Sun, Dec 21, 2014 - Page 3 News List

War over Taiwan could be nuclear, US analyst says

By William Lowther  /  Staff reporter in WASHINGTON

Chinese military expansion means that the US would have to fight “harder, quicker, nastier, deeper and longer” to protect Taiwan, a new analysis said, raising the specter that such a conflict could quickly go nuclear.

Written by Center for a New American Security fellow Elbridge Colby — a former US government defense and intelligence official — the analysis was published in National Interest magazine.

“In the past, most defense analysts and planners envisioned a Sino-American conflict in maritime Asia starting and remaining a conventional fight,” Colby wrote.

The US was seen as able to handle any Chinese attempts at power projection solely by relying on conventional forces, he said.

“In practical terms, the US would have been able to defeat Chinese attacks on Taiwan with relatively limited means and on Washington’s terms,” Colby added.

“Nuclear weapons, if they were to become involved, were seen as most likely to be introduced in limited numbers by the Chinese in a desperate attempt to stave off defeat in a Taiwan contingency, a defeat that might jeopardize the legitimacy of the Communist regime,” he wrote.

However, if China had the upper hand in a battle over Taiwan and the US still wanted to deter or defeat an attempted invasion of the nation, the US would need to be willing to hit targets deeper in China than had been envisioned before, he added.

They would have to strike sooner and expand the war considerably beyond Taiwan’s immediate environs to compel Beijing to back away, Colby said.

Such a scenario could lead to the use of nuclear weapons at a time when China’s nuclear arsenal is becoming larger and more sophisticated, he said.

Instead of only having the option of striking at a major US or Japanese city, China would increasingly gain the ability to target military facilities or forces in the region, Colby said.

“This ability to use nuclear weapons in more limited and tailored ways will make China’s threats — explicit or implicit — to use nuclear forces more credible,” he wrote.

Beijing might gain superiority in terms of conventional arms in the region and be able to block US efforts designed to defend Taiwan, Colby said.

As China grows more assertive, Asian nations traditionally allied to Washington “may ultimately see getting their own nuclear weapons as essential to deterring China’s exploitation of its growing strength,” he said.

Colby said this would almost certainly be the case if these nations viewed a weaker US as lacking the resolve or the ability to use its nuclear weapons.

“South Korea, Japan, Australia and Taiwan have seriously contemplated pursuing their own nuclear arsenals in the past and might do so again,” Colby wrote.

The more threatening Beijing appears, the less likely it is that the nuclear order of the Asia-Pacific will endure, Colby said.

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