This week, The Critic released Looking Back: World War III Remembered, a piece reflecting back on the great war of2029 The fictitious short article tries to come to grips with how a nuclear war in between the United States and China took place, taking a look at discussions at the extremely leading in both governments quickly before it took place. The article suggests the trigger was a near-replay of a similar crisis in 1996– but one that had a lot more destructive result.
The origin of the war, the post explains, was the aggressive rise of China. America, on the other hand, “the tired titan, grew terrified of China’s rise and the defection of allies”. In the article, the United States decides to decouple from China and recouple with Taiwan, a policy that sets off, “enhanced arms sales, diplomatic contact, marine port visits, even cruising a carrier through the Taiwan Strait”.
Meanwhile, on the ground in Taiwan, the post describes, “without warning, Taiwan’s president announced a referendum on self-reliance. Beijing reacted with an overall blockade, requiring it acknowledge ‘One China’.” In reaction the United States decides to send 2 carrier fight groups to the Taiwan Strait, either to stage a counter-blockade versus China or break the blockade against Taiwan. We never ever understand what strategy Washington ultimately chose to take.
In action to the U.S. release, China decides to introduce a “Sunlight Bomb”, a nuclear detonation far from U.S. or Taiwanese forces that reveals willpower. If that stopped working to work, the People’s Freedom Army would stage a restricted attack against the providers. We can presume that the “Sunlight Bomb” did not work, nor did any effort on either side to limit the scope of the war, as we understand that eventually the conflict drew out into an all-out nuclear war.
The United States makes a grave strategic mistake in the post, moving two carrier strike groups near the Taiwan Strait. Although carrier are the U.S. Navy’s greatest properties, the six thousand approximately workers on each ship make for a major issue in a crisis. The overall loss of one carrier would trigger practically as many casualties as those suffered on 9/11 and Pearl Harbor integrated. The loss of a provider would create a need to significantly intensify any conflict, more so than the loss of any cruiser, destroyer, or submarine.
In reality, Washington would not move carrier fight groups near the strait in a real war crisis. At the strategic level, moving carriers into the Taiwan Strait is unnecessarily inflammatory. At the tactical level moving ships into such a position makes them less efficient in defending themselves if shooting does break out.
A carrier battle group near the Chinese mainland is in a precarious position that plays to all of Beijing’s strengths. Warships running in the Taiwan Strait have restricted liberty of maneuver, and would be within series of a wide variety of Chinese weapons, from short-range fighters and rockets to longer vary anti-ship ballistic rockets such as the DF-21 Any fleet near the mainland would be bombarded with Chinese radar signals, electronic warfare jamming, and most likely need to track actually hundreds of air, surface, and subsurface contacts created by hundreds or even countless Chinese weapon systems, preparing to safeguard itself at a moment’s notice. U.S. forces would have minimal time to react to an attack. Overall, the threat to U.S. forces surpasses the message sent out.
Rather, a U.S. fleet would farther off the Chinese shoreline, out of range of a lot of Chinese weapons, while still keeping the capability to task protective power over Taiwan. A fleet might hold north of the Philippine island of Luzon, or west of Japan’s Miyako Strait. There, in the open ocean, a carrier strike group can most effectively manage its own defense while still defending Taiwan from air and missile attack.
A provider fleet further from Taiwan and the mainland would be closer to friendly properties, especially U.S. Flying force airplane based at Kadena on the island of Okinawa. From there, E-3 Sentry aircraft can supplement the provider’s E-2D Hawkeye airborne early caution and control aircrafts to supply an aerial image of the battleground. Kadena is likewise the home of F-15 C fighters, which might escort assistance airplane and enhance air protection over the strike groups. Maybe most importantly, aerial refueling aircraft such as the KC-135 Stratotanker would be able to offer refueling assistance to provider airplane, extending their objective length and range.
Maybe most notably, at a strategic level not really going into the Taiwan Strait gives both sides a de-escalatory offramp. The United States might claim that it still protected Taiwan, a totally true notion, while China might wave off escalation on the grounds that U.S. forces did not in fact cross the red line of entering the Strait.
A dispute in between the United States and China could well start with Taiwan as a flashpoint, but it would take enormous strategic and tactical mistakes by all parties to make the war circumstance in the short article real. Once again, wars are typically the result of errors and the consequences they undoubtedly activate. Despite how it begins, the world should understand the risk of nuclear war between two significant powers.
Kyle Mizokami is an author based in San Francisco who has appeared in The Diplomat, Foreign Policy, War is Dull and The Daily Beast. In 2009 he cofounded the defense and security blog Japan Security Watch. You can follow him on Twitter: @KyleMizokami.