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And The Lion Shall Lie Down With The Lamb:

The Taiwan Straits War Averted

 

 

By Chris Oakley

 

 

Part 2

 

 

 

Summary: In Part 1 of this series we explored how the Taiwan Straits War might have been averted if, for example, Russian premier Anatoly Biletnikov hadnít been assassinated or if the US Navyís Ocean Sentinel í35 exercise had been postponed or even cancelled. In this installment weíll deal with some of the other crucial "what ifs" of the Taiwan Straits War, like how the warís course might have been altered if the Korean Union hadnít stayed neutral in the conflict or if President Siegel had followed his more hawkish advisorsí recommendation to launch a pre-emptive ICBM strike on China once it became clear the Chinese intended to make war on the United States.

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#5)What if the Korean Union, instead of remaining neutral during the Taiwan Straits crisis and the war that followed it, had either (A)continued the old South Korean governmentís pro-US foreign policies and sided with Washington or (B)followed the late Kim Jong Ilís lead in foreign affairs and supported China?

When the old North Korean Communist regime and South Korean multi-party state signed the Korea Reunification Treaty of 2029, one of the first official acts of the newly reunified nationís government was to proclaim its neutrality in all ongoing and future disputes between the United States and the Peopleís Republic of China. The bitter memories of the carnage and suffering brought on by the Korean War still lingered in the Korean peopleís collective memory despite the fact that most of that warís participants were long since dead; there was little desire among the new generation of Korean political leadership to repeat that gruesome experience. So when the diplomatic crisis that would ultimately lead to the Taiwan Straits War began, the Korean Union refrained from playing any role in the dispute other than to assist Anatoly Biletnikovís desperate (and ultimately fruitless) efforts to mediate a peaceful solution to the standoff between the Jiang Mexu regime in Beijing and the administration of President Edward Siegel in Washington.

Now letís imagine for just a second that Korea hadnít been a neutral bystander in the standoff between Mexu and Siegel that ultimately intensified into the Taiwan Straits War. Which side in the confrontation might they have chosen? And once the choice was made, how would it have shaped the subsequent course of events?

At the time of the Taiwan Straits War, the Korean government was still dominated to a considerable extent by holdovers from the old ROK administration but was beginning to see ex-DPRK officials wield an expanded degree of influence over Korean Union domestic and foreign policies. This was especially true where China was concerned. Fortunately for the survival of the Korean Union, the two rival factions cancelled each other out and Korea stayed neutral in the standoff that ultimately morphed into the Taiwan Straits War. If Korea had, to coin Mao Zedongís famous phrase, "leaned to one side" during the Taiwan Straits War it likely would suffered the horrors of nuclear attack that ravaged many of its neighbors. The only thing in doubt is whether the missiles that struck Korea would have been Chinese or American.

If the ROK holdovers had gotten their way and Korea had taken the United Statesí side, China would in all probability have brought a rain of nuclear death down on Seoul, Pyongyang, Inchon, and other major Korean cities. Likewise, if the ex-DPRK clique had been able to push then-Korean Union premier Woh Kim Jae into supporting Beijing in the PRCís showdown with the US, America wouldnít have thought twice about bringing the full weight of its nuclear arsenal to bear on the Korean Peninsula.

 

#6)What if Secretary of State Rachel Cortland hadnít resigned her office on the third day of the Taiwan Straits War?

Rachel Cortland was one of the most distinguished diplomats to hold the office of US Secretary of State since the end of the Cold War. Her resignation on the third day of the Taiwan Straits War was a terrible personal blow to President Siegel, made that much more devastating when Cortland committed suicide just a matter of hours after her resignation. Not since Richard Nixonís vice-president, Spiro Agnew, left office in October of 1973 amid charges of tax evasion has a presidential administration been so greatly affected by a senior officialís departure; President Siegel found it extremely difficult to carry out the duties of his post, and in the final hours of the war it fell to his cabinet to take most of the action necessary to secure a cease-fire agreement with what was left of the Chinese government.

While some of the records pertaining to Secretary Cortlandís resignation and subsequent suicide have been lost, those that remain indicate she was psychologically broken by the collapse of her own efforts as well as those of her peers in the international diplomatic community to avert armed conflict between the United States and China. In her suicide note, she explicitly blamed herself for the outbreak of thermonuclear hostilities between the US and the PRC; she felt that she had badly failed the Siegel Administration and the American people during the runup to the war, and her psychological pain over not being able to achieve greater success in averting the Taiwan Straits War had grown to the point where she found it unbearable and believed taking her own life was the only way to escape the pain.

But suppose Secretary of State Cortland had been able to get past the psychic blow the outbreak of the war inflicted on her? Could she possibly have effected an early end to the hostilities between Beijing and Washington? Itís certainly possible; Cortland, after all, had been a highly talented negotiator during her years in the State Department. Prior to being named as Secretary of State, Cortland had among other accomplishments served as a mediator at the 2031 Montreal conference between Israel and Syria at which the Syrians finally agreed to open negotiations with the Israelis over the Golan question. Had she stayed in the Siegel cabinet past the third day of the war, things might well be different today in Asia.

 

#7)What if President Siegel had listened to the advice of the hawks in his cabinet and mounted a pre-emptive strike against China once it became apparent the Taiwan Straits Crisis was going to escalate into full-scale war?

Just before the first Chinese nuclear strikes on the United States in the Taiwan Straits War, there was a point at which the more hawkish elements in President Siegelís cabinet were urging him to authorize a pre-emptive missile attack against China to quash any possible threat of a Chinese occupation of Taiwan. At the very least, they urged him, the United States should mount aggressive and large-scale conventional military action against the Peopleís Republic to protect the Taiwanese people and their freedom. Siegel demurred, fearing that a pre-emptive move of any kind might backfire on the US; he would never waver from his belief that pre-emptive attack on China would have been a mistake, not even when Los Angeles was obliterated in the first wave of Chinese ICBM strikes.

Now ponder the question of what the consequences might have been if Siegel had heeded the counsel of the hawks in his cabinet. Could he have succeeded in a pre-emptive assault on mainland China? Possibly, but that success would most likely have come at the cost of (A)damaged US diplomatic standing abroad, (B)a loss of credibility at home for Siegelís nuclear policy1, and (C)staggering casualties among the U.S. forces carrying out the pre-emptive attack. Thereís also the distinct possibility that such a pre-emptive operation could have provoked the Chinese to launch a nuclear assault on the United States equal to-- if not greater than --the one that the West Coast was subjected to at the start of the real Taiwan Straits War.

Siegelís adoptive great-grandfather had been a White House advisor on Asian affairs during the Obama administration; in the Malaysian crisis of 2011 he had strongly cautioned against any kind of pre-emptive military action against Beijing at a time when the majority of the American public was clamoring for Obama to intervene militarily to halt suspected Chinese interference in the effort to avert civil war in Malaysia. Siegel himself had always taken the lessons of that time to heart-- but suppose he hadnít? The results could have been devastating, not only for the United States but also for China. A recently declassified Defense Department memo regarding the rejected proposal for pre-emptive military action against China prior to the beginning of the Taiwan Straits War estimates that even a conventional military operation against the Chinese mainland would have resulted in tens of millions of civilian deaths-- to say nothing of the horrendous toll a pre-emptive nuclear strike might have inflicted.

 

#8)What if the mutiny attempts at certain U.S. and Chinese missile silos had succeeded?

Though US and Chinese military records from the Taiwan Straits War are somewhat fragmentary, those that managed to survive the war indicate that there were half a dozen attempts at mutiny among launch crews at key U.S. and Chinese ICBM bases during those critical hours when the Taiwan Straits Crisis at last escalated into full-scale war between the United States and China. All of those uprisings were eventually suppressed, with the one at Silo 5X in Chinaís Szechuan province being crushed in particularly bloody fashion by PLA security troops.

But suppose for just a minute that even one of those mutinies had been successful. Would that have prevented the war from breaking out? Unlikely; by the time the first of the mutiny attempts was made, Beijing and Washington were already committed to armed confrontation with each other over the Taiwan Straits. Would similar mutinies have broken out among submarine or bomber crews? Possibly, but we can never be entirely sure one way or the other given the substantial gaps in both sidesí military and diplomatic records left by the thermonuclear devastation of the Straits War.

Would a successful mutiny have disrupted U.S. or Chinese defense strategy? Beyond a doubt. Just one such incident could have seriously complicated efforts to execute nuclear warfighting plans; several of such mutinies might have made it necessary for one of the belligerents to commit greater numbers of manned bombers to the conflict, which in  turn could have pushed the warís already staggering casualty toll that much higher.

In our next and final chapter, weíll review the timeline of the actual events of the Taiwan Straits War.

 

To Be Continued...

Footnote

[1] One of the major foreign policy planks of Siegelís campaign platform during his run for the presidency had been a greater US commitment to global nuclear disarmament.

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