The most telling way to understand the Philippines’ effective foreign policy in regional geopolitics is to examine its role in the wargame simulations, as envisioned by the leading US think-tanks.
Such wargame scenarios are typically blurred in public. Last spring, when the US and the Philippines kicked off their largest annual military exercise in history, Filipino authorities downplayed the role of military activities. Instead, they highlighted humanitarian assistance projects. However, as wargamers of major US thinktanks see it, “while humanitarian work is generally agreeable to most, there is no denying that military exercises teach sailors and soldiers to ‘fight future wars.’”
In reality, while such exercises tout generally acceptable responses to natural disasters, they serve to mobilize militaries for war.
CNAS: PH as logistics hub for regional war
Founded in 2007 by Michèle Flournoy, board member of military contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, and Kurt M. Campbell, the coordinator for Indo-Pacific Affairs in the Biden administration, the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) played a key role in pushing the White House to deliver on a “backlog of $19 billion in military sales to Taiwan.” It is the administration’s prime thinktank, and its ex-authorities – including Campbell, State Secretary Antony Blinken and his right-hand Victoria Nuland – have crafted Biden’s policies from Ukraine to Taiwan and the Philippines.
Through its commercial arm WestExec Advisors, CNAS also exemplifies the revolving doors between the private sector, thinktanks, government, and the Pentagon. It is funded by the US big defense contractors, the NATO, and energy giants. Hence, the endless allegations of its conflicts of interest as the “Center of International Insecurity” (Dan Steinbock, The World Financial Review, Jun. 10, 2022) that’s cashing lucratively on new conflicts and Cold Wars.
In mid-2022, the CNAS, in partnership with NBC’s Meet the Press, conducted a high-level wargame exploring a fictional war over Taiwan in 2027. The conflict is anticipated to escalate far beyond what Beijing and Washington intend. In the CNAS report Dangerous Straits, the Philippines is expected “not to participate in operations but support the coalition by permitting US forces to operate from its territory.”
In this scenario, Manila serves as a logistical hub supporting the military operations of the US and its allies against China. It will also face “high-end medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles and cruise missiles.”
The likely Philippine economic and human losses are left un-projected.
CSIS: A Pyrrhic triumph of devastation
Founded at the eve of the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) is one of the largest and most influential US think-tanks. It is funded by the US government, the Pentagon, and Big Business, Bid Defense, Big Energy and Big Banks, as well as foundations that are linked to the funders. Through its Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI), it has for years fostered threat perceptions in the region to legitimize large-scale US maritime presence.
Last January, CSIS engaged in “Wargaming a Chinese Invasion of Taiwan”; a wargame for a Chinese amphibious invasion of Taiwan which it ran 24 times. In these scenarios, Chinese invasion in 2026 would result in thousands of casualties among Chinese, United States, Taiwanese and Japanese forces.
The US fails to prevent China’s conquest of Taiwan and loses significant military assets, yet overall military casualties are limited relative to China. But it’s a Pyrrhic victory. Taiwan sees its economy devastated, while high losses damage the US global position for many years. Intriguingly, the likely Philippine economic and human losses are left un-projected.
In these scenarios, “current policy is to keep a continuous submarine presence in the Philippine Sea.” It is shrewd perception management. Most Filipinos oppose visible militarization, but unseen mobilization is a different story. What’s out of sight is out of mind.
RAND I: PATO (NATO clone) for devastated Asia
Created by Pentagon generals and aviation industry executives in 1945, the RAND Corp. is financed mainly by US government, defense, air force, national security and federal agencies. During the Cold War, it contributed to the doctrine of nuclear deterrence by mutually assured destruction (MAD).
In May, RAND released a broader report Alternative Futures Following a Great Power War. A key finding was that a wartime victory might not produce a favorable postwar setting in the region. A US victory could provoke a stronger alignment between China and Russia. But a defeat could enhance US efforts to recruit allies and partners, while increasing nuclear proliferation among U.S. allies and partners.
Here’s the scenario: After the war, the US doubles down on its broader goal of preventing China’s hegemony in the region by strengthening its commitments to key allies like Japan, Australia and after difficult negotiations, South Korea. In 2029, a new multilateral security organization is created, called the Pacific Alliance Treaty Organization (PATO), which by 2030 is “made up of the US, Japan, Australia, South Korea, and the Philippines.”
In brief, the PATO is the NATO cloned into Asia. The Philippines will be the only ASEAN state joining it, thus dividing Southeast Asia. The PATO’s prime strategic objective is to prevent China’s effort “to unify Asia.” That’s the central subtext of the US pivot to Asia.
RAND II: Demise of economic futures
According to RAND, China’s triumph in Taiwan will heighten Philippine concerns of China’s power. So, Manila is projected to “increase its own military spending and explore closer security cooperation with other regional states.” Despite Chinese pressure to withdraw from its mutual defense treaty with the US, Manila will now pursue even “closer security links with the US.” As a result, the Philippines will “give US forces increased access to air and naval bases, where they conduct regular joint exercises and prepositioned equipment on Philippine territory.”
In view of RAND, “in 2029, China executes a near-complete shutdown in Chinese trade, investment, and tourism with the Philippines until that state revokes its Visiting Forces Agreement with the US, promising at the same time to defer efforts to settle disputes between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea.”
Such a scenario is likely to result in the departure of hundreds of thousands Filipino overseas workers from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Domestically, one might add, regional frictions could ethnic cleavages among the many ethnic groups in the Philippines and foster bias against Chinese Filipinos. And US military presence could re-ignite longstanding resentment in the Muslim south and among the Communist insurgents.
Yet, Washington’s geopolitics is premised on an even heavier US presence in the Philippines. Such militarization will reinforce income polarization and penalize economic efforts at growth, prosperity and welfare in the Philippines, where every fourth person already lives in poverty.
Unsurprisingly, the RAND scenario, too, leaves the likely Philippine economic and human losses un-projected.
The stated Philippine foreign policy is no longer grounded in effective realities, which are tacit in these and other wargame simulations by the leading US thinktanks, funded by the government, the Pentagon and the Big Defense.
The US-Philippine relations rest on the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT, 1951), and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA, 2014). In March 2016, the two countries agreed on the five locations of military bases for the American troops. In 2021 followed the renewed Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA); and earlier this year, four new EDCA sites.
US wargame scenarios imply that the present number of EDCA military sites will increase and become more offensive. These sites will be deployed in the US/PATO-led proxy war against China in Taiwan. They will defend US national security; not that of the Philippines.
The wargames infer a dark future, but one that now looms in the horizon. It is the duty of responsible Filipino policymakers to preempt it in time because, given the current course, Manila may be sleepwalking into a nightmare.
Dr. Dan Steinbock is an internationally recognized strategist of the multipolar world and the founder of Difference Group. He has served at the India, China and America Institute (USA), Shanghai Institutes for International Studies (China) and the EU Center (Singapore). For more, see https://www.differencegroup.net
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