The Emperor Kristof

There is something terribly wrong with this paragraph from Nikolas Kristof’s lament at MSN over the possibility of China’s subduing Taiwan by force of arms:

There are steps the U.S. can take that might reduce the risk of a crisis. Washington can emphasize to Beijing that Taiwan will not take any unilateral action, such as declaring itself an independent country — unless China makes a military move, in which case it will do so at once. The U.S. can also caution Beijing that if the electricity goes out in Taipei, the same may happen in Shanghai, and that if Taiwan-bound ships are harassed, they may be reflagged as American vessels.

The first and most egregious is that Taiwan is not the United States. Washington cannot “emphasize to Beijing that Taiwan” will not declare independence. It does not have that authority. That’s up to the Taiwanese.

The second is that the Taiwanese are not without agency. If they do not have the ability to defend themselves, they should cultivate it quickly.

For the last three generations the United States has maintained a precarious policy of declaring that the political situation of Taiwan was a matter to be settled between Beijing and Taipei not by the United States. We should continue that policy.

I presume that Mr. Kristof’s reaction was prompted by the situation in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is a part of China. That “one country two systems” could not be sustained was obvious 25 years ago. If we did not want Hong Kong to be subsumed into the mainland, we should never have granted China most favored nation trading status and vetoed China’s admission to the WTO when we had the chance.

If I were President Xi and if I were intent on taking control of both Hong Kong and Taiwan and the United States were to make the pronouncements Mr. Kristof proposes, I would make a pre-emptive nuclear strike, presumably an EMP attack, to neutralize the United States in one master stroke. I doubt that any of us including President Xi are prepared for that.

5 comments… add one
  • Roy Lofquist Link

    The perceived effects of an EMP attack are overblown by an order of magnitude.

  • GreyShamber Link

    I’ve wondered about that. Like shining a flashlight on a basketball, the intensity deceases as the affected area increases so detonation altitude is critical, plus, it’s never been done and there are many unknowns.

  • Roy Lofquist Link

    @Grey Shambler,

    Actually it has been done. I was in Peshawar, Pakistan monitoring Russian missile tests when the Soviets conducted three EMP tests over Khazakstan.

    The US also conducted tests, the largest of which was called Starfish Prime.

    The major purpose of the Russian tests was to investigate fratricide, the effects of nuclear explosions of your own unexpended warheads in the area. The tests involved the simultaneous launches of ICBMs from Alma Ata, IRBMs from Kapustin Yar and ABMs from Lake Balkash.

    The ground effects are discussed in many postings on the web. Interesting but not doomsday.

  • 40 years ago, when I worked for a major computer hardware manufacturing company, we had already discussed hardening our products against such an attack. Our milspec products incorporated such hardening. I have no idea what people are doing now but I suspect such hardening is pretty rare and that most hardware is held together with chewing gum and bailing wire.

    Our stuff was Tempest secure, too, which I suspect is also rare nowadays.

  • Roy Lofquist Link

    Bookends of my career. My first civilian job was final assembly and test of the guidance computer for the Minuteman II ICBM.

    My last job was with a company that manufactured ruggedized computers for armored vehicles, primarily the M1A1 main battle tank.

    The danger from EMP is induced currents. Long transmission lines are particularly vulnerable. In fact, the Soviets constructed a line in Kazakhstan for their tests. The most severe damage known (unclassified) was to a 1940s era coal fired generating station. The extent of the damage is unknown.

    There are approximately 8 million lightning strikes a day around the globe. Each of them generate an EMP. The only difference is that the rise time of a nuclear EMP is shorter. The vulnerability is present because the fuses don’t burn out quickly enough to prevent some current flow. Modern electrical distribution systems localize the damage.

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