Alliances in Need of Upkeep: Strengthening the U.S.-Philippines and U.S.-Thailand Partnerships

In contrast to its alliances in Northeast Asia, the United States’ two alliances in Southeast Asia are fundamentally adrift, posing significant challenges and risks to U.S. defense strategy and interests. U.S. alliances with the Philippines and Thailand have both been weakened substantially in recent years by the changing strategic environment, shifting internal politics, and China’s growing influence and aggressive outreach. But these two Southeast Asian alliances remain important for the United States, both for the benefits of bilateral cooperation in peacetime and the role they play in U.S. defense planning above or just below the threshold of conflict.

The strategic drift in these two alliances demands focused dialogue between U.S. experts and practitioners on one side and Philippine and Thai counterparts on the other to shore up the strategic foundations of the alliances, identify ways to strengthen the mutual benefits of cooperation, and examine the implications of the emergence of great power competition with China. Furthermore, defense policymakers and warfighters need to better understand Philippine and Thai strategic assessments and threat perceptions to inform assumptions about the role the alliances would play in the event of conflict with China. This report examines these critical issues and presents potential paths forward for strengthening the current and future state of the alliances.

This report is made possible with support from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency.

Gregory B. Poling
Senior Fellow and Director, Southeast Asia Program and Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative

Simon Tran Hudes

Research Associate, Southeast Asia Program