THE Constitution has mandated that this country “shall pursue an independent foreign policy”. In its relations with other states, the paramount consideration shall be: national sovereignty, territorial integrity, national interest and the right to self-determination.
An independent foreign policy as expressed by President Duterte means distancing ourselves from our erstwhile patron, the United States and dealing more with China and Russia. This is a drastic rebalancing of our international relations for it cannot be denied that since the turn of the last century this country became a strong link in the US security arrangements in Asia. In fact, we became the most forward position of the US, making it easy for America to project its hard power in the Asian continent. Clark was the biggest air hub outside the United States even as Subic became the home base in Asia for the biggest armada in the world—the Seventh Fleet. This made it easy for the US to engage the North Koreans and the Vietcong with bombing raids launched from its military bases in the country. The bases became so important in the US defense strategy in the Asian theater that the suspicion was that the US was complicit, if not instrumental, in regime changes in the country, e.g. the Quirino and Marcos administrations which had the temerity to reexamine and review our mutual defense arrangement with the superpower.
Foreign policy an instrument of domestic policy
More than neutralism or non-alignment, however, an independent foreign policy must be anchored on the common good. In brief, it should be guided by domestic requirements for development—higher levels of income, productivity and employment in a regime of freedom and participatory democracy.
During the Bandung Conference after World War 2, neutralism metamorphosed into the concept of nonalignment in international relations. The policy was to avoid political or ideological affiliations with major power blocs in the bipolar world of the time divided between the forces of communism and non-communism.
The major proponents of the policy were the newly minted nations, recently freed from the yoke of colonialism.
Spearheaded by such countries as India, Yugoslavia, and many of the new states of Asia and Africa during the period of the Cold War (1945–1990), they refused, for the most part, to align themselves with either the communist bloc, led by the Soviet Union, or the Western bloc, led by the United States. Though neutralist, they were not isolationist, continuing as they did to participate actively in international affairs and take positions on international issues.
While neutralism was a post-World War 2 phenomenon, similar policies were followed prior to the period in the form of isolationist policies that avoided entangling alliances. Indeed, the United States managed to avoid the European conflicts during the inter-war period – the period between the two great wars. It only entered the fray in the latter part of the European theater and the Asia-Pacific after Pearl Harbor was bombed.
In the case of this Philippines, despite the grant of independence by the US in 1946, the presence of American bases inevitably drew us into the theater of war e.g. Korea, Vietnam and even to a certain extent the Iraq war.
Foreign policy an extension of domestic policy
We in the Council of Foreign Relations believe that foreign policy is an instrument in pursuit of the common good as prescribed by the Constitution. Loosely defined, it is the promotion by the state of a just and dynamic social order that will ensure the prosperity and independence of the nation and free the people from poverty through policies that provide adequate social services, promote full employment, a rising standard of living and improved quality of life for all.
It is against this background that the government after Edsa pursued economic diplomacy in its engagement with other nations even as it took its place in the community of nations eager to promote regionalism and multilateralism in the age of international solidarity following two disastrous world wars and the end of the age of colonialism. Independence and isolationism therefore gave way to interdependence and regionalism. This is what the Asean is trying to achieve in our part of the world. To a certain extent, this requires some surrender of sovereignty and the achievement of commonality of purpose and harmonization and interdependence in the pursuit of development.
Non-alignment, not isolationism
Non-alignment is the state of affairs in most Third World countries which have opted not be formally involved in military alliances with the world’s major superpowers. This Philippines is one of the few exceptions, having gone into a mutual defense agreement with the US and hosts military bases (EDCA).
The Non-aligned Movement has at present over 100 members. It however supports a UN mandate of non-aggression and respect for the territorial integrity of nations. NAM members participate actively in international affairs and with full membership of the UN.
Non-alignment is not isolationism, because in this age of regionalism and multilateralism nations find refuge in international solidarity. The Philippines, for example, belongs to the Asean community of nations that has adopted a common agenda with regard to security and development even if in the case of defense, it has still to conclude a treaty of sorts.
The difference between non-alignment and isolationism cannot be overemphasized. It may be recalled that isolationism was the official US policy towards all international affairs outside its own hemisphere from the declaration of the Monroe Doctrine in 1823 until its entry in World War 2 in 1941 (with a brief break from 1917-1920). The US could easily adopt such a posture in the past since it was and is the richest country in the world and basically self-sufficient, with international trade being only a fraction of the total goods and services it produces.
Independent foreign policy
In conclusion, if this country truly wishes to adopt an independent foreign policy, it must refrain from aiding combatants actual or prospective by allowing either to use its territory for the purpose of aggression. In the process, it may continue trading with either or both.
It must be said, however, that in the age of nuclear warfare invoking an independent foreign policy will not necessarily save a nation from the holocaust. The same can be said about the era of international terrorism where every nation big or small can be victimized.