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  • Writer's pictureWei Azim Hung

Executive Brief: CSIS’s Taiwan War Game

Updated: Oct 13, 2023

Key takeaways:

  • China and U.S. step up military preparedness in Asia-Pacific region

  • Taiwan upgraded to 'Tier 1' contingency in the 2023 Preventive Priorities Survey

  • Wargame suggests that Taiwan invasion by China would fail, but at huge U.S. cost

  • Japan aggressively ramps up military spending, displays new posture

  • Japan plays a pivotal role in defending Taiwan


The Militarization of Indo-Pacific?

As China and the United States step-up military preparedness in the Asia-Pacific, many countries are taking unprecedented precautions in enhancing bilateral/multilateral military cooperation and domestic structures to scale or deter a potential conflict outbreak in East Asia. A brief enumeration of ongoing changes would help illuminate the intensity of the rapidly changing security dynamic.

For instance, in September, Washington approved US$1.1 billion worth of weapons packages (Radar systems and anti-ship and anti-air missiles) to Taiwan. Furthermore, the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act will provide US$10 billion worth of security assistance to Taiwan in the next five years. The Tsai Ing-wen administration also recently announced the extension of conscription from four months to one year, citing China's bellicosity as a primary concern. Similarly, Japan released three transformational national security documents: the National Security Strategy (NSS), the National Defense Strategy (NDS), and the Defense Buildup Program to ‘dramatically transform’ its approach to national security policy in response to Chinese aggression.

The Kishida cabinet is supporting military revamp by introducing a US$324 billion plan to increase the defense budget over five years to ‘rapidly and drastically reinforce Japan’s defense capability’. South Korea, too, has released its version of the Indo-Pacific strategy, vowing to "nurture a sounder and more mature relationship based on mutual respect and reciprocity, guided by international norms and rules." Not to mention, India, Australia, and the Philippines, are intensely engaging with the United States and other regional allies to determine the trajectory of their defense postures. As Kang Jun-young, a Professor at the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies succinctly puts: “A lot of countries have already started expanding their armaments,” The inevitable arms expansion in East Asia will continue.


Taiwan Ranked as Tier-1 Contingency

In the context of security buildup in the Indo-Pacific, it is unsurprising to see that the Cross-strait crisis, one of the more vulnerable flashpoints to modern conventional warfare, was upgraded to 'Tier 1' contingency in the 2023 Preventive Priorities Survey released by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). The survey was conducted by CFR's Center for Preventive Action (CPA), where foreign policy experts evaluated 30 ongoing or potential "violent" conflicts based on their likelihood of occurring or escalating this year, as well as their possible impact on U.S. interests.

In the extension of this, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) recently published a wargaming report of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. The central question asked by the authors was: what would happen if China attempted an amphibious invasion of Taiwan? Would the invasion succeed and at what cost? In answering the questions, 24 iterations were facilitated. Out of 22 of those iterations, Taiwan maintained its autonomy through the intervention and assistance of the United States and Japan. Despite heavy losses, such as all sides losing dozens of ships, hundreds of aircraft, and tens of thousands of service members, China was unable to capture Taipei. However, the report warned against a pyrrhic victory. That is, the United States may suffer more in the long term as opposed to the "defeated" Chinese. Therefore, victory is not enough, and the U.S. must strengthen deterrence immediately.


Repelling China: Conditions for Success

(1) Taiwanese forces must hold the line

(2) there is no “Ukraine model” for Taiwan

(3) the United States must be able to use its bases in Japan for combat operations

(4) the United States must be able to strike the Chinese fleet rapidly and en masse from outside the Chinese defensive zone.

Breaking down the conditions independently, recommendations were provided addressing short gaps within the status quo. For instance, during the invasion, Chinese forces will relentlessly attempt to capture the beaches to establish supply lines. In response, Taiwanese ground forces must have the capacity for counter-responses in weakening China's logistics. However, as internal and external experts have identified, Taiwan's armed forces suffer from structural weaknesses. Therefore, rigorous training must be implemented to improve defense efforts. The report also recommends that allies arm Taiwan while the status quo permits. The U.S. must decisively intervene in direct combat to minimize casualties throughout the War. Delays could make the defense more difficult, raise the risk for escalation and increase casualty. Due to geographical reasons, it is impossible to implement or replicate the Ukraine model in Taiwan. In this capacity, Taiwan must start the War with everything it needs.

The report also recommended that the U.S. administration deepen diplomatic and military ties with Japan as one of the conditions for victory. According to the report, Japan is the linchpin. Without the use of U.S. bases in Japan, U.S. fighter/attack aircraft cannot effectively participate in the War. Favorably, the United States and Japan are engaging in unprecedented cooperation. Blinken, in a press conference with Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, Austin, and Japanese Minister of Defense Hamada Yasukazu, promised that Japan, under the new security plan, would “take on new roles” in the Indo-Pacific region and “foster even closer defense cooperation with the United States and our mutual partners". Kishida seems to echo sentiments in the U.S., going as far as to suggest that allies must act in concert with China and that China was the central challenge for both Japan and the United States. With Japan mentioned more than 300 times throughout the report, one would conclude that to deter aggression in Taiwan, Japan is a “U.S. critical infrastructure”.

Lastly, the United States must increase the arsenal of long-range anti-ship cruise missiles. According to the report, bombers capable of launching anti-ship missiles are essential and low-cost in reducing U.S. losses and are fastest to defeating a Chinese amphibious invasion. Thus, upgrading and procuring such missiles should be a government priority.

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