Welcome to Saturday's Potluck - 5-21-2022
“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”
There are questions which run through my mind without satisfactory answers. One is - what is the benefit for the leaders of Taiwan to initiate a conflict with China? Taiwan is an island and does not share any land borders to cross for people to escape a war zone. Taiwanese Expats living in most other countries would be able to avoid direct consequences, but relatives and friends on the island would be in physical danger. Economic consequences would be severe.
The there is the question of nuclear weapons as a deterrent or first strike weapon. China has had 64 years since first directly threatened with nuclear weapons, in 1958, to develop plans for various responses to protect their citizens and nation.
How a 1964 letter from China has helped prevent nuclear war Asia Times May 19, 2022
The No First Use principle was first proposed by China in 1964, and has since been widely recognized as the linchpin on which humanity’s war-free future depends. China gained nuclear-weapons capability that year. Instead of demanding that all powers jointly agree on the principle, as some people recommended at the time, China’s leaders simply wrote an extraordinary letter to the global community.
Titled “Statement of the Government of the People’s Republic of China” and dated October 16, 1964, it was not the usual lawyer-written, bullet-pointed statement that people have come to expect with international declarations. It was a rather rambling missive that made the point that every nation had the right to defend itself with arms, but nuclear weapons were different.
They were a “paper tiger,” which existed for deterrence, not for actual use in attacks, the letter said. And they would surely be phased out as humanity learned to live in peace. Nuclear weapons were “created by man” and “certainly will be eliminated by man,” it said.
But the letter also delivered an epoch-making statement. Since every nation with such weapons claimed that they were for defense only, they could all simply declare that they would never be the first to use them. This would be necessary to make the people of the planet safe.
We’ll go first, the Chinese said. The key sentence they wrote was this: “The Chinese Government hereby solemnly declares that China will never at any time and under any circumstances be the first to use nuclear weapons.”
The US has played an aggressive game extremely cleverly. The country has a huge arsenal of nuclear warheads (just under 6,000), but has kept the number slightly below the number that the Soviet Union/Russia is said to have (just over 6,000). This allows the US military-industrial complex constantly to ask for more public funding.
Will China stick to it?
But will China keep its promise? There’s no evidence that it won’t, and the country clearly has a demonstrable disinclination to enter wars far from home.
Yet the US strategy of making increasingly provocative moves in Taiwan to goad China into making a military response is a worry. Many fear that the US will call on its supporters in Taiwan to declare independence, forcing China to make an aggressive move.
Reasons for optimism
Yet there are two reasons for optimism. First, even if the US did trigger a skirmish over Taiwan, China would be extremely unlikely to use nuclear weapons in its own territory or waters.
Second, the country has shown an impressive degree of patience. During eight months of violent anti-China riots in 2019 in Hong Kong, Beijing resisted the temptation to intervene with its military there, even though there was an army base literally next door to the Hong Kong government’s besieged legislative building.
This extraordinary degree of patience came as a surprise to strategists (and a disappointment, surely, to Western powers). The violence in Hong Kong had largely ebbed away by the end of the year with no involvement of any kind from mainland China. Patience, it appears, is an unusually powerful weapon.
Conclusion? There are no guarantees in life; yet with China, India and Russia all having signed up to a No First Use nuclear policy in this region, the average citizen of East Asia may have good reason to feel slightly safer than her or his counterpart elsewhere on the planet, and particularly in Europe.
As for the moral victory, the Chinese writers of the 1964 letter won that battle 48 years ago, but their assumption that the Western powers and Russia would follow suit was too idealistic. Yet the principle of No First Use, even if most nations of the world did not sign it, has been followed in practice, so far.
Taiwan’s Bomb National Security Archive
Washington, D.C., January 10, 2019 – From the late 1960s until the late 1980s, U.S. government officials worried that Taiwanese leaders might make a “fundamental decision” to develop nuclear weapons. Documents published today for the first time by the National Security Archive illustrate Washington’s efforts to keep tabs on military and scientific research and to intervene when they believed that Taiwan’s nuclear R&D had gone too far.
Today’s posting builds on and adds documentary detail to an important recent publication by the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), David Albright and Andrea Stricker’s Taiwan’s Former Nuclear Weapons Program: Nuclear Weapons on Demand. Their book provides a comprehensive account of the nuclear program, in part by drawing on documents from the National Security Archive.
A key moment in the Albright-Stricker history is the January 1988 exfiltration by the CIA of a senior official Chang Hsien-yi who was embedded in Taiwan’s nuclear establishment and wanted to stop activities that he believed could endanger his country. Albright and Stricker provide the first detailed account in English of Chang’s whistle-blowing. While Chang’s relationship with the CIA remains deeply classified in government files, today’s posting includes declassified documents on the consequences of his actions.
Risk of Nuclear War Over Taiwan in 1958 Said to Be Greater Than Publicly Known copy of New York Times article 5-21-2021 published at cottontailsonline.com
The document was disclosed by Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked a classified history of the Vietnam War, known as the Pentagon Papers, 50 years ago. Mr. Ellsberg said he had copied the top secret study about the Taiwan Strait crisis at the same time but did not disclose it then. He is now highlighting it amid new tensions between the United States and China over Taiwan.
While it has been known in broader strokes that United States officials considered using atomic weapons against mainland China if the crisis escalated, the pages reveal in new detail how aggressive military leaders were in pushing for authority to do so if Communist forces, which had started shelling the so-called offshore islands, intensified their attacks.
The crisis in 1958 instead ebbed when Mao Zedong’s Communist forces broke off the attacks on the islands, leaving them in the control of Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalist Republic of China forces based on Taiwan. More than six decades later, strategic ambiguity about Taiwan’s status — and about American willingness to use nuclear weapons to defend it — persist.
Among other details, the pages that the government censored in the official release of the study describe the attitude of Gen. Laurence S. Kutner, the top Air Force commander for the Pacific. He wanted authorization for a first-use nuclear attack on mainland China at the start of any armed conflict. To that end, he praised a plan that would start by dropping atomic bombs on Chinese airfields but not other targets, arguing that its relative restraint would make it harder for skeptics of nuclear warfare in the American government to block the plan.
“There would be merit in a proposal from the military to limit the war geographically” to the air bases, “if that proposal would forestall some misguided humanitarian’s intention to limit a war to obsolete iron bombs and hot lead,” General Kutner said at one meeting.
The Ukraine war could trigger a nuclear arms race in Asia Taipei Times March 25, 2022
The nuclear buildup might not stop with China. Several of Asia’s key players are set to be dragged into a costly and dangerous arms race that would make the entire region less secure.
India, China’s regional rival, might seek to expand its own arsenal, prompting India’s nuclear-armed nemesis, Pakistan, to do the same.
This would place East Asia’s non-nuclear states, such as Japan and South Korea, in a quandary. Already, former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe has called for Japan to consider hosting US nuclear weapons. Although Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida quickly rejected the idea, the proposal represents a major shift in a country that has abided by the principles of nuclear non-proliferation since World War II.
If an Asian nuclear arms race takes hold, countries’ willingness to challenge taboos would only increase. In Japan and South Korea, nuclear weapons would become the most divisive domestic political issue, with national security hawks advocating their development, even if doing so jeopardizes relations with the US, which views nuclear proliferation as an existential threat.
Finally, Taiwan might decide to acquire nuclear weapons as insurance against a Chinese invasion.
However, this would almost certainly precipitate just such an invasion. The resulting conflict, which could well involve the US, could quickly escalate into a nuclear war.
The world has long depended on the principle of mutual assured destruction to prevent nuclear war, but even if the principle deters countries from launching premeditated wars, it cannot protect against accidents or miscalculations.
My plan: enjoy each day, keep speaking out for peace, increase understanding of complex issues and prepare for life's complexities.
What is on your mind today?