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[B-SIDE Podcast] Russia, Ukraine, and the Philippines (Part 2)

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In this B-Side episode, Collin Koh, a research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies of Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, elaborates on the lessons the Philippines and the region should take away from the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war.

“It is important for countries to seek diplomacy, but also to seek readiness to respond to contingency — in this case, a credible military for both big and small states alike,” Mr. Koh tells BusinessWorld reporter Luz Wendy T. Noble.


Countries must define their national interest.

The Asia-Pacific region has to perform a “precarious” balancing act as it faces post-pandemic concerns like mounting debt, public health and social security issues, and inadequate defense strategies in a world where global order is a concern.

Most Southeast Asian countries spend about 1% of their gross domestic product for military strategies, which is “not sustainable,” said Mr. Koh, given the cost of defense equipment.

Military strategies should, upfront, be rooted in national interest. Establishing this will allow policymakers to gauge the corresponding steps and how it could delegate tasks given available resources and institutions.

The next Commander-in-Chief of the Philippines, he added, will have to weigh the defense of territorial sovereignty against internal security. 

In recent years, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has had to address insurgencies following the Marawi Siege, and the emergence of ISIS-related groups on the local front; and, on the external front, the maritime dispute with China in the West Philippine Sea.

“Would it be possible for the AFP to relegate some of these roles to other agencies to focus on its traditional role of external defense? … Will this change the country’s posture in the West Philippine Sea?” Mr. Koh said.

Neutrality does not equate to being principled.

Countries in the Asia-Pacific had varying stances on the Russia-Ukraine war. But for smaller sovereigns like the Philippines, upholding and standing by international law is a “final frontier” that the world order should be ruled by “right instead of might,” Mr. Koh said.

“If any of us smaller countries what facing Ukraine now, we would expect the international community to come to our aid,” he said.

Mr. Koh said a Ukraine victory would be a win for smaller states also facing aggression from bigger powers as this would prove that the international system works.

As the war stretches on, the next administration will likely keep a “buoyant” China relationship and keep its strong alliance with the US.

Mr. Koh said the next president will likely keep China in the picture given it is a market for exports and how it has been deeply linked with the region through investments and funding. 

In the same way, he said the next leader will keep its alliance with the US, noting how President Rodrigo R. Duterte administration had a “roller coaster ride” with Washington but has, in the end, retained its strong ties with the world’s biggest economy. He also sees opportunities for stronger relationships to flourish with other powers in the region like India, Australia, and Japan, given how the war has brought to light security concerns.

Recorded remotely on April 28, 2022. Produced by Earl R. Lagundino and Sam L. Marcelo.

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