One of the diplomatic lessons learned during the Cold War between the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was that, often, it is best to play both sides against each other.
The founding fathers of the Non-Aligned Movement in 1956 were Josip Broz Tito of Socialist Yugoslavia, Jawaharlal Nehru of India, Sukarno of Indonesia, Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt and Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana. The formal declaration read in part, “Peace cannot be achieved with separation, but with the aspiration toward collective security in global terms and expansion of freedom, as well as terminating the domination of one country over another.”
The first section of that long sentence is the “motherhood statement,” but the meat is found in the last phrase as a definite rebuttal to both the United States and the USSR.
Yugoslavia was firmly a communist state, but had broken away from the USSR after a personal split between Tito and Joseph Stalin. Sukarno encouraged the Japanese occupation to win independence from the Netherlands. He took aid from both the Soviet Union and China when those two countries had bad relations. Nasser’s focus was getting all the colonial powers out of the Middle East and North Africa. Nkrumah was a founding member of the Organization of African Unity and winner of the Lenin Peace Prize in 1962. Nehru received financial and technical support from both power blocs in building India’s industrial base.
Yet, for all the global peace and “goodwill to man” announcements, the economic benefits enjoyed by these countries would not have been as possible, or as large had they positioned themselves firmly on one side or the other of the Cold War.
It is called “playing both sides against the middle,” and it usually works at least for a while.
The Philippines joined the Non-Aligned Movement in 1993 just in time to not gain any benefits from being nonaligned. In fact, the Philippines was pulled into the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization in 1954, which eventually gave cover for the US war in Vietnam.
In his farewell speech upon leaving the US presidency, George Washington said: “It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliance with any portion of the foreign world.” Nearly 200 years later another secretary of State—Henry Kissinger—said, “America has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests.” That is not comforting for a small nation looking for everlasting friendship.
The foreign policy path that President Duterte has taken is scary. For a nation that has been firmly under the wing of the US eagle for a century, this move has been a bold step. However, there are benefits to the playing both sides against the middle game.
Japan has stepped up with some formidable and favorable financing schemes for the President’s infrastructure-building program. How much of this is from a lasting love for the Philippines? How much of this comes from Japan’s own desire to forge a more independent policy from the US in Asia? Is it possible also that this is in response to the Philippine government’s overtures to China of which, Japan wants to counterbalance for more influence in Southeast Asia?
To be able to gain new beneficial alliances is a sign of a nation’s maturity and self-confidence, the latter of which the Philippines and its government has been lacking for some time. Former President Benigno S. Aquino III showed increasing confidence with the legal move against China, while not seeing the US or Southeast Asia firmly at our back. We must continue to move forward with our foreign policy independence.