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Dr. James Holmes: The Naval Diplomat - 19FortyFive

Does Taiwan Need Nuclear Weapons to Deter China?

Lt. Col. Thomas Wolfe, the 455th Expeditionary Operations Group deputy commander, performs preflight checks on an F-16 Fighting Falcon at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, Feb. 1, 2016. The 421st EFS, based out of Bagram Airfield, is the only dedicated fighter squadron in the country and continuously supports Operation Freedom’s Sentinel and the NATO Resolute Support missions. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Nicholas Rau)

Back in August in the Washington Examiner, American Enterprise Institute senior fellow Michael Rubin (and a 1945 Contributing Editor) contended that Taiwan must go nuclear in the wake of the disastrous American withdrawal from Afghanistan. It can no longer count on a mercurial United States to keep its security commitments to the island. To survive it should obey the most primal, bareknuckles law of world politics: self-help.


Set aside Rubin’s claim that the Afghan denouement wrought irreparable harm to America’s standing vis-à-vis allies. He could be right, but I personally doubt it. The United States gave Afghanistan—a secondary cause by any standard—twenty years, substantial resources, and many military lives. That’s a commitment of serious heft, and one that gave Afghans a chance to come together as a society. That they failed reflects more on them than the United States. I suspect Taiwan would be grateful for a commitment of that magnitude and duration.

Yet Rubin’s larger point stands. One nation depends on another for salvation at its peril. Wise statesmen welcome allies . . . without betting everything on them. Taiwan should found its diplomacy and military strategy on deterring Chinese aggression if possible—alone if need be—and on stymieing a cross-strait assault if forced to it. This is bleak advice to be sure, but who will stand by Taiwan if the United States fails to? Japan or Australia might intercede alongside America, but not without it. Nor can Taipei look for succor to the UN Security Council or any other international body where Beijing wields serious clout. These are feeble bulwarks against aggression.

Deterrence, then, is elemental. But does a deterrent strategy demand atomic deterrence? Not necessarily. It’s far from clear that nuclear weapons deter much apart from nuclear bombardment—the type of aggression least likely to befall Taiwan. After all, the mainland longs to possess the island, with all the strategic value it commands. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has little use for a radioactive wasteland.

CCP overseers are vastly more likely to resort to military measures short of nuclear arms. China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) could launch a naval blockade or a conventional air campaign against Taiwan in a bid to starve out the populace or bludgeon them into submission. And even a direct cross-strait amphibious offensive—the PLA’s surest way to seize prime real estate on a tight timetable—would preserve most of Taiwan’s value to China.

So, it seems, a nonnuclear onslaught is what Taipei mainly needs to deter. History has shown that nuclear weapons stand little chance of deterring nonnuclear aggression. A threat to visit a Hiroshima or Nagasaki on, say, Shanghai in retaliation for low-level aggression would be implausible. Breaching the nuclear threshold would do little good strategically while painting the islanders as amoral—and hurting their prospects of winning international support in a cross-strait war.

An implausible threat stands little chance of deterring. Think about Henry Kissinger’s classic formula for deterrence, namely that it’s a product of multiplying three variables: capability, resolve, and belief. Capability and resolve are the components of strength. Capability means physical power, chiefly usable military might. Resolve means the willpower to use the capabilities on hand to carry out a deterrent threat. A deterrent threat generally involves denying a hostile contender what it wants or meting out punishment afterward should the contender defy the threat.

Statesmen essaying deterrence are in charge of capability and resolution. They can amass formidable martial power and steel themselves to use it. That doesn’t mean their efforts at deterrence will automatically succeed, though. Belief is Kissinger’s other crucial determinant. It’s up to the antagonist whether it believes in their combined capability and willpower.

Taiwan could field a nuclear arsenal, that is, and its leadership could summon the determination to use the arsenal under specific circumstances such as a nuclear or conventional attack on the island. In other words, it could accumulate the capacity to thwart acts the leadership deems unacceptable or punish them should they occur. But would Chinese Communist magnates find the island’s atomic arsenal and displays of willpower convincing?

Against a nuclear attack, maybe. If Taipei maintained an armory that could inflict damage on China that CCP leaders found unbearable, then Beijing ought to desist from a nuclear attack under the familiar Cold War logic of mutual assured destruction. The two opponents would reach a nuclear impasse.

Kissinger appends a coda to his formula for deterrence, namely that deterrence is a product of multiplication, not a sum. If any one variable is zero, so is deterrence. What that means is that Taiwan could muster all the military might and fortitude in the world and fail anyway if China disbelieved in its capability, resolve, or both. And it might: Chinese Communist leaders have a history of making statements breezily disparaging the impact of the ultimate weapon if used against China. Founding CCP chairman Mao Zedong once derided nukes as a “paper tiger.” A quarter-century ago a PLA general (apparently) joked that Washington would never trade Los Angeles for Taipei.

The gist of such statements: nuclear threats cannot dissuade China from undertaking actions that serve the vital interest as the CCP leadership construes it.

Again, though, nuclear deterrence ought to be a peripheral concern for Taipei. Beijing is unlikely to order doomsday strikes against real estate it prizes, regardless of whether the occupants of that real estate brandish nuclear arms or not. Far better for the island’s leadership to refuse to pay the opportunity costs of going nuclear and instead concentrate finite militarily relevant resources to girding for more probable contingencies.

Contingencies such as repulsing a conventional cross-strait assault.

Wiser investment will go to armaments that make the island a prickly “porcupine” bristling with  “quills” in the form of shore-based anti-ship and anti-air missiles along with sea-based systems such as minefields, surface patrol craft armed to the teeth with missiles, and, once Taiwan’s shipbuilding industry gears up, silent diesel-electric submarines prowling the island’s environs. These are armaments that could make Taiwan indigestible for the PLA. And Beijing could harbor little doubt Taipei would use them.

Capability, resolve, belief. Deterrence through denial.

So Michael Rubin is correct to urge Taiwan not to entrust its national survival to outsiders. But it can take a pass on nuclear weapons—and husband defenses better suited to the strategic surroundings.

Dr. James Holmes, a 1945 Contributing Editor, is J. C. Wylie Chair of Maritime Strategy at the Naval War College and a Nonresident Fellow at the University of Georgia School of Public and International Affairs. The views voiced here are his alone.

Written By

James Holmes holds the J. C. Wylie Chair of Maritime Strategy at the Naval War College and served on the faculty of the University of Georgia School of Public and International Affairs. A former U.S. Navy surface-warfare officer, he was the last gunnery officer in history to fire a battleship’s big guns in anger, during the first Gulf War in 1991. He earned the Naval War College Foundation Award in 1994, signifying the top graduate in his class. His books include Red Star over the Pacific, an Atlantic Monthly Best Book of 2010 and a fixture on the Navy Professional Reading List. General James Mattis deems him “troublesome.”



  1. cerebus001

    October 10, 2021 at 12:33 am

    The article appears to focus on strategic nuclear weapons and doesnt seem to consider the option of tactical nuclear weapons of varying yield.

  2. Marlin Claxton

    October 10, 2021 at 9:37 am

    One might reasonably infer that Iran and other enemies of Israel have not jointly attacked Israel at least in part because of Israel’s presumed nuclear capability. If China reasonably believed Taiwan had nukes would it even consider an attack? A nuke to neutralize the CCP staging area should an attack start? Several well-placed bombs on sensitive CCP areas making an invasion of Taiwan unacceptably painful.

  3. Chris Cha

    October 10, 2021 at 12:41 pm

    I don’t think Taiwan needs to go nuclear for effective deterrence. I would add to Mr. Holmes recipe several thousand missiles aimed at Beijing, Shanghai, and several key manufacturing cities.

    Also, they better be preparing defenses against cyberattacks and kinetic attacks against their energy and intelligence infrastructure. That’s what China will go after first when they attack.

  4. Rick

    October 10, 2021 at 12:50 pm

    “That’s a commitment of serious heft, and one that gave Afghans a chance to come together as a society. That they failed reflects more on them than the United States.”

    That’s a statement that signals a bantamweight “analyst” – or one who knows better, pandering to the public sentiment Biden fostered.

    A sophomoric error, created out of whole cloth to defend the Biden Administration’s historic and dangerous debacle that resulted from Biden fleeing A’Stan in seach of a photo op before the 9/11 anniversary. All of that just for a photo op…

    Almost eight years of Op Resolute Support providing technical and logistical support (what… the Afghans were supposed to knit bullets from steel wool?), the ANA, ANP, and AAF kept the hajjis pushed back into the boonies ever since we and the Coalition left all warfighting to them alone back in 2013.

    The hajjis could not defeat or drive back Afghan forces – they could only continue to survive and recruit more foreign fighters to replace those killed each year in fighting Afghan forces. As we watched Pakistan and other countries send those replacement terrorist fighters – and rather than stopping it, continued to give foreign aid to Pakistan and other source countries, signalling our weakness and increasing the terrorists’ confidence. America was not really serious.

    Each year Afghans kept the multinational hajjis at bay, they gave America and the West another year of security from Afghanistan reverting to being a secure bed and breakfast hosting hajji terrorist organizations.

    Each year preventing the Taliban from once again exporting terrorism to America and other Western nations. And of course, at the same time, the Afghan forces also protecting themselves from Islamic theocratic tyranny at the hands of the Taliban.

    But as his first act after panicking and ordering instantaneous withdrawal, Biden ordered the technical and logistical support jerked out from under the Afghan forces. Pretty hard to continue your war effort when you don’t have batteries for your night vision and sighting systems, your aircraft lack the technical maintenance that allows them to fly in munitions, food and water, provide close air support missions, etc.

    But the alleged analyst author blithely says “the Afghans failed” – because apparently Biden jerking the technical and logistical rug out from under them after seven successful years of providing US national security had nothing to do with it.

    Aside from Afghanistan itself, this unforced US error is going to have disastrous 2nd and 3d order national security consequences for America. And by extension, other NATO and Western nations. That’s also the Afghan’s fault????

    Real, credible, national security/military analysts have already written about these consequences at length. In credible military/national security journals. Including issues this author dismisses – the effect abandoning Afghanistan has had on our allies. He dismisses that – while the world watched Saudi Arabia sign a military pact with Russia following our panicked withdrawal from Afghanistan, as just one example.

    With such sophomoric mistakes he posts blaming Afghans for Biden rushing out of Afghanistan (leaving the Taliban enough military hardware and weaponry to arm a NATO nation, and thousands of our own citizens and American immigrant visa card holders as well), it’s hard to explain why his opinion should be trusted with this “analysis”.

  5. NorgeX

    October 10, 2021 at 1:51 pm

    “After all, the mainland longs to possess the island, with all the strategic value it commands. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has little use for a radioactive wasteland.”

    Here, near the top of his body of reasoning, the author steps off on the wrong foot. Thus rendering moot any further argument on his behalf. He is manifestly incorrect, because he fails to understand the communist Chinese mind and world view, and to a lesser degree the 2000+ year old Asian mindset. He has adopted a liberal, western logic to his argument, to the peril of all.
    Yes, the Chinese want the island for the reasons listed, (but also to save face), and true the have no use for a radio active waste land……….but then again, neither does anyone else. If China should launch and lose a takeover of Taiwan, they will, (with absolutely no doubt about it) make sure no one ever has any use of the island. This accomplishes much in the Asian mind. It provides them with the much needed ‘Victory of Capitalist Imperialism’ and fulfills the re-unification vow of these past 7 decades It also let’s them ‘save face’ by being ‘victorious’, as even if they win no useful land or island……they deny strategic assets to those seeking to deter it….forever. They actually ‘win’ a great deal from a Taiwanese nuclear wasteland.
    The author, I suspect is carrying water for the current feckless political administration and woke military ‘play for a tie’ leadership. Who are now trying to (mentally) condition their populations into the breaking of a most honorable commitment to Free China, by taking the ‘what’s the worst that can happen’ argument public…..and being, continuously wrong, philosophically, economically, politically, militarily, and most important, morally.
    The destruction/eradication of Taiwan is guaranteed if there is no nuclear deterrent.

  6. Ben d'Mydogtags

    October 10, 2021 at 6:35 pm

    Don’t casually dismiss the idea PRC would not risk nuking Taiwan. Thucydides famously noted that wars start from three factors: fear, honor and interest. Yes PRC’s interest is best served if they took Taiwan intact. But Xi has made retaking Taiwan a matter of national honor and he and CCP outlets are publicly committed to this. The CCP also fears both the domestic and regional fallout if they fail to retake Taiwan or if some other power uses Taiwan’s position to contain PRC’s maritime access. A devastated Taiwan denied to PRC’s adversaries would still serve their honor and address their fears. Plus they would still open fishing and naval lanes into the Western Pacific.

    Remember the CCP was willing to kill no telling how many at Tienamin; lost approximately one million in the Korean war; killed tens of millions during the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution. They wantonly kill their minority populations today. You linked to Mao’s famous statement that even if the US killed 300 million in a nuclear strike, China would still outnumber us. I do not have faith the CCP would blink at horrific losses or empty international condemnation.

  7. Rellik

    October 10, 2021 at 8:24 pm

    Taiwan needs to cut the “Head off the snake”. The nuke is not to start a War, it would be used as an assassination. Then all the leftover CCP could fight for the spoils as warlords.

  8. Omadhaun

    October 10, 2021 at 11:03 pm

    @Chris Cha

    “I don’t think Taiwan needs to go nuclear for effective deterrence. I would add to Mr. Holmes recipe several thousand missiles aimed at Beijing, Shanghai, and several key manufacturing cities.”

    They really just need to concentrate on the San Xia ( Three Gorges ) dam. Send wave after wave of cruise missiles, 3 minutes apart, concentrated on one weak point ( they have cruise missiles that can reach the dam ). That dam is very weak and is close to failing. If that goes, it would wipe out their high tech manufacturing centers, the agriculture basket of China, and the base for their airborne division ( which would be the ones attacking Taiwan ). Failing that, Taiwan certainly has the material for dirty weapons. Put highly radioactive material, combined with a quick drying epoxy, in cruise missiles. Explode them over the control center of the dam. You would have to go in and scrape off the epoxy by hand in order to make it safe. That could take years. Meanwhile, they could not control the dam. One heavy rain period ( like what happened a few months ago ), an the dam would collapse

  9. ABC

    October 11, 2021 at 12:59 am

    There are so many myths the anti-China Chinese haters and racists are spreading nowadays and I do not even know where to begin. I will just focus on one– there biggest lie — CCP vs. the Chinese nation.

    There is no such a thing of CCP vs. the Chinese nation — of separating CCP from the Chinese nation on overwhelming majority of social, political and economical issues in today’s China. CCP is the Chinese nation, and Chinese nation is CCP. If you are fighting the CCP, you are picking on the entire Chinese nation.

    It seems these Chinese hating racists seem to adopt the Nazi Joseph Goebbels’ strategy of “illusion of truth” effect to mislead the western public — “Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth”; or alternatively, they are just so stupid that they actually believe their own lie.

    Fact #1 There are 92 million CCP members.

    Fact #2 Counting CCP members’ children, parents, spouses, brothers and sisters, i.e., there direct blood, there are at least 400 million to 500million CCP direct family members, accounting almost half of the entire Chinese nation. If you traverse out the family tree just by one more level, counting uncles/cousins/in-laws, at least 2/3 to 3/4 of Chinese society are CCP families.

    Fact #3 CCP memberships are extremely selective same as American Ivy League. Very few people are even selected or allowed to apply — they have to apply the CCP Youth Organization first and serve many years. Even then, extremely rarely will one be approved — In 2014, there are over 2.5 million applicants and less than 9% are granted membership. 2.5 million applicants out of 25 million CCP Youth are allowed to apply and then less than 10% are approved. Accounting for repeated applicants, there are about 200 million CCP applicants/wannabe outside CCP organization.

    Adding together, 92million CCP member, 400 million CCP direct blood, and another 4-500 million indirect blood, 200 million CCP applicants, accounting duplicates, we get about 800-1000million Chinese blood bound to CCP out of 1.4 billion Chinese nation.

    The rest 400 million, about 200 million are too poor and busy making a living to care about politics or anything else. There are about 25-50 million or so true CCP haters among the Chinese nation — 25 million Taiwanese, 5 million Ugurhs, 5 million Tibetans, 5 million HongKong Chinese, 5 million FLG/overseas Chinese fake “democracy fighters”. Even that –50 million CCP haters –is a big, exaggerated number. More than 25% of Taiwan educated college graduates immigrated to mainland to make a living. They voted with their feet and future.

    However, Mr. Holmes does get one thing right — “that deterrence is a product of multiplication, not a sum. If any one variable is zero, so is deterrence. ”

    On the issue of Chinese unification of Taiwan, the Taiwan nuclear deterrence, and for that matter, any deterrence, nuclear or conventional, from any country, including America, has exactly the big, fat effect of zero on China. In this century, the Chinese nation will fight all the way to the end of earth and humanity to unify China.

  10. Johnathan Galt

    October 11, 2021 at 8:36 am

    For four and a half hours on D-Day about 1,500 Germans with just rifles, some machine guns, and a few light mortars at Omaha Beach held off the biggest amphibious landing in history. Continually facing naval bombardment and allied air, they slaughtered the Allies until they literally ran out of bullets and had to run away.

    Taiwan won’t make that mistake. They have tens of thousands of land to ship missiles, a better Air Force than the Chinese, tens of thousands of surface to air missiles, and the list of advantages over the Germans on D-Day goes on and on. Thanks to satellites, China cannot possibly gain the surprise which occurred on D-Day.

    No, China cannot “”invade Taiwan.” The only possible scenario is a nuclear exchange, in which Taiwan’s upper limit on casualties is about 40 million while China has a billion people within 200 miles of Beijing.

  11. Ted Peters

    October 11, 2021 at 9:23 am

    A Dr. Strangelove Doomsday Machine would deter. Just set the trigger to any detected CCP physical aggression against Taiwan. And don’t forget to tell Xi.

  12. J. Benjamin

    October 11, 2021 at 10:02 am

    The one assumption here is that China wouldn’t use nuclear weapons against Taiwan. It’s a mistake to underestimate the maniacal nature of the CCP – they are capable of anything, with the only thing ever holding them back is threat of massive defeat. This is likely the only reason they have not invaded across the Actual Line of Control with India, for example – they face a nuclear power that would inflict extreme dmage upon them, even if they were to achieve a technical victory in a conflict.

    Given that China enjoys overwhelming military superiority over Taiwan, the porcupine strategy becomes a gamble. If it were me, I’d combine that strategy – which is excellent – with the nuclear option. That would stop China cold. In light of the fact that maintaining a free Taiwan is critical to preventing the further spread of Chinese ambition, arming Taiwan with every possible option is essential.

  13. James Leadley

    October 11, 2021 at 10:09 am

    James, your assumption that the world would be upset if Taiwan used nukes first during a conventional war with China is not only false, it is so extremely false your opinion looks paid for in this article. Have you never heard of N. Korea for the past 20 years??? Israel?

    Nuclear weapons are the absolute BEST weapon a country can have to save itself from ANY invasion. N. Korea is effectively holding the world at bay with it’s weapons. If China invaded Taiwan and landed troops on it’s island the world would see a nuclear response by Taiwan as fully justified. They did not start the war and are simply defending themselves as best as possible. I wrote about this in March actually right here,

    It’s disappointing to see fake opinions like this pushing the American government position of non-proliferation. The public should see through this in today’s less controlled media and seek unbiased sources.

  14. leo lee

    October 11, 2021 at 11:04 am

    Another deterrence would be missiles with the range to include Beijing and many of China’s military-industrial production and research bases. Currently, Taiwan has a land-to-land missile with 1,200 km range, enough to reach Shanghai (about 700 km) but grossly insufficient to reach Beijing (1700 km); the missile is also inadequate in terms of payload. America should provide technical help to enable Taiwan to have those missiles.

  15. Curt

    October 11, 2021 at 11:08 am

    Who is to say that Taiwan doesn’t already have nukes?

    Consider that for many decades after the US “One China” policy, Israel, apartheid South Africa, and Taiwan were closely aligned and faced similar GeoPolitical landscapes. Small countries with small but competent militaries surrounded by enemies with potentially overwhelming numbers and resources. They even all had long history of antipathy toward the countries that they were surrounded by.

    Israel is widely believed to have nuclear weapons and South Africa had nuclear weapons, so why would it be hard to believe Taiwan does as well. Taiwan is a technically advanced nation, if they wanted nukes, they could have them.

    As for the idea that the US would have intelligence on said nuclear weapons, a quick review of the history of the intelligence failures surrounding the South African nuclear weapons or Libyan WMD programs doesn’t give that idea much confidence.

  16. ed brandwein

    October 11, 2021 at 11:43 am

    Taipei does not need nukes to fight a nuclear war with the CCP. It needs them as a shield against overwhelming conventional attack.

  17. Brian Foley

    October 11, 2021 at 12:58 pm

    If one was looking for a “sure fire” reason for Communist China invading Taiwan this would be it. No one goes from “non-nuclear” to “nuclear” overnight…it takes time to equip and train. During that time there is no way that the US could keep it secret…hence, Communist China would be forced to attack Taiwan before it was fully capable of using “nukes”. Also, the US would have to violate its own non-proliferation treaty provisions…so yeah, this idiotic idea is a non-starter from the “gitgo”.

  18. Donald Link

    October 11, 2021 at 1:10 pm

    A couple of points to throw into the equation. Taiwan almost certainly has the component parts ready to assemble for a few nuclear weapons. Most nations that have a serious nuclear programs have military applications ranging from the thinking stage to full on hidden product. Also, native Taiwanese now run the island. The KMT from refugee mainlanders are no longer the power they were for over half a century. World opinion vs their survival is a no brainer. Finally, because of the peculiar way the CCP operates, Xi has no personal guarantees and any attempt a establishing a cult of personality like Mao will not be tolerated. Remember the gang of four and their various fates. The one thing cited in most responses here is that the adverse effects of aggressive mainland action will make the prize hardly worth the gamble and it would appear that Taiwan is determined to keep it that way.

  19. Rick

    October 11, 2021 at 1:52 pm

    @Johnathan Galt
    “For four and a half hours on D-Day about 1,500 Germans with just rifles, some machine guns, and a few light mortars at Omaha Beach held off the biggest amphibious landing in history. Continually facing naval bombardment and allied air, they slaughtered the Allies until they literally ran out of bullets and had to run away.”

    Well, that’s one version of what happened on D-Day, complete with the “and they only lost because they ran out of bullets”.

    The real history of D-Day – the entire day – is that on all landing beaches, the Allies landed sufficient men, essentially trained as D-Day shock troops, to achieve the objective of winning the firefights that allowed them to close with and destroy the opposing forces firing on them. The Germans were unable to stop Allied troops on ANY of the different landing beaches – or destroy the paratroopers who had landed behind to cut all attempts at reinforcement/resupply. Once the Allies were off the beaches and inside and under the prepositioned arcs of fire of fixed defenses, and without re-enforcement available, June 6th was a victory for the Allies.

    That is one reason the Allies spent so much time ensuring there was no significant German armor near the beaches, that routes of reinforcement with bridges could be blocked, etc.

    Allied dead on June 6th was approximately 4,500 in total, versus at least 10,000 German dead. Not exactly the “slaughter of the Allies” that supposedly happened in this version of history.

    Which is not a surprise: Allied troops engaged in land combat on D-Day numbered approximately 156,000. Versus approximately 40,000 Axis troops – not all of whom would have been combat troops; instead, the usual administrative/support staff to a permanent military installation. That’s at least about a 5-1 disparity in combat effective forces, probably more.

    Relating that to Taiwan versus Communist China, if Communist China can reach the shores of Taiwan, the numerical disparity between invader and defender will probably be 10-1 at least. Communist China has repeatedly demonstrated in the past that they are more than happy to carpet the road to victory with the bodies of however many of their soldiers or citizens it takes to do that.

    The question is twofold.

    Is Taiwan, and it’s computer/circuit board industries etc, too insignificant to our national security for the free world to bother fighting for as the author claims?

    And second: without nukes and a MAD defensive posture, a jello spined Soviet Democrat Biden administration that would at least delay and spin regarding immediate intervention until too late… can Taiwan with the forces it has now prevent Communist China from establishing an invasion foothold base from which to conquer the island?

    In my opinion, Taiwan cannot defeat a Communist Chinese invasion by land, sea, and air by conventional means. Particularly with an America led by Soviet Democrats like Biden who share the author’s belief that Taiwan is not important enough for our country to honor our defense pacts with them.

    This is the same Biden, we have to remember, who standing by Obama’s side, watched Putin seize the Ukraine Crimea as we ignored the defense pact we made with Ukraine in return for Ukraine surrendering the nuclear weapons in their country and under their control.

    Putin wouldn’t have gone anywhere near Crimea if he had known Ukraine still had nuclear weapons available for use. Or for that matter, he had any real concern that Obama/Biden would actually honor our pact with Ukraine to defend them if military attack was made on them.

    Taiwan looking at Communist China is far similar to what Ukraine dealing with Russia is now, than any rewriting of the history of D-Day looks like.

  20. Rick

    October 11, 2021 at 2:12 pm

    “It seems these Chinese hating racists seem to adopt the Nazi Joseph Goebbels’ strategy of “illusion of truth” effect to mislead the western public — “Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth”; or alternatively, they are just so stupid that they actually believe their own lie.”

    The “if you disagree with me, you’re a RACIST” is not only getting really old, it never had a justifiable and honest place in rational discussion and debate between adults to begin with. In fact, claiming those who disagree with you are “racists” – because you have no rational rebuttal to offer – is every bit as scummy and disgusting as racism itself. Perhaps worse, because it’s knowingly false and evil in its’ intent.

    1.The fact is Communist China (can we still say ‘Communist China’ without being called racist?) has an ENORMOUS military force advantage over Taiwan.

    Arguing who is and who isn’t an actual Communist Party member is a complete non sequitur. Who’s a poor farmer not in the Communist China military is another complete non sequitur. The number of troops Communist China has under arms is what it is, regardless of what the rest of the country is doing.

    It doesn’t even matter whether or not those carrying/flying and using the weapons in war are Communist Party members. The disparity in forces is ENORMOUS; their political party affiliation is irrelevant. That is a FACT, not “racism”.

    2. It is also not racist to point out the fact that Communist China is increasingly both aggressive AND expansionist. Building military islands in the South China Sea and increasingly claiming more and more of that strategic area as being sovereign Communist Chinese is one example. The massive military buildup, including vessels, weapons, and aircraft that add nothing to military presence to defend your borders but instead engage in military action far from their borders is another example.

    That is a fact, as is their increasingly aggressive military posture towards Taiwan along with the accompanying threats and promises of “reunification”.

    Anyone who wants to make the argument that this is just racism, not just simple fact… good luck with that.

  21. tony

    October 11, 2021 at 4:59 pm

    i partly agree, to be honest i think xi would shrug off the loss of 1 or more cities. But i doubt its a good use.

    Anti ship and as nuclear mines against the chinese invasion fleet and in needed once they have landed under their own beaches, that would work.

    it would not deter much though because in order to create this force it would need to be created in total secret, which would be tough given the amount of spies and infiltrators, as a public announcement of plans to build nukes would 100% lead to an invasion

  22. Matthew Yankee

    October 11, 2021 at 5:05 pm

    Very curious piece from the Professor. There has never been an invasion of nuclear armed country. Period.

  23. Curt

    October 11, 2021 at 6:13 pm

    @Brian Foley

    “No one goes from “Non-Nuclear” to “Nuclear” over night.”

    Well, history tells us that you are wrong. South Africa was suspected of working with Israel and Taiwan on nuclear weapons technology in the 70s but no one believed they had any weapons until they announced that they not only had nuclear weapons, but that they wanted international assistance dismantling them.

  24. NorEaster

    October 11, 2021 at 7:56 pm

    100 long and dangerous miles from mainland China to Taiwan. Taiwan is like Iwo Jima times 100. A battle of attrition with the CCP bearing the brunt of the causalities. And in the chaos there certainly would be several US Virginia class SSNs firing their 25 torpedoes at will. How many soldiers dead before the CCP decides it isn’t worth it? 100k? 250k?

  25. sarsfield

    October 11, 2021 at 8:51 pm

    so many articles these days on a potential CH/TW war and potential outcomes. It seems to me the risk to CH is extreme insofar as so much of their basic infrastructure is wide open to attack. Ports, manufacturing, dams, oil/gas, bridges, rails, utilities’, etc. One author suggested CH might launch an invasion then announce that any attacks on the mainland infrastructure would be met w/nukes. The whole thought process seems like an endless loop.

  26. Somsel

    October 12, 2021 at 2:47 am

    Official Chinese outlets have publicly threatened first strike nuclear attacks on Japan and Australia.

    The CCP seems to think that nuclear weapons are useful military weapons – why shouldn’t Taiwan? Or Japan? Or South Korea?

    I’ve worked on the civilian nuclear power programs for all three of the latter countries. All have the people, infrastructure, and organizations necessary for a very prompt production of useable nuclear weapons.

    As other commenters above have noted, the author seems to be projecting Western capitalist values and motivations on the Chinese Communist Party leadership. There are many policy alternatives open to Xi other than invasion if his motive was to benefit Mainline China’s economy and Chinese standard of living.

    As to the loyalty of the Chinese people to the current CCP, there is a long tradition of disposing their rulers if they have lost the “Mandate of Heaven.” Radioactive fallout falling from Heaven might be a sure sign!

  27. BLip

    October 12, 2021 at 2:44 pm

    This article is one man’s speculation. Taiwan (Free China) would benefit from nuclear weapons as a force multiplier, to deter Mainland china from invading (as they clearly intend to do). Taiwan is one nation that needs both tactical and ballistic nuclear weapons. I believe China necessitates that both Australia and Japan obtain a limited arsenal. Japan has clearly made a transition, and it is time for them to step up. It is time, and depending on the US is not a reliable option. The alternative is a facedown with an amoral and aggressive Communist superstate, that clearly want’s to dominate the World. Without a clear deterrence, what remains of the free World, is likely to blink.

  28. David Chang

    October 13, 2021 at 5:39 pm

    God bless America. I agree with professor Holmes that people in Republic of China should not attack people in mainland China with tactic or strategy nuclear weapons. We should prevent people in United States from falling into the total war. American Enterprise Institute should reflect on the Democratic Party’s wrong in World War II. This war is a part of 19th century socialism manifesto, so nuclear weapons should not be relied on, but we should return to the debate and revision of Constitution thought. God bless people in the world.

  29. ecortez

    October 15, 2021 at 2:18 am

    That commenter ABC is clearly the Chinese government, or rather one of its online proxies. Stirring nationalist propaganda theme music is about the only thing missing. ?

    If I were President Tsai Ing-wen I would definitely want nuclear missiles. Either procured from the US, or produced domestically – something they have the technical capability to do. A few dozen nuclear missiles able to strike Beijing, Shanghai, and various military targets, with a few warheads left over for high altitude detonations creating an EMP over mainland China, would serve as an effective deterrent.

    Xi Jinping is not a religious zealot eager to die in glorious battle for his faith. He’s a cold blooded tyrant hungry for power. He’ll huff and puff, then make the only rational choice. Mutually assured destruction may be MAD but it’s one hell of a deterrent to would-be bullies throwing their weight around. No one has ever tried invading a nuclear armed power. Not once. And with good reason. Just as they ensure regime survival for Kim Jong-Un in North Korea, so too could they ensure the survival of the sovereign nation of Taiwan in the face of Chinese aggression.

    If there was anything else that might work, I’d say don’t do it. But it honestly doesn’t seem like the CCP will give Taipei another option.

  30. Regleg69RVN

    October 15, 2021 at 10:54 am

    What China wants is the chip foundaries in Taiwan that make them the lead producers of computer chips. The “reunification”aspect is all for show at this point.

  31. BP

    October 16, 2021 at 10:36 pm

    Arming Taiwan with a nuke, will provide China with the legitimacy to take Taiwan by force – and China will do so.

    By then, US will lost not only its technical ability to defend the indefensible Taiwan, but also its moral stature in International stage.

    Then China will be able to take Taiwan without much bloodshed.

  32. David Chang

    October 18, 2021 at 4:57 am

    Socialism Party always induce United States to join in China’s civil war.
    Since 60 years ago, United States explained clearly to all people in the world that United States can join the foreign war, and US military should have sufficient troops and transportation capabilities, but should not make the total war easily, because total war is the act of suicide.
    From the past few years of US defense budget debate, President Trump want to prepare tactic and strategic forces, but Biden’s socialism policy is destroying the defense forces of United States.
    According to the one-China policy of President Trump, people in United States hope that people in China become the free country like United States.
    In God we trust, since Tsai Ing-wen is the President of the Republic of China, the nuclear war should be avoided.
    So we should agree the one-China policy of President Trump to avoid nuclear war in the end.

  33. Craken

    October 19, 2021 at 11:14 am

    The author does not understand what happened in Afghanistan. He should look it up.

    The author neglects the option of tactical nukes for deterrence. He also neglects to mention–as do all other commenters on this article–the key concept of second strike capability in nuclear strategy.

    The Naval War College apparently doesn’t have high standards for faculty.

  34. P. Mo.

    October 19, 2021 at 12:24 pm

    Taiwan has a number of defensive cards it can play to prevent a chinese takeover. First it can make it almost impossible for china to get enough boots on the ground by scuttling concrete laden ships in the harbour openings. It only has a few locations with deep water ports capable of offloading heavy equipment, and a limited number of airports capable of offloading heavy equipment. If Taiwan can shut down their harbours by scuttling ships in the openings, and the airports by damaging the runways, then China cannot reinforce the survivors of their first wave. Moreover, they’d be limited to an infantry assault + light vehicles. Very few tanks. The interior is very rugged and heavily forested, which would make it a very good location to wage an irregular battle from.

    On the initial attack itself, it could do two things using nuclear weapons: (1) it could vaporize the initial fleet with a tactical nuclear weapon. With thousands of conventional missiles attacking the fleet, a handful of tactical weapons could completely vaporize the attacking fleet with very little damage to the civillian population. (2) it could conceivably decapitate the communist regime. One of the structural problems with communist and authoritarian regimes is that power is heavily concentrated at the top. People at lower ranks are literally punished for displaying initiative. Orders come from the top, you follow them. A successful tactical strike on Beijing would kill potentially hundreds of thousands of innocent people, but also decapitate the leadership from the soldiers in the field. Without orders from the top, C&C would become a nightmare, and the invasion would likely fall apart. I prefer (1), but (2) in a real survival situation is a reasonable act.

    My guess is that China is bluffing because they really do lack the proper capability to invade Taiwan at the present. They could try, but they’d take a lot of casualties. That said, their window is now.

  35. Joe Comment

    October 20, 2021 at 10:57 am

    I got a big laugh out of the person above who posted, “CCP is the Chinese nation and the Chinese nation is CCP.” Are you serious? If that is really true, it should be perfectly safe for the CCP to remove all the censorship, release all political prisoners, and legalize real competition with other political parties because they must be absolutely confident that they don’t need all those in order to win elections. I’m also bemused by the concept of a supporter of a brutal one-party authoritarian state trying to play the race card.

  36. Randy Wilson

    November 29, 2021 at 8:30 am

    I think the United States should give Taiwan enough nukes to wipe out China and then they will shut up and go away. It is the BEST way to avoid the coming war. If China KNOWS they will be destroyed they will bully someone else.

  37. bob

    August 25, 2022 at 4:17 pm

    Holmes’ argument is just plain stupid. It only took two atomic bombs for the USA to force the Japanese surrender of 1945, actually, the 2nd A-bomb was superfluous because the Emperor had already instructed his Foreign Minister that Japan could not continue the war in the face of such a destructive weapon.

    If Taiwan has no nuclear weapons, and China detonates one weapon on or near Taiwan, does Holmes really think Taiwan would not surrender if the alternative is a threat of an escalating nuclear bombardment? My money and hope would be on Taiwan surrendering before the first bomb was ever detonated, but definitely by the 2nd or 3rd it is all over for an independent Taiwan.

    Little Boy destroyed 5 square miles of Hiroshima, Taiwan is 13,826 sq miles- so its just ludicrous for Holmes to argue that PRC’s use of nuclear weapons implies they will destroy the prize they seek, although in any event, yes the government of PRC would prefer to see no Taiwan if the alternative is an independent one.

    Does Holmes think Truman would have given the order to use atomic weapons if Japan had the means to retaliate? Again WW2 gives us the answer, as Germany was deterred from using its far superior nerve agents against its enemies fearing that the allies had an effective means of bio-chemical retaliation (repeatedly Hitler gave orders to withdraw nerve agents from the front line worried that rash soldiers might use them and spark a chemical attack by the allies).

    Without a doubt, a nuclear-armed Taiwan would be a powerful disincentive for PRC first use of nuclear weapons as part of a strategy to intimidate Taiwan into surrender. If PRC then has to contemplate winning Taiwan the hard way, with conventional arms then yes PRC is likely to pay a heavy price as well such an invasion likely going a long way to destroy the prize but much worse than this, PRC has to factor in this risk that if an invasion looks like its succeeding, Taiwan could detonate its nuclear weapons as a final act of defiance or as a way to dislocate the invasion in which scenario PRC with vastly more targets has vastly more to lose than Taiwan (the risk-reward for PRC is then gain an island of 13k sq miles but risk vast destruction of PRC- answer PRC doesn’t risk it in a million years). One could never say PRC would never use its atomic weapons against ROC or invade a nuclear-armed Taiwan but the risk of both would be massively reduced, also one suspects from a cost angle, probably somewhat cheaper for Taiwan than trying to deter an invasion based solely on maintaining conventional armed forces which will always fall under the much bigger shadow cast by the Red Army. The other problem with conventional deterrent is how realistic is it for a small island to hold out when the PRC could target the infrastructure necessary to maintain a modern war effort and suddenly Taiwan’s island status could be as much a hindrance as an asset if PRC is able to blockade its resupply by allies- here Taiwan places itself entirely at the feet of the USA’s willingness to keep Taiwan supplied and its seas open. Would USA welcome this likely escalation into a USA-China Pacific war? This sounds like a risker road to go down, better a strong deterrent at the outset.

    It would be difficult for Taiwan to gain nuclear arms now because they would have to do it in secret against the inevitable outcry of Western liberals and in danger of a preemptive strike from China determined to prevent them from gaining a nuclear deterrent, but without taking the difficult steps of acquiring nuclear weapons Taiwan is a sitting duck. Holmes, I have news for you, deterrence works, and the do-good wishful thinking liberals who don’t understand this are the biggest dangers to the democratic world.

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