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Game Changer: The Philippines' Assertive Transparency Campaign

SeaLight and the Stratbase ADR Institute release the first detailed examination of how the Philippines rewrote the counter-gray zone playbook in 2023.
Ray Powell, Benjamin Goirigolzarri, PhD | JANUARY 15, 2024
Game Changer: The Philippines' Assertive Transparency Campaign

Ray Powell

Director

Benjamin Goirigolzarri, PhD

Analyst

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Since SeaLight released its initial concept post about the Philippines' assertive transparency campaign last October, we have been aware that it really needs a much more comprehensive examination. That's why we put together this report, released last week by the Stratbase ADR Institute.

Here's a sneak peek at Stratbase's abstract, formatted for better readability:

In 2023, the Philippines introduced an innovative new approach to countering China's state-sponsored gray zone actions through a tactic termed "assertive transparency." This refers to the systematic and purposeful use of visual evidence to expose these activities to the public. The authors contend that to be most effective this novel information operations campaign should be considered as one important tactic in a larger strategy to deter and defeat malign gray zone activities.

Within this context, Manila's assertive transparency sets three necessary conditions for success. 

First, by strengthening the Philippines' national resilience to prioritize support for the long-term gray zone contest. 

Second, the strategy has proven effective in building international support to increase the nation's moral and material leverage against the perpetrator.

Lastly, it imposes reputational costs against Beijing to force a change in its risk-benefit calculations.

The authors observe that the first two lines of effort have already yielded substantial gains for Manila and give specific examples of greater national resilience and international support. While reputational costs have also been imposed, an analysis of whether these costs will be translated into the desired impact of causing a behavioral change on the part of Beijing would be premature at this early stage.

While its impacts have been impressive, Philippine leaders cannot assume that assertive transparency alone will produce sufficient deterrent value to win the West Philippine Sea. The authors conclude that the ultimate success of this campaign will depend on whether the Philippines can effectively sustain and leverage it into a broader counter-gray zone strategy and whether other nations will follow suit within the maritime domain and other non-military domains.

Ultimately, assertive transparency represents a potentially revolutionary innovation in counter-gray zone operations worthy of study and emulation among the free-and-open community of nations. It has already proven to be a great equalizer in the West Philippine Sea contest. It could be the Philippines' indispensable contribution to an increasingly contentious and dangerous gray zone fight.

We truly hope this work invites a lot more discussion and additional scholarship on this topic.

You can download and read the entire report here.

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Ray Powell

Ray is the Director of SeaLight and Project Lead for Project Myoushu at Stanford University's Gordian Knot Center for National Security Innovation. He's a 35-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force and was a 2021 Fellow at Stanford's Distinguished Careers Institute.

Benjamin Goirigolzarri, PhD

Ben Goirigolzarri is an Active Duty U.S. Air Force officer and holds a PhD in Policy Analysis from Pardee RAND Graduate School and BS in Operations Research from the U.S. Air Force Academy. His research includes using game theory to identify the effects of relative acquisition timelines on space conflict, identifying methodologies for agile space acquisition, and General Officer management strategies. His active duty experience includes time as a program manager, speechwriter and instructor.

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