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We just need to boost our maritime defenses




AFTER Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said last week that the Philippines plans to acquire its first submarines and Russia is among the possible suppliers, US Defense Assistant Secretary for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs Randall Schriver said that would not be “a helpful thing to the alliance” of the Philippines with the US. President Duterte quickly retorted: “You want us to remain backwards?” He pointed out that Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia now all have submarines.

The US is concerned that we may acquire a submarine from Russia. “When you buy weapons systems, particularly major platforms, you’re not just buying capability; you’re investing in a relationship,” Assistant Secretary Schriver said. For decades after World War II, the US and Russia, the world’s two rival super-powers, threatened each other with nuclear obliteration, in the process, rendering the entire world unlivable from nuclear pollution.

Russia no longer poses the same threat but the US continues to watch it, as the two countries retain to this day thousands of nuclear-armed missiles aimed at each other’s cities. They both retain their capacity to swiftly mobilize their resources.

One of Russia’s oldest shipyards is Admiralty Verfi in St. Petersburg. In its over 313 years of operation, it has built over 2,300 ships, including nuclear submarines. Russia’s kilo-class submarines have been acquired by many nations – Algeria, China, India, Iran, Poland, Romania, etc. Vietnam acquired its six submarines from this shipyard.

At the inauguration of its two latest in February 2017, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said Vietnam is not in any arms race with its acquisition of submarines and does not seek to deter other countries from having them. But Vietnam is determined to defend its sovereignty over its continental shelf, its territorial sea, and its islands in the South China Sea, he said.

It should be seen that Vietnam’s acquisition of submarines from Russia is not in any way related to any desire to be in a “relationship” with Russia. Neither is it even remotely connected to the war it once fought – and won – against the US in the Vietnam War. It is rather due to its determination to defend its interests in the South China Sea.

The US should be able to understand that the Philippines similarly seeks to strengthen its armed forces and is now considering acquiring a submarine from Russia, not out of any desire to have a close relationship with that country, but out of its desire to boost its defenses – especially its maritime defenses, at a time when all its neighbors are improving theirs.

In the words of Secretary Lorenzana, “For an island nation like the Philippines, its defense can be considered incomplete without a fleet of submarines. An effective submarine force is a good deterrent for would-be aggressors.”