Crucial step to rules-based int’l order

Dindo Manhit, President, Stratbase ADR Institute

The Stratbase ADR Institute’s Pilipinas Conference gave me a renewed sense of hope for our nation—both in the management of our internal affairs and securing our place in the community of nations.

The two-day event was attended by top decision-makers in all sectors of society, who shared their insights on how best to move forward given the Philippines’ unique circumstances and the ravages of the pandemic.

Our friends from the diplomatic community, in particular, acknowledged the fact that the Philippines is facing both traditional and nontraditional security threats, and emphasized the importance of cooperation among like-minded states in observing a rules-based international order.

Let me add that in moving forward and in facing these threats, we also have to move on from the previous administration’s pronouncements on a so-called “independent” foreign policy. Those pronouncements created setbacks, bred confusion, and almost alienated our longtime allies from us.

I said, “Almost.”

I note with relief that this new administration appears to be more careful, considerate, and strategic than its predecessor. The Marcos Jr. administration is rebalancing our relations with both new and existing allies, and is revitalizing our alliance with the United States.

The meeting between President Marcos Jr. and US President Joseph Biden in September, for instance, showcased our intent to strengthen our ties with our longtime ally. That US trip also brought investment pledges worth $3.9 billion, no doubt critical to recovering from the pandemic and boosting our image as an international investment hub.

More recently, US Vice President Kamala Harris visited the Philippines and announced additional allocations for the implementation of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, additional assistance for maritime law enforcement agencies, and support for the upgrade and expansion of the Philippine Coast Guard’s vessel traffic management system.

Her Excellency MaryKay Carlson, US ambassador to the Philippines, stated that the US values the Philippines as a friend, partner, and ally in championing the rules and principles that help every nation thrive and prosper, regardless of their size and power.

“Our rules-based order of today incorporates the foundational principles of self-determination, independence, and territorial integrity to which all nations agreed in the UN charter. These rules mean big countries cannot simply seize, swallow, or bully their smaller neighbors because they have the power or whim to do so. These rules champion the rule of law as a way to address and resolve disputes peacefully,” said Carlson.

When we speak of community, we mean many countries speaking between and among each other toward a common goal. For instance, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Australian Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Richard Marles attended the recent Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations.

The two defense leaders had expressed their determination to counter destabilizing military activities by China by deepening their defense and technology cooperation. They said the two countries shared a “very strong alignment” on issues like Ukraine, the Indo-Pacific, and China.

United Kingdom Secretary of State Ben Wallace joined them for the Aukus Defense Ministers’ meeting. And then, in Tokyo, foreign and defense ministers of Australia and Japan—2+2—also met to discuss further defense cooperation given the increasingly severe strategic security in the Indo-Pacific region.

Amid all these threats to our security and safety, compounded by the many problems we also face here at home, the knowledge that there is a higher order governing the conduct of states does much to assuage our fears.

Rogue, aggressive states are the exception rather than the rule, and when they threaten to tilt the balance of power—concentrated not anymore on any two major states but in many states, big and small, with interconnected interests and ideals—they can be sure that the international community will step up to the challenge and invoke international law by which all must abide.

It does not eliminate the numerous complex threats, but knowing that we are in good company makes it a little easier to sleep at night.

This article was originally published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

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