What-If DC War Game Maps Huge Toll of a Future US-China War Over Taiwan

As China waged extensive military exercises off of Taiwan last week, a group of American defense experts in Washington was focused on their own simulation of an eventual — but for now entirely hypothetical — US-China war over the island.

“The results are showing that under most — though not all — scenarios, Taiwan can repel an invasion,” said Mark Cancian, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, where the war games are being held. “However, the cost will be very high to the Taiwanese infrastructure and economy and to US forces in the Pacific.”

The not-necessarily-so assumption used in most of the scenarios: China invades Taiwan to force unification with the self-governed island, and the US decides to intervene heavily with its military. Also assumed but far from certain: Japan grants expanded rights to use US bases located on its territory, while stopping short of intervening directly unless Japanese land is attacked. Nuclear weapons aren’t used in the scenarios, and the weapons available are based on capabilities the nations have demonstrated or have concrete plans to deploy by 2026. 

China’s test-firing of missiles in recent days in response to US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan underscored a Chinese capability that’s already assumed in the gameplay.

The unofficial what-if game is being conducted on the fifth floor of an office building not far from the White House, and it posits a US military response to a Chinese invasion in 2026. Even though the participants bring an American perspective, they are finding that a US-Taiwan victory, if there is one, could come at a huge cost.

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