IAPS Dialogue: The online magazine of the Institute of Asia & Pacific Studies

Smart Power Diplomacy: Regional Cooperation on Peace and Order

Written by Ricardo F. De Leon and Ananda Devi Domingo-Almase.

The regional security complex of Southeast Asia and neighbouring countries demands more than hard power to manage national security and regional stability. Hard power is derived from a country’s economic capacity, military strength, and strong foreign policy to protect national interest. While hard power can make a state great, it is how it uses its power to build networks, develop institutions, and attract others that really matters in international relations.

What smart power means in the 21st century is our ability to harness our competencies to connect and work with each other in forging durable and comprehensive security for all. Our diversities and comparative advantages are our strength in this promising region. As articulated in China’s new security concept, our problems are so closely intertwined that we will either swim or sink together when we make policy choices in our region.

According to Professor Joseph Nye of the Harvard Kennedy School, soft power arises from the attractiveness of a country’s cultural values, intellectual capital, and constructive foreign policies. This kind of power, which bolsters a positive national image and political influence, is an effective instrument to get other states and policy actors to cooperate.

Soft power becomes smart when propagated through academic engagements, economic diplomacy, and institutional cooperation on functional areas of security and development. Smart power is developed through investments in education and innovations in institutions and capacity-building. The use of smart power for policy development and regional governance is a strategy for constructing a security community.

With the foregoing as our frame of thinking, this article on smart power diplomacy aims to explain the ideational factors and policy ends for the establishment of educational networks and functional cooperation in the non-military field of security. The article is organised in three parts that will discuss the constructs of comprehensive security in Asia, the use of smart power diplomacy for regional peace and order, and the strategic direction for Asian security.

Framework for Comprehensive Security and Regional Cooperation

One of the three pillars for regional stability in the ASEAN blueprint is the construction of a political-security community based on democratic ideals and international norms. Alongside this are the pillars of economic community and socio-cultural community.

The political-security community seeks to promote a rules-based, cohesive, peaceful, and resilient region where countries share in the responsibility for comprehensive security. Some of the strategic courses of action provided in the ASEAN blueprint are: conflict prevention and confidence-building; conflict resolution and peaceful settlement of disputes; peace-building; cooperation on non-traditional security concerns; coordination on disaster management; and timely response to urgent issues and crisis situations in the region.

The pillars of the ASEAN security community are akin to the key features of China’s “New Asian Security Concept”, which is common, cooperative, comprehensive, and sustainable. Common security is communicated as a model for countries that belong to the Asian family with mutual interests and common futures. Cooperative security refers to the interconnectedness of security issues and problems in our region, which needs collaborative and comprehensive solutions to address traditional and non-traditional threats. For Asia, sustainable security is assured when there is development, equitable growth, and mutual benefit.

The reframe of security in the ASEAN region and in Asia underpins the establishment of a new regional security architecture that is shared by all. The policy framework provides that cooperation in the non-military sphere is vital in establishing a security community. This is premised on the reality that threats of terrorism, transnational crimes, illegal drug trafficking, natural disasters, pandemics, and climate change are more dangerous than ever to our security and development.

Smart Power Diplomacy for Regional Peace and Order

Hard power and real politics are not enough for countries to survive and prevail in such an unconventional security environment. The regional security complex in which we operate calls for smart power diplomacy of confidence-building, academic exchanges, research and development, and joint undertakings between and among national and educational institutions.

The role of academia and policy think tanks are crucial in shaping strategic foreign policies that give premium to regional peace and order. In this regard, universities and other higher educational institutes are responsible for developing normative frameworks, creating innovations, and building networks for security cooperation. Collaboration on public safety training and education is a diplomatic and strategic track that ASEAN member states and China can undertake through informal channels and low politics.

The recent initiative to build the China-ASEAN Law Enforcement Academy is emblematic of this kind of smart power diplomacy. The concept of building the Academy to cope with the new security situation was presented and agreed upon during the 2nd China-ASEAN and Neighboring Countries Police Academy Presidents Forum in China in June 2017. On this occasion, the Philippine Public Safety College (PPSC) was invited to present a paper through which we put forward our advocacy to enhance public safety education and research, establish strategic linkages with academic institutes of other countries, and collaborate with partner institutions in promoting common security.

Designed as a “co-sourcing” institution, the Academy will serve as a strategic platform for cooperation on law enforcement training and education, as well as policy research on peace and order in Asia. Participating countries will carry out short-term training courses, and graduate and post-graduate degree programs for their law enforcers and public safety leaders. The plan also includes scholarship programs, exchange of students and faculty, research projects, delegation visits, and other collaborative activities among participating countries.

Known as Track II diplomacy in international relations, engagements between academic institutions and think tanks of different countries facilitate common understanding, confidence-building, and mutual benefits. This soft strategy with partner institutions is carried out through knowledge generation, theoretical innovations, research collaboration, joint exercises, and support for capacity building.

Diplomatic relations and academic engagements in both official and academic tracks foster common understanding and put off strategic misperceptions in a regional security complex. Smart power diplomacy defuses tension in possible areas of conflict, such as in the SCS where the Philippines, China, and other Southeast Asian countries have territorial claims.

Strategic Direction for Regional Security

In the case of the Philippines, our policy ends are to build internal capacity and broaden public security at the strategic level. We understand that the safety and security of our citizens, institutions, and communities requires a comprehensive strategy that stands on sound domestic policies and human resource capabilities. This is how we can attract regional partners and operate in the strategic setting. The attraction pulls us towards integration and cooperation on common security and development concerns in our region.

This framework provides for bilateral and multilateral partnerships with small, medium, and major powers in Southeast Asia and Asia Pacific. This is based on the knowledge that domestic policies alone cannot address transnational and/or global problems that threaten the survival of our people and environment.

Cooperation in the non-traditional security field is one functional area that the Philippines is working with ASEAN, China, and other Asian countries. In the case of the SCS, countries like the Philippines, China, and other claimant states can cooperate despite differing positions. Common interests of peace, development, and security can get conflicting parties to work together through preventive diplomacy and maritime confidence and security-building measures. Starting from low-sensitivity areas—such as law enforcement training, education, and joint operations—we can work out strategic solutions to complex problems and ensure regional stability.

Over time, we can look to expand the level of cooperation and raise the level of political dialogue on other national security concerns. What smart power means in the 21st century is our ability to harness our competencies to connect and work with each other in forging durable and comprehensive security for all. Our diversities and comparative advantages are our strength in this promising region. As articulated in China’s new security concept, our problems are so closely intertwined that we will either swim or sink together when we make policy choices in our region.

Ricardo F. De Leon, PhD, a retired three-star Police Deputy Director General (PDDG), is the President of the Philippine Public Safety College (PPSC) and the former President of the Mindanao State University (MSU). Ananda Devi Domingo-Almase, DPA is the Professor III of the National Defense College of the Philippines (NDCP) and a member of the National Security Committee of the Philippine Council for Foreign Relations (PCFR). Image Credit: CC by U.S. State Department/Flickr.