Taiwan Wanted Nuclear Weapons to Deter China (And It Could Have Been a Disaster)

    Kyle Mizokami

    Security, Asia

    Imagine if Asia woke up to this one morning. 

    Taiwan’s nuclear-weapons program, although understandable, was ill considered. A Taiwanese-Chinese nuclear standoff would have destabilized the entire region—ironic, considering Taiwan was seeking nuclear weapons to stabilize its defense posture. There was really no military dilemma that Taiwanese nuclear weapons would have decisively solved; any strike would have only been made worse by the inevitable Chinese nuclear counterattack.

    It would have been one of the greatest crises of postwar Asia: the revelation of a Taiwanese atomic bomb. For Taiwan, the bomb would have evened the odds against a numerically superior foe. For China, a bomb would have been casus belli, justification for an attack on the island country it considered a rogue province. Active from the 1960s to the 1980s, Taipei’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons were finally abandoned due to diplomatic pressure by its most important ally, the United States.

    Taiwan’s nuclear program goes back to 1964, when the People’s Republic of China tested its first nuclear device. The test was not exactly a surprise to outside observers, but it was still Taiwan’s nightmare come true. Chinese and Taiwanese air and naval forces occasionally skirmished, and it threatened to turn into all-out war. Suddenly Taipei was confronted with the possibility that such a war could turn nuclear. Even just one nuclear device detonated on an island the size of Maryland would have devastating consequences for the civilian population.

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