The National Interest
Date: February 13, 2019
By: Hugh White
Paul Dibb, in his recent Strategist post , writes that America’s strategic position in Asia would be fatally undermined if it didn’t go to war with China if China attacked Taiwan, and that Australia’s alliance with America would be fatally undermined if we didn’t then go to war with China too. The conclusion he draws is that, in the event of an unprovoked Chinese attack on Taiwan, America should go to war with China, and so should Australia.
I think Dibb’s premises are correct, but his conclusion is wrong. Failing to come to Taiwan’s aid would seriously weaken and perhaps destroy America’s position in Asia, and our alliance with America would be seriously weakened if not destroyed if we failed to support the US. But it doesn’t follow that either America or Australia should therefore go to war with China to defend Taiwan.
That depends on who would win the war. Such a war, like any war, would be a calculus of uncertainties, but at the very least one could say that a swift, cheap and decisive US victory over China would be very unlikely. America’s military power is very great, but China’s military power, and especially its capacity to deny its air and sea approaches to US forces, has grown sharply, and is now formidable.
China also has big advantages of location and resolve: Taiwan is closer to China than to America, and it matters more to the Chinese. And any hopes that US nuclear forces would swing the balance back America’s way run up against China’s capacity to retaliate in kind, and the risk of a nuclear exchange targeting US cities would at least have to be considered by US leaders in deciding to go to war. [FULL STORY]