Small Powers and the Security Utility of Trade Examined in the Mabini Dialogue

  Dr. Michael Magcamit discussing the impetus and dynamics behind the linking of security and trade.
Dr. Michael Magcamit discussing the impetus and dynamics behind the linking of security and trade.

For all states in East Asia, trade has become a vital platform for pursuing various components of their national interests.  In their quest to promote and enhance their ‘statist’ (state-centric) and ‘humanist’ (human-centred) security referents, small powers have learned to re-imagine and re-invent the utility of free trade. Thus amid their marginal size and peripheral position, trade has become an integral function of the small states’ security policies and strategies.

This was emphasized by Dr. Michael Magcamit, Assistant Professor at Musashi University, in his talk at the Mabini Dialogue held on 9 August 2017 at the FSI Training Rooms 554-557. His presentation, Small Powers and the Security Utility of Trade, explored the security-trade linkage defining East Asia’s contemporary security environment using “cohabitative security,” or the view that security encompasses both state and human elements as the overarching idea.

Using Taiwan, Singapore, the Philippines and Malaysia as case studies, Dr. Magcamit examined (1) why and how small powers link their security interests and trade agendas; (2) how traditional/ non-traditional security threats/ issues influence the facilitation and outcome of the small powers’ trade activities; and (3) how statist/humanist linkages affect the small powers’ primary security referents and overall security.

Dr. Magcamit argued that depending on the nature and origin of the security threats, and the underlying security contexts, trade performs a multifaceted function.  In Taiwan, trade is a sovereign-upgrading mechanism; in Singapore, a defense-upgrading tool; in the Philippines, a development-upgrading instrument; while in Malaysia, a diversity-upgrading apparatus.

The linkages, nonetheless, work like a double-edged sword producing mixed outcomes. For every additional security that the linkage provides, a corresponding insecurity is reflected. Taiwan’s statist linkage efforts might lead to the island’s complete assimilation with China; while Singapore’s linkage attempts can result in the city-state’s failure to strategically balance conflicting American, Chinese and Japanese interests in the region.  In the Philippines, the humanist linkage attempts have preserved the uneven economic security and further reinforced the country’s oligarchic system and patronage culture.  Malaysia’s linkage efforts, on the other hand, exacerbated racial inequalities and further legitimized the Malay-centric rule of the Barisan Nasional coalition.

Dr. Magcamit concluded that given enormous strategic constraints faced by small powers, they have generally relied on others to obtain security, favored the status-quo, religiously adhered to international laws and institutions, and displayed high levels of paranoia. The insecurities induced by constraints have provided the impetus for building statist and humanist forms of linkages. By enhancing their capacity to pursue their own security interests through such linkages, the small powers are able to curb their insecurities, albeit in a limited way, and with varying results and repercussions. Despite new forms of risks and uncertainties generated by these linkages, small powers are bent on maintaining them due to their underlying belief that the future will be miserable unless these are undertaken.

CIRSS Head Maria Ana Rowena Layador awarding the certificate of appreciation to Dr. Magcamit.
CIRSS Head Maria Ana Rowena Layador awarding the certificate of appreciation to Dr. Magcamit.