Written by Pauleen Gorospe.

Military historian B.H. Liddell Hart describes a grand strategy as the means through which countries mobilise statecraft, including economic, military, cultural and diplomatic strengths, to achieve its national interests.

While it is closely identified with foreign policy, as national interests are traditionally associated with the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the state, there was a shift in views in the 1990s as the international community realised that not all states are “Fukuyama’s state”, that is, liberal democracies capable of providing for and protecting the rights of the people. The aid-giving community, in particular, realised that states who lack the capability and expertise to properly manage institution-building, states who have become predatory and more occupied with their own survival than the public welfare, and those who have been captured by private interests probably do not need any more aid to strengthen their military forces to be used solely for preserving a regime’s existence.

Those who do need aid desperately are the people themselves—giving birth to the concept of human security. While capacity-building aid is still given to law enforcement and military forces to combat global threats such as terrorism, international criminal organisations and sea piracy, there are increasing efforts dedicated to social and economic development, economic and gender equality, and securing personal freedoms.

President Duterte’s mission and vision, as written in the NSS … represents a change in the status quo, a departure from past policies that have focused too much on the government, or political elites who speak of lofty goals but do not actually understand the problems of the people.

Be that as it may, less developed countries still need to be vigilant of different types of threats from all fronts. Regardless of a realignment of security priorities in the international community, these countries, as sovereign bodies, must protect their territories. They must prepare to face security challenges from external sources as well as any potential domestic instability, including threats to social unity, peace and order, economic development and the authority of the state. Such elements are a staple of the national security strategies (NSS) of countries like the Philippines, which has had a notable change in approach since President Rodrigo Duterte took office in 2016.

The Philippines’ National Security Strategy under President Duterte

The first three chapters of the new National Security Strategy (2017-2022) highlight President Duterte’s focus on empowering the Filipino people. Compared to former President Benigno Aquino’s NSS, President Duterte’s policy often cites safeguarding the people’s welfare throughout the document. President Aquino highlighted the importance of building democratic institutions.

The concerns may look similar—the internal and external threats identified in both documents appear the same—but the approaches are different. The titles of each document provide a clue: the previous administration’s NSS cites defending democracy as the national goal, while the current administration’s preoccupation is in securing the well-being of the Filipino people. President Aquino was building on the legacy of his mother, the late President Corazon Aquino, who became the figurehead of a restored democracy after late President Ferdinand Marcos’ martial law regime. President Duterte’s mission and vision, as written in the NSS, meanwhile, represent a change in the status quo, a departure from past policies that have focused too much on the government, or political elites who speak of lofty goals but do not actually understand the problems of the people.

The document itself is filled with excerpts from President Duterte’s speeches, underscoring the centrality of the people in all security considerations, making the NSS not only resemble a social policy, but also a personal endeavour of the President himself.

As with the previous national security strategies, however, the current NSS combines both traditional and human security concerns as considerations of equal measure, with very little distinction between the two. The twelve-point national security agenda, for example, combines human and political security, health security, and food and water security—all centred on the individual—with maritime and airspace security, international security and border security—all traditional security concerns.

While this is not exactly surprising for a less developed country like the Philippines that is perhaps plagued as much with domestic problems as external threats, the lack of distinction between the security of the state and the security of its people may lead to some confusion. Critics note that the concept of human security itself, while widely accepted internationally as a noble policy direction, is vague in breadth and depth, making it difficult to devise how exactly to implement it. Still, for the Philippines, and for the tone that President Duterte wants to strike, an NSS that is inward-looking is the only way to start.

Human Security as a Grand Strategy for the Philippines

The 1994 Human Development Report of the United Nations Development Programme defines human security as “freedom from fear and freedom from want”. These two elements are clearly in the Philippines’ NSS. “Freedom from fear” covers physical security, freedom from violence or the threat of violence.

This includes protection from external threats to preserve sovereignty and territorial integrity and domestic threats including armed violence, criminal enterprises and internal conflicts. “Freedom from want” is more broad and extensive, covering many social and economic problems such as poverty, underdevelopment, inequality in economic and political status, corruption, and access to food, health and basic services. The NSS may not be so explicit, but in all appearances it is actually built around protecting human security.

Of course, it is still essential to define the Philippines’ place in the regional and global order, and how she will relate to neighbouring countries, allies, and international organisations such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Yet, these are all standard fare that need to be placed in the specific context of a less developed country to make them more accessible. A commitment to preserving human security addresses the national security priorities of the Philippines, both in terms of domestic reforms and international goals, as well as keeping the focus on the welfare of the people, their needs, and the protection of their rights.

This is an undertaking that may be grand in scope, but can nonetheless be grounded in the lives, the realities, and experiences of the Filipino people.

Pauleen Gorospe is a PhD Candidate at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo. Her research focuses on peacebuilding and security sector reform in post-conflict situations. She is also a member of the Women in National Development and Security (WINDS), a non-profit organisation seeking the broader participation of women in the security sector. She tweets @gardenofnight. Image Credit: CC/ Wikimedia Commons.


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