June 22, 2022

New CNAS Report: "Dangerous Straits: Wargaming a Future Conflict over Taiwan"

By Stacie Pettyjohn, Becca Wasser, and Chris Dougherty

Washington, June 22, 2022—In a new CNAS report, "Dangerous Straits: Wargaming a Future Conflict over Taiwan," authors Stacie Pettyjohn, Becca Wasser, and Chris Dougherty, outline findings from a recent strategic-operational wargame exploring a fictional war between China and the United States over Taiwan, set in 2027.

The wargame, hosted by the Gaming Lab at CNAS, in partnership with NBC’s Meet the Press, illuminated the dilemmas that U.S. and Chinese policymakers might face if China were to invade Taiwan, along with the strategies they might adopt to achieve their overarching objectives.

"A conflict over Taiwan may quickly lead to consequences far beyond what Beijing and Washington intend," write the authors. "The wargame demonstrated how quickly a conflict could escalate, with both China and the United States crossing red lines."

The wargame indicated a protracted conflict rather than a short war is likely if China decides to invade Taiwan. Neither side felt as though it had lost, but both had depleted their missile inventories, sustained significant losses, and still needed to resupply and rearm forces under attack. Preventing China from a quick triumph over Taipei did not equate to an American and Taiwanese victory.

Drawing from the findings of the wargame, the authors assert that the United States and its allies and partners must take several steps to change the Indo-Pacific military balance in their favor to deter China from invading Taiwan and prevent war. These steps include the following:

  • The U.S. Department of Defense should make sustained investments in long-range precision-guided weapons and undersea capabilities, while also enhancing the resiliency of its posture in the Indo-Pacific region and deepening planning with key allies and partners.
  • The U.S. Department of Defense should plan for a protracted conflict and develop ways to reduce the risks of inadvertent escalation with a nuclear armed China.
  • The U.S. Congress should enable key improvements in the Indo-Pacific through the Pacific Deterrence Initiative and should help shape Taiwan's military posture.
  • Taiwan must improve its defensive capabilities by investing in asymmetric, resilient, and attritable capabilities; increasing training for its active and reserve forces; and by stockpiling key weapons and supplies.

For more information or to schedule an interview with the report authors, please contact Cameron Edinburgh at cedinburgh@cnas.org


Authors

  • Stacie Pettyjohn

    Senior Fellow and Director, Defense Program

    Stacie Pettyjohn is a Senior Fellow and Director of the Defense Program at CNAS. Her areas of expertise include defense strategy, posture, force planning, the defense budget, ...

  • Becca Wasser

    Senior Fellow, Defense Program

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

  • Chris Dougherty

    Adjunct Senior Fellow, Defense Program

    Chris Dougherty is an Adjunct Senior Fellow for the Defense Program at CNAS. His primary areas of research include defense strategy, operational concepts, and force planning. ...