Thursday, 21 July 2005

A Bit of a Worry

Three successive stories from the BBC :
15 July :
A senior Chinese general has warned that China might respond with nuclear weapons against the US if Washington attacked his country over Taiwan.

Major General Zhu Chenghu is not directly involved in China's military strategy, but these comments could add to tensions with the US.
The US is currently Taiwan's biggest arms supplier and has indicated it would defend the island in the event of a Chinese invasion.

"If the Americans draw their missiles and position-guided ammunition onto the target zone on China's territory, I think we will have to respond with nuclear weapons," Maj Gen Zhu told an official briefing for foreign reporters.

The general said his comments were "my assessment, not the policy of the government," according to The Asian Wall Street Journal.
Not a threat, a sober military assesment. The only way China can counter the US's surgical precision is with mass destruction.

16 July :
The Chinese government has downplayed remarks by a senior general suggesting that China might use nuclear weapons if the US attacked it over Taiwan.

Major General Zhu Chenghu was only expressing "personal views", Beijing officials said.
But no actual statement that what he said wasn't correct.

20 July :
China has increased the number of short-range ballistic missiles on its coast opposite Taiwan, the US has said.

In an annual report to Congress, the Pentagon claimed there were now up to 730 such missiles in place. Last year's report found only 500.
According to the American findings, there are now between 650 and 730 short-range ballistic missiles in position opposite Taiwan, with 100 more being deployed every year.

China is also developing the capability to launch air strikes and mount a blockade against the island, the report said.
Worth watching.

1 comment:

Steven said...

Not really a big deal, because Chinese leaders know American nuclear doctrine. Specifically, if the U.S. believes a country is immenently going to use nuclear weapons, official U.S. battle doctrine is a preemptive counterforce strike -- i.e., the U.S. nukes first.

So let's play out how things would go. Assume China attacks Taiwan. The U.S., committed to defending Taiwan, and considering this statement, will assume China will use nuclear force as soon as the U.S. acts to defend Taiwan. The U.S. accordingly would, as its first step in defending Taiwan, immediately launch a counter-force nuclear strike on China.

China, of course, knows this. So China knows that, if it invades Taiwan, it will be immediately nuked by the United States, precisely because it has threatened to use nukes over Taiwan. Knowing that no gains from a war to retake Taiwan would be worth enduring a nuclear bombardment, China won't invade Taiwan.

Accordingly, General Zhu just announced that Taiwan cannot be reclaimed by force, and that China has no plans to do so – but in a manner acceptable politically to Chinese nationalists.

Compare, back in 1996, when another Chinese leader said Taiwan wasn't worth a nuclear attack on Los Angeles. That was merely a face-saving way of making the point (durning a time of tension over Taiwan's democratic elections) that China was not willing to sacrifice its cities in an effort to seize Taiwan.

Yes, this is all rather funhouse-mirror world, but diplomacy and nuclear weapons interact to create some really weird situations.

Note that China holds a no nuclear first-strike policy, specifically to reassure the U.S. in advance of any period of tension that it won't use nukes, so the U.S. doesn't need to do a pre-emptive attack. China doesn't have remotely the force to launch a counter-force first strike, and its force would be severely degraded by one from the U.S.

Chinese nuclear forces were specifically a Samson-in-the-temple deterrent against a Soviet invasion/coup (to install a dependent satellite government). They're actually not all that important nowadays, since nobody really expects the anybody to invade China (which is a major reason the Chinese went along with the testing moratorium, depite not having the technology to maintain their nukes without regular tests). China is certainly pursuing a credible nuclear force, but currently their force is more dangerous to them (in that it might inspire a U.S. or Russian first strike against China) than anything else, though they have some value in intimidating neighbors unprotected by either Russian or U.S. nukes.