How an Armed Conflict Between China and Taiwan Would Take Shape
J. Michael Cole
Key point: Beijing has many options to achieve its strategic objectives in Taiwan.
A consensus seems to have developed among a large number of defense analysts in recent years arguing that despite the balance of power having shifted in China’s favor, Beijing has no intention to use its military to invade Taiwan and thus resolve the Taiwan “question” once and for all. Doing so would be too costly, some argue, while others contend that Beijing can accomplish unification by creating enough economic dependence and incentives to convince Taiwanese over time of the “inevitability” of a “reunited” China.
Although these factors certainly militate against the desire to go to war over the island-nation, we cannot altogether discount the probability that the Chinese military would be called into action, especially if the rationale for launching an attack were framed in terms of a defensive war—China being “forced” to take action because of changing and “untenable” circumstances in its environment.
Therefore, despite the relatively low probability of war in the Taiwan Strait in the immediate future, Taipei cannot afford to be complacent and must actively pursue an effective defense strategy.
The first component of such a strategy is for Taipei to clearly define what the mission is, and just as importantly, what “victory” would look like. Given the quantitative and qualitative differences that exist between the two militaries, it is clear by now that victory for Taiwan can no longer be defined in maximalist terms: the total destruction of enemy forces.
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