Since 2018, Washington has been looking for allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific region who will be willing to host conventional ground-based intermediate-range missiles (GBIRM) to counter potential threats from a rising China.

China has been developing, testing and deploying these types of ground-based intermediate-range missiles and rockets for years because it was not a signatory to treaty banning.

In 2019, both Moscow and Washington walked back from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces or INF treaty that banned them from developing, testing and deploying conventional and nuclear ballistic and cruise missiles with a range of 500 km-1,000-km (short-range) and 1,000-km to 5,500 km (intermediate-range).

The fear that China might take advantage of the treaty, which tied the hands of Washington, forced former President Donald Trump to abandon the INF in 2019, blaming the Russians for violating the 1987 pact between Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev and US President Ronald Reagan.

By 1991, the two countries, including several former Soviet Republics, had eliminated nearly 2,700 nuclear and conventional missiles, allowing China to catch up and continue to deploy the lethal weapons.

The United States has been sounding off its treaty allies in the region, like Australia, Japan, the Philippines, South Korea and Thailand to host the ground-based intermediate-range missiles after it unveiled its Pacific Deterrence Initiative (PDI) to counter threats from China.

But it seems these treaty allies were uninterested.

Thailand also has close ties with Beijing and the US does not want to risk its GBIR missiles on Thai soil.

South Korea was under pressure from China after it deployed in 2017 the US Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile to protect itself from threats from North Korea.

Australia might be willing to host GBIR missiles but its distance from continental Asia would unlikely make it a choice for such deployment.

Japan might be willing to host given its strong and close military alliance with the United States.

Under former president Rodrigo Duterte who did not hide his fondness for Xi Jinping, the Philippines would unlikely host US GBIR missiles.

But the wind has drastically changed directions since elections in May 2022.

Under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the US and the Philippines are back in each other’s arms with increasing military exercises and training activities, more equipment transfers, and wider access to local military bases under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).

When Filipino top defense and diplomatic officials visited Washington before Marcos’s official visit, US think-tank experts and journalists questioned them about the possibility of deploying GBIR missiles on Philippine soil.

The country’s proximity to continental Asia, including to the volatile Taiwan Straits, made the Philippines an excellent choice for GBIR missile deployments.

Filipino officials were playing coy about the possibility of GBIR missile deployment, recognizing it as a controversial political issue that could affect the popularity of the Marcos administration.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo sidestepped a question from a Reuters journalist about the issue, saying the two countries still have to discuss what is allowed and not allowed to be done within the EDCA locations.

Of course, Manalo was avoiding the issue. When EDCA was signed in 2014, the rules were clear – there should be no nuclear weapons deployed to the country.

However, the Philippines lacked the capability and capacity to verify if US planes and ships entering the country carried nuclear weapons. It also cannot determine whether rockets and missiles sent to be pre-positioned in the country under the EDCA pact were conventional or nuclear tipped.

The Philippines will be a potential magnet for attack by US adversaries, like China and North Korea, should that happen, or when conventional and nuclear GBIR missiles are deployed in the country.

It increases the risk of dragging the Philippines into potential conflicts in the region, including a war between the US and China over Taiwan.

Communities around EDCA locations will bear the brunt of the conflict. Moreover, there are also risks of accidents, putting in grave danger civilian lives.

No economic gain nor development can offset the nuclear dangers.

The Philippines could also help trigger a nuclear and conventional arms race in the region as countries in the region have been increasingly spending much on their defenses, like Australia, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Asean states.

These developments are already frightening as uncertainty looms in the next five to ten years.

Marcos should rethink granting additional access to the US and should limit what activities Washington can do and store in these facilities.

It infringes into the country’s Constitution, territory and sovereignty.

Fuel and other essential goods, humanitarian and disaster response equipment and logistics are very much welcome in these EDCA locations.

But lethal and offensive weapons like GBIR
missiles must be banned.

The Philippines must get a firm assurance from the United States that there will be nuclear weapons to be pre-positioned in the country.

After all, the Philippines is simply enforcing what it wrote in its nuclear weapons-free Constitution as well as following the principles enshrined in the Southeast Asian Nations Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone (SEANWFZ) treaty.

Southeast Asia and the Philippines should remain nuclear weapons-free. The possible deployment of nuclear-tipped GBIR could change the situation.