The Red Line
Episode 90. East Asian Rearmament
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China appears to be sleepwalking toward a conflict over Taiwan, and in response, East Asia has begun to prepare for a war that could start as early as 2026. Whilst some like Japan are buying up unnamed vehicles to adapt to their growing demographic crises, other nations like South Korea have become leading arms exporters across the globe.
Is the war in Taiwan inevitable, is Japan's rearmament strategy likely to come to fruition in time, and how is the US readying itself for the conflict that will dictate the geopolitical trajectory of East Asia for the next three decades? We ask our panel of experts.
Part 1: Creeping Toward Conflict (5:39)
Tim Heath begins our conversation noting that there is some misconceptions about the likelihood of China launching a military invasion of Taiwan, noting that the Russian invasion of Ukraine has created uncertainty even among the analyst community, as well as intel that the PLA is pursuing the capability to enable invasion as an option.
We discuss the build up of the Chinese military and navy in recent years, noting the significant number of advanced warships and submarines launched in recent years, and how these platforms compare to US capabilities. We also discuss the nuances of trying to compare the military spending of both nations.
Our conversation turns to why Russia has maintained a dominant lead as an arms and equipment exporter while China has struggled to cut into the market share, despite making gains in recent years. We evaluate how that might change in the future in the aftermath of the Ukraine war.
We discuss how China's missile and air capabilities will create a significant barrier towards the US Navy in the event of a military conflict around Taiwan. We conclude with how the US might counter these forces.
Part 2: Styling the Sledgehammer (33:03)
Daniel Darling begins the second part of our conversation with how other East Asian countries have been responding, noting Japan's recent increases in military purchases and how they are evolving their planning to a potential Taiwan conflict.
We switch to the calculus for South Korea in the event of such a conflict, noting the difficult situation the nation finds itself in between China and the US. South Korea's role as a growing arms supplier further complicates its decisions.
We discuss the need for more advanced nations to think differently about designing their militaries for the future, especially the need to integrate more lower cost, unmanned platforms into future force structure.
Part 3: The First Battle of the Next War (51:36)
Mark Cancian discusses his wargame analysis of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, noting that it suggested that Japan would not have an option of whether or not to participate in all likelihood.
We discuss if an attack of US overseas territories would trigger NATO's Article 5, and if the US would invoke the treaty in the event of a Taiwan attack.
We go into the details of a potential invasion and counter-invasion as revealed by the wargaming and what these simulations dictate each nation should be prioritising in their weapons and defence systems, including the potential of increasing weapon stocks in Taiwan.
We discuss air supremacy and why the potential for US casualties would most likely be from ground losses in this scenario. We also discuss the vulnerability of aircraft carriers in such a conflict.
Senior International/Defence Researcher at RAND
Prior to joining RAND, he served as the senior analyst for the USPACOM China Strategic Focus Group
He has over twenty years of experience researching and analysing military and political topics related to China
Co-author of The Return of Great Power War: Scenarios of Systemic Conflict Between the United States and China
Senior Europe and Asia, Australia & Pacific Rim Analyst at Forecast International Inc., an aerospace and defence market research company
His work has been cited in Aerospace and Defense News, Aerotech News and Review, Defense Talk, Global Defense Review, and Small Wars Journal, among others, and by the NATO Parliamentary Assembly.
Mark Cancian (Colonel, USMCR, ret.)
Senior Adviser, International Security Program at CSIS
Previously, he served as Chief of the Force Structure and Investment Division at the Office of Management and Budget, working on issues such as Department of Defense budget strategy, war funding, and procurement programs.
Adjunct faculty member at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, where he teaches a course on the connection between policy and analysis.
Lead planner and author of The First Battle of the Next War: Wargaming a Chinese Invasion of Taiwan
The Red Line's East Asian Rearmament Reading List:
We’ve compiled a list of further reading to better understand the geopolitics of East Asian military procurement and strategy.
The Avoidable War
War Without Rules
Brigadier General Robert Spalding
The Chinese Invasion Threat: Taiwan's Defence and American Strategy in Asia
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This episode is dedicated to our Patreon member Stephanie Taylor, Kevin Pierce, Adrian Turcanu, Tom, and Edward Tovi.