Taiwan’s 20th Century Brush With a Nuclear Capability

Just how close was Taipei to going nuclear?

The Diplomat
Date: January 30, 2019
By: Robert Farley

How close did Taiwan come to developing a nuclear weapons capability? Recent scholarship has painted a much clearer picture of Taiwan’s interest in developing such a capability, as well as U.S. efforts to prevent Taiwan from reaching that point. A recent monograph by David Albright and Andrea Stricker helps illuminate some aspects of Taiwan’s program, as well as the U.S. reaction. In association with this, the National Security Archive has collected a trove of unclassified documents from the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, detailing the U.S. response to Taiwan’s program.

Taiwan’s interest in nuclear weapons stemmed from an acute sense of vulnerability. Although the United States held an overwhelming military advantage over China, that military advantage would not hold forever, and it left Taiwan at the mercy of Washington’s generosity. When the PRC tested a nuclear weapon in 1964, it became apparent to Taipei that a deterrent relationship of the sort that held in Europe might make the U.S. think twice about coming to Taiwan’s aid in war.

This logic was not lost on the United States, which began to worry about the program in the mid-1960s. Taiwan attempted and failed to acquire a nuclear reactor from West Germany, later successfully purchasing a Canadian reactor. Later, Taiwan pursued reprocessing capabilities, to the alarm of the U.S. State Department. Along the way, Taiwan undertook some clandestine activities, including hiding equipment designed to produce heavy water.    [FULL  STORY]

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