Niccolo Machiavelli was an Italian statesman and strategist born in Florence in 1469. His writings about statecraft belong to a school of international relations theory known as realism. His ideas were revolutionary in his day. Even today, there are some people who are uncomfortable with portions of his writings.
Machiavelli wrote “The Prince” to serve as a manual for the Medici ruling family in their management of affairs of state. For purposes of this piece, the word “Prince” means any Head of State or Government.
What strikes readers of Machiavelli is his separation of morality from politics. In fact, cruelty, to him, can be an element of leadership, as in a leader should be cruel to be kind (Chapter 17). He appeared “unchristian” in his era, when the Catholic Church dominated social and political life. To Machiavelli, the end justifies the means (Chapter 18). “Hence, it is necessary to a prince, if he wants to maintain himself, to learn to be able not to be good, and to use this and not use it according to necessity.” (Chapter 15). Above all, Machiavelli believes that it is better to be feared than to be loved (Chapter 17).
The West Philippine Sea situation is a very serious affair of state. “The Prince” seems relevant in conceptual approaches dealing with the issues at hand. In fact, I argue that Machiavelli’s prescriptions are long overdue. His suggestions should have been read by all leaders, starting with President Quezon. President Quezon was at the helm when Philippine boundaries were starting to take shape as independence loomed on the horizon. As we all know, the Treaty of Paris on December 10, 1898 delineated the metes and bounds of Philippine territory. Machiavelli’s advice relating to territory is for the Prince “…to learn the nature of sites, and recognize how mountains rise, how valleys open up, how plains lie, and understand the nature of rivers and marshes—and in this invest the greatest care.” (Chapter 14). Machiavelli says that a head of state must master his territory and its terrain. Since we in the Philippines are blessed with big bodies of water, internally and externally, we should gain expertise in, and if necessary, satisfactorily defend, our natural endowments.
For leaders, Machiavelli submits that “…armed republics make very great progress. Rome and Sparta stood for many centuries armed and free. The Swiss are very well armed and free.” (Chapter 12). Machiavelli decrees that there is nothing better than a well-armed state. He makes the point that a self-reliant defense posture is indispensable.
Along with the preceding concepts, Machiavelli stresses the need for autonomy and sufficiency in the management of national security. He says, “I conclude, thus, that without its own arms, no principality is secure; indeed it is wholly obliged to fortune since it does not have virtue to defend itself in adversity.” (Chapter 13). Machiavelli believes that a state’s armed force should not depend on any other armed force. And, there should only be one armed force that serves the state. This is the same principle that President Estrada relied on when he declared that there was only one Armed Forces of the Philippines when Camp Abubakar was taken by government forces.
Machiavelli echoes a commonsensical view when he states that “…there is no proportion between one who is armed and one who is unarmed, and it is not reasonable that whoever is armed obey willingly whoever is unarmed…” (Chapter 14). In this statement, it follows that the state has to have modern armed forces to improve its “proportion” of capability with respect to potential adversaries.
These are just a few among the many words of wisdom on statecraft that Machiavelli left to us. His legacy of realism continues to ring constantly, especially for countries like ours. Let us take heed in order to remedy the less than optimal position that we find ourselves in the West Philippine Sea.
Ambassador Generoso Calonge served as Philippine ambassador to Israel from 2011 to 2014, and to Iraq from 2020 to 2022. He is a member of the Philippine Bar, a graduate of the UP College of Law in 1985. He earned an LL. M. from Harvard in 1988. He finished his Ph. D. in Development Administration from the Philippine Christian University in 2022. His academic interest is in the realist school of international relations.