Nuclear weapons and the VFA
The 1987 Constitution expressly prohibits the storage of nuclear weapons in the Philippines, adopting a “policy of freedom from nuclear weapons in (Philippine) territory.” Last week, President Duterte threatened to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States: “I am warning you that if I get hold of a hard information that nuclear armaments are here brought by you, I will immediately ask you to go out and I will terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement ora mismo (right now).”
The President apparently suspects that the US has already stored nuclear weapons in the country. The President stated: “The arms are stored everywhere in the Philippines, baka hindi niyo alam. May mga depots all around the Philippines where the arms are.” The President said that if war breaks out between China and the US, the Philippines will be the first to be hit and will suffer “serious damage.”
The storage of nuclear weapons in the Philippines is impossible without the knowledge of the Philippine military. If the US has stored nuclear weapons in the country, the most likely places will be in Philippine military bases. Thus, the generals whom President Duterte appointed to various military commands will surely know of such storage. The President’s statement that nuclear weapons may already be stored in the country means two things. First, the generals whom the President appointed are complicit with the US in violating the Constitution if the President’s suspicions turn out to be true. Second, the generals are withholding from the President, their Commander in Chief, information on such storage of nuclear weapons. These are grave charges against the generals, warranting their immediate court-martial and dismissal from the service.
The storage of nuclear weapons for military use requires two essential elements. First is the storage of the nuclear warhead itself. Second is the availability of the delivery vehicle. The nuclear warhead must already be complete, ready to be mated with the delivery vehicle. The nuclear warheads are assembled in highly specialized laboratories located only in the US. Thus, if nuclear warheads are stored outside the US, they must already be completely assembled. The nuclear warheads are utterly useless without the delivery vehicles. There are four delivery vehicles that can drop the nuclear warheads in China from the Philippines: fixed land-based medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs) with a range of 3,000 kilometers, mobile truck-mounted MRBMs, submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and nuclear-capable bomber aircraft.
To shelter the nuclear warheads on fixed land-based MRBMs will require the extensive construction of hardened underground silos. To mate the nuclear warheads with mobile MRBMs will require the presence on the ground of six-meter-long missiles mounted on huge 12-wheeler transporter-erector launchers. To mate the nuclear warheads with SLBMs will require bringing the nuclear warheads out of storage to the waterfront where the submarines are docked. To mate the nuclear warheads with airborne cruise missiles will require bringing the nuclear warheads to Philippine military air bases where nuclear-capable bomber aircraft can land and take off. In all of these situations, the storage and movement of the nuclear weapons and the construction or presence of the delivery vehicles will be known to many people in government, including barangay officials. Moreover, the cooperation of the Philippine military is essential to secure the nuclear warheads from storage to installation in the delivery vehicles.
In Europe, the US has stored tactical nuclear weapons in air bases of NATO countries. The US has a permanent presence in these air bases to maintain and secure the nuclear weapons under the control of US military personnel in peacetime for use in wartime by fighter bombers of NATO allies. The US obviously will not store nuclear weapons in foreign territory where US military personnel have no permanent presence to secure the nuclear weapons. The VFA, which only allows for non-permanent rotational presence of US soldiers in the Philippines, will not suffice for the US to secure nuclear weapons stored in the Philippines. NATO countries willingly host US nuclear weapons to ensure an immediate nuclear retaliation in case of any nuclear attack against or invasion of a NATO country, creating a powerful deterrent to any such attack or invasion. This is part of the balance of nuclear terror that has kept the peace in Europe.
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