Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?


Fighting China Over Taiwan Could Cripple U.S. Military


The House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party back in April became the latest in a long list of groups to conduct a wargame examining a potential U.S.-China conflict over Taiwan.

Yet the most important question about such a conflict is the one none of these organizations ever ask: What is the vital national interest of America that would justify fighting such a war?

Answering that question is of paramount importance. The cost to our country of fighting a war with China, regardless of the reasons, will range somewhere between extraordinarily harmful and catastrophic. The American people and the U.S. Congress must be clear-eyed about this fact: There is no scenario in which the U.S. goes to war with China over Taiwan that does not bring severe military and financial harm with it.

A Taiwan War Would Be Historically Bad

What is at stake in Taiwan for America that is worth paying such a high cost? And after paying it, would our country be stronger or weaker?

Most of American punditry is focused on the genuinely serious harm that would be done to the people and government of Taiwan were the Chinese to invade. “We want to live in a world where bullies don’t take whatever they want,” Rep. Dusty Johnson said following the China war games. Virtually everyone in the Western world would heartily agree with that view and would prefer Taiwan never be subject to an invasion from China. It is also entirely reasonable and appropriate for the United States to help Taiwan defend itself.

As virtually every wargame has conclusively shown, however, directly fighting a war with China on Taiwan’s side would mean death of American service members in great numbers, and widespread destruction of our ships, planes, and other weapons of war. In a report last January, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) released the results of a series of 24 wargames that examined what might happen in a war between the U.S. and China. The U.S./Taiwan side defeated the Chinese side in all the games, but the cost was astonishing.

In 18 of the CSIS scenarios, the United States lost an average of a staggering 484 warplanes – one game resulted in 774 lost American aircraft. All 24 scenarios resulted in the loss of two U.S. aircraft carriers and thousands of American service personnel. Those losses were assessed after only 14 days of war, which is all the scenarios projected. In terms of an overall war, the cost would be higher for the United States — significantly higher, most likely.

The CSIS wargames acknowledged that the U.S. would need years to build up enough missiles to fight a sustained war. At the outbreak of unexpected hostilities across the Taiwan Strait, the U.S. would not have anywhere near enough attack and defense missiles to sustain air and sea operations for a long-term war. 

In describing the outcome of the Congressional wargames, Rep. Mike Gallagher said that the U.S. used up almost all of its precision-guided missiles in a week. I assure you, China would not run out of missiles in a week. Once our missile inventories were exhausted, the U.S. would be near-defenseless in both the air and on the sea. I shudder to consider the casualties we could then suffer. 

The losses across all categories would leave America’s entire Pacific air and sea fleets catastrophically weakened, but they would also dramatically reduce our ability to defend our interests worldwide. Since Washington would surge all available ammunition stores from Europe and America to the Indo-Pacific, we would have insufficient missiles to defend ourselves anywhere else in the world. For the first time since before World War I, our military would be so weakened that our ability to defend our very shores would come into question.

We should not even contemplate taking such risks with the security of the United States unless our country is threatened by or under direct attack from an adversarial power. The United States has no vital national interest in Taiwan that is worth risking our ability to defend our own country. 

That is not to say we should do nothing if China attacks Taiwan. There are many and powerful diplomatic and financial tools we can wield that will cause serious harm to China (though using even these tools is not without risk to America). Choosing not to fight a war with China on behalf of a non-treaty ally would be a bitter pill for many Americans to swallow, but that would still be immeasurably better than seeing our military crippled in the Pacific and our ability to defend our country compromised.

Nothing in Taiwan is worth that.

Author Expertise 

A 19FortyFive Contributing Editor, Daniel L. Davis is a Senior Fellow for Defense Priorities and a former Lt. Col. in the U.S. Army who deployed into combat zones four times. He is the author of “The Eleventh Hour in 2020 America.” Follow him @DanielLDavis.

From 19FortyFive

5 Worst 9mm Guns on Planet Earth

5 Worst Glock Guns

5 Best Home Defense Rifles on Earth

Written By

Daniel L. Davis is a Senior Fellow for Defense Priorities and a former Lt. Col. in the U.S. Army who deployed into combat zones four times. He is the author of “The Eleventh Hour in 2020 America.” Follow him @DanielLDavis1.