At the Brink of War in the Pacific? The Nightmare of Great Power Rivalry Over Taiwan

Yves here. At the risk of overloading on a nevertheless important topic, we’re featuring two complimentary posts on China, the first below, on the prospects of war over Taiwan. The other is geopolitical, on the Collective West ire over China presenting a thin statement of principles on negotiations to end the war in Ukraine.

Alfred McCoy’s article below contains some useful but also troubling parts. It accepts the US spin that China is planning to conquer Taiwan and bizarrely contends that no one wants this war. Hun?

The US made its hostility clear from the start of the Biden Administration, when the State Department invited China to a summit in Anchorage and then in a sharp departure from diplomatic norms, opened by hectoring Chinese officials. From Bloomberg:

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken began his remarks at the meeting in Anchorage, Alaska, by vowing to raise concerns about recent cyber attacks, the treatment of Muslim minorities in Xinjiang and Beijing’s increasing control over Hong Kong. He said China’s actions threatened the international order and human rights.

“The alternative to a rules-based order is a world in which might makes right and winner takes all and that would be a far more violent and unstable world,” Blinken said.

So it looks as if Blinken and Jake Sullivan, who was also at the summit, set out to increase hostilities and succeeded.

Note that in Blinken’s opening blast, Taiwan was not on the list. Until the Pelosi trip to Taiwan, China’s position was that it sought political reunification by 2049. That’s a full generation away. China may have hoped that continuing rises in standards of living in China compared to Taiwan would lead more Taiwanese to work in mainland China, undercutting the isolationists. Taiwan has higher income per person, but even now, some job categories are better paid on the mainland than on Taiwan.

A second question is the war gaming. Given how supposed US experts have not covered themselves with glory with respect to their assessment of Russian capabilities, there’s similarly reason to look hard at their forecasts of how a hot conflict would play out. McCoy does start with the option of a blockade, which Brian Berletic has argued is the most China would need to do. Berletic has claimed that all China would need to do is bar imports from and exports to Taiwan, since the island depends on the mainland, particularly for food (although how much port and sea policing that would take is an open question). But it also touts the idea of a full bore invasion and depicts the US as unable to respond quickly enough. The piece oddly skips over America’s glass jaw, its over-use of sitting duck aircraft carriers. Scott Ritter has argued that China could easily sink one or more, and the US would feel compelled to retaliate with a tactical strike on Chinese hinterlands. You can guess how this movie ends.

Third is (at least according to some readers) the US perception of China’s dependence Taiwan’s chip industry may be overstated. Andrew Stegman responded to speculation that the US might try a Nord Steam on TSMC:

Few US semiconductor companies operate their own wafer fabs. If TSMC fabs were to be destroyed or otherwise taken offline the majority of US semiconductor companies would be SOL. So would companies such as Apple, Facebook, Google, and other monopoly companies that design their own chips but have them fabbed outside. China is not desperate for TSMC. It’s not the trump card that some in the West may think. Destroying TSMC fabs will hurt the collective west far more than it will hurt China.

Expert readers are encouraged to sanity-check the chip industry take expressed below, and the somewhat less bullish one in a recent Barron’s article.

Finally, I will leave it to readers to dissect the bizarre discussion of funding the war in Ukraine as having no impact on spending for a hot China conflict, as well as statements like “China needs a humbled Putin.”

By Alfred McCoy. Originally published at TomDispatch

While the world has been distracted, even amused, by the diplomatic tussle around China’s recent high-altitude balloon flights across North America, there are signs that Beijing and Washington are preparing for something so much more serious: armed conflict over Taiwan. Reviewing recent developments in the Asia-Pacific region raises a tried-and-true historical lesson that bears repeating at this dangerous moment in history: when nations prepare for war, they are far more likely to go to war.

In The Guns of August, her magisterial account of another conflict nobody wanted, Barbara Tuchman attributed the start of World War I in 1914 to French and German plans already in place. “Appalled upon the brink,” she wrote, “the chiefs of state who would be ultimately responsible for their country’s fate attempted to back away, but the pull of military schedules dragged them forward.” In a similar fashion, Beijing and Washington have been making military, diplomatic, and semi-secretive moves that could drag us into a calamitous conflict that, once again, nobody wants.

At the apex of power, national leaders in Beijing and Washington have staked out starkly contrasting positions on Taiwan’s future. For nearly a year now, President Joe Biden has been trying to resolve the underlying ambiguity in previous U.S. policy toward that island by stating repeatedly that he would indeed defend it from any mainland attack. In May of last year, in response to a reporter’s question about a possible Chinese invasion of Taiwan, he said, “Yes,” the U.S. would intervene militarily. He then added: “We agree with the One China policy. We signed on to it and all the attendant agreements made from there, but the idea that it can be taken by force, just taken by force, is [just not] appropriate.”

As Biden acknowledged, by extending diplomatic recognition to Beijing in 1979, Washington had indeed accepted China’s future sovereignty over Taiwan. For the next 40 years, presidents from both parties made public statements opposing Taiwan’s independence. In effect, they conceded that the island was a Chinese province and its fate a domestic matter (even if they opposed the People’s Republic doing anything about it in the immediate future).

Nonetheless, Biden has persisted in his aggressive rhetoric. He told CBS News last September, for instance, that he would indeed send U.S. troops to defend Taiwan “if, in fact, there was an unprecedented attack.” Then, in a significant break with longstanding U.S. policy, he added: “Taiwan makes their own judgments about their independence… That’s their decision.”

Within weeks, at a Communist Party Congress, Chinese President Xi Jinping responded with a strong personal commitment to the unification of Taiwan — by force if necessary. “We insist on striving for the prospect of peaceful reunification,” he said, “but we will never promise to give up the use of force and reserve the option to take all necessary measures.”

After a long burst of applause from the 2,000 party officials massed in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, he then invoked the inevitability of Marxian dialectical forces that would insure the victory he was promising. “The historical wheels of national reunification and national rejuvenation are rolling forward,” he said, “and the complete reunification of the motherland must be achieved.”

As the political philosopher Hannah Arendt once reminded us, a sense of historical inevitability is a dangerous ideological trigger that can plunge authoritarian states like China into otherwise unthinkable wars or unimaginable mass slaughter.

War Preparations Move Down the Chain of Command

Not surprisingly, the forceful statements of Biden and Xi have been working their way down the chain of command in both countries. In January, a four-star U.S. Air Force general, Mike Minihan, sent a formal memo to his massive Air Mobility Command of 500 aircraft and 50,000 troops, ordering them to ramp up their training for war with China. “My gut tells me,” he concluded, that “we will fight in 2025.” Instead of repudiating the general’s statement, a Pentagon spokesman simply added, “The National Defense Strategy makes clear that China is the pacing challenge for the Department of Defense.”

Nor is General Minihan even the first senior officer to have made such foreboding statements. As early as March 2021, the head of the Indo-Pacific Command, Admiral Philip Davidson, warned Congress that China was planning to invade the island by 2027: “Taiwan is clearly one of their ambitions… And I think the threat is manifest during this decade, in fact, in the next six years.”

Unlike their American opposites, China’s service chiefs have been publicly silent on the subject, but their aircraft have been eloquent indeed. After President Biden signed a defense appropriation bill last December with $10 billion in military aid for Taiwan, an unprecedented armada of 71 Chinese aircraft and many more military drones swarmed that island’s air defenses in a single 24-hour period.

As such tit-for-tat escalation only increases, Washington has matched China’s aggression with major diplomatic and military initiatives. Indeed, the assistant defense secretary for the Indo-Pacific, Ely Ratner, has promised, ominously enough, that “2023 is likely to stand as the most transformative year in U.S. force posture in the region in a generation.”

During a recent tour of Asian allies, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin claimed some significant strategic gains. On a stopover in Seoul, he and his South Korean counterpart announced that the U.S. would deploy aircraft carriers and additional jets for expanded live-fire exercises — a distinctly escalatory move after the curtailment of such joint operations during the Trump years.

Moving on to Manila, Austin revealed that the Philippines had just granted U.S. troops access to four more military bases, several facing Taiwan across a narrow strait. These were needed, he said, because “the People’s Republic of China continues to advance its illegitimate claims” in the South China Sea.

China’s Foreign Ministry seemed stung by the news. After a successful diplomatic courtship of the previous Philippine president, Rodrigo Duterte, that had checked U.S. influence while accepting the Chinese occupation of islands in Philippine waters, Beijing could now do little more than condemn Washington’s access to those bases for “endangering regional peace and stability.” Although some Filipino nationalists objected that an American presence might invite a nuclear attack, according to reliable polling, 84% of Filipinos felt that their country should cooperate with the United States to defend their territorial waters from China.

Both of those announcements were dividends from months of diplomacy and down payments on major military deployments to come. The annual U.S. “defense” bill for 2023 is funding the construction of military installations across the Pacific. And even as Japan is doubling its defense budget, in part to protect its southern Islands from China, U.S. Marines in Okinawa plan to trade their tanks and heavy artillery for agile drones and shoulder-fired missiles as they form “littoral regiments” capable of rapid deployment to the smallest of islands in the region.

Secret Strategies

In contrast to those public statements, semi-secret strategies on both sides of the Pacific have generally escaped much notice. If the U.S. military commitment to Taiwan remains at least somewhat ambiguous, this country’s economic dependence on that island’s computer-chip production is almost absolute. As the epicenter of a global supply chain, Taiwan manufactures 90% of the world’s advanced chips and 65% of all semiconductors. (In comparison, China’s share of chips is 5% and the U.S. slice only 10%.) As the world’s top producer of the most critical component in everything from consumer cell phones to military missiles, the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) is the leading innovator, supplying Apple and other U.S. tech firms.

Now, American officials are moving to change that. Having overseen the breaking of ground for a $12 billion TSMC chip-production factory in Phoenix in 2020, only two years later, Arizona’s governor announced that “TSMC has completed construction of its main facility.” Last August, just before President Biden signed the $52 billion CHIPS and Science Act, Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo insisted that “our dependence on Taiwan for chips is untenable and unsafe.”

Only three months later, TSMC reached for a large slice of those federal funds by investing $28 billion in a second Phoenix factory that, when opened in 2026, will produce what the New York Times has called “more advanced — though not the most advanced — chip-making technology.” At a ceremony featuring President Biden last December, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook proclaimed, “This is an incredibly significant moment.”

That might be true, but the focus on Phoenix obscured equally significant chip factory projects being put in place by Samsung in Texas, Intel in Ohio, and Micron Technology in New York. Add it all up and the U.S. is already about halfway to the “minimum of three years and a $350 billion investment… to replace the Taiwanese [chip] foundries,” according to the Semiconductor Industry Association.

In other words, if Beijing did decide to invade Taiwan after 2026, TSMC’s intellectual capital, in the form of its top computer scientists, would undoubtedly be on outbound flights for Phoenix, leaving little more than a few concrete shells and some sabotaged equipment behind. The global supply chain for silicon chips involving Dutch machines (for extreme ultraviolet lithography), American designs, and Taiwanese production would probably continue without much of a hitch in the United States, Japan, and Europe, leaving the People’s Republic of China with little more than its minimalist 5% of the world’s $570 billion semiconductor industry.

China’s secret calculus over an invasion of Taiwan is undoubtedly more complex. In mid-February at Munich, Secretary of State Antony Blinken charged that Beijing was considering giving Moscow “lethal support” for its war in Ukraine, adding that “we’ve made very clear to them that that would cause a serious problem for… our relationship.”

But China is faced with a far more difficult choice than Blinken’s blithe rhetoric suggests. From its impressive arsenal, Beijing could readily supply Moscow with enough of its Hong Niao cruise missiles to destroy most of Ukraine’s armored vehicles (with plenty left over to demolish Kyiv’s faltering electrical infrastructure).

Bleeding NATO in that way would, however, pay limited dividends for any possible future Chinese plans vis-a-vis Taiwan. In contrast, the types of ground-warfare armaments Washington and its allies continue to pour into Ukraine would do little to strain the U.S. naval capacity in the Western Pacific.

Moreover, the diplomatic and economic price Beijing would pay for a significant involvement in the Ukraine War might well prove prohibitive. As the world’s largest consumer of imported cheap oil and wheat, which Russia exports in abundance, China needs a humbled Putin, desperate for markets and compliant with its designs for greater dominion over Eurasia. A triumphant Putin, bending the will of timorous states in Eastern Europe and Central Asia while negotiating ever-tougher deals for his exports, is hardly in Beijing’s interest.

Ignoring the existential threat Putin’s war poses for the European Union would also cost Beijing decades of diplomacy and billions in infrastructure funds already invested to knit all of Eurasia, from the North Sea to the South China Sea, into an integrated economy. In addition, siding with a distinctly secondary power that has blatantly violated the core principle of the international order — which bars the acquisition of territory by armed conquest — is hardly likely to advance Beijing’s sustained bid for global leadership.

Vladimir Putin might indeed try to equate China’s claim to a breakaway province in Taiwan with his own bid for former Soviet territory in Ukraine, but the analogy is anathema to Beijing. “Taiwan is not Ukraine,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry announced last year, the day before Putin invaded Ukraine. “Taiwan has always been an inalienable part of China. This is an indisputable legal and historical fact.”

The Costs of War

With both Beijing and Washington contemplating a possible future war over Taiwan, it’s important (especially in light of Ukraine) to consider the likely costs of such a conflict. In November 2021, the venerable Reuters News Agency compiled a series of credible scenarios for a China-U.S. war over Taiwan. If the United States decided to fight for the island, said Reuters, “there is no guarantee it would defeat an increasingly powerful PLA [People’s Liberation Army].”

In its least violent scenario, Reuters speculated that Beijing could use its navy to impose a “customs quarantine” around Taiwan, while announcing an Air Defense Identification Zone over the island and warning the world not to violate its sovereignty. Then, to tighten the noose, it could move to a full blockade, laying mines at major ports and cutting underwater cables. Should Washington decide to intervene, its submarines would undoubtedly sink numerous PLA warships, while its surface vessels could launch aircraft and missiles as well. But China’s powerful air-defense system would undoubtedly fire thousands of its own missiles, inflicting “heavy losses” on the U.S. Navy. Rather than attempting a difficult amphibious invasion, Beijing might complete this staged escalation with saturation missile attacks on Taiwan’s cities until its leaders capitulated.

In the Reuters scenario for all-out war, Beijing decides “to mount the biggest and most complex amphibious and airborne landing ever attempted,” seeking to “overwhelm the island before the United States and its allies can respond.” To hold off a U.S. counterattack, the PLA might fire missiles at American bases in Japan and Guam. While Taiwan launched jets and missiles to deter the invasion fleet, U.S. carrier battle groups would steam toward the island and, “within hours, a major war [would be] raging in East Asia.”

In August 2022, the Brookings Institution released more precise estimates of likely losses from various scenarios in such a war. Although China’s “recent and dramatic military modernizations have sharply reduced America’s ability to defend the island,” the complexities of such a clash, wrote the Brookings analyst, make “the outcome… inherently unknowable.” Only one thing would be certain: the losses on both sides (including in Taiwan itself) would be devastating.

In Brookings’ first scenario involving “a maritime fight centered on submarines,” Beijing would impose a blockade and Washington would respond with naval convoys to sustain the island. If the United States were to knock out Beijing’s communications, the U.S. Navy would lose just 12 warships, while sinking all 60 of China’s subs. If, by contrast, China maintained its communications, it could possibly sink 100 vessels, mostly U.S. warships, while losing only 29 subs.  

In Brookings’ second scenario for “a broader subregional war,” both sides would use jets and missiles in a struggle that would engulf southeastern China, Taiwan, and U.S. bases in Japan, Okinawa, and Guam. If China’s attacks proved successful, it might destroy 40 to 80 U.S. and Taiwanese warships at a cost of some 400 Chinese aircraft. If the U.S. got the upper hand, it could destroy “much of China’s military in southeastern China,” while shooting down more than 400 PLA aircraft, even as it suffered heavy losses of its own jets.

By focusing largely on military losses, which are chilling enough, both studies grossly underestimate the real costs and potential devastation to Taiwan and much of East Asia. My own instinct tells me that, should China impose a customs blockade on the island, Washington would blink hard at the thought of losing hundreds of aircraft and dozens of warships, including an aircraft carrier or two, and retreat to its longstanding policy of regarding Taiwan as China’s territory. If the U.S. did challenge that customs interdiction zone, however, it would have to attack the Chinese blockade and might, in the eyes of much of the world, become the aggressor — a real disincentive from Washington’s point of view.

Should China launch an all-out invasion, however, Taiwan would likely succumb within a few days once its air force of just 470 combat aircraft was overwhelmed by the PLA’s 2,900 jet fighters, 2,100 supersonic missiles, and its massive navy, now the world’s largest. Reflecting China’s clear strategic advantage of simple proximity to Taiwan, the island’s occupation might well be a fait accompli before the U.S. Navy ships could arrive from Japan and Hawaii in sufficient numbers to challenge the massive Chinese armada.

If Beijing and Washington somehow let the pull of policy and planning drag them into such an ever-widening war, however, the damage could still prove incalculable — with cities devastated, untold thousands dead, and the global economy, with its epicenter in Asia, left in ruins. Let us only hope that today’s leaders in both Washington and Beijing prove more restrained than did their counterparts in Berlin and Paris in August 1914 when plans for victory unleashed a war that would leave 20 million dead in its wake.

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  1. Paradan

    Taiwan is a feint, the actual war we are gonna fight will be in Africa, central Asia, and possibly South America. We will go after every major belt and road infrastructure facility that the Chinese have built. Anything we can’t buy, or steal through fake democracy, we will send saboteurs to blow up, or disable. The idea is to force China to start projecting power so that we can hit them as they sally out of fortress China. It will also give us the chance to “prove” China is an evil imperial power that the world must band together to defeat.

    1. Synoia

      That reads as a way to male most of Africa an enemy. Such an action would have very serious ramifications for raw materials.

      Such Imperialism would be very unwise for the US.

      Is this your opinion or do you have sum written proof?

  2. LawnDart

    I would like to know more specifically what the USA hopes to gain from all this, and how the actions that are underway may attain these goals– glittering-generalities serve only fuzzy-thinking.

    1. Samoan

      The only desire is to contain Chinese capital. It’s hard to use the IMF to trap countries in debt and extract resources from 3rd world nations when the Chinese BRI is much more attractive and not exploitative. This is why Russia and China are the “bad guys”.

      It’s as simple as that. US oligarchs are upset someone else is making it harder to rob people, so they use the media (which they have full control over) to propagandize support for insane provocations with Russia and China which the American people have no reason to support. We should actively be rooting for Russia and China.

      1. IMOR

        See China-Global South Podcasts for a set of thorough takes, frequently nation-by-nation, on exactly this. It’s more of a mixed bag, but that there’s any alternative/competition at all is what turned the U.S. flibbertygibbet. They’ve also cited examples big and small but telling of how our shallow, ignorant, unprofessional approach to “diplomacy” on the questions you raise amounted to shooting one’s self in the OTHER foot once our knee jerked.

  3. Louis Fyne

    Think tank and Pentagon-sponsored “war games” are notorious for being run by operators who use assumptions very favorable to the American side.

    Most notorious being the 2002 Millenial Games in which the US side was essentially given infinite lives

    If war comes, it will not be like the white papers say, China will not fight as a modeler in DC predicted.

    1. Polar Socialist

      I was indeed wryly amused by the “[China] could possibly sink 100 vessels, mostly U.S. warships…”. As far as I’m aware, US Navy has about 160 combat vessels. Some of them have to remain on other seas than Pacific, and some of them have to under maintenance (I’ve heard especially Virginia-class subs are harder and harder to keep operating).

      In other words, 100 warships would likely be more than US Navy can deploy to break a blockade of Taiwan. And as even the writer notes, no admiral would keep on deploying vessels after the first 10 or 20 were knocked out. At least not surface vessels.

      Submarines can make the life difficult for the Chinese Navy, but they can’t really break a blockade. And while they do have the advantage that they are really, really difficult to find, when they are found they are at a serious disadvantage because the enemy always has better/more sensors, better situational awareness, more firepower and it maneuvers much faster.

      I think it was the former US submariner running the Sub Brief channel on Youtube who said that Soviet ASW boats had a very powerful sonar already in the 80’s, and once it hit your boat you knew you were exposed and that it was a time to high-tail it from the Barents Sea.

      1. Piotr Berman

        My impression is that the bulk of maritime trade is by very big cargo ships which are slow, and the way to stop them is to send commandos. For that matter, commandos can stop smaller vessels too… Or you damage the ship. Of course, in and near Persian Gulf the extra bonus is that the cargoes burn very well, so no one tried to attack commandos in turn. But a battle to re-take a container ship etc. is not an appealing prospect either.

        Once several ships are “arrested”, the traffic to Taiwan will loose insurance protection, although governments of the West could provide their own insurance, bolstered by the navies. That would be a huge mess. After insurance companies, there would be a problem with crews. Replacing crews with navy soldiers would be problematic in many ways.

        The larger picture is that what China wants is a gradual re-unification by increasing ties between Taiwan and the rest of China. That was status quo and the West is clearly revisionist. That can be “easily” prevented by fomenting independism in Taiwan and severing economic ties with the mainland by egging Taiwan to participate in anti-Chinese sanctions. But in many ways that would impoverish the island! Starting from carting its most important industry out of the island.

        In short, China has many carrot/stick levers, only one being military. The West would lead Taiwanese way of life to decline. I think that Taiwan lacks exploitable Banderate-Vatnik divide, so independists may start loosing elections.

        In my opinion, China needs the military card, but it does not have to play this card. The West will loose by draining the island economy. On the most important aspect, I guess that in this decade Chinese will become independent from the Dutch on core chip technology, and Taiwan will have very bleak economic future within Western part of the world (assuming the partition that the West currently pursues). The future of being an outpost of the Empire that is gradually de-industrialized and de-populated. Will it became a dictatorship to “defend its freedom”?

        PS. I am optimistic about Chinese prospects in microchip by extrapolating their success with solar panels. China got the critical mass of engineering cadres, science, management skills and budgetary boldness.

      2. tevhatch

        Attack submarines are well hidden until they attack, after that their position is known from weapons tracks, then active sonar is effective for the limited closing range. If they are hunting competent naval vessels, then it’s even possible for the target to get off a retaliatory shot at the attacking submarine before they are hit.

    2. David

      War games are not, or should not be, intended to predict the results of conflicts. Properly used, they are a training aid and a way of revealing unsuspected weaknesses and vulnerabilities, and comparing different strategies. So for example, if you run the same scenario many times with different assumptions,, it will quickly become clear which are the better options to choose. Such games are often taken out of context and get misleading publicity as a result: the classic is the games before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, where skilled US officers playing the Iraqis destroyed US ships and created havoc. But in reality, the Iraqis did none of these things, because their command system was simply too rigid and centralised to permit it.

      What’s this about? Well no matter how often you’re told that the US thinks it’s the centre of the world, it’s always a shock to see how isolated from reality US decision-makers actually are. The main purposes of this activity are to contribute to Biden’s re-election campaign by presenting him as a tough guy, to take attention away from the unfolding disaster in Ukraine, and to burnish the image of the US as the world’s policeman. Such is the narcissism of the US system that what the Chinese might think, or say, or do, doesn’t really enter into the calculation. In practice, of course, the loss of even a small number of vessels in a war with China would be a political disaster of the first magnitude which no sane US government would consciously risk. But this government …

    1. Irrational

      Let’s wait and see what the line is when Ursula comes back from her DC visit next week. Maybe the US has some amazing intel up its sleeve. /s

  4. Louis Fyne

    one of the biggest secrets of the Cold War was the ocean floor listening devices installes in the North Atlantic to find Russian subs.

    It is a reasonable assumption that China has something similar, even if only in limited scope.

    Modeling WW3 off of a DC think tank white paper, and presuming that America is strong when it isn’t, is going to get young Americans killed by the thousands.

    1. Mickey Hickey

      The US is not stupid enough to enter into a ground war with China. This is my carefully considered opinion.

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      Caitlin’s reasoning makes no sense! The u.s. is not provoking China, just keeping tabs on it. Similar arguments have been made suggesting the u.s. provoked the war in the Ukraine. Both Russia and China are being overly sensitive. /sarcasm to echo that in your comment

      1. RonR

        If you are saying, & believe that the US didn’t provoke the war in Ukraine, you maybe should do some honest research.

      2. Kouros

        Oozing of sarcasm indeed.

        But then you have US officials or former officials stating things like the following:

        “The choice that we faced in Ukraine — and I’m using the past tense there intentionally — was whether Russia exercised a veto over NATO involvement in Ukraine on the negotiating table or on the battlefield,” said George Beebe, a former director of Russia analysis at the CIA and special adviser on Russia to former Vice President Dick Cheney. “And we elected to make sure that the veto was exercised on the battlefield, hoping that either Putin would stay his hand or that the military operation would fail.

        Words and deeds…

      3. The Rev Kev

        Imagine that many Chinese military bases – about 200 – in Mexico and Canada. Just to keep tabs on the US and not there to provoke the US mind you. You think that Washington would really mind?

  5. Not Again

    Why don’t we just trade Puerto Rico for Taiwan and save us the ignominy of losing two wars in one decade? Good Lord, I was at the grocery store the other day and there’s actually a brand of paper towels sold there that was manufactured in China. How are we going to get troops to the front? Uber? What troops? The ones holding down the Russians in Ukraine?

    This will be the quickest war in the history of wars. If the Chinese contact me on TikTok, I will formally surrender on behalf of me and my family. There’s no intelligent life left in DC.

  6. paddy

    little career in either russia or china “talking” with the usa.

    obvious usa approach to ‘security’ invokes ‘killing off all rivals’.

    why talk to this?

  7. bwilli123

    Per Scott Ritter’s comments.
    If the Chinese were (like the Russians) to begin small & slowly in order to deal with ‘the crazies,’ by way of a sort of salami slicing (like first sinking the ship of a US ally, or the smallest US naval vessel they could find) would the US
    … feel compelled to retaliate with a tactical strike on Chinese hinterlands?…
    At what point on an escalatory ladder would they unleash a potential Armageddon?

  8. Carolinian

    This doesn’t strike me as a very insightful look at the situation–taking outfits like Brookings way too seriously. While our times seem superficially similar to the run up to WW1, this era of globalism is quite different from that era of nationalism and you have to ask yourself why Americans would be willing to send their sons and daughters off to die for Taiwan or for that matter Ukraine. To be sure if people like Biden or Nuland could exercise their power fantasies by pushing a button (and such a button now exists) they might do it. But Russia is showing that they are a lot more prepared for total war than we are and have indeed been preparing for this for some time. We on the other hand are just playing at it. At some point reality is going to intrude. Alastair Crooke thinks Biden’s real concern is reelection and that’s the intrusion.

  9. Hepativore

    How can the US expect to go to war with a country that holds the vast majority of our manufacturing infrastructure for electronics and supplies most of its finished goods? We also depend on China for most of our rare Earth metals.

    There is also the fact that China makes a lot of the components that we use in our military hardware.

    If China decided to cut any of this off to the US, the war would be over before it even began, as it would take decades for the US to rebuild its industrial base to replace all of the manufacturing capacity it has offshored to China for the past half-century.

  10. Mikel

    “In The Guns of August, her magisterial account of another conflict nobody wanted, Barbara Tuchman attributed the start of World War I in 1914 to French and German plans already in place. “Appalled upon the brink,” she wrote, “the chiefs of state who would be ultimately responsible for their country’s fate attempted to back away, but the pull of military schedules dragged them forward.”

    Many are familiar Tuchman’s book and with “the automated train schedules made me do it” excuse for WWI.
    But reading about it again, I can’t help but think about current events and adventures with tech and automation. I imagine a disatant future with historians potentially writing: “the chiefs of state who would be ultimately responsible for their country’s fate attempted to back away, but the pull of algorithms dragged them forward.”

    1. Polar Socialist

      In his book Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914, Christopher Clark (as far as I have had time to read it yet) makes the case that the war started mostly because nobody believed it would start – since clearly that would have been total madness.

      Deterrence*, the mechanism that was supposed to prevent the war, actually was the very trigger that started it.

      * all similarities to current events are purely coincidental.

      1. Kouros

        In his The Silk Roads: A New History of the World by Peter Frankopan, there is the assertion that the UK empire, wanting to protect India against potential Russian encroachment and to protect its commerce against the better German manufacturing, had a great interest to have that war starting between the two competitors…

        All the cry and impassionate arguments coming from the British intelligentsia on the matter never touches on this aspects.

        But Divide and rule is UK’s modus operandi given its inherent weaknesses…

    2. Gaianne

      One wonders if these pundits even read the books they quote.

      Tuchman is neither stupid nor sloppy: She describes how the politicians willfully initiated the war. It was only after the war was rolling that the politicians asked about the off button. When the military described why there wasn’t one, they were not describing something new, only something the politicians had never cared about.

      All automated, and all heavily bureaurcritized systems behave this way. Which is why you are supposed to think before you act, rather than after.


  11. Louis Fyne

    IMO, the Chinese will never invade Taiwan via the amphibious route like D-Day the Sequel. Logistically, no way.

    It is impossible to hide from US satellites the massive logistical efforts needed to invade Taiwan in force via an amphibious landing. 1944 D-Day preparations took two years, the US massed a duplicate phantom army led by Patton across the Channel from Calais, France, and the English Channel is tiny compared to the Taiwan Strait.

    More likely that China will destroy the entire Taiwan electricity grid before a single PLA soldier sets foot on a boat. Good luck running an entire country on diesel generators and solar panels.

    As some comments above opine, the path of least resistance is for China to use “salami-slicing” tactics of their own—particularly via food inflation or energy inflation.

    1. JamesT

      I agree with you, Louis Fyne. I believe that:
      – First China will destroy Taiwan’s electricity grid
      – Then China will mine Taiwan’s ports
      – Then China will take out Taiwan’s airstrips
      – And finally, if necessary, China will blow up all of TSMC’s fabs so that the US won’t care about Taiwan anymore. Once the fabs are gone the US will say “fine, you can have it”.

    2. hk

      What I wonder is how badly the Taiwanese–the majority that theoretically favors independence–really view the independence with all the attendant complications, and the fact that US and Japan would rather have Taiwan completely destroyed to ensure their “independence.”. There is no dispute that an increasing majority of the Taiwanese would rather not be under Beijing’s rule. But they are not like Galicians are to Russia, or, indeed, Vietnamese are to China. They don’t seem to want to deplete their treasure and shed blood to defy PRC. I’d wager that, even if they aren’t happy about the prospect, becoming prosperous although constrained subjects of PRC would be preferable to being destroyed in the middle of a US-China war.

  12. Oh

    These worthless ‘think’ tanks must have their people smoking some heavy stuff. They don’t realize that China has already won on the economic front. They just have to wait for the US to spend itself into bankruptcy. No need for a war!

    1. hk

      Well, I suppose the Chinese can always accuse the US of “incursions” into Hawaiian waters. Technically, legally equivalent, as long as US recognizes “one China.”. US should not be the one making the big stink about this, even if we recognize certain things might be potentially problematic.

  13. jan

    I’m also wondering, once all those new chip fabs are ready in the USA and Europe, how much will we care about Taiwan? With those new bases in the Philippines, do we still need it, with all the aggravation it causes in China?

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      The DoD was fussing over the MIC’s growing dependence on single source and single foreign sources for key components and subsystems of military systems decades ago. I cannot recall any lasting actions taken to address and resolve the problems. However the recent Chips and Science Act and the Inflation Reduction Act have made some sweet billions and billions of dollars available to the u.s. semiconductor industry for building semi-fabs in the u.s. I poked around “Design News” to try to locate some of the when and where with more success on the where than the when. The date I did see indicated ground breaking in 2024. I also saw indications that a State government was making billions of tax incentives available to locate facilities in one of their cities. On the positive side, this activity does have the appearance of government industrial policy, although it also has the appearance of substantial transfers of government money to the u.s. semiconductor makers, and at least one of the new fabs I spotted acquired a hint of the Potemkin when the chip making capacity for the new fab was compared to the capacity of chip fabs in Taiwan.
      “Electronics Manufacturing Slowly Returning Onshore”

      One problem with this build-up of u.s. semiconductor fabs appears to me, its lack of the qualifier “timely” within the context of u.s. provocations of China. Recalling the past, I have trouble believing in the longevity of any domestic semiconductor fabs which might be started.

      1. jan

        Re-reading some articles on Stratechery, it sounds like the new plants in Arizona will not be able to do everything they do in Taiwan. The Taiwan plants will still be more flexible. And lower cost too. As he states,

        not only will they be much less of a hedge against Chinese invasion than you might think

        OK, so much for that thought then.

      2. JamesT

        The US fabs may take time to come online but as I wrote above I think that in the event of a hot war the Chinese will blow up the Taiwanese fabs so that the war is no longer worth fighting from the US point of view. The Chinese think long term – they will be able to rebuild the fabs.

        And by the way – the other major fabs are in Korea … which is within striking range of China if the US wants to keep fighting after the Taiwanese fabs are gone.

      3. Kouros

        Who will man all these fabs? What if the Taiwan’s engineers don’t want to go to the US? Jail them? Blackmail them?

  14. Susan the other

    China plays good defense. During the Vietnam wars Zhou was always trying to maintain the high moral territory of not attacking the enemy first. Vietnam managed, with China’s help, to turn defense into the best offense until the West was worn to a frazzle. They could do the same today, just wear us down relentlessly. Considering we have lost our industrial edge it might happen much quicker. We tried to colonize them by opening up our markets, by bribery it seems. But in the process we have actually destroyed our own capacity to consume. The great American consumer is getting pretty billious these days. Plus nobody ever analyzes the possibility that China will go full Mao and bomb the crap out of the US west coast. Seems unlikely though because what’s the point? We are both just posturing. It would be good to stop bickering and start over on common ground. What do they need? What do we need? What does the planet need?

    1. Mike Mc

      Absolutely. Mother Nature/Planet Earth does not care one iota about our borders, ideologies, systems of government etc. We need several Greta Thunbergs in the governments and especially militaries of the US, Russia and China to take command and hammer our ridiculous swords into plowshares.

      Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Ministry for The Future should be read by every one of our planet’s government and military officials. We don’t need a nuclear war to destroy civilization and/or humanity… Business As Usual doing a great job already!

      1. Don

        Likewise, Planet Earth does not care one iota about what temperature best suits homo sapiens.

  15. Glossolalia

    I was talking to a friend recently who works for the Canadian government attracting overseas investment. As you’d expect a lot of that comes from Asia, and he said in particular he deals with a lot of Taiwanese companies. He said that in talking with these people there seems to be much less concern about a confrontation with China than is portrayed in the West. Basically that it may well happen, but it wouldn’t be some devastating hot war that decimates the country like what’s happening in Ukraine, and that business would probably continue as usual at the individual company level.

  16. HH

    The great unanswered question in all the war with China speculation is why the huge U.S. corporations whose businesses would be badly damaged remain silent, while the defense sector, representing only 5% of U.S. GDP funds the neocon crazies pushing for war. Does Apple Computer, which is five times the size of Raytheon, think war with China is a good idea, and, if not, why is it not lobbying against the neocon war machine?

    1. Kouros

      Wall Street has not cracked yet the Chinese market, and that is the biggest US business…

  17. Willow

    Don’t underestimate the romantic sympathies of the KMT for a re-united China. KMT is back in ascendancy based on recent rout of the incumbent gov’t in Taiwanese equivalent of mid-term elections. China is not going to spoil this advantage and will be assiduous in cultivating & husbanding this shift in power as the payoff is potentially a (quasi-)peaceful reunification.

    If there is war with China it will start as a proxy war between the Koreas. China closing the South China Sea may then trigger a direct conflict with US. A new Korean war will weaken the US while at same time providing the Taiwan population a huge incentive to accept reunification peacefully. US may try to intradict & stop Taiwan but I suspect China has already won the ‘Taiwan War’ without firing a shot.

    As a side note. It is highly unlikely Japan would enter a new Korean War unlike a Taiwan War. Which is why China will likely go down the Korean proxy war route because the US will be at a greater disadvantage in Japan’s absence.

    1. Willow

      The important question is not what China has learnt but what Taiwanese people have learnt from the Ukraine conflict. The lesson is not to trust the US and not to become a US proxy in any war with China. In a choice between being under the thumb of the CCP and ending up like Ukraine, Taiwanese will likely choose the former no matter how much ‘independence’ is hyped in the Western media. Being a US enemy is painful, being a US friend is deadly.

  18. tevhatch

    LOL, Garland Nixon strikes again.

    BREAKING NEWS: White House insiders leak that, when asked if there could be any greater disaster than the neocon Ukraine project, President Biden responded, “wait until you see our plan for the destruction of Taiwan.”

  19. Futility

    “The global supply chain for silicon chips involving Dutch machines (for extreme ultraviolet lithography), American designs, and Taiwanese production would probably continue without much of a hitch in the United States, Japan, and Europe,…”
    That is just plain nonsense. True, a few fabs are being built in the US of more advanced nodes (but not the latest, most advanced), but nevertheless most of TSMC’s production capability is in Taiwan. These few fabs will be completely unable to make up for the lost production volumes if Taiwan is cut off, especially older nodes which are everywhere in appliances or cars. Covid supply chain problems will appear as a joke in comparison. It takes years before products are transferred to a new fab, and these newer fabs cannot just produce older technologies. It will bring the economy of the West to a crawl (and also China’s since the demand of the West will drop like a stone).

    1. HH

      This is why the silence of the biggest U.S. corporations in the face of neocon plans to severely disrupt their markets and supply chains is so puzzling. Having demonstrated their incompetence in economics in the failed Russia sanctions campaign, the Washington neocons now intend to wreck the global semiconductor trade, and there isn’t a peep out of Apple, Walmart, or Amazon, companies that have massive potential lobbying power. The best brains in corporate America are sitting silent while a small pack of power-crazed idiots in the Biden administration are planning to seriously damage their companies.

      1. Futility

        Actually, quite a few companies are asking for a China decoupling in semiconductor supply chains (more European than American companies, as I heard.), but still this will take years to accomplish since the capacity is not available and building the capacity will result in depressed prices in the long run due to overcapacity if Taiwan remains in the market. Additionally, running these fabs will require STEM graduates in numbers that are simply not available now nor in the foreseeable future.
        Why CEOs remain silent is indeed baffling.

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