MAKATI CITY (MindaNews /16 October) – Yesterday morning, apart from sitting as a mentor to a thesis about faith-based diplomacy, I was also invited as a panelist to a thesis defense about ‘strategic bandwagoning’ in International Relations (IR).
What is bandwagoning?
Though originally coined by Quincy Wright in his book “A Study of War” published during the Second World War (1942), the concept of bandwagoning in IR has been expounded and popularized by structural realism’s preeminent figure, Kenneth Waltz, in his influential work “Theory of International Politics” (1979).
In a self-help environment of international anarchy with no superior authority over its units (states), they seek their own preservation and survival, in the least, and global domination, at most. This is achieved either through internal balancing (in the form of enhancing economic and military prowess, for instance) or through external balancing (in the form of forging alliances).
When facing a considerable external threat, states that seek alliances may ‘balance’ or ‘bandwagon,’ structural realists would inform us. Balancing means to ally with others against the prevailing threat. According to the structural realist John Mersheimer, states prefer to balance for two reasons: (1) to curb a potential hegemon before it becomes too strong, and (2) to join the weaker side to increase the likelihood that the new member will be influential within the alliance.
According to a realist prediction, states will abandon balancing and opt to bandwagon only when balancing is impossible or too difficult for them to do for one reason or another. As a strategy employed by weak states, bandwagoning is chosen when such states decide that the cost of opposing a stronger power exceeds the benefits. Thucydides’ oft-quoted dictum that “the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must” dictates that a weaker state should align itself with a stronger enemy state because the latter can take what it wants by force anyway. To induce a weaker rival state to become an ally, the stronger state may offer various forms of enticement such as territorial gain, trade agreement, investment opportunity, infrastructure project, and military protection, among many others.
As I went home after the said thesis defense session, I passed by a newsstand and grabbed a copy of a newspaper. The said national daily carries this headline: “Broader China ties seen.” As I read the news story, I learned that notwithstanding an ongoing dispute over territorial claims in the South China Sea, the Philippines and China are expected to sign several cooperation agreements on trade, investment, tourism, people-to-people exchanges, and private business deals during President Duterte’s state visit to China on October 18 to 22.
It is quite revealing that during his speech in Lamitan, Basilan last week (October 10), the Commander-in-Chief told his audience of Agrarian Reform beneficiaries, thus: “May duda ako na okey tayo sa kanila. Huwag na muna natin pakialaman ‘yang Scarborough kasi hindi natin kaya. Magalit man tayo, hangin lang. (I think we are okay to them (China). Let’s not mind the Scarborough [Shoal] for a while because we are not capable. Even if we get mad, it is to no avail.)”
Does this upcoming state visit to China and pronouncement in Basilan herald a strategic shift to bandwagoning?
If they do, then Waltz would remind us that bandwagoning is not necessarily identical with ‘independent’ foreign policy, because of the issue of commitment, intention and deception on the part of the stronger power.
[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Mansoor L. Limba, PhD in International Relations, is a writer, educator, blogger, chess trainer, and translator (from Persian into English and Filipino) with tens of written and translation works to his credit on such subjects as international politics, history, political philosophy, intra-faith and interfaith relations, cultural heritage, Islamic finance, jurisprudence (fiqh), theology (‘ilm al-kalam), Qur’anic sciences and exegesis (tafsir), hadith, ethics, and mysticism. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or http://www.mlimba.com and http://www.muslimandmoney.com.]