Monday, September 26, 2005

Peking Will Define Rational

When I contemplated how China would attempt to invade Taiwan in the post "Taiwan Crisis: Part III," I assume that the Chinese want to localize the conflict by not attacking America or Japan:

I further assume that the Chinese want to keep this a localized conflict so they won't open with a Pearl Harbor-style attack on our forces at Guam, Okinawa, or any other US bases in Japan. They may not even be capable of seriously hitting bases successfully so far away. An ineffective attack would be counter-productive. Why bother emphasizing the internal nature of the conflict if you are going to internationalize the crisis by attacking other nations? When the war needs to be won quickly before the US and Japan intervene, why make it easier for America and Japan to intervene by essentially deciding for us? Why give the UN cause to get involved? Absent direct inter-state conflict, our response could be delayed critical days or weeks.

So when I read various accounts of how Taiwanese are protesting in the streets to pressure the legislature to purchase weapons capable of defeating the Chinese threat, I see events that fit in with my view. The Chinese would love it if the Taiwanese could not offer effective resistance, thus allowing the Chinese to overrun the island before we can intervene. If the Chinese can capture Taiwan quickly before America and possibly Japan can decide to intervene and then get troops into the fight, China will win and present us with the choice of accepting the result or fighting to reverse the conquest. Speed reduces the threat of a Sino-American War.

But then Jeff at Caerdroia notes this RAND testimony to Congress. This analysis notes that the Chinese seem to believe that speed is necessary to win; but that also the Chinese will need to hit American forces in a surprise assault to keep us out of the fight for the time the Chinese need to capture Taiwan:

At least some Chinese military analysts believe that the United States is sensitive to casualties and economic costs and that the sudden destruction of a significant portion of our forces would result in a severe psychological shock and a loss of will to continue the conflict. When this principle is combined with the preceding two, it suggests a belief that a preemptive surprise attack on U.S. forces in the Pacific theater could cause the United States to avoid further combat with China. It does not need to be pointed out to this panel that the last time such a strategy was attempted in the Pacific the ultimate results were not altogether favorable for the country that tried it, but the Chinese military doctrinal writings we examined in this study did not acknowledge the existence of such historical counterexamples.

This runs contrary to my analysis which says that China will try to isolate the battlefield by avoiding giving us an excuse to intervene. Striking us or Japan automatically makes the issue inter-state. Focusing just on Taiwan will cause hesitation on our part, in my opinion. Plenty of people here will swallow the idea that this is an internal matter and so none of our business.

So what will China do? This question raises the problem of predicting actions. Do I analyze based on what I'd do if I was in charge? On my imperfect understanding of what the Chinese think? My analysis is based on both, I think. But the RAND analysis undercuts my thinking completely. Or is RAND basing too much on a 1941 template that sees our Pacific enemy trying to Pearl Harbor us?

On the other hand, the RAND analysis seems to indicate that if the Chinese were to strike us, it would be an attack on Guam. Attacks on Japan-based US forces are also part of the scenario. So building up defenses against a Chinese Pearl Harbor can be done without too much difficulty. Indeed, I'm horrified at some of the suggestions such as hardening facilities. We haven't done this already?

So despite my feeling that the Chinese would try to make deciding to intervene more difficult for us, I can't rule out that the Chinese look east and decide they can't take the chance of us deciding to intervene quickly and then doing so effectively. We may think that we'd need two weeks to get decisive forces into the battle, but if the Chinese think we can do so in 4 days, attacking us to make sure the PLA gets ten more days to conquer Taiwan becomes prudent and not risky. Or perhaps the Chinese think they need three weeks. Or four. Basically, if the Chinese judge they need more time to win than they think they can get before we intervene, then attacking us either prior to the invasion or during it becomes very rational from their point of view.

And consider that building up Guam's defensive abilities and capacity to absorb damage will be more effective in the short run to detering the Chinese from invading Taiwan than counting on the Taiwanese legislature to buy the weapons they need to defend their country.

This decade sucks. I think I've mentioned that.