A top US Army War College paper suggests Taiwan should credibly threaten to eradicate its semiconductor industry if threatened by China so that Beijing would no longer be interested in unification.

The US Army War College showed the paper was its most popular of the year, when it revealed it topped a list of the most downloaded papers of 2021 from its quarterly academic journal Parameters.

The bright idea comes from two American scholars. Their reasoning goes:

Potential war with the US over Taiwan is no longer a deterrent for China as Beijing believes its military would dominate. Therefore, to make the island unappealing, it needs to be perceived as presenting an “unacceptable economic, political, and strategic costs upon Beijing.” As it currently stands, Taiwan appears to be an enticing technology powerhouse ripe for absorption. However, destroying TSMC, an important supplier for China, would create a desperately unwanted major economic crisis on the mainland and make China chipless while it was also engaged in a war effort.

“If done correctly, such a strategy could discourage a Chinese invasion of Taiwan while simultaneously lessening the chances of an unwanted great-power conflict, especially if combined with good-faith efforts by the United States to make the status quo more tolerable for both China and Taiwan,” wrote [PDF] the authors.

The boffins say that in order for this to succeed, China really does have to believe Taiwan will go through with the threat and suggests designing an automated mechanism to destroy the foundries if China were to invade. And if Taiwan really wants to prove a point, they could create a defensive plan to blow up Chinese chip maker Semiconductor Manufacturing International Company (SMIC) if they are attacked too.

Unfortunately for those interested in moving forward with the plan, Beijing has already heard about the paper. The Chinese State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office responded on 23 December by denying that TSMC was the reason the country was seeking reunification with Taiwan.

But the plan’s not that crazy for two reasons: China is desperate for the computer brains and the tactic has been used before. Sweden made a similar threat during the Second World War regarding iron ore mines to keep the Nazis out.

As for China’s struggle in the global chip drought, the US has continually found ways to starve China of semiconductor technology, including trade sanctions and blocking mergers involving Chinese companies.

The plan seems to be working. China decided it wanted to be 70 per cent self-sufficient when it comes to semiconductors by 2025. In February 2020, less than 6 per cent of the silicon the Middle Kingdom needed was made domestically.

Although the paper may be an endorsement of this strategy from the two authors, it is not one from the US military. The publication is described as “a refereed forum for contemporary strategy and landpower issues” that “furthers the education and professional development of senior military officers and members of government and academia concerned with national security affairs.”

The second through 10th most downloaded papers for the year can be found here. ®