Commentary of an Academic
(Copyright @ 2018 by Chester B Cabalza. All Rights Reserved).
|Photo courtesy of TIME|
The recent assertion of President Rodrigo Duterte on sovereignty rights over the disputed islands in the South China Sea while he has keenly recognized the nomenclature as the West Philippine Sea before the Chinese-Filipino businessmen strikes a resounding review on his external security policy after three biggest reefs in Fiery Cross, Mischief, and Subi in the Spratly archipelago are ready for use as the giant neighbour continuously expands its military might and naval spaces. Cognizant of the shifting geopolitical tussle of major powers in the newest Suez Canal of the Indo-Pacific region, the Philippines apparently strives to achieve a robust strategic culture as it remains dwarfed by intense power play of the US and China. Given the context, does the Philippines has lacking or robust strategic culture?
World War II Japanese navy minister and strategist, Takamori Saigo, deemed that there are two kinds of opportunities: one which we chance upon, the other which we create. In time of great difficulty, one must create his own opportunity. The epic saga of the Philippines to make or break from certain security challenge to formulate opportunity on its quest for a defined strategic culture can be lifted from its legal victory, skilful diplomacy, and diversified military alliance towards building capacities to foster the archipelagic nation’s lacking or robust strategic culture. Carl von Clausewitz tells us that war is a contest between two wills, and the will of belligerent is the product of moral factors which can be summarized as culture but Sun Tzu was right in addressing the importance of self-knowledge and of knowledge of one’s enemies.
Configurations and patterns of strategic culture are rooted in the formative experiences of the state influenced to some degree by the philosophical, political, cultural and cognitive characteristics of the nation and its elites. Although states initiate military transformations to avoid strategic defeats, prevent another country from occupying its territory, and thwart the grand design of a new enemy or its strategy. However the Philippines neglected to optimize two key foundations in creating a robust strategic culture by crafting a National Security Strategy and pursuing a realistic National Security Policy that should be responsive to the volatile, uncertain, changing, ambiguous, threatening, and hostile nature of the evolving security landscape. These written artefacts are unified documents that embody the people’s traditions, habits, values, way of life, and attitudes that prescribe the behaviour and action of any nation-state. Nonetheless, China’s prominent militarization in the West Philippine Sea poses a long-term security threat to the Philippines.
Out of 196 countries worldwide, there are only 186 nation-states that have national security strategy documents since 2012. Although strategy crafting is an art and not a science, oftentimes strategies can work and sometimes not. Strategic culture takes times to nurture as it takes a generation to develop. It defines a set of patterns of and for behaviour on war and peace issues. Current national laws, policies and military strategies suggest that the Philippines has not fully taken into accounts its unique archipelagic and maritime characteristics in addressing its national interests. The Southeast Asian country has been progressing more as a maritime nation rather as an archipelagic state largely because of its difficulties in defining its national jurisdiction and sovereignty rights disrupted by its fragmented topography, weak security culture, and how Filipino elite has carved the country’s negotiated reality expressed in current national defense preferences and aspirations.
The rhetoric that Filipinos are good strategists remains debatable but it can be validated. Templates of strategic culture’s robustness can be check mated in some episodic instances to marvel at the country’s indomitable spirit. In 1952, former President Fidel V Ramos and six other Filipino officers were celebrated national heroes in North and South Koreas in the epic Battle of Eerie Hill. Then Lieutenant Ramos led 44-men to Hill Eerie from the Red Chinese Army where Ramos’s men suffered only one injury against 1,100 dead Chinese and 2,540 wounded Chinese. The paramount bravery, courage, and unstained strategy commanded heights against invading Chinese in the Korean peninsula.
Narratives about national heroes who shaped the reawakening of Filipino patriotism from the bondage of colonialism which continued on during the 1986 bloodless People Power celebration peaked when President Corazon Aquino pushed for the creation of the remarkable 1987 Philippine Constitution that embarked various coded strategies that may consciously and unconsciously built the foundations of Philippine contemporary strategic culture. But the problem beholds to strategic behaviour and lack of political will in attaining a consistent rules-based approach in dealing with internal and external security challenges. Although one of the bones of contention in Filipino strategic culture is carved through alliance and considered a preference for partnership with a foreign power that may juxtapose another feather of holding strategic culture to fill the gaps of its momentary impairments amid an increasingly ill-tempered discourse over competing maritime territories that may escalate into tit-for-tat actions at sea expanding to naval skirmishes and provocative artificial island-building to build credible deterrence.
But as the Philippines strives for a robust strategic culture, its archipelagic geography and diverse cultures of nations cannot homogenously represent the strategic culture of the entire archipelago while the plurality of Filipino culture may be a culprit to the inadequacy of its own strategic culture. With the presumption that culture of strategy evolves especially when external defense provides a severe shock that invalidates prevailing assumptions, it can be construed that most of the time Philippine strategy is a reflection of reactive policy decisions rather than a well-defined strategy based on foresight and appreciation in the evolving regional and global security landscape. Lastly, size and wealth should not become the basis of attaining a dynamic strategic culture regardless of the country’s economic status which should be culled from a strategic culture that combines scientific method and artistic measures.