That’s the headline for my latest piece in Independent Australia, responding to some appalling warmongering from the Nine papers. The main point is that a seaborne invasion of Taiwan would be doomed to failure. Everyone knows this, but all the important players have good reason to deny it.
21 thoughts on “Red Alert’ is a paper tiger”
William Randolph Hearst Sr. would have been envious. And he got his war.
I hope you are right and there will be no sea-based invasion. Sounds reasonable logic.
Great Britain was called the unsinkable aircraft carrier in WW2. Taiwan is now the unsinkable missile ship of 2023 and beyond. Years ago I read a sci-fi story which featured “arsenal ships” as the prime naval weapon. These were like giant supertankers packed with siloed missiles instead of carrying oil. The author got it considerably wrong. He forgot sub effectiveness IIRC and forgot or failed to predict the effect of long range guided missiles on an arsenal ship which then would simply be a giant roman candle box.
Hidden, distributed missiles on a giant unsinkable granite missile ship (Taiwan) would be unbeatable in a kinetic war. It seems standing off with a missile phalanx on one’s own terrain is the unbeatable defensive strategy, kinetically, unless perhaps in a protracted war of missile, industrial, supply and demographic attrition.
To break the stalemate or protracted attrition process would take nuclear weapons, biological weapons (bio engineered SARS3?) or cyber war / grey war / economic war. But some of these sort of escalations would be ELEs (extinction level events) and others would be more likely to rebound to China’s greater disadvantage in the wash up of the negative sum outcomes.
But never underestimate the callousness and idiocy of powerful old men on both sides who want to go out with an historic bang.
Interesting commentary on this very subject; to deter war we need to prepare for war.
Agreed on the main argument. The Taiwanese are presumably the suucesses of Ukraine, with no fleet but decent missiles, against the Russian Navy, which seems to have decamped from Sevastopol to safer Novorissisk.
Allow me a marginal niggle. It is technically true that Caen, 10km from the sea, is a port. Very technically. William the Conqueror shipped the fine Caen limestone to London to build his White Tower, presumably on small boats using the then navigable Orne river. The current port is on the canal, a typical vanity project of Napoleon III – showy, not much use, and not that expensive. It meets the sea at Ouistreham, a small fishing port that was captured as planned on D-Day, along with the famous Pegasus Bridge over the canal a few miles inland. I doubt very much of either Ouistreham port or the toy canal docks in Caen loomed large in the logistics of the campaign. Photo of the latter: https://locations.filmfrance.net/sites/default/files/styles/colorbox_location_photo_zoomed/public/photos/caen-marina-110154/dsc0272-1.jpg?itok=5clBoRJf
The major port the Allies had hoped to use, and failed to secure, was Cherbourg. This held out long enough for thorough demolitions to make it practically unusable. The same held for Le Havre, Boulogne and Calais. Dunkirk was actually in German hands till the end of the war. The first decent port the Brits captured intact was Antwerp, on 4 September 1944. But they couldn’t use it until the Scheldt estuary was finally cleared, at the very end of November – delayed by Montgomery’s focus on the reckless, and far less important, Arnhem operation. I Am Not A Military Historian but the port failures were surely a good part of the reason why the war did not end in 1944.
Corrigendum: The Taiwanese are presumably studying closely the successes of Ukraine ..
Wide plains land war is not like the defense of a rocky, mountainous island against amphibious landings. So I assume you mean the Taiwanese are studying something else. The Black sea operation? The general effectiveness of missiles? Or perhaps alliance building? I think the biggest issue is alliance building. It seems to me that Putin and Xi thought they could threaten aggression or become aggressors and nobody would ally against them. The opposite seems to be the case. China and Russia are so big it is patently clear that alliances are needed to check them.
Oops. A 5:30 am mistake. on my part. James W. did mention navy and missiles above the
Iko: I was only thinking of naval operations, but you may well have a point about alliances. One significant difference is that Ukraine exports millions of tonnes of wheat, Taiwan billions of computer chips. I think I know which creates more leverage. Did Taiwan secure promises of US support in exchange for cooperating with sanctions on Russia?
James: Good point. Ukraine’s wheat is more important to the globe and to MENA (Middle East and North Africa. But Taiwan’s chips are more important to the USA.
A followup on the only other major amphibious assaults of which I’m aware since D-Day
*Inchon (Korean War): complete surprise, air and naval supremacy, attacker-defender ratio 8-1
* Falklands: defenders outnumbered attackers, but were isolated surrounded by massive naval and air forces (heavy British losses in leadup)
4,000 men of 3 Commando Brigade were landed across the island from Port Stanley at San Carlos Water, Ajax Bay and Port San Carlos. There was only light opposition on the ground. The ships were in “bomb alley” (heavy British losses in leadup). The troops went overland to assault Darwin and Goose Green and (mostly) overland again to attack Stanley from the landward side. There is hardly anywhere to land on Taiwan and the wide Taiwan Strait would become bomb alley and missile alley.
In the Desert War, Gen Schwarzkopf’s plan pointedly avoided an amphibious assault. That build-up was feint with artillery fire and cruise missiles but no landings. Marines crossed over the Saudi Arabia border to conduct attacks on the Republican Guard defenses but they were a feint The main attack was the “Left Hook”. Schwarzkopf and his planners preferred a plan taking forces hundred of miles through dusty, sandy trackless desert, 120 F by day. Anything to avoid an amphibious assault. The logistics were immense.
Such a shame we aren’t prepared to put equal effort into saving the planet. It seems humans only get truly motivated by war. That discrepancy will be our downfall.
JQ on Inchon. In addition, the US military had large-scale and recent experience of successful amphibious warfare against capable opponents, in the Pacific theatre of WW2. The fighting was new to the common grunts, but they had every reason to think that the men in the chain of command above them, from Macarthur down to platoon sergeants, knew what they were doing. In contrast, the PLA has SFIK never in its entire existence carried out an opposed seaborne landing – at most a few river crossings in the Japanese/civil war. The last Chinese army of any description that tried this was the Mongol one that attacked Japan in 1274 and 1281.This did not turn out well.
It was once thought that the Ardennes were impenetrable and that the Marginot line was impervious to attack. The Nazis went through the first and around the latter.
As Benoit Mandelbrot found, it’s not possible to know all the knowns and unknowns.
I think you may be wrong about that. Who ever thought the Ardennes was impenetrable?
J-D: Doubt seconded. I have driven through the Ardennes, a managed forest not the Amazon. So no doubt did German staff officers in 1938, and American ones in 1944. The German army marched through it in 1914 following the Schlieffen plan. https://www.themaparchive.com/product/the-schlieffen-plan-1905-and-1914/
The staff officers also knew perfectly well where the Maginot forts were, and as you say worked out an invasion plan that sidelined them. (Some held out in 1940 till the armistice.) You can’t sideline a bunker overlooking an amphibious landing beach. Naval gunfire works, but you have to get the ships close enough.
I guess if you agree with your analysis that the $368b expenditure on second-hand nuclear-powered submarines by Australia from the US looks even less useful than the disastrously inept decision it seems to be.
The Ardennes was thought to be impenetrable, until it wasn’t.
If you read all of that and not just the heading you find this–
So an accurate description of the situation would be that people knew that it was possible to penetrate and cross the Ardennes but had varying estimates of how long it would take to do so.
If somebody seriously wanted to use that situation to provide relevant insights for the present discussion, they might be able to do so if they could show that people are underestimating how long it takes to cross the strait. More probably, it would be relevant if it could be shown (to take one key relevant point) that people are underestimating how many operational landing craft China has, or overestimating how many operational landing craft would be needed to land an invasion force. If you have your own estimates of how many operational landing craft would be required and how many China has, or similar estimates relating to some other key relevant point, it would be interesting, but my feeling is that if you had any such relevant information you would have mentioned it already.
A more useful point of historical comparison could be Operation Sealion, the improvised German invasion of Britain in 1940 that never happened. This is endlessly wargamed in staff colleges. IIRC they always reach the same conclusion as that of German staff officers at the time, that it was unworkable and doomed to fail. True that unlike the German military, the PLA has had decades to plan its maritime assault, across three times the shortest distance. But then so has Taiwan.
I tend to think that if Taiwan had no allies and if the Chinese did not care about reducing Taiwan to complete destruction, semiconductor production included, then they could take Taiwan. What would be the point in that case? In the existing case, Taiwan does have allies and reducing it to nothing yields no prizes.
China is very dependent on strategic resource imports. Here is how to defeat China strategically (in a stand-off, no land invasion model) in conventional war. Of course, such a risk and action should never be undertaken. Why would China submit when it has nuclear weapons? Would it fire demonstration nuclear strikes at non-nuclear US allies aiding the containment and blockade process? The global call would quickly become one telling the US to stop strangling China.