January 26, 2022

How the Computer Chip Shortage Could Incite a U.S. Conflict With China

Featuring Martijn Rasser, and Becca Wasser

Source: The New York Times

Journalist Julian E. Barnes

The war game scenario conducted by a Washington think tank began with a sudden failure at three Taiwanese semiconductor foundries that make high-end computer chips used in such items as smartphones, automobiles and military equipment.

The halt in production raised questions of whether a cyberattack by Beijing was responsible — touching off an international crisis between China and the United States that the researchers said could grind the global economy to a halt and incite a military confrontation.

The war game and study by the Center for a New American Security, which is set to be released on Thursday, illustrate how dependent the world is on Taiwanese computer chips — and how that dependence could draw the United States and China into various kinds of conflict.

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Becca Wasser, who helped design and lead the scenario, said that while many war games were conducted to study China, most focused on conventional military threats, giving short shrift to the many ways China could exert pressure on Taiwan.

And countering those pressure points could be difficult, especially if the United States and Taiwan were at odds over the best strategy. In the scenario, the U.S. team presumed the Taiwan team would go along with its strategies to counter China. But Taiwan’s interest sometimes led it to cross-purposes. For example, when the United States wanted to bring semiconductor engineers to the safety of America, Taiwan resisted, worried about a brain drain.

“Whatever the United States tried to do by itself in the game really fell flat,” Ms. Wasser said. “We have seen a variety of examples of that in real life.”

As a result, multilateral responses and global efforts to build resiliency in the supply chain for computer chips are most likely the best strategy, the report said.

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Martijn Rasser, a co-author of the study and a former C.I.A. analyst, said it was crucial for the international community to convince Taiwan that its shield strategy needed to be internationalized. “The long-term play has to be a geographic dispersal of those capabilities out of Taiwan in exchange for enhanced security guarantees for the island,” he said.

Read the full story and more from The New York Times.

Authors

  • Martijn Rasser

    Senior Fellow and Director, Technology and National Security Program

    Martijn Rasser is a Senior Fellow and Director of the Technology and National Security Program at CNAS. Prior to joining CNAS, Rasser served as a senior intelligence officer a...

  • Becca Wasser

    Fellow, Defense Program

    Becca Wasser is a Fellow for the Defense Program and co-lead of The Gaming Lab at CNAS. Her research areas include defense strategy, force design, strategic and operational pl...