Crafting a responsive foreign policy

Dindo Manhit, President, Stratbase ADR Institute

Emerging security challenges, including the Ukraine-Russia crisis, the continued testing of ballistic missiles by North Korea, and China’s recent aggressive actions in the West Philippine Sea, have heightened global economic and security risks.

Major security players, including the United States and the European Union, have started to reassess their foreign policies to manage potential risks and safeguard their strategic interests. Likewise, initial trade and security engagements have been forged with Japan, Australia, and India.

In the case of the Philippines, discussions about the future of the country’s foreign policy have highlighted the crucial role of the next president.

In my latest special study entitled “A Responsive and Strategic Foreign Policy Outlook in an Interconnected and Multipolar World,” I argued that there is a need for the Philippines to develop a responsive and strategic foreign policy that would prioritize its national sovereignty, territorial integrity, and developmental interests.

With only a few weeks away from the national elections, Filipinos expressed their top three considerations in selecting a presidential candidate in the latest Pulse Asia survey commissioned by Stratbase. This includes having an untarnished character/reputation (23 percent), having a clear program or platform of action (20 percent), and having extensive experience in governance (11 percent). Filipinos view these qualities as the most desirable in a leader. Moreover, these values and qualities are expected to be instrumental in how the next leadership will craft the country’s foreign policy and position in the region.

In this context, research fellows of the Stratbase ADR Institute have offered their evidence-based insights and policy recommendations, specifically on the future direction of the country’s foreign policy.

Dr. Rene de Castro, in his paper entitled “A National Security Strategy (NSS) for the 17th Philippine President: The Case for A Limited Balancing,” emphasized that the key challenge for the next president is the transformation of the current administration’s unplanned and makeshift policy of limited hard balancing into a comprehensive, and formal grand strategy. He also stressed the impact of the issues in the West Philippine Sea and how they have affected the country’s capacity to foster strategic alliances and partnerships. He added that there is a need to formulate a new national security strategy based on the 2016 arbitral ruling.

Similarly, Richard Heydarian, in his paper “The Great Cauldron: China, US and the New Cold War in the Indo-Pacific,” underlined the need for the Philippines to maintain a firm, consistent and uncompromising position in terms of its sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea. Responding to China’s actions in the West Philippine Sea, as well as leveraging on the country’s existing strategic partnerships and alliances in the Indo-Pacific region, must remain a priority for the next administration.

Beyond these traditional security challenges, non-traditional security (NTS) concerns must also be considered. In her paper, “Non-Traditional Security Threats to Peace and Security in the Indo-Pacific,” Dr. Mely Caballero-Anthony discussed the importance of assessing the country’s position on climate change, pandemics, and environmental degradation. Accentuating the serious impact of NTS risks, not only on human security but also on national sovereignty and territorial integrity, she also recommended multilateral cooperation among states in dealing with the said challenges.

With all these considerations, the next administration must be able to lead the country toward a future-oriented and responsive foreign policy that will enable the Philippine government to respond to security challenges and positively contribute to regional stability. It must also look into the benefits of multilateral cooperation in advancing shared values and a rules-based international order.

Regardless of who wins in this year’s election, Filipinos should continue demanding transparency and accountability from the Philippine government, especially in terms of its foreign policy and future initiatives in the region.

This article was originally published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer Commentary.

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