Going beyond traditional notions of security

Alma Maria O. Salvador

Posted on September 09, 2014

NONTRADITIONAL SECURITY (or NTS) is increasingly gaining traction not only in securitization studies where it has received the central attention that it requires but also in conventional defense circles. NTS, as Mely Cabellero-Anthony of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies puts it, refers to the “challenges to the survival and wellbeing of peoples and states that arise primarily out of nonmilitary sources.”

In contrast to traditional security threats, NTS is not associated with or against a particular state. Involved actors in pursuit of NTS are not necessarily military actors, although the transnational nature of these issues has required both the mobilization and deployment of military assets.

While the communist insurgency remains a security threat in the Philippines, the Aquino III government has, since 2011, incorporated NTS -- specifically the threats of piracy, disease, terrorism, climate change, disasters and transnational crimes -- along with external defense threats in the framing of the national security outlook. Cornerstone security institutions, the National Security Policy 2011 to 2016, the Department of National Defense (DND) Defense Transformation White Paper 2012, and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Internal Peace and Security Plan 2011 have, by and large, transformed the country’s security and defense vantage points from being predominantly inward to outward looking.

A recognition of NTS in the Constitution of the security challenges of the Philippines as an archipelago, is bound to influence two of the AFP’s underprioritized mission thrusts: humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR), and international security and peacekeeping.

Nontraditional security is also found in the recent agenda of the Philippine government in its defense diplomacy with ASEAN and with external dialogue partners, China, Japan and the US, among others, in the purview of the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting (ADMM) and the ADMM Plus. In addition to the setting provided by the ASEAN Regional Forum, Philippine defense diplomacy in the ADMM and ADMM Plus regional settings creates the formal and informal venues for defense and armed forces officials to participate in intra- and extra-ASEAN information sharing and confidence/trust building over “nonthreatening” issues of piracy, HADR, counterterrorism and military medicine. The NTS platform thus can serve as an anchor for forwarding the tough security issues of territorial claims that involve most of ASEAN and as well as the East Asia Summit member states.

While many meetings reflect the “talking shop” nature of ASEAN-led forums, the ADMM and ADMM Plus have been useful in furthering military-civilian and military-military relations in the NTS sphere at a transgovernmental level (that is, involving sub-units of the government) between and among defense establishments (as distinguished from ministries or departments of foreign affairs), seniors officials and working groups while using a noncontroversial yet “strategic space” for actors to communicate.

One example pertains to a sideline conference between Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire T. Gazmin and Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie during the sixth ADMM meeting in Phnom Penh. Of late, the 2013 ADMM Plus tabletop exercises in HADR and military medicine in Brunei are being singled out as an emergent form of “functional cooperation” involving thousands of personnel from a multinational contingent of countries in scenario-based exercises in search and rescue and delivery of relief goods.

Philippine civilian and military security and defense planners are progressively being confronted with the contentious question that has been articulated, in part by Senator Nancy Binay during budget hearings, when she raised concerns over the defense department’s preference for fighter planes versus HADR-oriented airlift and sea transport vessels.

Two news articles published in 2013 highlight the emerging debates between the choices in HADR or external defense within the security sector.

Carmela Fonbuena’s documentation of Senator Binay’s remarks has underscored the painful choice that a small state such as the Philippines has to make while balancing the requirements of an eternally complex and changing external environment: “Disasters are aplenty in the country and we’re not boosting our capability to respond quickly and efficiently. No amount of defense posturing will change how other countries view us.”

In support of this, Wu Shang- Su has argued that “in looking at (Philippine) military modernization, the two approaches -- external defense and HADR -- are not compatible and are thus mutually exclusive.

Alma Maria O. Salvador, PHD, former chair of the Department of Political Science of the Ateneo de Manila University, is assistant professor of International Relations and convenor of the Working Group in Security Sector Reform.