“BATNA”: Better Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement

Due to popular demand, Beyond Deadlines is reposting every Monday the still relevant articles of retired Armed Forces of the Philippines intelligence chief Brig. General Victor Corpus that appeared in his BD’s column, Views from the East.

Oct. 18, 2016

IN negotiation, both parties have their respective “BATNA”, or what negotiators call“better alternative to a negotiated agreement”. This is the bottom line of each side. It is the “red line;” the crossing of which will prompt either party to walk out of the negotiation.

In the forthcoming negotiations with China, it is very important for the Philippine negotiators to know China’s BATNA.

We should answer the following questions: What is it that will drive China to walk out of the negotiations with the Philippines and opt for WAR instead, because they feel that war is a better alternative to a negotiated agreement? Why did China build those artificial islands, some with runways, in the South China Sea? And why did China risked war with the US, even a nuclear one, to hold on to those so-called “barren rocks”? (the term used by US geopolitical strategist Robert Kaplan). And why will China risk war again with anyone who will step or cross this “red line”?

There are two basic reasons for China’s BATNA.

The first major reason is China’s very own survival as a nation and civilization literally depends on those so-called “barren rocks”. How so? The Scarborough Shoal is one of the contested area that lies close to the Manila Trench. The Manila Trench is the deepest portion of the South China Sea that can allow US submarines to maneuver surreptitiously and approach China’s east coast near Taiwan and occupy firing positions for a first nuclear strike some 200 to 300 kilometers from China’s coastline.

The Manila Trench is easily accessible from Subic Bay in the Philippines by US Ohio class nuclear submarines. Each Ohio class carries 154 Tomahawk land attack cruise missiles with a range of 2,500 kilometers, with each missile armed with a 200 kiloton nuclear warhead; each warhead more than ten times that used in Hiroshima (15 kilotons).

If 5 or more of these US Ohio class nuclear submarines launch a first strike against China’s east coast where China’s industrial base and most of its nearly 1.4 billion population is concentrated, then the Chinese nation as we know it will cease to exist – in just a matter of minutes! Hence, China needs to establish its presence at Scarborough Shoal to prevent this worst case scenario from happening.


Manila Trench

(The figure above shows the Manila Trench – the only portion in the South China Sea with enough depth that will allow US nuclear submarines coming from, say, Subic Bay in the Philippines to secretly approach the Eastern Coast of China for a surprise first nuclear strike.)

The second major reason why China built those artificial islands, some of which contained runways, is to prevent any potential naval blockade by the US 7th Fleet of the Malacca Strait and other straits in the vicinity (i.e., Sunda, Lombok, Makassar, etc.).

China’s oil from the Persian Gulf and Africa and China’s trade to Europe, the Middle East, and Africa pass through these vital straits. A US blockade of these choke points can drive the whole Chinese economy to grind to a halt. Hence, China is prepared to go to war with anyone trying to implement the Hague PCA ruling; no matter if that war be nuclear or conventional. China will use those artificial islands with runways as forward bases to prevent any attempt of a naval blockade.


Malacca Strait

(The map above shows the Malacca Strait and other nearby straits. A blockade of these vital straits where China’s oil and trade pass through can force the Chinese economy to grind to a halt. China built those artificial islands to prevent the US 7th Fleet from attempting that option.)

These are the two main reasons why China built those artificial island with runways. China is prepared to go to war to defend its rights to these islands; even if it means a nuclear war with the US and its NATO and other allies like Japan, Australia, Singapore, and the Philippines.

Philippine negotiators should know these BATNA of the other side of the panel. Ignorance of these factors may lead us blindly into WAR. And if that war goes nuclear, the Philippines will get its share of nukes because of EDCA and the VFA.


* The opinion of this author is his/hers alone. It is not necessarily the views of Beyond Deadlines.

Victor Corpus, M.P.A.
A graduate of Philippine Military Academy Cl’67; MPA ’90 from Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University; Brig. Gen. Victor N. Corpus, (AFP, retired) spent five years with the New People’s Army (1971-76); detained for 10 years under Martial Law and sentenced to death by musketry; and became Chief, Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Can be reached at: viccor2003@yahoo.com

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