As the world’s militaries draw on their HADR capabilities (humanitarian assistance and disaster response) during climate change-related disasters, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has kept up through its baseline of military hardware that it maintained in response to decades of internal security challenges.
Even with the Revised AFP Modernization Program (RAFPMP) in full swing, indications exist that multi-role defense acquisitions continue to be the running thread in the AFP’s buildup, taking into account the country’s misfortune as a geographical pathway for super-typhoons that compounds both its internal and external security challenges. The Philippine Navy’s strategic sealift vessels, for instance, appears to have gained Congressional approval due to its secondary applicability to search-and-rescue missions, medical civic aid, and most of all, HADR that simultaneously satisfies Philippine international commitments to climate change.
The Philippine government’s decades of neglect of its own military, however, remains fresh in memory. Hence, the question is whether it’s only a matter of time that the AFP will once again succumb to another agonizing period of decline.
Riding the wave of the international fad that is HADR, nonetheless, may well be a starting point in order to reverse such propensity on the part of Manila. Given the hierarchy of threats that the country is facing—first, China; second, communist and Islamic terrorism; and third, illegal drugs—the AFP must innovate in terms of its policy agendas as a way to maintain the strategic centrality of its military modernization. China topping the list is supported by the steady increase in the defense budget under the RAFPMP’s second horizon that amounts to a yearly average of USD1.1-billion until 2022, bringing 2018’s total defense spending at USD3.7-billion—a figure on par with the country’s benign rival, Malaysia.
Poking the stick on Beijing, however, is a foolhardy option even as it undermines Indo-Pacific stability. Hence, operating under the threshold of conflict and not directly identifying China as a primary competitor—much less an adversary—is a foremost condition if the AFP is to truly attain the minimum credible defense posture it is aiming for through its modernization programs.
But a serious weakness in this approach is precisely the lack of a worthy adversary that could bring out the best in the AFP as a warfighting organization. Over half a century of fighting fellow Filipinos along ideological lines have robbed the AFP of both confidence and capacity to give any external aggressor a true contest in conventional warfare. Yet, identifying a literal adversary is still out of the question not only because it goes against the Philippine Constitution that renounces war as an instrument of policy but, as previously stated, provoking the second largest economy in the world is foolhardy at worst and misguided at best.
What has not been tried is the explicit identification of climate change as a thematic strategic adversary that reconstitutes climate change-related disasters under the umbrella of national security. Similar to how a warming planet provided the political capital in order to realize long-deferred military acquisition plans, narrowing down the country’s national security focus to an overarching strategic threat that is climate change may be the decisive theme that will sustain Philippine defense modernization.
Modeling China’s grand strategy of a “peaceful rise” can also add to the long-term comprehensive approach that Manila can develop in strengthening its defense infrastructure through the cover of climate change. China wouldn’t have managed to get to this point where it is now entering the beginning stages of a direct challenge to the most powerful nation on earth without a delaying strategy that avoided unnecessarily provoking the United States.
Manila, in similar fashion, has been understandably circumspect about identifying China’s military and paramilitary presence as the enemy at the gates within Philippine territorial waters and exclusive economic zones. But instead of just letting the RAFPMP play out that may fall victim to future political leadership once again abandoning Philippine national security interests, the AFP must be the vehicle for Manila to explicitly identify a thematic enemy. It must become the proactive focus of its institutional energy to continue building up a multi-role Philippine military that can gradually pose a viable threat to any potential foreign aggressor.
Identifying climate change as the strategic adversary—albeit a thematic one—not only ensures that Philippine defense modernization programs keep moving forward, but it allows the AFP to substantially gain strength in peacetime without provoking Beijing. Militarizing the environment then becomes an ethical approach in upholding Philippine national security interests over the long-term, and pursuing multi-role modernization within Constitutional conditions for going to war and preparing for it.
About the author: Mark Payumo is a former Philippine Army Special Forces Officer and a graduate of the Philippine Military Academy. His research centers around Indo-Pacific security. Special thanks to the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs’ Asia Dialogues Program and the Henry Luce Foundation for supporting this research on climate change in the Philippines.
But it’s difficult to think about value when we have no buoy for understanding it outside our traditional lenses: for example, our time, our job, and what others tell us they are worth in cash. This, largely, is the world’s paradigm for value so far. But understanding what value really means changes everything—and will be at the center of the decentralized revolution in global coordination that will unfold over the next decade. So, where do we begin?
Let’s start with gold.
Gold is an inherent value. When backing a market, gold allows us to grow a balanced economy well into the trillions. But why does it allow for massive stable markets to form around it? It is gold's permanence that creates stability. We understand that gold will always have value, because it is inherent in all of us, not just in one part of the world, but everywhere, not just today, but tomorrow and for the long haul.
In the 1930s when the gold standard was removed, we learned that the U.S. dollar didn’t need gold to back its economy to flourish. We learned that it was just a symbol for U.S. citizens to decentralize their coordination around the United States economy.
It turns out, common agreement is a philosophy for building shared economy.
And so it seems inherent value is a marker for us to begin exploring what the future could look like—a future beyond gold and the existing realm of credit. And so what else has inherent value? Is education as valuable as gold? What about healthcare? What about a vote that can’t be tampered with? What about an ID that can’t be stolen or erased? What about access to nutrition or clean water? You will find value everywhere you look.
It turns out, we’ve already done the legwork necessary to uncover the most elemental inherent values: The Sustainable Development Goals are commitments grown out of the drive to bring to life basic tenets of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—the closest possible social contract we have to a global, common agreement.
We’ve already agreed.
Our agreements are grounded in deep value centers that are globally shared, but undervalued and unfulfilled. The reason for this is our inability to quantify intangible value. All of these rich, inherent values are still nebulous and fragmented in implementation—largely existing as ideals and blueprints for deep, globally shared common agreement. That is, we all agree education, health, and equality have value, but we lack common units for understanding who and who is not contributing value—leaving us to fumble in our own, uncoordinated siloes as we chase the phantoms of impact. In essence, we lack common currencies for our common agreements.
Now we find ourselves at the nexus of the real paradigm of Blockchain, allowing us to fuse economics with inherent value by proving the participation of some great human effort, then quantifying the impact of that effort in unforgeable and decentralized ledgers. It allows us to build economic models for tomorrow, that create wholly new markets and economies for and around each of the richest of human endeavors.
In late 2017 at the height of the Bitcoin bubble, without individual coordination, planning, or the help of institutions, almost $1 trillion was infused into blockchain markets. This is remarkable, and the revolution has only just begun. When you realize that Blockchain is in a similar stage of development as the internet pre-AOL, you will see a glimpse of the global transformation to come.
Only twice in the information age have we had such a paradigm shift in global infrastructure reform—the computer and the internet. While the computer taught us how to store and process data, the Internet built off that ability and furthered the conversation by teaching us how to transfer that information. Blockchain takes another massive step forward—it builds off the internet, adding to the story of information storage and transfer—but, it teaches us a new, priceless and not yet understood skill: how to transfer value.
This third wave kicked off with a rough start—as happens with the birth of new technologies and their corresponding liberties. Blockchain has, thus far, been totally unregulated. Many, doubtless, have taken advantage. A young child, stretching their arms for the first couple times might knock over a cookie jar or two. Eventually, however, they learn to use their faculties—for evil or for good. As such, while it’s wise to be skeptical at this phase in blockchain’s evolution, it’s important not to be blind to its remarkable implications in a post-regulated world, so that we may wield its faculties like a surgeon’s scalpel—not for evil or snake-oil sales, but for the creation of more good, for the flourishing of commonwealth.
But what of the volatility in blockchain markets? People agree Bitcoin has value, but they don’t understand why they are in agreement, and so cryptomarkets fluctuate violently. Stable blockchain economies will require new symbolic gold standards that clearly articulate why someone would agree to support each market, to anchor common agreement with stability. The more globally shared these new value standards, the better.
Is education more valuable than gold? What about healthcare or nutrition or clean water?
We set out in 2018 to prove a hypothesis—we believe that if you back a cryptocurrency economy with a globally agreed upon inherent value like education, you can solve for volatility and stabilize a mature long lasting cryptomarket that awards everyone who adds value to that market in a decentralized way without the friction of individual partnerships.
What if education was a new gold standard?
And what if this new Learning Economy had protocols to award everyone who is helping to steward the growth of global education?
Education is a mountain. Everyone takes a different path to the top. Blockchain allows us to measure all of those unique learning pathways, online and in classrooms, into immutable blockchain Learning Ledgers.
By quantifying the true value of education, a whole economy can be built around it to pay students to learn, educators to create substantive courses, and stewards to help the Learning Economy grow. It was designed to provide a decentralized way for everyone adding value to global education to coordinate around the commonwealth without the friction of individual partnerships. Imagine the same for healthcare, nutrition, and our environment?
Imagine a world where we can pay refugees to learn languages as they find themselves in foreign lands, a world where we can pay those laid off by the tide of automation to retrain themselves for the new economy, a world where we can pay the next generation to prepare themselves for the unsolved problems of tomorrow.
Imagine new commonwealth economies that alleviate the global burdens of poverty, disease, hunger, inequality, ignorance, toxic water, and joblessness. Commonwealths that orbit inherent values, upheld by immutable blockchain protocols that reward anyone in the ecosystem stewarding the economy—whether that means feeding the hungry, providing aid for the global poor, delivering mosquito nets in malaria-ridden areas, or developing transformative technologies that can provide a Harvard-class education to anyone in the world willing to learn.
These worlds are not out of reach—we are only now opening our eyes to the horizons of blockchain, decentralized coordination, and new gold standards. Even though coordination is the last of the seventeen sustainable development goals, when solved, its tide will lift for the rest—a much-needed rocket fuel for global prosperity.
“Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair.” —George Washington