Sustainable security

The sustainable security of states can only be based on the security of people: their physical safety; their socio-economic well-being; respect for their dignity and political and cultural identity as individuals and as members of communities; gender equality; and the protection and promotion of all human rights – including women’s rights – and fundamental freedoms in the home, in the community, in their country and in the wider world.

Agents for Change: Civil Society Roles in Preventing War & Building Peace, Catherine Barnes, European Centre for Conflict Prevention


Geography forgotten, unconquered

Geography endowed this country with soil suitable for a wide array of high value crops, but as I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, Philippine agriculture, in terms of outputs traded in regional and world markets, serves only a few. Moreover, agriculture continues to be valued below it’s true contribution to national wealth hence the lukewarm national and local government support for the sector.

Another of geography’s gift to the country, and which this article will explore, is location. “A state’s position on the map”, according to Robert Kaplan in his book Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate, “is the first thing that defines it, more than its governing philosophy even”.

Filipinos know, by rote, that the country is an island; the South China Sea is on it’s west which leads to the Indian Ocean further west; on the east, the Philippine Sea and the Pacific Ocean further afield. What do these locational features tell us? The first thing many Filipinos would say is, we’re right in the center of an earthquake- and typhoon-prone oceanic belt and the volcanic ring of fire.

On the other hand, “a third of all seaborne commercial goods worldwide and half of all the energy requirements for Northeast Asia pass through here (South China Sea)… the gateway to the Indian Ocean—the world’s hydrocarbon interstate”. Furthermore, Kaplan quoted Alfred Thayer Mahan, a proponent of sea power, that “the Indian and Pacific Oceans are the geographical pivots of empires”.

This is the side of Philippine geography that Filipinos haven’t really understood and conquered. The Philippine Navy is an embarrassment given it’s responsibility to protect national shores and sea trade. All we hear about our ports is their inefficiency and pirate business i.e. smuggling. Our commercial ships…do we even have a competitive fleet? Young Filipinos take up maritime degrees in order to work for foreign employers whose ships are far worthy of their educational investments. Travelers’ lives have been unnecessarily snuffed out because of aging and poorly-maintained local ships. Our history books only made account of how the seas brought in invaders and colonizers, implying the seas as our enemy. To this day, that is how we look at this resource.

How do we explain this? Why is Britain another island-state cited as a sea power but the Philippines not? Kaplan says, the map is a beginning, not an end to interpreting the past and present. Further, the humanist Isaiah Berlin as quoted by Kaplan avers that “the (unilateral) belief that vast impersonal forces such as geography, the environment, and ethnic characteristics determine our lives and the direction of world politics is immoral and cowardly. The individual and his moral responsibility are paramount, and he or she cannot therefore blame his or her actions—or fate—altogether, or in great part, on such factors as landscape and culture”. In other words, human agency.

Filipinos stopped at fatalism. “Nothing can be done, we’re nothing compared to powerful forces” have become a self fulfilling prophecy. Believing it, Filipinos resort to hedonistic one-day millionaire lifestyles masked as joie de vivre. To further cater to this malady, malls impale themselves on urban and rural landscapes that for the better part lack sewerage, standard-compliant roads, schools, and classrooms. At a time of moral arrest in public institutions and poverty and ignorance among large swathes of the population, we elected to pursue all-out neoliberal policies. We have not grounded our economic development on what we already have.

Labor, although already outside the topic of geography, is also another strength that we haven’t positively exploited as means to national progress. I’m sure Filipinos are capable of conceptualizing and mass producing something of their own other than jeepneys. Manufacturing is key to a strong economy. And local manufacturing if the sector had been developed could have absorbed idle labor.

Beyond it’s borders, in the region, the Philippines has a significant role in maritime patrol and protection. It is inevitable especially after we moved to dismantle American imperialism hence the US bases in the country. Sadly the years in between only taught us that so-called US imperialism in this case is also in our and the region’s best interest. Regardless, the base sites left by the Americans remain the best location from which to protect the country. Unfortunately, these have been converted into residential and commercial estates. Now that the Hague Tribunal handed out it’s verdict on the South China Sea dispute, it should be clearer than before why this country needs a national security strategy encompassing the seas.

a 2009 RAND study…highlight a disturbing trend. China is just a hundred miles away, but the United States must project military power from half a world away in a Post Cold War environment in which it can less and less depend on the use of foreign bases. China’s anti-access naval strategy is not only designed to keep out U.S. forces in a general way, but to ease the conquest of Taiwan in a specific way. The Chinese military can focus more intensely on Taiwan than can America’s, given all of America’s global responsibilities.

Even as China envelops Taiwan militarily, it does so economically and socially. Taiwan does 30 percent of its trade with China, with 40 percent of its exports going to the mainland. There are 270 commercial flights per week between Taiwan and the mainland. Two-thirds of Taiwanese companies, some ten thousand, have made investments in China in the last five years. There are direct postal links and common crime fighting, with half a million mainland tourists coming to the island annually, and 750,000 Taiwanese residing in China for half the year. In all there are five million cross-straits visits each year. There will be less and less of a need for an invasion when subtle economic warfare will achieve the same result. Thus, we have seen the demise of the Taiwan secessionist movement.

Indeed, the South China Sea with the Strait of Malacca unlocks the Indian Ocean for China the same way control over the Caribbean unlocked the Pacific for America at the time of the building of the Panama Canal.

The current security situation in Asia is fundamentally more complicated and, therefore, more unstable than the one that existed in the decades after World War II. As American unipolarity ebbs, with the relative decline in size of the U.S. Navy, and with the concomitant rise of the Chinese economy and military (even at slower rates than before), multipolarity becomes increasingly a feature of Asian power relationships. The Chinese are building underground submarine pens on Hainan Island and developing antiship missiles. The Americans are providing Taiwan with 114 Patriot air defense missiles and dozens of advanced military communications systems. The Japanese and South Koreans are engaged in across-the-board modernization of their fleets—with a particular emphasis on submarines. And India is building a great navy. These are all crude forms of seeking to adjust the balance of power in one’s favor. There is an arms race going on, and it is occurring in Asia… While no one state in Asia has any incentive to go to war, the risks of incidents at sea and fatal miscalculations about the balance of power—which everyone is seeking to constantly adjust—will have a tendency to increase with time and with the deepening complexity of the military standoff.

This is not to scare ourselves off our chairs but it always pays to be farsighted when it comes to national security and to do something about it already.


quotes from Kaplan’s Revenge of Geography

On the Jakarta bombing

What’s signficant and alarming in this attack is, it’s Starbucks. Who goes to Starbucks?  Mostly the yuppie crowd out on a break for good fun, small talk, and coffee, all these in a genteel and cosmopolitan environment. Being the target of an attack, more so by extremism is farthest in their minds.

But then that’s the objective of terrorism:  for one to know terror and subsequently, one’s life to be defined by it.  Too, that is why we fight it. Because, who is the normal human being who wants to live in constant anxious anticipation of horrific events happening close to home hence his or her life to be constricted by such?

Ironic though that terror-ism is happening at a time when the world is very much advanced in knowledge, that is, knowledge of what is right and wrong.

Grace of Monaco: reimagined as today’s Princess

The movie Grace of Monaco received poor reviews, which is unfortunate considering that it tried to reimagine the Princess into someone whom the present generation can relate to. Beyond that, I think the Princess, unfettered now by earthly anxieties over protocol, would’ve been keen to know what present-day Hollywood think of the former Grace Kelly.  She would’ve been amused.  Or, honored to receive undying respect and reverence.

I love historical fiction.  Philippa Gregory‘s books, such as The Constant Princess, a fictional take of Catherine of Aragon, comes to mind.  Historical fiction invites the viewer or reader to ask what if? and so stretches the imagination toward alternative plots.  Depending on one’s mental powers, reimagined stories could be, well, as ‘fantastically silly’ as Olivier Dahan’s.

But far from it.  For me, the movie, perhaps without intending to be one, is a case study in peaceful resolution of a national security crisis and the role women can play in peace building.  With international state of affairs becoming confusingly and shockingly reminiscent of earlier war-thirsty times, the need is for more countries to have the will and capacity to resolve crises of their own peacefully.

How has Monaco survived without a military and continues to be without one?  It’s the elephant in the room, as Tim Roth’s Prince Rainier alongside his team of grim and pensive advisers – their drawing room sessions a visual lesson in how to have a heart attack – mull over alternative solutions to it’s stalled discussions with France that prompted the latter to set up an economic blockade.  TIME says the impasse was resolved in the old fashioned way:  compromise.

via aceshowbiz

At the same time, Princess Grace is herself experiencing a personal crisis. Who is Grace of Monaco? What are her abilities apart from acting? What’s her role as a Grimaldi being wife to Prince Rainier? What can Princess Grace do for Monaco?

In war, women become it’s spoils.  What if, I imagine the movie asking, we hand a woman the power to abate war in her country and so instead of becoming spoil for others become the savior?  What if that woman was Grace of Monaco?  At this point, I understand the stand of the royal House of Grimaldi. Princess Grace a closet Joan of Arc?  Preposterous. But, again, Grace Kelly, the actor, would’ve loved a challenging character.  She did consider playing Marnie.

In the Charity Ball for Red Cross of which she was President, her speech, delivered after having come to terms with her role as a Grimaldi, touched the hearts of her audience, significantly, President Charles de Gaulle. The speech, reverberating with humility, honesty, simplicity, clarity, and conviction, had nothing in common with standard speeches of Defense Ministers but it accomplished what the latter couldn’t: France lifted it’s blockade.

Toward the end of the movie, the voice-over, Father Tucker, says of the Princess,

you are the fairy tale…the Serenity to which we all aspire… And peace will come when you have embraced the roles you were destined to play: a devoted mother, a loyal wife, compassionate leader… Up against the task larger than yourself, you will overcome your fear…

via Time

What if Grace failed to rise above her fears and self-doubt? What if she decided to go back to Hollywood, the life she left in America? What would’ve been the outcome of the crisis with France?  And long before all these concerns, what if Grace refused Rainier when he was courting her?

For Grace Kelly to set in motion her fairy tale story and sustain it she would have to make a series, a lifetime, of choices embracing that. In transitioning from an American film actor to Monagesque Princess, she learns that, being a woman who has ideas of her own and used to speaking out her mind and Rainier allowing her that, and having found peace herself, she can bring a different approach to the war room.

Military men will pooh-pah at soft-as-women approaches to security crises – ‘leave the men to their war rooms and the women to their parlors’ – but in a world where peace has been elusive maybe that is exactly what it needs. In the two world wars and the others after that, women are left at home crying for and worrying over their sons, husbands, lovers, brothers, fathers.  Nonetheless at the front women showed themselves as able carers who healed back wounded men.  On one hand, there was PM Margaret Thatcher and the Falklands War but that is altogether a special story.  There have been other admirable women who were in the position of deciding their countries’ defense strategies, but as I see it these followed the standard path of militarism.

What I’m pointing out is, generally, women, given their nurturing instinct, distinct from men’s, do not want war or killings. That way is not in them.  It is naive, but, maybe, real peace is naive. Look at the Infant on Christmas Day. The Greatest Fool, the saints said.

What if women are included in war rooms as decision makers? What if on top of this, countries are demilitarized? What if military schools are re-purposed to teach the arts of peace building instead of learning the arts of war?  Is that even realistic?  But then did Grace Kelly ever predict it in her stars to live the stuff of fairy tales, one “which we all aspire to”?  For her, it all became possible with her ‘yes’.

I don’t know much about Grace Kelly (though I watched her in To Catch A Thief and vaguely remembered a stricken looking Prince Rainier on her funeral which said he loved her very much), or how exactly she became Princess Grace, or her life as royalty, because she wasn’t in my generation, only that I thought the meeting between her and Princess Diana in 1981, a year before her death, was a magical moment. One American, one British. Both enamored the world with imaginings other than war, which was, their fairy tale beginnings and subsequently their personal struggle for purpose within their respective royal Houses. In following their purpose, they gave the title, ‘Princess’, a lot more spark and spine. I thought that it would be a long time again, or perhaps never, when a perfect alignment of celestial bodies would occur.