"Nations have no hearts. They only have national interests."- A non-verbatim quotation from one of my professors
A year into my master's degree in International Studies, I've learned that alliances are made, pacts are signed, and agreements are inked among nations all because of one thing: to promote and protect their national interests. United States wouldn't have engaged itself in a war with Iraq in the recent years if it didn't feel its national security is threatened or its vision of a "free" democratic world is put at a grave risk. (Of course recently, Obama has decided to gradually pull out the American troops from Iraq and apparently there are two reasons why: it's again election time in the US and a warmonger never wins a democratic election; and the country’s increasing budget deficit is aggravated by a high military spending which is the highest in the world.) Moreover, the United States wouldn't sign a mutual defense treaty with the Philippines in 1951 or erect American military bases in the archipelago (which were demolished in the early 90's) if it didn't think these actions will increase convenience for them to restrain communism in the Asia-Pacific region. In our increasingly realist world, every action of a nation is driven by a single purpose: to champion its national goals and ambitions. United States didn't declare war against Iraq to protect the Iraqi people or curb terrorism or secure world peace; and it certainly didn't sign a defense treaty with the Philippines with the prime purpose of protecting or assisting its ally in times of conflict and danger. Every action has an ulterior motive.
China's increasing aggressiveness over its West Philippine Sea claims is also a testament of how "far" (both literally and metaphorically in China's case) a nation will go to protect the basic components of its national interest: survival of its people, government and the integrity of its territory and sovereignty. China sure is a mineral-rich country. Unfortunately bauxite (and even the rarest of rare minerals) is unpalatable. And it isn't helping that the Gobi desert is expanding 3,600 km2 (1,390 sq mi) of grassland every year. For the country to feed its more than a billion citizens, it needs to find ways to secure its resources. It has to find a way to survive... even if it has to undertake measures that could create friction between it and another country (in this case the Philippines, and the other claimants). Naturally, the Philippines, a country with one of the weakest armed forces in Asia, is threatened by China's increasing military power and influence in the region. Once a force to be reckoned with in Asia during the Cold War period, the Philippines has had a tumultuous political climate during the Marcos and Aquino era that resulted to political challenges, mismanagement and economic stagnation (to the extent of recession) which in effect brought about several other conspicuous complications to its citizens that are still existing today such as poverty and corruption. Furthermore, the worsening communist and Muslim rebellions have likewise impeded economic growth in the country by making it unattractive to foreign investors. It is important to take note that in a realist world, military power is paramount. But how can one buy a gun if he doesn't have the money to purchase it? Hence, the Philippines' economic sluggishness has also hampered the improvement of its military capability (And this is such a shame for a country that used to have one of the best navies in the world. For a country that is more water than land, a strong and reliable navy is a must-have).
So how can a country like the Philippines defend its reasonable legal and historical claims over the West Philippine Sea against China, a country with not only a stronger military force but a wider sphere of influence in all aspects, a larger economy, population and land area as well? And what if everything has boiled down to a military confrontation, will the Philippines be able to defend itself and its claims? Or are we going to see a "Paracel Islands" repeat?
Clearly, the Philippines versus China is no contest. My professor used to joke 'Kapag sabay-sabay umihi ang mga Chinese, babaha sa buong Pilipinas.’ To win over a major power, one needs another major power in his side. Or better, a superpower. That's when the Philippines’ longtime ally, Uncle Sam, comes into the picture. The special relationship between the Philippines and its former colonizer, the United States, has been proven and tested a number of times, most of which during the Cold War when the former followed the latter in its biggest campaigns against communism in Asia (Vietnam and Korean War) during the turbulent era. The Philippines is so fixated to the US that its political and education system have been mostly patterned after the mother country. We have so wholeheartedly welcomed and embraced the Americans in our land that we see everything American as better. Bigger. Yummier. Easier to love. At one point we were even branded by the international community as "the little brown Americans" due to our love affair with the US. We love America so much. But does America love the Philippines as much?
Given the increasing tension in the West Philippine Sea involving China and the Philippines and the growing assertiveness of the Chinese, there is a series of pressing questions I would like to ask the US (if given the opportunity) at a time like this when its relationship with the Philippines is being tested. How far can it go to support the Philippines in its fight for the integrity of its sovereignty? If violence breaks out between China and the Philippines, are we assured of American support? Can the US oppose China, one of its top two biggest creditor countries (the other being Japan) and also a significant economic player in the international community? Will the mutual defense agreement between the two nations take effect? If yes, up to what extent?
Simply put, how much does the US love the Philippines?
The answer, nobody really knows but America. Let’s take for example Iran. Iran used to have a warm relationship with the United States until the Iranian revolution in 1979. Today, the relationship between the two countries has become so hostile that they have no formal diplomatic relations with each other. Apparently, not only individuals are estranged from someone they used to love. Even nations with such beautiful ties sometimes drift apart. And worse, they can even go the opposite directions to oppose each other. This is not to say that United States isn't a reliable ally to the Philippines anymore. It was and it still is. But if there's one constant thing in this drama called international relations, it is change. Change in goals and objectives. Change in perspective. Change in priorities. Given the economic abyss the United States (and the entire Western World including Japan) is in right now, can it afford another war just to support an ally, and to complicate it more, against a country that is economically important to it? Unfortunately in the realm of international politics, your friends won't always be your allies and your allies won’t always be your friends (Jaclyn Friedman).
If it’s true that this is a heartless and selfish world where at the end of every day, we're always on our own, is it hopeless? Are we on the losing end? I think not. The world may not have a heart but I’m sure it does have a brain. And it damn well know what it will lose if this fight is won by the unworthy.
So I call for the world to wake up and open its eyes. This fight isn’t the rivals’ alone. It’s a global issue that requires every country to watch and take a stand on. We don’t need the world to defend or fight for anyone. What we need is for it to defend and fight for what is right and just. If bullying in schools is a cause of concern for everyone, how is this any different?
Let’s leave colonialism into the past altogether and try this better practice called cooperation instead. Survival should be assured for all human beings, not for a particular race alone. This should be the goal of every nation in the world.