What is national security, and why is it misunderstood?

Renowned, retired professor Clarita Carlos from the University of the Philippines has been chosen by incoming President Marcos Jr. as his national security adviser. Filipino netizens generally responded positively with her appointment in the aforementioned position, which is usually offered to retired military personnel. Initially, the image of national security has been equated with national defense, where the armed forces play an important role in physically securing the nation-state. However, addressing issues related to national security is becoming more convoluted with other systemic problems. As an underrated position that is gravely misunderstood, now is the perfect chance to comprehend the significance of national security and its ever expanding scope of dilemmas that it should confront.

Before delving into the subject of national security itself, we begin by having this bedrock assumption that survival is a natural instinct of all living things. Biologically speaking, all living organisms reproduce to continue their species’ existence beyond their generation. To survive, they adapt accordingly to the changes of their environment and find ways to maximize their chances through evolution. This is true with human beings. As a social animal, humans interact with other humans to improve their chances of survival. This drive for self-preservation led to the creation of societies. However, the Hobbesian thought of man’s nature of being nasty, brutish, and short, calls for a Leviathan; a state that provides protection to man. Needless to say, guaranteeing man’s survival goes beyond the nation-state.

Knowing that no country is permanently isolated, developing international relationships has also been intertwined with security. This can even be observed in Philippine foreign policy where national security and economic security form two of its three pillars. With such reality, John Mearsheimer’s offensive realism theory stipulates that there is no hierarchy of nations in the world order, and it is coupled with this degree of uncertainty about the intentions of other countries. Just like human beings, all countries’ primary interest is survival, and the best way to secure this core national interest is through self-help. It is also rational for nation-states to take advantage of opportunities that maximize their chances of survival by achieving hegemony across continents. Pax Romana, Pax Mongolica, and Pax Britannica achieved roughly a century of hegemonic dominance through economic interconnectedness, political maneuvering, military intervention, and shrewd diplomacy.

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With Pax Americana currently unfolding with American preponderance in technology, culture, economy, and military, the national security agenda of the United States were created, adjusted, and executed with flamboyance by their leading academics, scientists, and strategists. From there, the American national security adviser plays a definitive role in answering those threats. The presidencies of Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter had showcased the sharpest realist diplomats of modern history; Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski. Their impactful decisions are still being felt up to this day, even though the Cold War years had long been concluded.

As the sole regional hegemon, America’s strategic interests have changed. Thus its definition and scope of national security have also dramatically widened, where it tackles different parts of everyday living. Even though national security was originally thought of discouraging, deterring, and defending against any military attack, its dimensions have transformed in various ways. Nevertheless, its primary objective of improving a nation-state’s chances of survival has never changed.

In the case of the Philippines, external and internal issues that directly threaten the survival of the Philippine state clearly exist. Externally, provocations of the People’s Republic of China in Philippine Exclusive Economic Zones are regular occurrences where the Philippines would submit diplomatic protests against these Chinese assertions. Internally, armed attacks from communist insurgents and secessionist groups are being confronted by the military. To further complicate matters, terrorists linked with extremist Islamic groups are trained in Afghanistan and Pakistan where they conceal their identities as they execute their clandestine operations. The Philippine military can never be complacent.

Another dimension of national security that produces yields to the country’s self-preservation is economic security. In recent years, several external factors like the Covid-19 pandemic, Ukrainian crisis, and all-encompassing inflation spikes in international markets have stricken global economies, and the Philippines hasn’t been spared its adverse effects. In a highly-globalized and interconnected world, market movement became more sensitive as disturbances to global supply chains affect producers and consumers alike. Thus, it is imperative for the regular Filipino to have job security and have the capacity to purchase basic commodities. Creating a country that is resilient against economic recession is indeed difficult to accomplish in this ever changing planet filled with uncertainties. Nevertheless, a security policy that seeks to strengthen and maintain inclusive economic institutions is also of great importance.

There are also a number of internal issues that became security issues as these sectors have also embedded themselves in the economy and in the society. These would include food, energy, and the environment. Food dilemmas arose due to actions that disenfranchised farmers and fisherfolks, apparent inadequacy of appropriate agriculture-related infrastructure, and limited results of agrarian reform. For energy, the Philippines has never been energy-sufficient, as the country is highly dependent on prices imposed on imported hydrocarbons. Lastly, degradation of the environment has continued endangering both land and water resources of the whole country. To tackle these national problems, protecting national interests must be in in the forefront by pursuing internal “realpolitik”. Applying pragmatic means to accomplish these lofty goals is something that the incoming national security adviser must consider.

All in all, national security should be looked at with a multi-dimensional perspective. As states and societies have placed self-preservation as their primary interest, they have taken varied measures that increases their chances of survival. If ever an opportunity arises that might maximize those chances, rational nation-states have never failed to address such. With these, the position of national security adviser of the Philippines is of great significance. Even though it is not a position that directly mobilizes the armed forces, the police, or the Philippine diplomatic corps, this adviser-role guides the head of government to make impactful decisions that goes beyond the president’s six-year mandate.

One Reply to “What is national security, and why is it misunderstood?”

  1. You know, all the motivations of humans in life can be summed up in the word security. Not only do you have food security, but there’s personal security, home security, security of freedom of speech, etc. Why do people complain about loud videokes? Because their security of quiet is threatened. Why do nations go to war? Because they feel their security is threatened by another country. Why do narcissists do stupid stuff on Tiktok? Because get a feeling of security from that. Why do employees become cruel to household helpers? Security through feeling of power. Why would soldiers or insurgents torture people? Feeling of security to relieve tension. And so on. Here, national security is an issue because there are threats. They do exist.

    To settle conflict or solve the world’s problems, the most ideal thing to do is to ensure the security of all people. The problem with wokes in this respect is that they don’t want all people to have security, they want only some (the LGBTQ+whatever, narcissists, etc.) to have security at the expense of others. So in other words, they don’t want to solve the problem, they just want to reverse who the affected parties are.

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