With Due Respect

No permanent friends or enemies

In international relations, there are no permanent friends or permanent enemies, only permanent interests. The original of this pragmatism is generally conceded to Lord Palmerston (John Henry Temple) of Great Britain, but most world leaders have invoked it at one time or another to justify their policies and actions.

Eagle, dragon and bear. For example, Germany and Japan who were the enemies of the United States and Western Europe during World War II are now their allies vis-à-vis their current rivals, China and Russia, which were their comrades-in-arms during the same war.


This pragmatism pervades other relationships: political, communal, marital and personal. In our country, politicians change political loyalty after every presidential election, conveniently embracing erstwhile opponents and undermining erstwhile friends.

The promotion of our national interest likewise justifies the new “independent foreign policy” of our country to broaden cooperation and friendship with nontraditional partners. The investments, trade, tourism and aid requirements of our country are now focused on the Chinese dragon and the Russian bear, no longer on the American eagle.


(In contrast, the major religions teach selflessness and oppose self-centeredness. The Lord Jesus Christ reduced the Ten Commandments to two: “Love God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” In fact, to his disciples, He made the second command even more selfless: “Love one another as I have loved you.” This means that His disciples must, if needed, die for each other, the way Jesus died for them. In Buddhism and Hinduism, the attainment of “Nirvana,” the complete liberation from personal desire and selfishness, is the ultimate goal.)

Broad diplomatic powers. Our laws give the President wide discretion to direct our foreign policy. This is because he is privy to classified information which, for reasons of national security, cannot be publicly revealed.

Nonetheless, though his discretion is wide, under our system of checks and balances it is not absolute. The judiciary can declare treaties unconstitutional and presidential actions invalid due to grave abuse of discretion.

On the other hand, Congress can check the President through its general power to legislate and to appropriate funds. Also, the Senate, by two-thirds vote, may ratify (or reject) treaties, while the Commission on Appointments can confirm (or reject) the appointment of ambassadors.

Liberty and prosperity. The President’s view of the world is changing as the world itself is transforming and the major players evolving. Historically, power has shifted from Egypt to Greece, to Rome, to France, to Britain and to the United States. The 19th century was dominated by Europe and the 20th by America. Will the 21st be China’s?

Many predict that by 2030, China would overtake America as the world’s largest economy. Should this happen, the Philippines could be well-positioned in radically upgrading its prosperity as well. Does this mean we should abandon our libertarian ideals in exchange for our economic wellbeing?

No. While prosperity in some countries had been attained at the cost of personal liberty, nonetheless the libertarian spirit catches up inexorably with prosperity. As I said in a speech before the Asean Law Association two years ago:


“The peoples of the world … have different histories, traditions, cultures, ideologies and mindsets. But I dare say, all of them need liberty and prosperity. Some countries, taking into account their unique backgrounds, start with improving their people’s economic lives first and restrict temporarily in measured stages their political liberty. Some others begin with political liberty thinking that their economy would flourish as a necessary consequence. Still some others rise with a combination of both liberty and prosperity at the very beginning. I think that such differing starts and focus are necessary in the growth of nations. But, I also firmly believe that eventually and inevitably, all the peoples of the world need and deserve liberty and prosperity in equal measure.”

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TAGS: Artemio V. Panganiban, foreign policy, Inquirer Opinion, international relations, pragmatism, With Due Respect
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