You may notice that today’s video looks a little different. I don’t know why it took this long for me to do this, but this weekend I finally signed up with Storyblocks, a company that provides stock footage. In recent years I’ve become more and more concerned with keeping my videos within the letter of copyright law. I didn’t realize until this afternoon how limiting that was. Back when I started out I just grabbed whatever from wherever, with the certain knowledge that nobody would ever come after an obscure channel in Turkey. But in 2017 I started being a lot more careful. I’m very grateful for what I’ve learned through that process and the skills I’ve built…
But man today was fun! With Storyblocks it feels like 2014 again. They’ve got a clip for most anything I want to talk about. I was aware of this flexibility as I finalized the script, and I think it allowed me to put something together that’s a little freer, and maybe even a little bit funny. Anyway, today is the most fun I’ve had editing in ages, and it’s the first of the new “long form” videos that I’m actually proud of. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did…
Video Transcript after the jump…
It often feels like time is not on Taiwan’s side. With each passing decade, this plucky little democracy of 24 million becomes less willing to continue pretending that it is a part of one China. But with each passing year the 1.4 billion person colossus across the Taiwan Strait grows wealthier, and China’s threats to stamp out Taiwanese self determination by force become more credible. Today, with this video, we will reveal the greatest threat to Taiwan. It is not what you think it is. Unless you regularly watch my videos, in which case it’ll probably end up being exactly what you expect it to be.
We can quibble about why, but it’s undeniable that the China of today is more aggressive and authoritarian than it has been at any point since the death of Mao almost 50 years ago. Hong Kong and Xinjiang are being crushed in ways that forcibly remind the world of all Communist China’s worst crimes. For 40 years the country had been run by committee, or at least by more subtle and behind the scenes strong men. Over the past decade Xi Jinping has set himself up as a new Mao, just as a new generation of wolf warrior diplomats angrily asserts Chinese superiority at every border and all over social media.
But is all this really a threat to Taiwanese independence? It might be the exact opposite. Now that China has dropped the mask, the United States and the world have become less indulgent of Taiwan’s special status. We haven’t decided to upset the apple cart yet, but I think that China’s actions over the past four years have made the US world order more interested in defending Taiwan rather than less. China’s new uh “diplomatic profile” may be more of a help to Taiwanese independence than a threat to it.
In washington DC defending Taiwan has become more of a priority. The Pentagon’s loyal mouthpieces in US media have started running scare pieces about Taiwanese security with greater and greater regularity. And the Pentagon’s loyal mouthpieces are pretty much all of US media, especially now that few organizations can afford actual reporters anymore, and they rely on government spokesmen for their stories. Washington DC is not wrong to be worried about Taiwan, but it is steering the conversation in some pretty ridiculous directions. Like ships for existence. Seriously, the US Navy wants more fricking ships. Leaving aside my strong suspicion that the US Coast Guard probably has more serious blue water capability than the Chinese Navy, expensive floating missile targets haven’t been a useful part of war fighting for over a century.
Take World War I for example. Over 100 years ago. The British and German publics spent an obscene amount of money in the years before the Great war building up massive surface fleets they never really used much. The Battle of Jutland, or is it Jutland? Whatever. It was two days in 1916, and it was the only real engagement the British and German surface fleets had during the war. And they both hated it! Each side decided that they had too much money and prestige wrapped up in these white elephant Navies to risk any of them in a real battle. Even a century ago, submarines and torpedoes were far more useful. In the greatest conflict the world had know to that point, the main combatants Navies just sort of stared at each other nervously for four and a half years. I wonder if we will see something similar if a war breaks out over Taiwan. I wouldn’t be surprised if all of the US’s aircraft carriers quickly sailed as far away from the conflict as possible. There’s a Bloomberg article from a retired Navy admiral out this week where he more or less confirms my suspicion . I assume the Chinese carriers would run away too. Those things are too expensive to risk in a fight..
Let’s talk a little more about aircraft carriers. 80 years ago, in world war II, aircraft carriers were very useful weapons of war. They also proved, in a series of engagements, how utterly useless the majority of those ships the Pentagon wants to build are. Aircraft carriers were super scary things. 80 years ago. 80 years ago, the V-2 rocket was the peak of missile technology. If you aimed this thing at a city, it would hit the city more or less half the time. 80 years ago, if you wanted to throw a tube full of explosives at a target as small as an aircraft carrier, you needed a dude in a plane to carry it almost all the way there.
The true capabilities of missile systems are state secrets, but today I wouldn’t be that surprised if you could hit an aircraft carrier with a missile launched from from the other side of the planet.
Missiles have been getting better for a long time. It’s not just ships that are useless. During the Vietnam war literally dozens of the highest technology US planes were shot down by surface to air missiles. This is before digitization, before GPS, with imaging and sensor technology significantly less powerful than is currently present in your pocket. This massacre of US planes was accomplished by by Vietnam, a desperately poor country. Of course Vietnam was heavily aided by the Soviet Union, but in retrospect we have learned that the Soviet Union was also a desperately poor country, or at least far further outmatched by the US then than China is by the US of today. And what’s more, all those us jets got shot down over a battle space that was vastly larger than the one that will be contested in the Taiwan Strait. 50 years ago. Manned fighting and bombing planes will not be a factor in fighting in the Taiwan Strait. This should have been clear 50 years ago. Ships will not be a factor in this fight. We knew this 100 years ago.
If you believe the US government, there is all kinds of top secret stealth technology that makes these money pits still somehow useful in real fights. But these are the same folks who spent 20 years telling us our war in Afghanistan was just about to turn the corner, and that the F-35 is a reliable plane that can do things. I mean hey maybe they are right, and some of these platforms can safely send million dollar missiles into the Taiwan Strait from 1000 miles away. But why would you want to do that when you can definitely send 5 200,000 dollar missiles from Taiwan itself. Taiwan is not going to sink or crash. Taiwanese land does not need to be manufactured, doesn’t need fuel transported to it, has a staggering 100% mission capability rating and unlike the F-35 fighter jet it does not cost a trillion and a half dollars. Which is a problem from Washington DC’s perspective.
Taiwan’s problem is real, but the vast majority of the US military industrial complex’s proposed solutions to the problem are not serious. Washington DC’s solutions are about spending money for political purposes. I am not some crank here. My conviction that ships and planes are useless for defending Taiwan was conventional wisdom in a different era of US politics, the time before Trump.
Before Trump, when Democrats cared more about healthcare than beating up on Russia, the Pentagon actually had to justify the amount of money it spent. Oil prices were higher before 2014, so our Gulf allies were able to fund a lot of terrorism for the Pentagon to counter. So much money went to countering these terrorists we were allied with that the Pentagon folks focused on China felt left out. So they tried to build fear about China by telling the story I have laid out in this video. It’s even got a fun acronym A2/AD, that was everywhere in defence circles 5-10 years ago. A2/AD. Man, even when it comes to marketing the Pentagon over pays for crap.
A2/AD stands for Anti Access / Area Denial and there are sophisticated doctrines and analysis involved, but what it basically means is missiles, and lots of them. With a ton of time, ingenuity, technology and money you can build a plane or ship that can defend itself from almost any sort of missile. But really only one at a time. Or maybe it’s five at a time. Like I said, these capabilities are classified, but nothing in modern physics is going to save our billion dollar targets from a hundred missiles at once. And that’s what we are talking about in the Taiwan Strait now. At the very least.
So the Military Industrial Complex stopped talking about A2/AD for a couple reasons. The whole Russia thing has turned Democrats into even bigger war mongers the Republicans, so the Pentagon doesn’t have to justify anything anymore. In 2018 the Pentagon was were like Hey, we need to spend enough to create the situation the world had right before World War One, and Congress was like Cool. It’s amazing. But there’s another reason A2/AD fell out of favor…
You see the whole point of Pentagon marketing is to scare the US public and get them to spend more money. But what the Pentagon missed, and a couple libertarian think tanks pointed out, is that A2/AD is actually kind of reassuring. Like here’s the Taiwan Strait. In a war situation it is impossible for any ship or plane to function here. But that’s not just true of the US Navy. That’s true of the Chinese Navy too. How is China supposed to conquer Taiwan if it can’t land a single troop? When folks started pointing that out the marketing push behind A2/AD kind of faded.
A friend of mine recently pointed out that a missile is basically a metal tube filled with explosives, and a bunch of really expensive microchips. Well, as war hawks have been reminding all of us lately, Taiwan is the home of the world’s high tech microchip manufacturing industry. Dramatically poorer Iran has been able to master missile tech. Taiwan should be able to easily beat China at missile mass production and deployment. Sure, it’s smaller, but Taiwan is playing defense. And that’s the right side to be on in the world of A2/AD.
China is a lot bigger though. Taiwan needs to be careful with its spending. It’s not like the threat free United States that can endlessly squander defense money on useless stuff because it helps Congresspeople get votes. Taiwan actually faces real threats. And Taiwan’s dependence on the US military industrial complex is killing it. US government protection, whether or not it exists is a good thing, but the political duty it comes with, to buy billions of dollars of useless weapons from the Unites States, is Taiwan’s greatest weakness.
If you peruse lists of what China buys, some of it is useful. There are already missiles being stockpiled on the island. But in that Bloomberg article the US admiral basically admits the stuff we are selling to Taiwan isn’t good enough to do the job. If Taiwan is serious about protecting itself I hope it’s reverse engineering the US defense company stuff and mass producing copies for much less. Quantity is the name of the game here. So some of the stuff we are selling Taiwan is a useful starting point but there are literally billions of dollars worth of stuff that Taiwan 100% does not need. Like Tanks!
Seriously tanks! 1.42 billion dollars worth of Abrams tanks. I am sure this purchase made some Michigan senators very happy but Jesus. If there are enough Chinese troops on Taiwanese soil to fight with 108 tanks, Beijing has won, and it is time to start reading up on Xi Jinping thought. The tanks are the worst of it, but there is endless garbage on these lists. Ship refurbishing, fighter jets, and all kinds of crap that will not survive minute fifteen of a war with China. Even worse, Japan seems to be about to switch it’s first line of defense backing up Taiwan to the F-35… despite concerns that the F-35 isn’t functional often enough to do the basic patrolling necessary.
Taiwan has rightly won the world’s admiration with its recent outperformance during the Covid crisis. The Taiwanese have built a beautiful culture and a strong democracy. Their security does depend to a large extent on the diplomatic and economic might of the United States. But the Taiwanese need to recognize that when it comes to a real peer to peer conflict, the United States lives in a money spinning fantasy land. Taiwan can’t afford to live there. Taiwan has the expertise and technology necessary to defend itself. It should prepare to do so.
Or am I completely wrong about all of that? I think I see the way history and the military industrial complex works a lot more clearly than anybody Working for the US government, but I am only just beginning to read about weapons systems. I would love to be corrected in the comments, or to hear anything else you have to say. Please do like, subscribe, and share this video widely.
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