Magazine Article - Foreign Affairs

The Consequences of Conquest: Why Indo-Pacific Power Hinges on Taiwan

| June 16, 2022

Of all the intractable issues that could spark a hot war between the United States and China, Taiwan is at the very top of the list. And the potential geopolitical consequences of such a war would be profound. Taiwan-"an unsinkable aircraft carrier and submarine tender," as U.S. Army General Douglas MacArthur once described it has important, often underappreciated military value as a gateway to the Philippine Sea, a vital theater for defending Japan, the Philippines, and South Korea from possible Chinese coercion or attack. There is no guarantee that China would win a war for the island or that such a conflict wouldn't drag on for years and weaken China. But if Beijing gained control of Taiwan and based military assets there, China's military position would improve markedly.

Beijing's ocean surveillance assets and submarines, in particular, could make control of Taiwan a substantial boon to Chinese military power. Even without any major technological or military leaps, possession of the island would improve China's ability to impede U.S. naval and air operations in the Philippine Sea and thereby limit the United States' ability to defend its Asian allies. And if, in the future, Beijing were to develop a large fleet of quiet nuclear attack submarines and ballistic missile submarines, basing them on Taiwan would enable China to threaten Northeast Asian shipping lanes and strengthen its sea-based nuclear forces.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation:

Brendan Green and Caitlin Talmadge, “The Consequences of Conquest: Why Indo-Pacific Power Hinges on Taiwan,” Foreign Affairs, June 16, 2022,

The Authors

Caitlin Talmadge photo