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24 August 2005 @ 07:08 am
A couple of weeks ago a Chinese general announced that China would be prepared to use nukes in any conflict with the US over Taiwan. This came as a shock to me. I was surprised to find out there was anyone who didn't _already_ think they might use nukes in such an event.

So what should the US do in the event that China, for whatever reason, decides to force the issue with Taiwan?

Depending on when this happens LA would be one of the most likely targets for a nuke if it escalates to the civilian target level, and obviously i wouldn't want to volunteer for such a thing. However i'm not sure if that's sufficient grounds for backing down. I'm not a big fan of the domino theory, but if we don't defend Taiwan against Chinese aggression, what do we do if they decide they want Japan? Or Hawaii?

I think we have a right to help defend anyone who actually _wants_ our help. I'm not sure who we have a duty to defend though. If we _knew_ that China would be happy after taking Taiwan and thereby restoring its "natural" borders, would it be worth fighting on the side of the Taiwanese who don't want to be "restored?" What if we _knew_ that China would nuke a couple of US cities of we intervened. Is that sufficient reason to tell Taiwan to sink or swim on its own?

And if we do decide to support Taiwan, how far should we be willing to go with that support?

The best guess i've heard as to what would happen if China did use nukes is that they'd start out hitting a US Carrier battle group with a tactical nuke, and after that it would depend on what response the US decided to make.

Letting China nuke a Carrier battle group and then doing nothing about it would be even worse than just letting China have Taiwan, but how _should_ we respond in such a situation? According to people discussing this on a mailing list i'm on, US doctrine is that in the event of an attack by WMDs, the US will respond with its own WMDs, which makes sense in light of the whole MAD thing. However the question of proportion would remain. Do we nuke a Chinese CBG or three in response and then see how they respond to that? They might give up at that point, or they might decide to escalate and nuke more military targets, or start ending missiles across the Pacific to nuke civilian targets over here.

We could respond by nuking every military target we know of, but that would involve laying waste to, well, pretty much all of China's coast with huge civilian casualties. Is it worth going to that extent to (try and) make sure that we don't get nuked? And taking a step back, is it worth going to that extent to (try and) make sure that Taiwan isn't conquered?

And on top of all that there's always the fact that backing down due to a threat of force tends to set a bad precedent, but that leads back into the domino theory.

Many people argue that rationally China doesn't want a full scale war with the US, so the best policy is to make damn sure that China knows that's what will result if they make any military moves against Taiwan. Of course that involves a certain amount of saber rattling which isn't exactly great but certainly beats some of the alternatives.

There's the relative freedom of some 20 million Taiwanese at stake, the safety of between ten thousand and a hundred or so million americans at stake, and in the worst possible scenario, the safety of possibly upwards of a half billion chinese at stake, a great number of which may not give a damn at all about what the Chinese government wants to do with Taiwan (i have no idea how nationalistic the average chinese citizen is.)
Current Mood: thoughtfulthoughtful
dolohov on August 24th, 2005 04:20 pm (UTC)
It's kind of the difference between dealing with an armed person and being told by that person, "I'm allowed to shoot you."

I don't think it's rational to apply the domino theory to China -- they've historically been extremely touchy about territorial integrity. There's a strong tradition of insisting that all Chinese should be under one government, and to hell with everyone else. Now, they've been a little loose in their definition of "Chinese" (such as with Tibet) but I would be extremely surprised to see them claim, say, Korea. (After all, nobody would have complained if they'd just invaded North Korea by now)

I'm very concerned that the oil situation will come to war. I fully expect to see some proxy wars coming up, in places like Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Venezuela. Like with the USSR, though, I don't think US and China will directly fight each other, just because of the potential to get very nasty.
Kirinkirinn on August 24th, 2005 06:29 pm (UTC)
I don't see why anyone would want to force the issue. Of course everyone maintains the *option* of using all their available weaponry; that's what MAD and deterrence in general are all about. So both sides rattle sabres a bit and then we stick with the status quo and get on with some happy capitalism, which at this point is what a fairly large percentage of the power base on both sides probably wants.

(Yeah, of course I'm aware that the Chinese Govt is technically communist, but they also seem awfully keen on being an economic superpower.)
Steuardsteuard on August 24th, 2005 07:34 pm (UTC)
My friend Will (a physicist and international relations buff) has been talking about the risk of future confrontations with China pretty much as long as I've known him. (It used to be that any time you discussed any kind of politics with him, the conversation would somehow turn out to be about the coming rise of Chinese naval power.)

At any rate, the reason I mention him is that he wrote some detailed comments on what this general's words might mean for the future. It's interesting stuff.
Vesperasol_rei on August 24th, 2005 08:46 pm (UTC)
I feel bad for the Taiwanese. They want independence, and from what I've heard in classes and such, their culture IS significantly different from Chinese.

I probably wouldn't have thought this situation was a big deal if I didn't know about Tibet...and how far the Chinese military WILL go.

I kinda think the Chinese are LOOKING for something to battle the US with. The US is the world superpower, and I feel quite confident that China wants to be the next one. It'll just depend on how much patience they have...which seems to be running out.

I really don't know what (the US or any other country) to do in this situation. Nukes are as scary as war gets. And since overpopulation is a problem in China, I have a feeling the leaders won't care if they have some casualties, especially if it means that they win.

I wonder how the Japanese feel about the situation....