International Relations

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

I wanted to call it geopolitics but international relations seem more neutral. And while politics may be in the heart of it, international relations cover much more ground. The Philippines will be host to the ASEAN gathering which includes special heads of states beyond ASEAN nations. For the next two weeks, international relations will be a major topic of many reports and discussions.

Which is great, I think. The way the world is today, Filipinos would do well to consider the bigger context, the global order where we are only one part of many. Too often, we get caught up in the most minute of detail that is closest to us physically or in our value system. Yet, the greater order does rule much of our lives, too, and more than most of us know. We may be 105 million Filipinos but there are almost 8 billion people on the planet. The Philippines is one of more than 200 nations and, definitely, is not independent of them.

The international community can be disorderly, what with member nations of varying political, economic and cultural maturity. Yet, despite the flaws of the United Nations, enough order exists that no one country can simply just go wild and hurt everybody else without risking being blown up. For the moment, North Korea is the superstar among the bad boys. It may think it is crazy enough to get away with threatening a nuclear holocaust, but it will not. Yes, it can trigger a horrible but short war – and witness its own elimination as a country. It is still too small a player with too little firepower to go against the big ones and survive.

There are many countries across the globe, some smaller, some bigger, than the Philippines who are in the throes of agony from armed conflict or internal strife. The refugee situation in Europe is one classic example of what fear from violent environments can trigger. The mass exodus from different home countries towards the more developed Western part of Europe is almost unimaginable at this day and age. Apparently, technology is not enough to change the heart of man, not enough to deter man’s inhumanity to fellow man. However rich, however advanced, any one country is still just as vulnerable and co-dependent on the whole. No man is an island, the saying goes, and a country is just like one man in a community of contrasting personalities.

Thus, international relations become primordial for global stability. It is a dynamic and exciting field where each member nation is overtly after its own interest first yet expected to cooperate in pursuit of some collective good. One such purpose is the harmony of nations, where differences are addressed and settled in non-violent ways, preferably in amity and mutual benefit. Yet, the history of the United Nations over seventy years shows how difficult it is to legislate peace. Sometimes, implementing peace in a country or region does not work despite the use of superior collective force. When cornered, or even when it is just humiliated, a leadership can go and risk his people and nation in a bloody and costly war.

Filipinos have had to grapple with international relations. Most countries are friendly and pose no challenge. In fact, most are just too busy with their own domestic issues and only hope that foreign concerns will not distract them from their internal responsibilities. There are even a few who seem eager to build more than just a friendly acquaintance but see mutual benefit in more active cooperation. For developing nations like the Philippines, these special countries become partners and allies, economically and militarily. Then, there can be that bone in the throat, too. Bullies are not rare but it’s especially excruciating when one victimizes you.

It would be such a blessing if the fundamental platform of international relations is mutual respect and non-violence. In an environment guided by such principles, each country inherits a regional or global space that allows self-determination. And because no country is truly an isolated island, a climate of harmony stimulates all sorts of cooperative relationships, especially economic and cultural. Of course, the world through the United Nations would affirm that this is the wish of all. The actions of nations, though, would raise skepticism about the sincerity that some. Power corrupts, not only government leaders but nations who give in to their power-centered leaderships. Woe, then, to the relatively defenseless against determined nation bullies.

The lesson for Filipinos, and most critically the highest leadership, is that the best interests of the country are of utmost importance. Yet, even that must take into consideration that the country is not the world, is not even among the leaders of the world. As in daily life, we all like many things and dislike others – yet we learn to live with both. Yes, we are eager to arrange that we get what we like more than otherwise. All countries are like that, too. But even the most powerful among them, the USSA, Russia and China – all compromise, all adjust to living within practical parameters. All the more, then, must nations like the Philippines. It is not a matter of bravery alone; it could be a matter of suicide.

After a year in office, President Duterte has considerably toned down his actuation towards fellow nation states. Even he must have come to realize that international relations are not only important, they are vital. Marawi City is just one city among many, yet an armed strike against it made a nation sit up and assess how vulnerable we might all be. How much worse, then, must it be if one nation attacks another and one happens to be much smaller than the other. International relations appear to be the first and most important option. In fact, it might be the only option.

Life is not always fair and some nations are more equal than others. We are all in one planet, and we might as well be friends.


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