The War Report President Duterte must read


“War between the United States and China could be so ruinous for both countries, for East Asia, and for the world that it might seem unthinkable. Yet it is not: China and the United States are at loggerheads over several regional disputes that could lead to military confrontation or even violence between them. Both countries have large concentrations of military forces operating in close proximity. If an incident occurred or a crisis overheated, both have an incentive to strike enemy forces before being struck by them.”

— War with China, a RAND report sponsored by the US Undersecretary of the Army

This column has repeatedly warned that increased American military deployment and access to bases in the country under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) could subject the Philippines to Chinese attack. And the articles always elicit online comments by readers or propaganda trolls insisting that China would never risk war with the United States through military action against our territory.

The RAND Corporation, a defense research entity sponsored by the US Army, would disagree. In its report out just three weeks ago, “War with China: Thinking Through the Unthinkable,” the think tank warns that in a crisis, Beijing and Washington “both have an incentive to strike enemy forces before being struck by them.” (Download the report at < >.)

Under EDCA, American naval and air forces have increased rotations in the archipelago and can use five Philippine bases initially, in Mactan near Cebu, Cagayan de Oro, Puerto Princesa, Nueva Ecija and Pampanga. It’s part of Washington’s Pivot To Asia policy, which aims to shift 60 percent of naval assets to the region.

RAND report authors David Gompert, Astrid Cevallos and Cristina Garafola believe US forces and the bases they use could be hit by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) ballistic, naval and air assets once or even before a Sino-American conflict begins.

In his recent blog, lead author Gombert adds: “We do not predict a war between the United States and China. Rather, it is plausible that such a war could arise out of a mishandled crisis and, given improvements in the strike capabilities of both countries, could be intense, destructive and protracted.” Read it at < >.

The report adds: “We assume that fighting would start and remain in East Asia, where potential Sino-US flashpoints and nearly all Chinese forces are located. Each side’s increasingly far-flung disposition of forces and growing ability to track and attack opposing forces could turn much of the Western Pacific into a ‘war zone,’ with grave economic consequences.”

On first strikes against military assets, including those in the Philippines, the authors argue: “Sensors, weapon guidance, digital networking and other information technologies used to target opposing forces have advanced to the point where both US and Chinese military forces seriously threaten each other. This creates the means, as well as the incentive, to strike enemy forces before they strike one’s own.”

How bad could contending assets and facilities suffer? “[T]he unprecedented ability of US and Chinese forces to target and destroy each other — conventional counterforce — could greatly deplete military capabilities in a matter of months…. War between the two countries could begin with devastating strikes; be hard to control; last months, if not years; have no winner; and inflict huge losses on both sides’ military forces.”

In short, pretty bad.

And what is the PLA likely to target first? Answer: “The Chinese regard aircraft carriers and regional air bases as prime targets.” Among them are the Mactan, Puerto Princesa and Cagayan de Oro military airfields, shared with civilian terminals and available for US use.

Hence, EDCA makes the Philippines a frontline state in such a conflict, well within range of hundreds of medium-range PLA missiles, which can reach beyond Mindanao and all across the South China Sea and most of Southeast Asia.

That has got to be the No. 1 security threat we face, as our August 4 column said < >.

What can trigger war?
Quoting the report, here are flashpoints that could precipitate confrontation and conflict:

• “Sino-Japanese skirmishing over disputed territory in the East China Sea, where the United States has said its defense treaty with Japan applies

• “Chinese harassment to press its territorial claims in (and to) the South China Sea — against the Philippines or Vietnam, for example — in the face of US insistence on peaceful dispute resolution and freedom of the seas

• “Uncoordinated military interventions by Chinese, South Korean, or US forces in the event of a collapse of North Korea

• “Chinese threat or use of force to intimidate or seize Taiwan

• “An incident at sea, such as the downing of an aircraft, owing to forces operating in close proximity, perhaps in EEZ [exclusive economic zone]waters claimed as sovereign by China but as commons by the United States”

With American forces escalating deployment in the Philippines, China has responded with increasing militarization in the South China Sea, including the building of air and naval facilities on reclaimed islands. This response is not only in the event of war, but also to protect vital sea lanes vulnerable to US attack.

After all, one American strategy cited in the RAND report is “cutting off Chinese access to seaborne supplies of oil and liquefied natural gas,” including four-fifths of imported petroleum passing through the South China Sea. Now you know why Beijing has built up facilities at Fiery Cross Reef and Mischief Reef, and may do the same to Scarborough Shoal.

So in assessing if EDCA should be implemented, President Rodrigo Duterte and the National Security Council would do well not just to listen to top US and Japanese officials queueing to speak with him, but to read the latest report from the US Army’s own RAND brain trust.

After all, Duterte himself has said that he doesn’t want war — which may well come to the Philippines, targeting the very US forces supposed to deter attack.


Please follow our commenting guidelines.


  1. Vietnam on the otherhand, moved rocket launchers off to the Spratlys to counter China’s aggress.

  2. China is willing to talk but the talk are leading and as what China only need to talk. How can you talk freely if the subject of the talk is always against what you insist to talk. How you can talk if somebody prevent you from taking an issue which is against them as superior. How can you talk when at first they are saying no agianst everything you want and only talking things that are in favor of what they want. You can see China bavaviour in all event that Philippine want to get support in ASEAN, China bribing Combodia in order not to issue statement of Sea Conduct over Philippines Sea. In G20 in G7 and lot more International Forum.We are hostage and China limits our options.

  3. We have to built our defense to have enough capability to deter external forces on our own, first and formost.
    Each country has its own agenda and interests, US China Japan, Korea, Vietnam, A part of our territory even grabbed by Vietnam, and did we do?

    Even small countries like Taiwan and Singapore have their own capable forces, just enough to be respected, that they can defend, retaliate and inflict enough damage to any territorial attack.

    You are suggesting we open ourselves, without any defense, and trust China? You are the one who must be fooling us.

  4. Any right thinking person can see that our problem is not with China, who is willing to talk, but America who is obsessed with the objective of being the sole superpower in this world in this century and is willing to sacrifice other people including us Filipinos to achieve this goal. Duterte must embark on a massive information campaign nationwide to show the people the dangers we are facing as long as the Americans insist on keeping military bases in our country. Remember that WW2 was a fight between America and Japan here in the Pacific, and we were just caught in the middle because we were a colony just like the other countries in South East Asia with the exception of Thailand who was spared because she was the only free country in this region at that time and could therefore conduct her own diplomacy without the meddling of a colonial master. Duterte is our last chance. To pray for Duterte is to pray for the people.

    • Wiling to talk…? Yes but china will only talk on their on terms , never fairly,,,If you are fair minded you will see that what happened to the WestPhilippine sea is the fault of China ,,, It ,looks like you are a communist sympathizer of the PLA Amnata pundit,.,.!

  5. I’m not sure if Duterte will have the time to read this report he is busy making rounds to army bases for security reasons in case he finds the call of Martial Law too hard to resist.

    In the mean time he is trying to fulfill his promise of 3 to 6 months time limit to eradicate drugs in the country by hook or by crook. Meanwhile he’s engaged himself of destroying oligarch, naming and shaming narco politicians and everybody he can think of who are against his policies..ONE THING FOR SURE WITH DUTERTE AS PRESIDENT OUR COUNTRY IS IN DANGER OF BEING DRAG DOWN INTO THE UNKNOWN.