US ‘committed to protecting treaty ally’ but stand on sea row unclear

/ 04:41 PM December 13, 2018

MANILA, Philippines — A senior US defense official assured the Philippines that Washington will be committed to protecting its treaty ally in case of foreign invasion or armed attack. However, the defense official remained unclear as to whether the Mutual Defense Treaty covers Philippine-occupied reefs in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

“We’d like to avoid hypotheticals — what if this happens, what if that happens. In general, our alliance is ironclad and we are committed to the Mutual Defense Treaty and in protecting our treaty ally the Philippines in ensuring its sovereignty isn’t threatened,” said Dr. Joseph Felter, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for South and Southeast Asia, when asked to clarify the scope of the 66-year-old treaty.


The Philippines and the US are bound by the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), signed on Aug. 30, 1951, which calls for both states to come to each other’s defense against an armed attack. But the US commitment to defend the Philippines if the attack involves disputed territories has persistently raised doubts in recent years.

“Our alliance is ironclad. This Mutual Defense Treaty has served us well for over 70 years and we’re gonna continue to abide by it,” Felter said in a roundtable interview with reporters on Wednesday.


The Philippines is one of the claimants of the South China Sea, a strategic waterway believed to contain vast resources. While the US is not a claimant, it has expressed concern over China’s militarization of the disputed features.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told early this week that a U.S. clarification on the scope of the treaty was important “because it would specify how far they would back us up.”

“We will await for that to happen and adapt our policies accordingly if necessary,” he said.

At the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore in June, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis also dodged questions on the scope of the MDT.

“We stand by our treaty allies but this is a discussion between the current administrations in Manila and in Washington DC and it’s not one that can be answered as simply as your question would indicate,” he said in the Q and A after his speech.

“To simply turn it into a military and non-military response is a shortchanging of the issue. Diplomacy is all about taking contrary perspectives and finding common ground and we’ve got to try to do that in this world,” he also said.

Meanwhile, Felter welcomed results of the recent Social Weather Stations survey, which indicated that majority of Filipinos believe the U.S. will help the Philippines in case of an attack by another country.


“I think it’s a good indication of the health of our alliance and strong people-to-people ties,” he said. “We’re gonna defend our treaty ally and do what we can to ensure its interests and sovereignty are not threatened.”

Out of 1,200 respondents, 61 percent of Filipinos believe that U.S. will come to the aid of its traditional ally in case of an armed attack or invasion.  /muf

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TAGS: China, Defense, Mutual Defense Treaty, United States, West Philippine Sea
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