The era of rule-based security order

Dindo Manhit, President, Stratbase ADR Institute

Every year for the past eight decades, we have commemorated April 9 as Bataan Day of Valor or Araw ng Kagitingan.

But more than the bloodshed and the horrors brought about by World War II, the recognition of heroism in times of war should also enlighten us on the need to promote a rules-based international and regional security order. Only the basic principles of coexistence and political détente, after all, can assure us of security.

The West Philippine Sea (WPS) issue, for instance, showcases the overriding issue of maritime security that is persistently being challenged and upset by China’s continuous expansionist agenda.

Amid the pandemic, the littoral states in the WPS have found themselves in an even more precarious situation.

Another overarching lesson that world wars have taught us is the importance of leveraging alliances.

April 9th also speaks of a historically political and military alliance between the Philippines and the United States (US).

Attuned to the situation in the WPS, almost 9,000 participants from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the US military performed training exercises from the northern coast of Luzon to Palawan. Aside from humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, the Balikatan 2022 operations specifically concentrated on maritime security, amphibious operations, live-fire training, and aviation operations, which the AFP forces urgently needed. This undertaking was successfully concluded on April 8.

Yet another convergence with the April 9th commemoration was the public exchange hosted by the Stratbase Albert del Rosario Institute in partnership with the Bower Group Asia (BGA). The virtual event explored the theme “The Future of US Commitment in Southeast Asia: The Outlook Under Biden and Beyond,” and launched the book Elusive Balances: Shaping US-Southeast Asia Strategy by Dr. Prashanth Parameswaran, Deputy Head of Research of BGA, a Fellow of the Wilson Center, and Senior columnist of The Diplomat.

Ernest Bower IV, President and CEO of the BowerGroupAsia, raised in his opening remarks the challenge of translating the US Indo-Pacific Strategy and Indo-Pacific Economic Framework into concrete commitments that adhere to the needs of ASEAN countries.

This challenge continues to evolve in a more complex manner given the current global commitments of the US and Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, he said.

These remarks were made in light of the Indo-Pacific Strategy, which was recently released by the Biden administration. It is a continuation of the policy initiative from the Trump administration that brings into question the depth of commitment of the US to the region while balancing its other commitments and pressing current global political-security issues.

In preview of his book, Dr. Parameswaran elaborated on his concept of “elusive balances.” He cited the following factors to be considered in formulating a US strategy for Southeast Asia — the current power position in the world and the distribution of power, the presence of like-minded and unlike-minded states, public opinion and what it can do to check the powers of the president, threat perceptions in terms of the US-China’s symmetric and asymmetric competition and the attitude of Southeast Asian countries in consideration of coexistence and resource constraints, and the lost opportunities brought about by a sudden change in foreign policy direction.

For his part, James Carouso (Australia Chair, Center for Strategic and International Studies and Senior Advisor, BGA) said that there should be greater cooperation between the US and the Philippines on the South China Sea issue.

Interestingly, Mr. Carouso aptly alluded to the existence of a rules-based global order after World War II. It is such an order where “rules matter and everyone is supposed to abide by the rules, and small countries could feel some assurance that there wouldn’t be these actors outside the norm,” he said.

In recapping the forum, I stated that given the growing military power of China, the increasing interconnectedness of countries and societies, and expanding multilateral cooperation, it is imperative for the Philippines to craft a more responsive and strategic foreign policy that will effectively contribute to the ongoing efforts to collectively manage global and regional issues affecting the country.

The new president to be elected on May 9 should be mindful of the country’s strategic national interests vis-à-vis the growing global alliance advancing a free and open Indo-Pacific.

And with specific reference to China, I proposed that the Philippines should use its expansive network in securing the freedom of the seas and to neutralize the aggressive behavior from China’s maritime militia.

Multilateral cooperation at the global and regional level would be key in forging and strengthening alliances to prevent the escalation of conflicts and advance a rules-based international system.

Next month, Filipinos will elect a new president. What we need is a leader who will contribute to global and regional security — not someone who will jeopardize the country’s national interest and whose erratic and whimsical actions need to be undone.

This article was originally published in the BusinessWorld Commentary.

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