Boluarte requested on 29 January for the Peruvian Congress to reconsider a proposal to bring elections forward to this year. She added that she would propose a constitutional referendum if lawmakers rejected further calls for early elections. The move comes after Congress rejected a bill on 27 January to speed up the timeline for elections amid continued protests in Peru. Unrest following the ousting and detention of the former president, Pedro Castillo, has gripped the country since December 2022, and has resulted in at least 58 deaths. Early elections are a key demand of protesters. If Congress approves the novel motion, the risk of domestic unrest will possibly decrease. However, it remains unlikely that lawmakers will immediately approve early elections. The risk of domestic unrest is therefore likely to remain elevated through January-February. (Source: Sibylline)
30 Jan 23. Colombia: Uncertainty over ELN peace negotiations will remain amid record cocaine seizures in 2022. Colombia’s defence ministry stated on 28 January that the security forces seized more cocaine in 2022 than during any other year on record. Seizures in 2022 totalled 671 tonnes, surpassing 2021’s figure by around 1.7 tonnes. Most seizures occurred in Bolivar, Narino and Valle del Cauca departments. The government is currently engaged in demobilisation talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN), the country’s largest guerrilla group. The ELN is largely financed by cocaine production. There is significant uncertainty surrounding the prospects of a full demobilisation, as some guerrilla fronts have suggested they will possibly dissent from any negotiated peace deal. The second round of negotiations between the government and the ELN is likely to occur on 13 February in Mexico. (Source: Sibylline)
30 Jan 23. Pakistan: Mosque bombing underscores persistently high terrorism risks in Afghan border regions. On 30 January, a large explosion occurred at a mosque in the north-western city of Peshawar (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province) during afternoon prayers. Local media reported at least 28 people were killed and over 150 others were injured in the blast; casualty figures are likely to rise further in the coming hours. Although no group has claimed responsibility, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is known to be highly active in Afghan-Pakistani border regions, where it has a track record of attacking political and security establishments. Local reports have suggested that the mosque is frequented by members of the police and security forces. The explosion underlines the extremely high terrorism risks for business and NGO staff operating in Peshawar and surrounding areas. Security will be heightened across the country, especially in major cities such as the capital Islamabad, which will likely cause short-term disruption to transport and logistics. (Source: Sibylline)
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