Prepare for war

BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz - The Philippine Star

The tension between China and the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea has again accelerated with the increasing harassment of Philippine ships. The Philippines’ strong stand against these Chinese incursions has elicited support from other countries, especially Western powers who are also determined to stop further Chinese expansion.

In a recent state visit to Australia, President Bongbong Marcos was invited to speak to the Australian Parliament. Although there were protests because of human rights abuses in the Philippines, this again is a reminder that the West pays more attention to its allies against a common enemy.

This is reminiscent of the martial law years when the American presidents supported the government of President Marcos Sr. because he was seen as an ally in the fight against communism. 

Any analysis of the current situation raises the urgent question of whether this tension could lead to accidental conflicts which could lead to armed conflict. There is a high degree of probability that this will eventually happen.

The scariest scenario is whether these accidental armed conflicts will lead not only to a war, but worse, to a nuclear war. For students of geopolitics, history shows that a US-Chinese war will not go nuclear. In the more than seven decades of conflicts since World War II which included at least one nuclear power, nuclear weapons have never been used.

During the Cold War, the two nuclear powers, USA and Russia, engaged in wars in Africa, Asia and even Latin America. These wars incurred high human and military costs such as the ones in Korea and Vietnam. However, despite this bloody and protracted war, the nuclear powers avoided the use of nuclear weapons. Today, Russia, a nuclear power, in its war with Ukraine, has avoided using nuclear weapons even though Russia has paid an enormous price in this conflict.

A geopolitical explanation for this is that the idea of mutually assured destruction will deter the use of nuclear weapons even during a war. It is still very possible, however, that a great power conflict between United States and China will still take place.

There are many ways that a war between China and the United States could start. The first scenario would involve the Philippines. Geopolitical experts call the Philippines as part of an island chain from Japan through Taiwan. This chain of islands starts north of Japan through Taiwan, the Philippines and part of Indonesia. It is called an island chain because it parallels the coastline of mainland China and prevents Beijing from having easy access to the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean.  

China has claimed ownership of the entire South China Sea, which is being disputed by most other countries including the Philippines, Japan and the United States. This is the area where accidental conflicts between China and the alliance of which the Philippines is part could result in accidental conflict and could lead to war.

The second scenario is an outright invasion by China of Taiwan, which Beijing has continuously called as part of its territory. The victory of the Democratic Party (DPP) in Taiwan’s recent elections has escalated the tension. DPP is perceived by China to be pro-independence. Xi Jinping has said on several official occasions that China will invade Taiwan. 

The third possible scenario is the result of tensions between North Korea on one hand and South Korea and the United States on the other. The ruler of North Korea, Kim Jong Un, is an unpredictable ruler and possesses nuclear weapons. The possibility, however remote, of a nuclear conflict exists in the Korean Peninsula. If fighting happens in Korea, the United States which has troops stationed there will probably send more reinforcements. Beijing at this point will probably decide that they are obligated to assist their ally, North Korea.

The fourth scenario would be a war between India and China along their shared border. There have already been minor clashes on this border. If India were to become the victim of more significant Chinese aggression, the United States and its allies would be compelled to defend its Indian ally.

Under these four different scenarios, China and the United States would end up in a direct armed conflict. While it is true that the possibility of a nuclear war is very low, there is the very high likelihood that the conflict is unlikely to end quickly. Note that the current conflict between Russia and Ukraine is already more than two years old. 

The Philippines must therefore prepare itself for the likelihood of a protracted war. This war would incur extremely high cost in global trade, transportation, energy infrastructure and communication networks. This would unnecessarily impose a strain on human populations throughout the world. 

If this happens, the Philippines would need to divert its resources to its national defense at the expense of funding for needed development. The Philippines must realize the effect of a great power war that would last for many months or years and must prepare to have the staying power in what could be a long war.

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