TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Four of Australia’s most experienced military strategists have all said they do not believe the U.S. can win a war against China, with or without Australian assistance.
As U.S.-China tensions rise, ABC Australia interviewed four military strategists that have all previously worked for the Australian Department of Defence, including the former head of its international policy and strategy divisions and Australia’s former most senior military figure. Professor Hugh White was formerly a senior strategy and intelligence official in the Australian defense department, and said a U.S. war with China over Taiwan would result in a Chinese victory, regardless of U.S. expectations of air and naval support from Australia.
“I do not think there is any credible chance that America, with or without Australia’s support, could win a war with China over Taiwan,” White said. "Ultimately, I do not see how America could inflict enough damage on China to force Beijing to concede over Taiwan, without using nuclear weapons,” he said.
White said he does not believe the U.S. would be willing to risk Chinese nuclear retaliation for the sake of protecting Taiwan. "That is why I think it would be a mistake for America, or Australia, to go to war with China over Taiwan," he said.
However, White said he does not believe that a U.S.-China war over Taiwan is the most likely option, saying that an air and naval blockade would be China’s first choice for gaining control over the country.
"(A blockade) would be a far cheaper and less risky way to achieve its objectives. It would be relatively easy for China to establish a credible air and sea exclusion zone around Taiwan, and thereby put immense pressure on the Taiwanese to accept Beijing’s terms,” White said. "America would then have to decide whether to go to war to break the blockade."
Ships from Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and Indian Navy sail in formation with Royal Australian Navy HMAS Warramunga and USS Barry in 2021. (AP photo)
Former intelligence officer in the Australian military and current professor of International and Political studies Clinton Fernandes agreed with White’s analysis. “China’s leaders could discreetly offer negotiations to Taiwan’s leaders during a blockade before the risky step of ordering an amphibious invasion,” Professor Fernandes said.
He said that if China thought the blockade was failing, they may then choose to attack U.S. forces protecting Taiwan, or simply withdraw the blockade and claim that the damage inflicted constituted a victory. "For China, the worst-case scenario is to have to conduct high-intensity operations against Taiwan, the United States, Japan and other U.S. allies and partners simultaneously,” Fernandes said.
Former head of the International Policy and Strategy Divisions of the Department of Defence Allan Behm is now the head of the international and security program at the Australia Institute, and was similarly skeptical of a positive outcome. "(Australia has a) fundamental strategic pathology: to support the interests of the U.S. at the expense of our own," Behm said.
A worker puts up the words "For Peace" for an exhibition on International Military Cooperation by the Chinese military in 2019. Beijing's rapidly modernizing military is getting closer to matching Washington and other powers in weapons technology. (AP photo)
Admiral Chris Barrie, formerly Australia’s most senior military leader, agreed. Speaking about the possibility of war, he said “economically, financially and personally it is likely to impoverish us all; it may even kill most of us if it goes nuclear.” He pointed out the danger of increasing rhetoric about war, and said politicians should not forget that war is a last resort option.
“The contemplation of war can only be justified after all other means of settling differences have failed, and we are a long way from reaching this position (over Taiwan)," he says. "I worry when politicians start to think it is acceptable to use the media to make threats about war.”
The opinions come as Australia conducts a conducts a parliamentary enquiry into its executive’s powers to unilaterally declare war. Currently, sole powers to declare war rest with Australia’s cabinet, the government’s executive branch, made up of the prime minister and about 19 ministers who have the power to make decisions behind closed doors.