Securitizing Climate Change in the Philippines, with Mark Payumo

January 10, 2019

Mark Payumo in Manila last October with a Philippine National Police Officer, Pacific Fellow Tom Temprosa, & Devin Stewart.
CREDIT: Amanda Ghanooni.

DEVIN STEWART: Hi, I'm Devin Stewart here at Carnegie Council in New York City, and today I'm speaking with Mark Payumo. He is a Carnegie Council Asia Dialogues Pacific Delegate who came with us to Manila recently to look at climate change. He also teaches at North Valley Military Institute in California. He previously served as a Philippine Army Special Forces officer, where he specialized in unconventional warfare and counterterrorism.

Mark, great to speak with you over the phone today.

MARK PAYUMO: Thank you, Devin. Thanks for having me.

DEVIN STEWART: It was great having you on the trip to the Philippines to look at climate change, climate change politics, the technology, resilience, and climate change disaster response as part of our Asia Dialogues projects. What would say is your overall takeaway or impression from that trip just a few weeks ago with Carnegie Council?

MARK PAYUMO: My overall impression of that trip is that I think the international community is really coming together in trying to curb the negative effects of climate change. I think one of the vehicles that the international community is using in trying to achieve that is through organizations like yours, the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs. I was very happy to be part of that and to be able to meet people with like-minded intent in dealing with this unprecedented challenge that we are facing today.

DEVIN STEWART: Great. You also mentioned that one of the themes that you thought about was securitizing climate change through the Philippine defense posture. What do you mean by that?

MARK PAYUMO: Right. When I read the announcement on your website about this trip, what actually has been intriguing me is how there has been a policy loophole in Philippine policymaking in how the armed forces of the Philippines is able to in a way take advantage of that, of course, along with the election of the current president, who has always been known to have really strong support for the defense establishment.

But along with climate change, all this climate change discourse that has been going on in the Philippines, the armed forces of the Philippines and the defense establishment in general was able to ride along with that. It can be observed. They were able to push through with some big-ticket defense acquisitions such as the Strategic Sealift Vessel, which is dual-use, so that has been the running thread in all of these defense acquisitions, so it's dual-use in order to deal with climate change adaptation and at the same time cater to the territorial defense needs of the country.

What I mean by "securitizing" climate change, I think while the armed forces of the Philippines was able to ride along with this policy loophole that I just mentioned, the problem is there is a lack of policy penetration. So there really is no clear-cut and explicit national policy that supports the armed forces when it comes to climate change adaptation and at the same time being able to fulfill its role and mandate when it comes to territorial defense, and we all know what's going on in the South China Sea and all that. The Philippines is right in the middle of it. That is what I mean by securitizing climate change.

But at the same time, there are also two ways in order to securitize climate change, which are from the top down, which is coming from policymakers—you wait for Congress to act on it—while the other one is bottom-up, that is, we have security practitioners and congressional defense committees working together in order to put forward common sense when it comes to policy posture.

But what I am actually trying to put forward is I think what is more effective is the bottom-up approach because you have the security practitioners, people from the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines actually being involved in all of this because at the end of the day they are the ones who are going to be the end-users and who will execute the country's needs when it comes to climate change adaptation and territorial defense.

DEVIN STEWART: Mark, you also mentioned the idea of the Philippine armed forces' "strategic dissonance" on climate change. What did you mean by that?

MARK PAYUMO: Yes. I have been following this policy loophole that I mentioned for quite a while now. I read the armed forces of the Philippines military strategy.

For every administration they have an official label to it just like what they have right now for 2017-2022, they call it the AFP Development, Support, and Security Plan. The prior administration called it the Internal Peace and Security Plan. You have these military strategies, which is a routine publication which is publicly exposed, and you have the National Security Strategy that has never been publicly exposed. There is also a likelihood that it has never been on paper, but I think grand strategies may also work that way in some countries that have embassies in the Philippines.

But between those two, the military strategy for this current administration only mentions climate change seven times, but it is a considerable improvement from its previous installment that makes mention of it only once. There is no dispute that the defense establishment is convinced that climate change is real and is a national security threat, but the problem is it may not really align with another consensus in the international community that it is a threat multiplier, which tends to exacerbate already-existing conflicts around the world. That's one that comes to strategic dissonance.

But at the same time you have the National Security Strategy being recently published as late as July 2018. What is good about this bill, the NSS, is that it discusses or it makes mention of climate change in a lengthier discussion, which is of course a departure from previous practice, which has only been military strategy that talks about it. But if the National Security Strategy talks about it in that way, albeit belatedly, and the military strategy does not—for example, only considering climate change adaptation being a mission that is just to support communities in order to be climate-change-resilient as opposed to, say, talking about or subsequently touching on the potential erosion of military power or degradation of the military's ability to provide realistic changes for fighters. This is where they are incongruous or they are not aligned with each other.

But I think there is a way in order to move beyond that. It could be just issuing a memo or entirely cracking a brand-new military strategy, albeit classified. But my point here is if you have a publicly disclosed strategy which signals not just to the international community but especially to your primary consumers, which is Philippine policymakers, that you have this united front, the defense establishment leading the way in dealing with climate change both for resiliency of the communities and for territorial defense, then it is easier for you to influence the policy discourse and policy making in order to have a much more coherent national policy when it comes to climate change.

We have arguments and literature out there that talks against militarizing the environment, but my belief is that if you securitize climate change it's a two-way street. Defense posture benefits from that while at the same time the communities benefit from that as well in terms of being adaptable. If the military can also be involved, not just in adaptation but when it comes to mitigation, then the entire country beginning with the communities can also be united with that because you have a government agency, which is the military, that is leading the charge in that matter.

The United States is a perfect example when it comes to that. I believe in recent years, at least in a year or two, I believe Australia has also been doing something about it along that line.

DEVIN STEWART: In conclusion, Mark, you mentioned adopting the Australian approach or methodology. What do you mean by the Australian approach? What is that approach?

MARK PAYUMO: I've also been intrigued by this former colonel from the Australian Defense Force. He is Michael Durant Thomas, who wrote this book, The Securitization of Climate Change: Australian and United States' Military Responses. He also talks about how Australia has lagged behind in its stated commitments when it comes to climate change. But I think Michael Thomas is also having some success in influencing their policymaking when it comes to securitizing it, and that is precisely my stand on it, which is the bottom-up approach. There are two ways, top-down and bottom-up. I think Australia is also doing that from the bottom up.

That is I think a viable entry point, like the discussion that they've had with these experts from the Philippines. You don't wait for Congress to act on it, or you're just going to be waiting forever. That is what has been happening, people coming together, and you see what's possible when it's coming from the bottom up.

DEVIN STEWART: Thank you very much, Mark. Just as a sort of conclusion here, what do you plan to do with the knowledge that you've gotten and the experience you've gotten from our trip to the Philippines in your career or in your work or at your institute?

MARK PAYUMO: This paper that I'm doing, like I told you I've been writing for the Office of Naval Strategic Studies of the Philippine Navy, so once I'm done with this, they will be publishing that.

At the same time, I am also being increasingly involved when it comes to strategic issues because I think what we're doing, which is trying to establish a think tank that gives importance to national defense and regional security in the Asia-Pacific is something that is really found wanting, especially back there in the Philippines.

Over the long term, I think my aim is to avoid what happened back in 2016 when especially the United States and the rest of the West were not able to make sense of this populist leader coming to power and totally turning things upside-down. For example, you have former ambassador to the Philippines Kristie Kenney flying to the Philippines virtually overnight just to talk to their current president, but the problem is that it sends a message that when it comes to this sudden shift in Philippine-U.S. relations, the Philippines being a small country at that, the United States all of a sudden is in disarray.

So I want over the long term to be somehow a form of conduit and avoid future misunderstandings along those lines. One of the ways in getting to that is using issues like this, climate change, as an entry point.

But of course, this is also something that I truly care about. There is only the climate that we've got, but at the same time, yes, over the long term it serves the purpose.

DEVIN STEWART: Thank you so much, Mark. Mark Payumo is a Carnegie Council Pacific Delegate who came with us to Manila recently, and he teaches at North Valley Military Institute in California. Great to speak with you today, Mark.

MARK PAYUMO: Thank you so much for having me, Devin.

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