Macron: The Good Populist

Populism isn’t all Bad or Ugly. Don’t settle for Fake Ideas.

By Philip Johnston

Emmanuel Macron’s victory over Marine Le Pen in the second round of the French presidential elections, on Sunday, is a great opportunity to reflect on why words matter.

(1) There’s a tendency to play fast and loose with the term ‘populism,’ conflating it with xenophobic, right-wing movements. This is intellectually lazy when unintentional, and manipulative when intentional. By conflating populism with taboo ideologies, we make populism itself taboo, and cover up the fact that populist movements matter by virtue of the fact that we live in representative republics. Or, as French philosopher Vincent Coussedière puts it, “Populism as a pejorative concept tells us more about those who use it, than it does about those it describes.”

(2) Why do I care? Well, first off, maybe it’s healthy to make an effort to not hate or demonize half of your own country’s population. But to stick to our topic, the presidential elections in France show how a sloppy definition of populism led to illogical predictions, fear-mongering, and unnecessary anxiety.

(3) In the end, though, this isn’t just about popular opinion, predictions, or winning twitter arguments. Semantic and intellectual laziness with concepts like ‘populism’ also leads to misguided simplifications of the historical and cultural contexts within which political contests like the French elections take place. With time, such fake ideas can percolate into government and policy making, leading to inadequate, and occasionally disastrous, policy decisions. That’s where the real damage takes place.

(1) Fake Ideas: When words become dangerous

The tweet below illustrates how, ever since Brexit and Trump, the word 'populism' has become shorthand for a hodge-podge of complex political and social phenomena including nationalism, the alt-right, the far-right, and xenophobia.

The problem with this is that populism is different from nationalism or the far-right, and lumping them together breeds confusion and discourages critical thinking about one of the defining political challenges of our generation. This helps no one, except those  who tend to favor obfuscation, rumors, and disinformation to gain or maintain influence (*cough* @realDonaldTrump *cough*).

The driving force behind #fakenews is fake ideas, half-baked terminology and concepts that confuse more than they elucidate.

Populism has no Party

How to define populism? I like the definition given by Vincent Coussedière, who describes it as

“pressure exerted by peoples, who are seeking to preserve their own existence, on partisan systems that are unable to protect them.”

Seen in this light, populism is not a vicious rabble or a heap of revolting, inhumane ideologies. Instead, populism should be understood as democracy in action: Populism is an attempt by groups who feel existentially threatened to pressure the status quo into changing. It’s a cry for help.

This reveals just how perverted our use of the term 'populism' has become, when we use it to ignore political movements on the basis of their association with concepts that we find distasteful. As Coussedière points out, “Populism as a pejorative concept tells us more about those who use it, than it does about those it describes.” Indeed, people and institutions in power will usually have a vested interest in not changing and in not taking the popular political demands of populist movements into consideration.

There is real danger with populism, of course, but it lies in the fact that the stakes are so high for the populations in question - so high, in fact, that they are literally existential, according to de Coussedière. The emotional and material vulnerability that underlies populist movements makes them particularly susceptible to being hijacked and twisted into something that is no longer focused on helping those who need help, but instead becomes about venting frustration onto some Other. Historical populist movements have often been accompanied by violence, xenophobia, and scapegoating. At their best, though, populist movements stay focused on fixing structural problems and remain civil and nonviolent.

It should also be pointed out that populism isn’t a person, it’s a movement that arises from popular sentiment. In that sense, even an establishment figure could harness populist sentiment by adopting the right rhetoric and running the right PR campaign. That explains why wealthy businessmen like Trump and Macron, as well as landed gentry like Le Pen, have been major populist players this year despite the fact that they are obviously the 1%.

So what’s the take-away? We must be careful not to use 'populism' pejoratively, and we ought to remember that populist movements are driven by vulnerability and the failure of political systems to represent and defend, broadly speaking, their electorate. The same point is argued here in fine academic jargon, and here in more entertaining, contemporary style.

(2) France and the perils of poor definitions

Misunderstandings of populism during the run-up to the French elections in late April and May resulted in short-circuiting of logic in predictions about the race and in a lot of generally avoidable anxiety about Marine Le Pen’s chances of winning the race.

If Marine Le Pen hadn’t been running in France, Macron would have been the most successful example of populism at work in French politics. The far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon also fits the bill, but wasn’t a real contender until late in the game. Macron however was a political outsider - never elected to public office - calling for change on behalf of French people who knew the ‘system’ as they understood it wasn’t working for them. Macron was also a centrist, opposing by definition the traditional left-right partisanship, as underscored by the fact that he had founded his own political party in 2016, clearly sending the message that the political establishment was the 'Evil' to his En Marche movement’s 'Good' (Duality has long been a strong element in populist rhetoric).

Although it hasn’t been discussed in anything I’ve read, Macron’s call for renewed French leadership in Europe and the world - a central part of his political platform - also struck a strong populist chord by implicitly arguing that with him, the French would be in a regional position of strength, security, and control.

But nobody talked about Macron the 'populist.' This is because the word’s conflation with nationalism, xenophobia, and right-wing ideas caused everyone to focus instead on Marine Le Pen, the candidate of the Front National (FN) who fit those stereotyped associations perfectly. Then, once Le Pen had assumed the role of ‘populist’ in the presidential race, an insidious, misguided idea took root - that Macron couldn’t win in France, because he wasn’t the ‘populist,’ and 2017 of course is the year in which ‘populists’ win elections.

This is remarkably faulty reasoning, not least because there are so many reasons that Le Pen wasn’t going to win.

  • Polling: Supposedly, polls have been unreliable since everyone was surprised by the Trump and Brexit election results. But this was a mistake for two reasons. First, it overlooks the fact that the problem with the US and UK polls wasn’t so much an inaccuracy of measurement, but the consistent determination of the pundit class to explain away the trends they were showing. The polls hadn’t failed as we imagined. Further, Macron held a consistent 20-point lead on Le Pen in hypothetical second-round polls for months prior to the vote, a gulf that stands in stark contrast to the margin-of-error gaps that separated Trump and Clinton, and the Brexit Yes and No, on the eve of those elections. French polling, incidentally, also has a history of greater accuracy than its Anglo-Saxon counterparts.  

  • Recent Elections: Trump won in the US, and before him the Brexit referendum won a surprising Yes in the UK, leading to a sense that this was populists’ year in the West. But right-wing ‘populists’ lost European elections in Austria and the Netherlands in the months preceding the French election, giving the lie to the idea that the right-wing was on some sort of inexorable streak. The Austrian and Dutch results, however, were conveniently ignored.

  • Previous Results by the Front National, Le Pen’s party: The last and only time the FN made it to the runoff in France’s presidential elections, in 2002, it was swept aside in a landslide (82.2% to 17.8%) by a coalition of the entire French political establishment - left, center, and right. Although the FN has improved its performance at the polls in elections since, the runoff system for the presidential elections poses a massive obstacle for this group whose views bring to mind Vichy France and Nazi Germany for a majority of French.

The primary argument for ignoring the wealth of information that pointed to a Le Pen loss was the fact that she was ‘the populist,’ a fact which somehow, nebulously, implied that all bets were off. But for those paying attention to what populism really is, it was clear that Le Pen didn’t have a monopoly on popular resentment, or a particularly good chance at upsetting the polls. Far from it.

(3) Context Matters

In closing, let’s reiterate that European politics aren’t like American politics. And French politics aren’t like European politics. And that History matters.

The American political scene is so polarized that we have trouble conceiving of Macron’s populism from the center. We are comfortable with Trump populism, and with left-wing Sanders populism, but we have no Moderate Populists whipping people into a frenzy over balanced economic and social policies. Macron isn’t doing exactly that, but he’s certainly a different animal - a marsupial to the mammals of the American politics.

Another aspect of the French context that Americans tend to misunderstand - and which underlies the rejection of Le Pen - is the prominence of the Second World War and of Europe’s fascist past in the French psyche. Growing up in France, my grade school teacher (Mme Meyer) would take 10 minutes after recess every day to teach us songs from the résistance (yes, the original résistance) which she remembered from her childhood. The French middle and high school curriculum devotes months and months to the ins and outs of 20th century continental politics, the origins and rise of European fascism, and WW2. French youth are steeped in this stuff. And that plays directly into perceptions of Marine Le Pen, whose father Jean-Marie Le Pen is notorious for anti-semitic remarks and holocaust-denying, and her chances at the polls.

I could go on. But the point is, words matter, contexts matter.

In conclusion, in this era of American public life in which politicians and journalists all have their feet comparatively close to the flame, it would behoove them as well as the rest of the us to choose our words and ideas carefully. Bandying about poorly defined terms like ‘populism’ as a means of writing off constituencies, perpetuating political divides, or dumbing-down complex domestic and international matters is not just poor style. It will eventually come back and bite us in the ass. I'm sure Glenn Beck would agree.

Philip Johnston is a Senior Research Officer at the Met Society, where he works on the Global Narratives Project. He'd love to hear from you ( & @pseudohistories).

America and the Persian Gulf - The Case for Dropping the Carter Doctrine

America and the Persian Gulf - The Case for Dropping the Carter Doctrine

By Greg Brew

For 37 years, the United States has maintained as a cornerstone of its global security policy a commitment to protect the stability of the Persian Gulf region, a commitment underpinned by a foundational willingness to apply American military force if necessary to secure it. But this policy, known as the Carter Doctrine, was never meant to be permanent, and the reasons for maintaining it in 2017 amid a hugely changed external environment are tired at best and risible at worst. Greg Brew argues that it is now time for the US to ditch the Carter Doctrine and adopt a new security posture towards the Gulf.

Damascene Conversion: What Happens After the War is Won

By Greg Brew


Turkey, Russia, and Iran are taking active roles in the war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria to shape the eventual post-war settlement to their advantage. The US is increasing its involvement but has yet to indicate a coherent strategy beyond re-taking territory held by the Islamic State (ISIS). It has shown favor to Kurdish groups in Syria and support for Iraqi and Kurdish forces in the fight to retake Mosul, while working to minimize the role of Iran-backed Shiite militias, strengthen Iraqi independence, and decrease the influence exercised by Iran.


Turkey has intervened and seized territory in Syria to counter advances made by US-backed Kurdish groups. Russia and Iran back the Assad regime against all opposition groups, some of which remain affiliated with the West, the Arab kingdoms, or Turkey.  Iran also wields considerable influence over the fight against ISIS in Iraq.


The US must be aware of Iranian, Turkish, and Russian ambitions to shape the situation in Iraq and Syria once the war against ISIS comes to an end. It must work to prevent wholesale annexations or divisions of Iraqi and Syrian territory, which would only exacerbate potential anti-Kurdish tensions and weaken the territorial integrity of the Syrian and Iraqi states. If this should happen, it would cause additional violence to spill over from Syria and Iraq into neighboring areas, creating room for post-ISIS extremist groups.

The US should work towards a settlement that preserves Kurdish autonomy in Iraq without leaving the door open to unification with the freed Kurdish cantons in eastern Syria. Such a policy is key to maintaining the territorial status quo and preventing further violence from breaking out once ISIS is defeated. The US must be prepared to work with Russia, Iran, and Turkey while pushing for a settlement that eliminates ISIS, protects civilian populations, preserves Kurdish autonomy in Iraq and prevents further conflict from breaking out.

Executive Viewpoint

The war against the Islamic State (ISIS) which has raged in Syria and Iraq since 2014 is reaching its denouement. The Iraqi army, with assistance from a coalition of groups ranging from Kurdish “Peshmerga,” Iran-backed Shiite militias, and US advisors, has driven ISIS from most of its former strongholds, while the ISIS capital of Mosul is slowly coming under coalition control. In Syria, while fighting between the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad, assisted by Iran and Russia, and various rebel groups continues, the fight against ISIS in the east of the country is pushing forward, with the capture of Raqqa and final victory slowly coming within view.

The US has increased its presence in both conflicts, deploying nearly one thousand troops in Syria and seven thousand in Iraq. Despite the frequent ambivalence surrounding American involvement in both Middle Eastern conflicts, Obama’s policy of slow escalation, which the Trump Administration has accelerated through increased deployments in eastern Syria, has made the US a key player in these wars.

The Trump admin's decision to launch missile strikes against the Assad regime on April 6, ostensibly as punishment for Syria’s use of chemical weapons, has cast further ambiguity on the course of US policy. The US needs an endgame in Syria and Iraq, which it currently, and very clearly, lacks. In Syria, this conversation won’t start until the Syrian War ends. Recent missile strikes have cast doubt on earlier assertions that the US would allow Assad, with Russian and Iranian support, to emerge triumphant.

Nevertheless, there is an immediate and very real need for a US strategy in Syria and Iraq. US-backed Kurdish forces have retaken ISIS territory in Eastern Syria and are closing in on the ISIS capital in Syria, the city of Raqqa.  In Iraq, it is likely that once Mosul is retaken, the fight over what comes next for the integrity of the Iraqi state will begin immediately.

The US must work to preserve the territorial integrity of Iraq while also working to ensure the continued autonomy of the Kurdish autonomous region, without leaving the door open to full independence or a unification of Syrian and Iraqi Kurdish groups, as this will only exacerbate tensions and provoke potential responses from Iran, Iraq, and Turkey. Rather than retreat once ISIS is defeated, the US should actively engage in diplomacy with all involved actors and push for a diplomatic settlement in order to prevent a scramble for territory and a complete disintegration of existing Syrian and Iraqi territorial integrity. Such an event would only lead to further violence and potentially drag in Russia, Turkey, and Iran as well as local Kurdish groups throughout the region, increasing the possibility for violent spillovers into neighboring territory.


The war against ISIS, which began in the spring of 2014 when the group rushed into northern Iraq, has roped in nearly every state in the region, as well as the US and Russia. It has created new alliances between old adversaries, altering the politics of the region. It is also nearing its conclusion; the question of what will come next will dominate American foreign policy in the Middle East, should the Trump admin choose to engage seriously. Indications to date are mixed. For months, US rhetoric has focused on the fight against ISIS. However, the decision to launch missile strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad complicates the question of what strategy the US will pursue in Syria and Iraq as the Syrian Civil War rages on and the fight against ISIS reaches it denouement.

Iran is heavily involved in the Syrian War, using proxies such as Shiite militias and its own Quds force to bolster the Assad regime. In Iraq, Iran exercises outsized influence through its support for Shiite militias and is playing a role in the campaign to retake the city of Mosul, reportedly helping to set strategy for the Iraqi army.

Turkey has intervened in the Syrian war in order to prevent a full unification of Syrian Kurds, which Erdogan and his AK party see as a threat to their base of support in the population. Russia has been active in supporting Assad, committing men and materiel to shore up his regime. The US missile strikes on April 6 targeted a Syrian air base where Russian forces had been stationed, though Russia was notified before the strikes were launched.  

The US has so far extended considerable assistance to the Kurds in Iraq and Syria, since the war began in earnest in 2014. Aiding the Kurds and their quasi-state of Autonomous Kurdistan in northern Iraq benefits the US, and achieves significant diplomatic gain for relatively little risk and outlay. This policy should continue. However, the US ought to discourage the Kurds from interpreting this assistance as an endorsement of a broader Kurdistan or formal independence. Other states and regimes in the region - whose assistance the US requires - actively detest such a proposal, and the US has neither the time nor the diplomatic resources to make it happen.

Instead, the US must now work actively with Russia, Turkey, and Iran to end the violence in Syria while recognizing that the Syrian state may not be possible to reconstruct as-was. Positive steps were taken during March’s meeting of the 68-nation anti-ISIS coalition. The US should take advantage of its own activities against ISIS in the east of the country, its position as a key supporter of the Syrian Kurds, as well as the war in Iraq to balance the interests of Russia and Iran in bolstering the Assad regime. But given the mutual distrust that remain among the conflicting groups, it’s likely that a peaceful resolution will require US involvement, both to forge it and to help maintain it. This may prove more difficult if the US pursues a more aggressive course against Assad’s regime, which Russia has worked hard to preserve.  


In 2014 and 2015, as Iraqi resistance to ISIS collapsed and the chaos in Syria allowed the group to rapidly expand its territory, the US stepped in to arrest the collapse of groups resisting ISIS. It found allies in the Kurdish groups fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria, whose Peshmerga emerged as particularly capable.

Since then, the US has assisted Kurdish and Iraqi forces in pushing back ISIS. American help has come in the form of airstrikes against ISIS positions, logistical assistance and combat support, and the deployment of special forces. More recently, American artillery and close air support units have been deployed in the battle to retake Mosul, which has raged since September 2016.

After a number of highly-publicized failures and policy retreats, US support for groups fighting Bashar al-Assad  has largely dried up. Late in Obama’s presidency, the US focus in Syria shifted east to those zones contested by ISIS and Syrian Kurds. The latter group included the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), who now receive US training and air support.

The YPG came of age during the Syrian Civil War, and on top of its curious blend of Marxist and Kurdish nationalist influences, the YPG is considered by Turkey to be closely affiliated with the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), a group blamed for terrorist attacks inside Turkey. The YPG and its allies, organized into an umbrella group called the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), have been effective in liberating Kurdish areas of northeastern Syria and have recently expanded their hold over areas populated by Sunni Arabs. Turkey, to keep the Syrian Kurds from total unification, launched Operation Euphrates Shield in August 2016, occupying a strip of Syrian territory. While this operation ended in March 29, Turkey has shown no signs that it plans to withdraw these troops. Along with Iran and Iraq, Turkey remains committed to preventing further Kurdish separatism.

Iran, meanwhile, has expanded its rhetorical support for the Iraqi Kurds. Iran has a large Kurdish population of its own, yet has for decades meddled in the politics of Iraq's northern Kurds, supporting a Kurdish insurgency in Iran during the 1970s. It has now ramped up its political support for the Iraqi Kurds.

Until recently, the policy goals of the Trump Administration appeared to focus on defeating ISIS and assisting with the recapture of ISIS-held territory in Iraq and Syria. While the endgame in Iraq appeared relatively clear -- with the return of territory to the Iraqi sovereign state and the maintenance of the autonomous Kurdish zone prioritized -- the aims in Syria have been more opaque. The decision to launch missile strikes against Bashar al-Assad has confused the apparent goals of the Trump Administration even more, as President Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have now expressed the view that Assad should be removed.


The array of competing interests in the war against ISIS now spreads from Moscow to Ankara to Damascus to Baghdad and to Washington. The US has taken a more active posture in the conflict, and Trump himself has vowed, in something of an implausible rhetorical flourish, to “wipe ISIS off the map.” He may now be  in a position to deliver on that promise. But the real problem for the US and its local allies will come once the fighting has stopped. Simply put, no one fighting ISIS can agree on anything of substance except their mutual distaste for ISIS. The apparent reversal of US policy against the Assad regime makes the problem even more complicated, as the earlier aim of the US to defeat ISIS in Syria without becoming too embroiled in the nation’s civil war seems to be changing towards a more assertive, “Assad Must Go” position.

The US must be prepared to arbitrate among local groups and states, all of whom have a greater stake in the outcome than the US itself does.  This should not involve an abandonment of the Kurds, either in Iraq or Syria, but neither should it involve support for further Kurdish autonomy.

Gregory Brew is a PhD Candidate at Georgetown University studying the history of U.S. foreign relations with the Middle East and Iran, the political economy of oil and global energy. He also writes on contemporary issues of energy and geopolitics and is a regular contributor to

Dealing with Duterte's Philippines

By Jeffrey Ordaniel

While the election of Rodrigo Duterte is often framed as part of a global tide of populism and repudiation of the political establishment, the change of government in Manila has great consequences for foreign policy in Asia. His anti-American rhetoric has significantly weakened the Philippines-US alliance, and his initial foreign policy preferences dealt a major blow to the US position in Asia. He immediately reshaped the strategic environment surrounding the South China Sea - downplaying Manila’s victory at a UN tribunal in The Hague, and making China his first non-ASEAN state visit. Moreover, Duterte declared the Philippines’ “separation” from the United States, giving a two-year deadline to rid his country of US troops. He cursed then-President Barack Obama for criticizing his “war on drugs.” He met with Vladimir Putin and personally welcomed a Russian warship into Manila Bay. Donald Trump could reverse this trajectory, but his success depends on how well the new administration can co-opt Duterte and turn his particular concerns into areas of cooperation.

Duterte has proven to be an inconsistent and misinformed leader who, on many occasions, does not act or speak on the basis of facts, proven statistics or intelligence. Take for example his decision to “cut” ties with the US. Such rhetoric has manifested in the suspension of bilateral military exercises and joint patrols in the South China Sea. During a confirmation hearing in the Philippine Senate late last year, his defense secretary, Maj. Gen. Delfin Lorenzana, was asked why Manila was suspending joint exercises and patrols with Washington if they were beneficial for capacity building. The secretary answered: “Mr. Chair, I really don't know because the President has been issuing statements without consulting the cabinet.” Recently, Lorenzana had to correct Duterte after the Filipino president publicly displayed alarming confusion over the location of Benham Rise, a maritime area in the Pacific under the Philippines’ extended continental shelf that China was reportedly trying to survey. Duterte initially thought that the area was part of the South China Sea.

Still, some of Duterte’s grievances against the US make sense. Despite the US-Philippines alliance, the Philippine military remains among the most ill-equipped in Asia. While Washington has poured in $6.5 and $1.4 billion of military aid to Egypt and Pakistan, respectively from 2011 to 2015, the Philippines only received $154 million in the same period. The allotment included hand-me-downs like the three weaponless, 1960’s era, Hamilton-class Coast Guard Cutters acquired by the Philippine Navy through DOD’s Excess Defense Articles Program. Duterte complained, “We have been allies since 1951. All we got are hand-me-downs, no new equipment. The Americans failed to beef up our capabilities to be at par with what is happening in the region.”

This treatment has prompted Duterte to repeatedly question the US security commitment to the Philippines. In one campaign speech, he remarked, “America would never die for us. If America cared, it would have sent its aircraft carriers and missile frigates the moment China started reclaiming land in contested territory, but no such thing happened.” This is not a groundless assumption. In 2012, the Obama administration essentially abandoned the Philippines in Scarborough Shoal, despite declaring the South China Sea as a US national interest, and the much-touted “pivot to Asia” policy. During Obama’s 2014 Asia tour, Manila failed to secure a commitment from Washington to defend Philippine vessels in the South China Sea per Article 5 of the US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty despite Obama’s affirmation that the Japanese Senkaku islands would receive coverage under article 5 of the US-Japan security agreement.  

Duterte has made his fight against illicit drugs the centerpiece of his presidency. In that light, he perceived statements by the State Department and White House on human rights and the rule of law as an attack on his top priority. Juxtaposed against China’s policy of non-interference and charm offensive, the US, all of a sudden, became an antagonist.

How then should the U.S. deal with its oldest treaty-ally in East Asia with Duterte at the helm?

First, the White House transition from Obama to Trump provided an opportunity for a reset in relations. Duterte likes Trump. He praised the Republican president on several occasions, bragging about the two leaders’ similarities. In one speech, he said, “We both like to swear. One little thing, we curse right away, we’re the same.” In another, he exclaimed, “Look at his inaugural speech. He will stop drugs. We’re no different. He’s also tough. He will also kill you.” Duterte’s admiration of Trump could lead to a more cordial atmosphere and allow alliance cooperation to resume. The two governments should initiate discussions at future summit meetings, beginning at this year’s ASEAN summit in Manila. Indeed, a treaty-ally’s chairmanship of ASEAN presents Washington with an important opportunity to influence the region’s security and economic discourses.

Second, the Trump administration should not follow Obama’s policy of merely criticizing Duterte’s War on Drugs. Instead, the U.S. should co-opt Duterte’s fight against illicit drugs and offer assistance centering on reforms and modernization of the country’s law-enforcement and justice system. The only way to influence Philippine policy is to co-opt Duterte’s priority and turn it into an area of cooperation, and not preach about human rights. China has been attempting to do this by building drug rehabilitation centers free of cost. Likewise, Japan has offered financial assistance to Duterte’s War on Drugs. By acting as a partner in this fight, Washington will not only strengthen the alliance and keep Manila from entering Beijing’s orbit, but also significantly influence the rule of law and the human rights situation in the Philippines.

Finally, a Trump-Duterte reset would provide an opportunity to further institutionalize the alliance. Despite Duterte’s anti-US rhetoric, several institutionalized mechanisms in the alliance, such as the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), survived. Less institutionalized mechanisms, such as joint patrols in the South China Sea and bilateral naval exercises, did not. To strengthen cooperation, the Trump administration should be prepared to address Duterte’s doubts about the alliance. A clearer commitment to defend Philippine vessels in the South China Sea, per Article 5 of the 1951 US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty, could go a long way in not just addressing Duterte’s trust issues, but also in raising the deterrent value of the alliance. The US must also set up an alternative weapons acquisition assistance program for the Philippines, since the Excess Defense Articles Program is perceived negatively in Manila. Doing so would make Washington a strong partner in achieving the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ goal of establishing a minimum credible defense posture.

With all this, the Trump administration could send a message that the US national interest in East Asia’s maritime commons aligns with Manila’s own national interest, and is not merely a self-serving policy to contain a rising China.

Jeffrey Ordaniel is a resident Vasey fellow at the Pacific Forum-Center for Strategic and International Studies, USA; and a PhD Candidate at the Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, Japan. He can be reached at or

To the Shores of the Gulf of Guinea? - An American Role in African Maritime Security

To the Shores of the Gulf of Guinea? - An American Role in African Maritime Security

By Matthew La Lime

The Gulf of Guinea is one of the world's least secure waterways. And while local states have made strides in principle towards joint efforts at its security, this has yet to be backed up with solid action. There is a role for the US in establishing greater local cooperation among state actors, which will bolster US interests in the region by establishing it as a provider of local public goods at a minimal cost to the navy or the treasury.