December 04, 2003

The Invasion of Taiwan

Steven Den Beste has written a response to my prior article on Taiwan. The meat of the response that most concerns me is in the first paragraph.

TMLutas writes about the fact that the US may be limited by its military power, and may be trying to defer some problems until the force is available, or can be raised, to deal with them. Probably that's true, but he chooses a poor example of that when he points to Taiwan.

What he passes lightly on is that the Taiwan article was an instantiation of an earlier article. That's the real big problem that I was hoping would be torn into little pieces and demonstrated that it is wrong, wrong, wrong. That's because the reason I speculated we weren't expanding the army is decimating to the idea we have a patriotic consensus among politicians in this country. Since that happy day when my speculation is disproved has not come, let's talk about Taiwan.

First of all, if the US bends too much and gives the PRC side false hope that they can start military operations because of Taiwanese provocations, the US has suffered an east asian disaster no matter the ultimate outcome (barring the delusion of a Taiwanese takeover of Beijing which is just not going to happen). Thus, the anti-invasion capabilities of the Taiwanese Army are somewhat irrelevant to a sober evaluation of US diplomacy. They might survive. They might even win. But the US will have lost and it is the US' scorecard that is at issue here.

A tremendous amount of the world's manufacturing goes through Taiwan. For instance, they make a great deal of the transistors, circuit boards, and computers that are the stuff that the Information Revolution is made of. A six month period where nothing comes in and out of Taiwan but military hardware is going to hurt worldwide. The economic disruption will be particularly painful and the political risk will raise the risk component of everybody's future decision formula to invest and do business with Taiwan. In a world where Taiwan becomes less competitive, some of those relocated business deals and factories will end up in the PRC.

This has both commercial and military implications for Taiwan. The reason they have such a good military is they have the money to pay for it. Strongly encouraging taiwanese businessmen to put more of their wealth into the PRC will enrich the PRC and narrow the tax base from which Taiwan can draw its next generation of military forces. It's a boa constrictor method of taking down a foe but the PRC is certainly patient enough to consider such scenarios.

But even in pure military terms, there are factors to consider that were simply absent in the case of the Battle of Britain (though there are important parallels as well). The first and foremost are missiles. The lack of significant anti-missile forces in the Taiwanese Order Of Battle (OOB) means that the PRC has a significant advantage that the Nazis did not. They do not have to put a plane over Taiwan to deliver explosives sufficient to take out a runway. They may simply overwhelm whatever Patriot batteries are available at that time.

From SDB's links I found this image which has a total of 23 air facilities marked out on it. If enough facilities are taken out by missile fire, the vastly inferior (but vastly more numerous) PLAAF will overwhelm the remaining defenders. This article makes clear that the Taiwanese Air Force has no VTOL craft that would remain operational without long military runways.

So a winning PRC strategy could be purely economic, bottle up shipping and flights in Taiwan to beggar it and reduce its ability to continue maintaining a military that is good enough to credibly repel invasion. It could be a combined missile/air attack that would take out enough launch facilities to give the PRC air superiority for a full on invasion (the submarines won't survive many trips to replenish torpedoes if the PLAAF controls the skies). It could also be something in-between. Taiwan controls a series of islands that are very close to the mainland. A military adventure could be launched to provide enough air cover just to take over some of those islands.

Just to recap, none of these strategies actually have to work. They just have to be good enough for the PRC to try them under the protection of a perceived diplomatic green light provided by Doug Paal and James Moriarty. The first shot fired in anger is the failure of US strategy for the diplomats. If this problem is heaped onto the US military's plate, something's already gone horribly wrong.

Posted by TMLutas at December 4, 2003 10:51 AM