War and diplomacy

From 1940 when the armies of Austrian corporal Adolf Hitler “blitzkrieged” Europe to the present, the world has had 74 years of unending war. Whatever peace we may have had in these seven decades of fire and madness has not been peace at all but a ceasefire.

These years of war—with bitter, vicious and unforgiving hatreds as well as incredible cruelties—have developed a generation of humanity for whom cruelty and falsehood, violence and deep mistrust of everyone else are the standards of life and behavior.


The model human being of our time is no longer the gentleman of Elizabethan England, the mandarin of imperial China, or the ilustrado of Filipinas, but the “operator,” the marunong sa buhay, the man of brute power.

The arbiters of our destiny as a race are people and nations who control and can unleash nuclear power and destruction. War, to summarize Robert Ardrey in his acclaimed work, “The Territorial Imperative,” is the most successful of all human cultural traditions because of its all-consuming satisfaction of the imperatives of identity, stimulation, and territory, evoked even more by the delusion of greater security.


We need not look further than our own lives to perceive the general truth in this statement. Such is our compulsion to be “someone,” and to seek pleasurable gratification, even at the cost of a peaceful life, friendship and hard-earned savings. Nor can we ignore the implications of nations hazarding life, liberty and peace for their millions of people for the sake of some arid border strip in Afghanistan or a pile of rocks in a sea at Panatag Shoal.

In our homeland, we have not had so much as a complete year of national tranquility. We passed through a crucible of colonial servitude, stripped of human dignity, brutalized, and suffered pervasive injustice. The need to survive created the revolutionary army; the need to survive well ignited their passion into the flame of 1896. Filipinas endured occupation by European and Asian powers, annexed by Yankee troops and invaded by Japan.

Attacked by foreign swords, Filipino patriots spilled their blood. Menaced from within by the armed followers of foreign ideology, veterans fought a fratricidal insurgency. We have suffered grievously in a way rendered more excruciating by the necessity of having to strike at some of our Muslim brethren. By and large, over the last 118 years, ours has been an inheritance of pain.

Given the biological nature of man as an eternal warrior, diplomacy remains the sole instrument to achieve the irreducible goals of national survival. War and diplomacy are two sides of one coin. Since ancient times, war as an armed conflict between two parties has always been a political action. To Carl von Clausewitz, war is a continuation of politics by other means such as diplomacy.

Diplomacy is the art of gaining more than you can get by force, which the weak must learn and which the strong do not need. This definition is applicable to individuals and nations. A strong individual, like a strong nation, can demand; a weak individual, like a weak nation, can only beg. The Greek historian Menander tersely proclaimed: The strong take what they can, the weak must give what they must.

If this is the nature of diplomacy, what are its major instruments?

First, we need people of intelligence, preferably those whose intellect would place them in the upper 10 percent of the nation. This is a requirement which we must observe on pain of slavery, because we cannot successfully bargain with able diplomats by using political lame ducks and others who cannot survive in private business and who must therefore look for a government job, or a turnback in the Philippine Military Academy for academic deficiency as secretary of national defense. A PhD in quantum physics in a prestigious university is most desirable.


Second, we need people of courage. We cannot successfully bargain by using diplomats who are eager to please their foreign counterparts, even to the point of signing away our country.

Third, we must have a clearly defined concept of what we need and what we want as a people who would be free, prosperous and proud. If we do not know what we need and what we want, we shall leave the bargaining table with empty promises disguised as a mutual defense treaty.

Those are the primary requisites. Without them the other instruments would have no effect except slavery for us. With them we can at least die proudly.

Relating the nature of diplomacy with its instruments, what then shall we prescribe for our homeland, the Philippines?

First, we should determine our identity as a race and our place in history. Unless we make up our minds that we belong to either Asia or the United States, then all our policies will be characterized by a fatal ambivalence. We shall continue to go after an ally 10,000 miles away while we neglect our next-door neighbors, who, by race, geographical proximity and common regional interests, are our natural allies. If we continue our unnatural alliance with the United States—unnatural because it is achieved at the expense of our regional neighbors—the day will surely come when we shall have become “outsiders” in our own domain. Asia shall treat us as a suspect foreigner because we have turned our back on our Asian interests.

After identifying our nation as an Asian nation, we should then specify what our particular interests in Asia are, which we must preserve and advance and for which we would fight if threatened. For example, do we care what happens to Korea? Japan? Burma (Myanmar)? Vietnam? Indonesia? If we know our position, then we can ignore events in some places, and fight to the death in others. If we do not know our specific interests in Asia, our actions would be those of a punch-drunk boxer who starts boxing at the sound of any bell.

After identifying our nation, and after defining our particular interests in Asia first, and in the rest of the world next, our final basic concern must be the use of diplomats who are competent, courageous and patriotic. Diplomacy is an art and must be played with extemporaneous skill; while machines can be trusted with formulas, only humans can be trusted with an art.

Let it not be said that we are small and weak and therefore doomed. We are weak in comparison with such countries as Japan and China. But there is no reason we cannot compensate for our weakness by allying ourselves with stronger nations who share our interests in Asia.

Again, we may not be able to raise armies, but surely we can bring key people in other countries over to our side, perhaps by words and perhaps by gifts. The wise diplomat would know when to use words and when to use gifts. The principle, anyway, is that not having enough to conquer other nations, we nevertheless have enough to conquer key people in those nations. How? That would be diplomacy.

It is fatuous to speak of morality in the conduct of foreign policy. The beneficial bargain is all. The stakes of national survival are too crucial to be determined by niceties and politesse.

Finally, let us remember that diplomacy cannot be played with words alone. We must have strength behind our words. Thus, the best diplomacy in the long run is one based on nationalism and propelled by a strong economy. Without nationalism, we shall surely be satellites. And without a strong economy, we shall surely be satellites, too, because we can be bought.

But with nationalism and prosperity, and all the traits implied thereby—such as patriotism, self-discipline, hard work, courage, intelligence and self-respect—we shall be able to achieve the objectives of any diplomacy: a peaceful, free and prosperous nation.

Reynaldo V. Silvestre is a retired army colonel, multiawarded writer, bemedaled officer and former chief, Office of Strategic and Special Studies, Armed Forces of the Philippines.

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TAGS: adolf hitler, Asean, courage, Diplomacy, Japanese Occupation, panatag shoal, War
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