The Pentagon has identified the danger of a blow-up in the Taiwan Strait as one of the highest-level contingencies that the US must deal with as it realigns its nuclear weapons strategies, excerpts of a secret US nuclear planning document shows.
The assessment is contained in the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) which the George W. Bush administration sent to Congress in January and its general points have only recently been leaked in press accounts.
Extensive excerpts of the review were released by GlobalSecurity.org, a policy-research organization focusing on security issues.
"In setting requirements for nuclear strike capabilities, distinctions can be made among the contingencies for which the United States must be prepared," the report says. "Contingencies can be categorized as immediate, potential and unexpected.
"Immediate contingencies involve well-recognized current dangers. Current examples of immediate contingencies include ... a military confrontation over the status of Taiwan," page 16 of the NPR says. Only two other such contingencies are singled out -- an Iraqi attack on Israel or its neighbors and a North Korean attack on South Korea.
China is listed in the review as one of seven countries that pose special concern for Washington as it reworks its nuclear-deterrent strategy.
"Due to the combination of China's still developing strategic objectives and its ongoing modernization of its nuclear forces, China is a country that could be involved in an immediate or potential contingency," the NPR says.
The NPR reflects the continued US strategic policy shifts since the end of the Cold War, when the Soviet Union was the single overriding concern of Washington. The review recognizes that there are new threats such as so-called "rogue regimes" like Iraq and North Korea, as well as a new post-Cold War emphasis on China and such flashpoints as the Taiwan Strait.
The review also echoes the Bush administration's efforts to decide on a ballistic-missile defense strategy to replace the Cold War-era "mutually assured destruction" strategy in which each side had enough nuclear weapons to obliterate the other in case of a nuclear war, in effect making a nuclear war unthinkable and obviating the need for a missile defense system.
On ballistic-missile defense, the NPR makes some points of keen importance to Taiwan, in view of the Bush administration's apparent decision to abandon a separate Asian-theater missile-defense system that could include Taiwan.
The new missile-defense system is "layered," the NPR says, against missiles in all ranges of their flight.
"The United States seeks effective defenses against attacks by small number of longer-range missiles as wall as defenses against attacks by larger number of short- and medium- range missiles," the NPR says.
Options include a single airborne laser for test-phase missile intercepts, and a "sea based AEGIS system could be available to provide rudimentary mid-course capability against short to medium-range threats."
Other systems could include the PAC-3 (Patriot Advanced Capability) anti-missile and anti-plane missile, which the US began deploying last year.
During the annual decision on arms sales to Taiwan last April, the Bush administration pointedly rejected Taiwan's requests for both the AEGIS sophisticated long-range anti-missile radar and missile-response management system, and the PAC-3s.