An invasion of Taiwan by China would likely be doomed if the United States were to defend the island, an American think tank said on Monday, but insisted on the devastating costs that American forces would incur.
Military experts, assembled by the Center for Strategic and International Studies for a war simulation, pointed out that each party directly involved in such a conflict (the United States, China, Taiwan and Japan) would suffer “enormous” losses.
“We came to two conclusions,” said Eric Heginbotham, a security expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
“First, in most cases, China has little chance of succeeding and achieving its operational goals, or occupying Taipei,” the capital of Taiwan.
“Second, the cost of war would be high for all involved, and certainly for the United States.”
The simulation tested 24 different scenarios, each featuring attempts by China to take over Taiwan by force by 2026.
The degree of involvement of the United States would be decisive: without American help to defend Taiwan, the island would be conquered by the Chinese army in three months or less.
The simulation assumed that the invasion would begin with a Chinese bombardment that would destroy the majority of Taiwan’s naval and air forces within hours.
The Chinese Navy would surround Taiwan and send a landing contingent of thousands of troops across the Taiwan Strait.
According to the scenario described as most probable by the experts who took part in the simulation, the Taiwanese army would force the invaders to get bogged down along the coast.
“Chinese strikes on Japanese bases and American surface ships are not a game-changer: Taiwan remains autonomous,” describes the scenario.
For Matthew Cancian, of the Naval War College, a research institute of the United States Navy, crucial variables would determine the degree of success of an invasion: the degree of determination of Taiwan to repel an invasion, but also the authorization given or not by Japan to the United States to launch counterattacks from their bases on Japanese territory.
Without that, “the American intervention would not be sufficient to preserve an autonomy of Taiwan”, affirms Mr. Cancian.
The simulation also raised some unknowns, including whether the United States would risk nuclear conflict by attacking China directly.