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The direction a war will ‘take’

The direction a war will ‘take’

War, from an historical perspective tend to expand beyond the parameters of those that were set by those that become involved. This often is beyond the estimated cost in personnel as it also involves chronological length; asset destruction; politico-complexities; commitment factors; what victory comprises ‘of’; and an acceptable exit strategy. All are dependent on the domestic capabilities of a country, its ability to be unwavering in its commitment of its own people to the underlying cause; and the concomitant ability to absorb casualties. One of the main issues with conflict is it comprises a dynamic which in turn, requires different levels of input at different times and this is often dependent upon domestic political input and rhetoric which includes altering the war for politico-gain. These exigencies will not change if Taiwan and China go to war. Hence, the direction a war takes is dependent upon political commitment that is backed up by assets. The way in which governments prefer a war to ‘go’ is however, along the lines of a Eurocentric ‘model’ of war as per the model of WWII, albeit obviously on a smaller scale. The advantage of this model of war is there are defined parameters (front-lines) in which to monitor the perceived or actual gains of an enemy (whether it is a militia or a more conventional military force), to define where the enemy ‘is,’ to understand when countermeasures are needed and crucially, to have the knowledge of territory should political argument be required, or a ceasefire be implemented. China will want a war to take this direction due to the inherent advantages.

For Taiwan (as at 2018), when a war happens the most productive outcome in terms of politico-gain for it is to have it escalate from a limited war to a total war as quickly as possible and is fundamentally, the opposite of what China wants in terms of ‘direction.’ A quick escalation for Taiwan would effectively draw in other actors that could apply a threat-of-force, or if things escalated rapidly direct opposing force, which would in turn, downwardly moderate actions by China. And such a state-of-affairs would further impact on its ‘Belt and Road Initiative’[1] (BRI), and erode the prominence of the ‘Nine-Dash Line.’ Both are enormous politico-initiatives which require focused effort and the non-intervention of other actors; and the resources of the PLA, PLAN and PLAAF. Therefore, it is prescient to convene the best strategic move for China is to use threat-of-force initiatives after a specific date, whilst keeping the ‘one China’ mantra in the forefront of political machinations with all of its irredentist perspectives steadfast, whilst always emphasising its desire not to go to war being paramount—whether the conviction would be completely transparent and honest is a moot point and need not be debated here as it is the strategy over substance of the message that is relevant.

Returning to the aspect of where a war would take the best strategic outcome for CCP after the ‘approved date’ of use-of-force would be to not execute what it would be ‘entitled to do.’ This would keep Taiwanese forces in a heightened (and exhausting) state-of-readiness and would allow China to be on alert without having the burden of having to execute a plan. Should a clash take place however, the best plan for China would be to destroy several major installations without placing the population-at-large in absolute danger. The aim being to retard actions beyond an initial attack which would accomplish two objectives: to make China look ‘reasonable’; and allow for the possibility of mediation. Whether other actors would be involved in mediations is a moot point and need not be introduced here, as it is the recourse to force and the tactics therein that are being debated. Thus, China would not want the pseudo-conflict to develop into a limited war as this would have the potential to draw in other actors and the direction China wants any outbreak of hostilities to take is to insist the conflict is between two adversaries only—one legal entity attempting to rein in a non-legal cum seditious non-state actor.

Extrapolating upon the reason why China would not want a clash to be elevated is to discern that it would want to contain the crisis to the regional level and not have other actors—particularly the US—become involved in a regional ‘mid-intensity clash.’[2] As an evolvement of this ‘type’ would engage other actors in the region beyond China’s nascent resolve and would potentially involve other military forces from beyond the A-P region which would involve China’s allies in a war they may deem unnecessary. Regional conflicts are highly complex[3] and the less involvement by other actors beyond the initial adversaries favours the most powerful actor. China therefore, would not want an A-P skirmish advanced upon by the West and its A-P allies to become a security dilemma as this would have the potential to immerse other actors—including non-A-P actors—into a situation which they would fundamentally believe was necessary. Having such input would invariably be to the detriment of the CCP’’s ‘management’ of a conflict and diminish the conflict being viewed through the prism of reason. The way in which China will approach the tenuousness of the situation will be unprecedented in contemporary times in its option of choice for Taiwan so that China has paramount control over the direction the war will ‘take.’

China will therefore, not want to dislodge its ‘rightful claim’ and will seek to reinforce at every opportunity of it simply being a nation-state claiming an independent country (cum suzerain-state) that it has ‘given the opportunity’ to peacefully cede and whilst the outbreak of hostilities will cause consternation within the UNGA, UNSC and the UNSCP5 per se, it nonetheless will be treated no differently than other conflicts. China will do all it can to gain its entitlement and will aim for moral leverage and legal recognition over and above other conflicts and not wishing for the situation to mirror the Israel-Palestine (nation-state against non-recognised populace), Russia-Ukraine (nation-state against nation-state); NATO and the US against the Taliban (Alliance versus non-State actor); and Syria and its allies fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (nation-state versus exogenous militia). Although there will be shades of previous ‘historiography’[4] in its inculcation and representations within the UN forums, they will be positively exploited by China. Thus, Taiwan will have to assess its options based on this taking place. As many avenues as possible having been covered an erudite final analysis of the kinetic phase of operations beginning and progressing through various phases, the complexities within and the way in which Taiwan and China will approach the coming dilemma of war.

Sovereignty and war: The waiting and the reasons

To be sure, and to be straightforward in an analysis, all positions whether beneficial or detrimental to Taiwan must be viewed through the prism of China being in its ‘nascent phase’ of preponderance. In simpler terms the time-frame in this thesis circa-1995 – 2018, represents only the beginning of China’s ‘rise’—the era of pax-Sino and therefore, this summation must examine and then extrapolate on the current evidence-base of the previous 23 years.

The machinations encountered by Taiwan to date consist of but are not limited to a persistent show of military force through which the war of rivalry alluded to is comprehensively and consistently undertaken; and a concomitant politico-repercussions that it can be argued, have increased since the BRI which is effectively a sign of China’s continuing preponderance, prosperity and cosmopolitanism. Alternatively, Taiwan has maintained its status as an independent country and attempted to be as cosmopolitan as circumstances allow and maintained an international profile however, it continues to lose vital allies in the literal sense of the term—El Salvador was the latest at the time of writing to remove its diplomatic recognition of Taiwan.[5] With each loss Taiwan’s cosmopolitanism loses momentum. Inherent within the loss of politico-momentum from this standpoint several predispositions are able to be observed: Taiwan retains its determination to protect and prosper; the challenge to China from a military perspective has not waned; and it holds on to any comment other countries offer of security—especially the US—is eagerly sought out and whenever necessary, expanded upon. Considering the intensity of claim and counterclaim in the machinations that take place in the war of rivalry, there are some issues that need observing and a corresponding analysis.

First and foremost the ‘model’ of sovereignty, the sovereign-state that has been firmly ensconced in the international system and is an imperative and continuum of countries actively apply and undertake mechanisms to be part of the UN system. This does not bode well for Taiwan as it has been unable to access the sovereignty alluded to, which it must be acknowledged puts it in a place of weakness. To be sure, any attempt by it to access the appropriate mechanisms would be actively circumvented by China in the UNGA and this will not change; and moreover as China continues its upward trajectory the stymieing of Taiwan’s status will continue—and be more robust on the part of China as its tenacity develops further. The key issue to note at this point is to observe that China is ‘rising’ and whilst it is in the nascent stages of the process it will, like those before it and have been mentioned, require a period of stability in the domestic environment before exercising its irredentist claims. Within this paradigm observing other geo-strategic and domestic environments which could prove advantageous when enacting a programme of preponderance is needed. As has been stipulated, harmony as a factor is vital in a globalised world, lest a knock-on effect become an impediment to progress.

An advantage for Taiwan in 2018, is that China is not an established geo-strategic power and whilst this will change in the future, at this point in time China remains in the process of developing its preponderance-trajectory. To be certain, it has not reached a point where it would be able to endure a mid-intensity conflict with Taiwan. This is especially relevant if a major geo-strategic competitor such as the US entered with a view to defending Taiwan’s interests which is possible, although not at this point in time, probable. For China there is also the issue of Russia which has a relatively neutral attitude to the one-China policy although it engages a relationship with Taiwan on many levels.[6] China will need a more focused policy in the region towards Russia before any significant move concerning Taiwan is able to be made, and it will have to be combined with a high level of certainty. Hence, there are too many other competing aspects in its politico and strategic sphere of the A-P which need time and effort to disassemble and realign. Globalisation and the associated problematics it throws up, for China resides in many areas—which is not uncommon for a nation-state striving for politico and geo-strategic aggrandisement. Notwithstanding this acknowledgement and because the problems are so numerous and complex there is a requirement to highlight those that have a major influence. For China, they comprise but are not limited to the following which have been labelled as ‘waiting.’

China: Why waiting is important
  • Within its domestic political environment the potential for conflict in its northwest province remains acute;
  • Energy security through Russia and Central Asia has not been achieved to date;
  • Establishing future food security is an ongoing issue;
  • A dependable official relationship and understanding with Russia with regard to Taiwan has not been established;
  • The BRI is, for all intent and purpose an emerging programme;
  • Progress in Oceania and Micronesia remains a ‘work in progress’ and thus, are in the developmental stages;
  • Political aspects of a change in US preponderance toward the A-P which will be triggered by cathartic domestic politics have not fully eventuated to date;
  • The level of fragility the US relationship with the EU and NATO is not yet realised;
  • The impending isolationist policies of the US have not come to fruition;
  • The EU has not evolved to a full potential and its politico impact on China has not been firmly established;
  • Britain’s post-EU role and any role it will play in the A-P has not formed; and
  • The regional problematics of the South and Central Americas have not developed to a full extent and therefore, the policies and voting–blocs that will be expressed through this prism have not evolved to a full extent.

The above-mentioned facets of international and the domestic problems for China as at 2018 are of some benefit to Taiwan, as they inhibit China’s abilities to act upon its irredentist intent. To place this in perspective, nation-states that have focused preponderance advance and falter on the pathway to expansionism, however China will remain true to its cause, and evolve plans accordingly.

Continued tomorrow … Learning from history

Previous instalment … What a war involves: A brief deliberation


[1] ‘The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is an ambitious effort to improve regional cooperation and connectivity on a trans-continental scale. The initiative aims to strengthen infrastructure, trade, and investment links between China and some 65 other countries that account collectively for over 30 per cent of global GDP, 62 percent of population, and 75 percent of known energy reserves. The BRI consists primarily of the Silk Road Economic Belt, linking China to Central and South Asia and onward to Europe, and the New Maritime Silk Road, linking China to the nations of South East Asia, the Gulf Countries, North Africa, and on to Europe. Six other economic corridors have been identified to link other countries to the Belt and the Road. The scope of the initiative is still taking shape—more recently the initiative has been interpreted to be open to all countries as well as international and regional organisations.’ See: ‘Belt and Road Initiative.’ The World Bank 28 Mar, 2018. https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/regional-integration/brief/belt-and-road-initiative

[2] According to Klare ‘regional clashes’ are in general deemed to be, from a strategic perspective, ‘mid-intensity’ conflicts, of which the US and other developed nations have been drawn into in the post-WWII era. See: Michael Klare. ‘The Pentagon’s New Paradigm.’ The Gulf War Reader, History, Documents, Opinions. Edited by Micah Sifry and Christopher Cerf. New York: Times Books, 1991, 466.

[3] What is meant by regional mid-intensity conflicts being complex resides in the Balkans Crisis of the mid-1990s. The sheer number of actors and the input from each revolved around power-plays, coordination, involvement and authority. This is not a scenario China would want, nor would it be the direction it would want a kinetic action to ‘go,’ as stipulated in the main body of text. For the array of actors and the complexity of the Balkans Conflict see: Joyce Kaufman. ‘NATO and the Former Yugoslavia: Crisis, Conflict and the Atlantic Alliance.’ The Journal of Conflict Studies. XIX, 2, Fall, 1999. https://journals.lib.unb.ca/index.php/jcs/article/view/4355/5009

[4] Historiography is the way in which history is written in terms of being able to withstand scholarly investigation and is the ‘writing of history through narrative’ and later as writing became more erudite, through perspective. See: ‘Historiography.’ Oxford Dictionaries. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/historiography

[5] Nelson Renteria. ‘El Salvador says economy prompted switch to China from Taiwan.’ Reuters. 22 Aug, 2018. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-el-salvador-china-taiwan/el-salvador-says-economy-prompted-diplomatic-switch-to-china-from-taiwan-idUSKCN1L62AA

[6] For a succinct and erudite analysis of Taiwan-Russia relations. See: Sergey Vradiy. ‘Russia’s Unofficial Relations with Taiwan.’ http://srch.slav.hokudai.ac.jp/coe21/publish/no16_2_ses/10_vradiy.pdf

Strobe Driver completed his PhD in war studies in 2011 and since then has written extensively on war, terrorism, Asia-Pacific security, the ‘rise of China,’ and issues within Australian domestic politics. Strobe is a recipient of Taiwan Fellowship 2018, MOFA, Taiwan, ROC, and is an adjunct researcher at Federation University.


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