War In The Taiwan Strait Is Not Unthinkable: Some Will Lose More Than Others

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 11, November 2019

By Grant Newsham

Screen capture of Chinese state media video of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops training for an assault on Taiwan’s presidential office. Pictured is a mock building at the Zhurihe military base in China, that mimics the actual building in Taipei. The video aired July 5, 2015. CCTV via Apple Daily.

Whether anyone actually ‘wins’ a war is a philosophical debate.  The Germans and Japanese in 1945 might have thought wars do indeed have winners.  But perhaps it’s better said that in most conflicts some parties ‘lose more than others.’

Such would be the case if Beijing attempted to militarily subjugate Taiwan.  And Xi Jinping just might do so.  He declared in a January 2019 speech that “we (China) do not promise to renounce the use of force and reserve the option to use all necessary measures (to take Taiwan.)”[1]

The Battle for Taiwan would have truly global consequences, akin to the invasion of Poland by the Soviets and Germans in 1939.

However, much of the debate over a Taiwan Strait conflict focuses on preparation for and conduct of the PRC’s attack: whether Beijing will or won’t attack, what an attack might look like and Taiwan’s ability to defend itself, whether the US will or should get involved and whether it ought to sell Taiwan ‘this or that’ weapon.  Such discussion is useful, but the actual consequences and longer-term ripple effects of a fight over Taiwan deserve much more attention.[2]

This paper examines key aspects of what happens once the shooting starts, and the follow-on global economic and political effects.  The envisioned scenario is a full-scale PLA assault against Taiwan, but it’s worth noting that even a ‘limited’ assault–such as against one of Taiwan’s offshore islands–may not stay limited for very long: given Beijing’s oft-stated determination to take all of Taiwan, an off-shore island assault would only constitute a tactical objective in the march on Taipei, and would also have serious and wide-ranging political and economic consequences.

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Withdrawing from Afghanistan, Without Leaving a Vacuum

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 8, August 2019

By William R. Hawkins

Foreign Minister of Uzbekistan, Abdulaziz Kamilov (L3), Foreign Minister of India Sushma Swaraj (C), Foreign Minister of Tajikistan Sirojiddin Muhriddin (R2), Foreign Minister of Kyrgyzstan Chingiz Aidarbekov (L2), Foreign Minsiter of Turkmenistan Rashid Meredov (R), Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan Beibut Atamkulov (L) and Foreign Minister of Afghanistan Salahuddin Rabbani (R3) participate in the ‘Ministerial Meeting of the India-Central Asia-Afghanistan Dialogue’ held within the ‘India-Central Asia Dialogue’ Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Samarkand, Uzbekistan on January 13, 2019.
(Photo by Bahtiyar Abdukerimov/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Some years ago, I spent an afternoon in New Delhi meeting with a group of retired senior members of India’s military and intelligence communities. A central topic was Afghanistan. The Indians were adamant that the Taliban must not be allowed to take over the country. They saw the Taliban as agents of Pakistan. The absorption of Afghanistan by the Islamabad regime would pose a threat to India. Afghanistan would be a rich recruiting ground for the terrorist/insurgent forces Pakistan uses to destabilize Kashmir. And in case of another open war, Afghanistan would give Islamabad “strategic depth” which could be used in several possible ways.

The Islamabad-Kashmir area is at the narrowest part of Pakistan. It’s only 228 miles from Islamabad to Kabul. But the terrain is bad to the west and Pakistan has more important areas to defend to the south. Even so, pulling troops back to Peshawar, where they could be supplied/reinforced from Afghanistan, could serve as a counter-attack force if Islamabad was under siege. Pakistan has an arsenal of mobile short and medium-range ballistic missiles with conventional warheads and is adding cruise missiles. However, only some of these models could reach India if redeployed to Afghanistan to avoid preemption. More attractive would be Afghan airbases which could support Pakistani operations along the northern border but at a distance that would make it harder for Indian airstrikes to suppress. During the February clash, Pakistan intercepted Indian airstrikes in the Kashmir area and shot down two fighters, including an F-16. Deeper airstrikes could be problematical for New Delhi.

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Defeating China: Five Strategies

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 7, July 2019

By Anders Corr

Fighter jets of the U.S. Navy Blue Angels demonstration squadron fly over the Lincoln Memorial during the Fourth of July Celebration ‘Salute to America’ event in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 4, 2019. Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Since 1989, when China massacred thousands of its own people in Tiananmen Square to stop a pro-democracy protest, the country has arguably grown into the world’s most powerful and centralized state. China’s GDP by purchasing power parity (PPP) is approximately $25.4 trillion, while the U.S. GDP PPP is only about $20.5 trillion.[1] One man, Chinese President Xi Jinping, has almost total control of China’s economy and a leadership position for life. U.S. President Donald Trump, however, has only partial control of the smaller (by purchasing power parity) U.S. economy, and must be reelected this year to continue his tenure for a maximum of an additional four years.

China’s accelerating economy has fueled its military spending, which increased approximately three-fold since 2008 to $177.5 billion in 2019,[2] not including substantial programs hidden from public sight. Military and political analysts estimate that in the South China Sea and environs, China’s military capabilities already match or exceed those of the United States in many respects, as does China’s diplomatic influence. This puts pressure on the U.S. military to withdraw from the region, claimed as territory by Beijing. Over the next 30 years, China’s global military capabilities could exceed those of the United States, which would make it difficult for the U.S. to pose a credible threat against China’s already ongoing territorial expansion.[3]

China’s actions are now indistinguishable from those that would serve a goal of China’s global rule in perpetuity. Hopes for engagement as a strategy to turn China into a democracy have now been dashed. Instead of us changing them, they are changing us through influence of our own political and economic leadership. There is a danger that as China ascends to the world’s most powerful nation, other nations will follow its lead through bandwagoning. The dual and increasing danger of bandwagoning and China’s influence means that a shift in strategy is needed.

Engagement should give way to a more aggressive strategy against China in order to defend freedom, democracy and human rights globally, and to incent allies and potential allies to declare themselves on the right side of the dispute before they enter the gravitational field of China’s economic influence.[4]

As argued below, this should include labeling China as not just a competitor, which would imply that all play by the same rules, but as an adversary or even an enemy. Strategies must be calibrated accordingly to defeat the country, and more specifically, its guiding organization, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

There are at least five interrelated and overlapping strategies required to defeat the CCP: 1) Defend, 2) Ally, 3) Contain, 4) Divide, and 5) Democratize. Many of these strategies are overlapping, and have been proposed previously by a range of authors, cited here. They are all underway to some extent in various countries, however they are not being implemented at the scale and intensity needed to win. That should change now, or we risk continued relative weakening against the enemy.

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Celebrating Independence In Al Anbar, Iraq

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 7, July 2019

By Heath Hansen

Al Anbar Province, Iraq, in Summer 2007. Photo: Heath Hansen.

Even though it was only 0500, the heat was already approaching the high 90’s and I could feel my sticky uniform only too well, sandwiched between skin and body armor. The Humvee engines were idling and the smell of JP-8 fuel stung my nostrils. “Hansen, 2nd platoon’s electronic warfare vehicle is down. We’ll need you in the lead element for the mission. You’re truck commander.”

“Roger, sir,” I replied to my platoon leader, “My truck’s ready, I’ll let the crew know.” More than four years had passed since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and we were still trying to secure independence for this country. It was the summer of 2007, in Anbar Province, and my company was headed out for another assignment in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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Turkish Breakup with the U.S. and NATO: The Illogical Logics

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 5, May 2019 

Dr. Jahara Matisek and Dr. Buddhika Jayamaha
U.S. Air Force Academy

Change of command ceremony is held at NATO’s Allied Land Command in Izmir, Turkey on August 03, 2018. Evren Atalay/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Abstract: With decades of debate about Turkey leaving NATO, the Turkish purchase (and delivery) of a Russian air defense system may be crossing the Rubicon. The Syrian Civil War, combined with how the U.S. and NATO decided to back Kurdish proxies in the fight against the Islamic State, has fed into the domestic logic of survival for Turkish political elites. With President Erdoğan and his revisionist political party ruling over Turkey the last decade, they appear to have finally refashioned the Turkish state by purging secularists from the government and military since the coup hoax of 2016. This new consolidation of political power has created a Turkish state with values incompatible with the West and strategies irreconcilable with NATO. However, these efforts by Erdoğan are undermining the long-term economic viability of the Turkish state, as established norms concerning the rule of law and property rights deteriorate, risking Turkey’s status as a reliable and stable ally in the region. We make these judgements on Turkey provoking its own expulsion from NATO based on interviews and fieldwork in Kurdistan and Turkey.

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Who Set the Real Trap: Thucydides or Cobden?

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 4, April 2019

By William R. Hawkins

Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks as Chinese and foreign naval officials listen during an event to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy in Qingdao, in eastern China’s Shandong province on April 23, 2019. China celebrated the 70th anniversary of its navy by showing off its growing fleet in a sea parade featuring a brand new guided-missile destroyer. Mark Schiefelbein / POOL / AFP / Getty

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has been presenting the world with a number of recent events and declarations which appeasers in the West will undoubtedly use to reinforce the claim by Graham Allison that resisting China’s rise is no longer possible because “China has already passed the United States” in economic strength and military potential.

The People’s Liberation Army Navy celebrated its 70th anniversary with several provocative exercises (including around Taiwan) and a multinational naval review which featured new designs for surface warships and nuclear submarines, as well as China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning (named for a province on the North Korean border). The PLAN has declared that the carrier has graduated from training and testing to a combat ship ready for action. Two more carriers are under construction. The one similar to the Liaoning is expected to enter service by year’s end. The second is much larger and will bring China’s capabilities to new levels. At the naval review, a new class of guided missile destroyer was unveiled. It is larger with more missile-launching cells than the U.S. Navy’s Burke-class destroyers which are the mainstay of our surface fleet. Showing his commitment to China’s naval expansion, President Xi Jinping donned a military uniform and sailed with the armada during the April 23 celebration.

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President Trump Has Authority to Rebuild American Industry: Use the Defense Production Act of 1950

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 3, March 2019

By William R. Hawkins

The USS Eisenhower at a dock to complete it’s overhaul, Newport News, Virginia. Ira Block/National Geographic/Getty Images

President Donald Trump’s trade reform campaign is not meant only to redress the massive deficit with the People’s Republic of China ($419 billion in goods last year, a net figure of how much American money is supporting jobs and production in China rather than at home). His policies have been rooted in national security concerns with a focus on the dangerous transfer of capital and technology that has empowered Beijing’s military buildup and aggressive behavior along the Pacific Rim and beyond. There is concern that the momentum of his efforts is slowing. He delayed elevating tariffs on Chinese goods from 10% to 25% on March 1st to give negotiations more time to reach a deal. But the PRC regime will never curb its pursuit of the wealth and capabilities it needs to replace the U.S. as the world’s preeminent power. It is a long-term economic contest between rivals for the highest of stakes imaginable.

President Trump and close advisors such as Peter Navarro, Director of the National Trade Council in the White House know this, but need to operate from a strong base. Congress cannot, however, add much to the campaign at present. It is so crippled by factions and sophistries as to have taken itself out of the game. But Congress has left a legacy from earlier, less anarchic times: the Defense Production Act. This core legislation, based on preserving the “Arsenal of Democracy” which won World War II, gives the President broad authority to revive, expand and maintain our domestic industrial base. The DPA was first enacted in 1950, but it is still alive and well, being reauthorized twice by President George W. Bush, amended in 2009 on a bipartisan basis, supported by a 2012 Executive Order issued by President Obama and reauthorized again in 2014.

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The Quad of India, Japan, Australia and the US: A Work in Progress

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 3, March 2019

By Commodore Anil Jai Singh, IN (Retd)

An Indian Navy sailor stands guard on the deck of the INS Shivalik during the inauguration of joint naval exercises with the United States and Japan in Chennai on July 10, 2017.
ARUN SANKAR/AFP/GETTY

The recent statement by the Commander-in Chief of the US Indo-Pacific Command Admiral Phil Davidson at a press conference in Singapore that the ‘Quad’ or the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue between the USA, Australia, India and Japan may need to be shelved was met with a mixed reaction in the regional maritime security discourse. However, this was not a fatalistic view but rather a tacit acknowledgement of the divergent views amongst the Quad partners on certain fundamental issues. He made this statement based on his discussions with Admiral Sunil Lanba, the Chief of the Indian Navy at the recent Raisina Dialogue in New Delhi where Admiral Lanba said that there was not an immediate potential for the Quad.

The idea of a Quad was first articulated by the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during the East Asia Summit in 2007; in the same year he spoke of the confluence of the two oceans – the Indian and the Pacific- and introduced the term Indo-Pacific during an address to the Indian Parliament. The first attempt to shape the Quad was the decision to enhance Exercise Malabar — the annual bilateral Indo-US naval exercise into a quadrilateral construct. However, China understandably expressed strong reservations about this as an anti-China initiative. Australia succumbed but a trilateral exercise was nevertheless held between the US, Japan and India.  For the next decade, while the Quad was spoken of periodically at various fora, very little was actually happening on the ground to give it concrete shape.

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How to bring Russia into INF compliance — without triggering a war

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 3, March 2019  

By Anna J. Davidson

Russian S-400 air defence missile systems roll at Red Square during the Victory Day military parade in Moscow on May 9, 2016.
AFP / KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV / GETTY

ABSTRACT   For all intents and purposes, the prevailing wisdom in both East and West suggests that the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty is lost. On 4 March, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree officially terminating his country’s participation in the INF “until the United States of America rectifies its violations of the said Treaty or until it expires.” This action mirrors that by the United States in early February that accused Russia of violating the Treaty and instigated the six-month withdrawal process. Both of these steps follow five years of continuous effort by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to compel Russia’s compliance with the stipulations of the INF to no avail. As the August deadline approaches, the United States and Russia face three options: reach a mutual agreement on one another’s compliance to preserve the INF, draft a new arms control agreement, or allow the INF to expire and risk a renewed arms race as both countries continue developing their defense capabilities. Despite the wide acceptance of the latter, a potential incentive for Russia to return to INF compliance, and thus preserve the Treaty, exists in the Kremlin’s relationship with Ankara. As a NATO member state, Turkey finds itself in a unique position with the United States as an ally and Russia as a strategic partner. Turkey’s desire to purchase both the American Patriot and the Russian S-400 missile defense systems presents an opportunity to increase the value of Turkey’s partnership with Russia and decrease the significance of Russia’s need to develop missiles noncompliant with the INF. Turkey insists that it will proceed with the purchase of Russia’s S-400 systems regardless of Washington’s willingness (or lack thereof) to offer the American Patriot systems, as the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act currently obstructs the purchase of Russian S-400s by Turkey. Yet, Turkey and Russia are proceeding with the exchange while simultaneously deepening cooperation in the Syria crisis, particularly Idlib. If the United States and NATO leverage Turkey’s request for the Patriot systems and take advantage of Russia’s urge to sell its S-400s to Turkey, the opportunity for a renegotiation and recommitment to the INF Treaty remains within reach.  Continue reading

Paratrooper: Following in my Father’s Footsteps

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 2, February 2019

By Heath Hansen


CPL Richard Hansen – 12th Special Forces Group (Airborne) collects his parachute after jumping from a C-130 in May 1987. The author, Heath Hansen when four years old, holds his father’s reserve parachute.

I looked up into the big, blue sky. Far in the distance, I spotted a C-130 Hercules headed towards the open grass field I waited upon. For a few moments, I watched as the plane continued in my direction; suddenly, from the tail-end of the aircraft, paratroopers jumped out into the open air. The parachutes expanded sideways as they became caught in the wind and fully inflated, pulling the soldiers swiftly with them. Dozens of troops poured out of the fuselage and descended to the ground. I saw the first jumper hit the grass and quickly sprinted to him.

“Dad?” I asked.  “No kid, your dad is still coming down; we put a white band on his helmet so you could recognize him.” Looking up, he extended his arm and pointed to a spot about 200 feet in the air at a fast descending grunt with white sports tape lining the outside of his helmet. “There he is.”

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