Manila Times - Dec. 10, 2016
THE Philippine Council for Foreign Relations (PCFR) was registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission in July 9, 1985 as a non-stock, non-profit and non-partisan corporation devoted to “studies and research, information and related activities” on “vital issues of foreign policy.” It is the first institution of its kind in the Philippines.
The primary purpose of the council is to contribute to the promotion of the national interest, the enhancement of friendly relations with other countries, and the attainment of the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, in particular, to maintain international peace and security and to promote and encourage respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all. To this end, the council has undertaken research and information activities, published books, journals and articles, held conferences, congresses, workshops, symposia, colloquia and the like, on policy issues with important implications for Philippine foreign relations.
Recently, the PCFR was invited by the Chinese government through the Chinese Embassy to China to meet with its counterpart think tanks. The result was greater understanding of Chinese political, socio-economic and cultural agenda in this so-called Asia-Pacific century. On the Chinese side, we hope that our group was able to share with them the challenges and aspirations of the Filipino people in their quest for development as they assume their position in the world stage.
The PCFR and fellow NGOs and non-state actors today are taking advantage of the fact that in today’s rapidly globalizing universe made possible by the communications revolution, governments are sharing powers–including political, social, and security roles with businesses, with international organizations, and with a multitude of citizens’ groups, thereby devolving sovereignty and the concentrated power guaranteed them in the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia which baptized many a nation state.
Given that dialogues among groups of people and even among individuals have become an essential part of international relations, non-state relations have become a convenient vehicle for building a sense of community across national boundaries.
The contributions of these non-state actors in fostering closer relations among policy leaders and thinkers across continents have been truly astounding. Such influential international research institutions as the Council on Foreign Relations in New York (established in 1919) and the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London (1920), founded through a nongovernmental agreement between people in the United Kingdom and the United States to provide independent institutions for public enlightenment and to facilitate discussions and dialogues on issues facing the two countries and the entire world among leaders of the private sector as well as political leaders, have indeed been the forerunners of today’s track-two diplomacy. The same realization led to the establishment of a series of like-minded institutions, including the Foreign Policy Association (1918), the Hoover Institutions on War, Revolution and Peace (1919), the Century Foundation (1919, formerly the Twentieth Century Foundation), the National Bureau of Economic Research (1920), the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations (1922), the Brookings Institution (1927), the National Planning Association (1934), and the America Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (1943) in the United States, and the Graduate Institute of International Affairs (1927) and the Institute of Policy (1932) in the United Kingdom.
The US Council on Foreign Relations, in particular, through its unrelenting advocacy caused the US, British and French governments to challenge the rise of Nazi power. It also takes credit for drafting America’s political, economic and strategic goals after the war, contributing to the establishment of the United Nations, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund.
Indeed, these non-state organizations can easily promote a sense of shared destiny and common interests among countries within a region that together confront the same issues. By regular participation in NGO activities professional skills and knowledge may well develop a sense of community with professionals from other countries in the same region who deal with the same issues. Finally, through cross-national networking based on electric communications, NGOs can help promote a sense of community among members of these organizations, who are geographically spread out.
The term track two (or track two diplomacy) usually refers to international conferences, symposia, workshops, and seminars on policy-oriented topics on East Asian international relations and economic relations. Track-two initiatives are common, in the field of regional security in Asia, since 1993, and has been utilized by this administration to defuse the South China Sea issue. This has been defined by Carol Hernandez as “the generation and conduct of foreign policy by non-state actors, including government officials in their private capacity.” She adds that such diplomacy “includes the participation of scholars, analysts, media, business, people’s sector representatives, and other opinion makers who shape and influence foreign policy and/or actually facilitate the conduct of foreign policy by government officials through various consultations and cooperative activities, networking and policy advocacy.”
Indeed, participants in “track-two diplomacy have no official standing, even though they may be government officials, they do not represent the state or government, and therefore the conclusions of the meeting, if any, are not in any way binding upon governments, and nor are the proceedings of the meetings represent the position of any state. This gives participants an unusual degree of freedom to speak and express their views, and to debate topics which, in ordinary circumstances, would be either taboo, or of such sensitivity that the approach to discussions is necessarily cautious.” Moreover, governments of the country they belong to can invoke “deniability”.
Track two diplomacy has become possible because participants are no longer confined to home states. Clearly, diplomacy has been increasingly shared by non-state and nongovernmental actors reflecting the dynamic changes in international power relationships associated with the transportation and communication revolution.
For ASEAN to be a successful bloc it must possess, it is suggested strongly, the ability to foster
nongovernmental initiatives to promote a sense of community among the policy planners, the business elite and intellectual leaders of the member countries. With ASEAN members at different stages of national integration, the role and impact of nongovernmental initiatives in nurturing a sense of community across national boundaries in a variety of ways cannot be underestimated.
Next year, the Philippines will host the ASEAN get-together as member nations continue to “cooperate with each other in every possible way in order to promote their strength as a region based on the principles of self-confidence, self-help, mutual respect, mutual cooperation, and solidarity, which are foundations for a solidified and viable community of Southeast Asian nations, in their pursuit of regional prosperity and security.”
In this connection, the PCFR hopes to involve itself in the event by connecting with its ASEAN counterparts to achieve the above goals.
Finally, track two diplomacy is a major source of policy inputs for governments and decision-makers in ASEAN countries even as it provides a venue for experts and scholars in strategic studies to exchange information and analysis of issues and concerns common to ASEAN and its major partners. Through a process of discussion, various issues are distilled and objectively discussed in an atmosphere of academic freedom. In sum, it serves as a laboratory to challenge contentious issues without committing government to specific positions. It thereby provides a free zone for ideas to flower. As Mao would put it, to “let a thousand flowers bloom” in a garden of ideas.