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Analysis: Taiwan Strait conflict would have no victors

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CSIS-funded war game shows cross-strait war would be devastating for all belligerents

A Taiwan Strait conflict would be devastating for all belligerents, participants of a think tank war game concluded last week.

The day-long simulation, hosted by the Washington, D.C.-based think tank the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), divided a group of military analysts and scholars into a red and blue team, according to a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) report. The wargame lasted seven hours and simulated three weeks of fighting.

In the simulated scenario, China made the first move, launching an attack on Taiwan, and the U.S. decided to help Taiwan defend itself. The game did not consider the use of nuclear weapons.

The Chinese military first fired ballistic missiles at American air bases in Japan and an aircraft carrier strike group in the Pacific, wreaking havoc on squadrons of jet fighters and sinking the carrier and other U.S. ships. It then dispatched military ships to Taiwan’s east coast and bombarded the nation’s infrastructure to sabotage ground troops’ movement.

In the next phase of the invasion, 22,000 Chinese troops landed on Taiwan’s southeast coast and made their way northward with the hopes of capturing a port or airfield. However, as the days passed, the U.S. and Japan gradually gained the upper hand.

Though they suffered devastating losses, American forces unleashed bombs on Chinese ports and destroyed the Chinese ships near Taiwan’s east coast. The U.S. also attacked China’s fleet of amphibious ships required to transport troops and equipment to Taiwan.

The hypothetical conflict was set in 2026, and each team could only utilize real-world military capabilities. However, Becca Wasser, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security think tank and a participant in the game, said 2036 was a more realistic year, WSJ reported.

“In 2027, China is unlikely to have the ability to successfully launch an amphibious invasion of Taiwan,” Wasser said. Ultimately, she said the results of the simulation did not feel like a draw but rather a situation in which “nobody won, but nobody lost either.”

“Probably the biggest (takeaway) is, under most assumptions, the United States and Taiwan can conduct a successful defense of the island. That’s different from many people’s impressions,” Mark Cancian, a senior advisor at CSIS said. Cancian spent two years designing the game in cooperation with experts from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Naval War College, per WSJ.

“This is the only such game that’s in the public domain,” Cancian noted. He said that this allows the game’s results to be shared with a larger audience compared to classified ones.

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