Geopolitical Threat Modeling
Models and Premises
Of course there is a plethora of theoretical models that aim to predict the behavior of major geopolitical players. These models use various approaches, from qualitative assessments to quantitative data analysis, to better understand and predict the actions of states and non-state actors in the international system. Some of the most prominent models include:
Realism: This theory posits that states are the primary actors in international relations, and their behavior is driven by self-interest and the pursuit of power. Realist models assume that states act rationally and focus on the balance of power to predict the likelihood of conflict or cooperation.
Liberalism: This approach emphasizes the role of international institutions, democracy, and economic interdependence in shaping state behavior. It suggests that countries with shared values and economic ties are less likely to engage in conflict, and more likely to cooperate on global issues.
Constructivism: This model emphasizes the role of ideas, norms, and identity in shaping state behavior. It argues that state actions are influenced by their perception of themselves and others, as well as the norms and values that guide their interactions.
Game theory: This mathematical approach is used to model strategic interactions between states, assuming that they act rationally and seek to maximize their own interests. It can be applied to various geopolitical scenarios, such as deterrence, arms races, and alliance formation.
Complex systems theory: This approach examines the behavior of geopolitical players through the lens of complexity science. It looks at how individual actors and their interactions create emergent patterns and outcomes, focusing on the nonlinear, adaptive, and self-organizing nature of the international system.
Agent-based modeling: This computational method simulates the behavior of individual actors or agents within a given system. It allows researchers to explore the emergence of macro-level patterns and outcomes from the interactions of numerous actors with different goals and strategies.
Please note that the scenario provided here is purely hypothetical and should not be taken as a prediction or assessment of any real-world situation. The purpose of this exercise is to explore a theoretical chain of events and the potential consequences of such a scenario.
Political tensions: A deterioration of relations between China and Taiwan due to disagreements over the "One China" policy, Taiwan's international status, or domestic political developments in Taiwan could contribute to an escalation of hostilities. This could be further exacerbated by increased diplomatic support for Taiwan from countries like the United States and Japan.
Military build-up: China might gradually increase its military presence in the East and South China Sea, near Taiwan, under the pretext of conducting exercises or ensuring regional stability. This military build-up could include the deployment of additional troops, naval assets, aircraft, and missile systems, potentially raising concerns among the United States and its allies in the region.
Information warfare and propaganda: China could intensify its information warfare campaign, aimed at discrediting the Taiwanese government, spreading disinformation, and fomenting divisions within Taiwan and among its international supporters.
Cyber attacks: In the weeks or days leading up to an invasion, China might carry out cyber attacks targeting Taiwan's critical infrastructure, such as power grids, communication networks, and government systems. These attacks could disrupt the country's ability to respond effectively to an invasion and sow confusion among the population.
Covert operations: Chinese intelligence agencies might increase their covert activities in Taiwan, including the infiltration of agents, sabotage, and targeted assassinations of key political or military figures.
Blockade or limited military actions: China might first try to force Taiwan's capitulation by implementing a naval blockade, conducting limited airstrikes on strategic targets, or seizing smaller outlying islands. These actions could be designed to pressure Taiwan without triggering a full-scale conflict with the United States and its allies.
Invasion: Using the aforementioned actions as a pretext, China might launch a full-scale invasion of Taiwan, potentially under the guise of a reunification or peacekeeping mission. The invasion could be carried out by air, sea, and land, with Chinese forces aiming to quickly seize key cities, infrastructure, and military assets.
International response: Such an invasion would likely trigger a strong international response, including condemnation, sanctions, and potential military support for Taiwan by the United States and its allies. This could result in a protracted conflict and increased tensions between China and the West, potentially escalating into a broader regional or even global conflict.
In this hypothetical scenario, the risk of a potential invasion of Taiwan by China would be significantly increased due to the heightened political tensions and provocative actions. However, it is essential to remember that predicting the specific timeframe for an invasion or assessing the probability with certainty is extremely difficult, given the complex and fluid nature of geopolitical situations.
Several factors would need to be considered in evaluating the risk and possible timeframe for an invasion in this scenario:
Military movements and preparations: Monitoring China's military activities around Taiwan, such as naval and air force deployments, troop movements, and logistical preparations, would be crucial in assessing the risk of an invasion. An increase in such activities may indicate a higher likelihood of military action in the near term.
Diplomatic efforts and communication: The level of diplomatic communication and efforts to resolve tensions between China, Taiwan, and the United States would also play a significant role. If diplomatic efforts are ongoing and channels of communication remain open, it may suggest that there is still room for negotiation and a potential peaceful resolution.
International response and alliances: The stance of other countries, particularly the United States and its allies in the region, would be an essential factor to consider. If these countries express strong support for Taiwan and indicate their willingness to intervene militarily, it may deter China from pursuing an invasion or delay its plans.
Domestic factors within China: The Chinese government's internal considerations, such as public opinion, economic stability, and political dynamics, may also influence the risk and timeframe of an invasion. If the Chinese leadership perceives that it has strong domestic support and can withstand potential economic repercussions, it may be more inclined to take military action.
Potential triggers or catalysts: In addition to the existing tensions, specific events or incidents could serve as triggers or catalysts for an invasion. These might include violent clashes between Chinese and Taiwanese forces, a significant political change in Taiwan, or further escalations in diplomatic disputes.
Inferring an Invasion Plan
In a hypothetical scenario where China aims to avoid nuclear escalation and minimize damage to Taiwan's strategic economic resources (such as TSMC manufacturing plants), an invasion plan could include the following elements:
Limited and precise military objectives: China may focus on achieving specific military objectives, such as quickly seizing control of key government institutions, military installations, and transportation infrastructure, while avoiding extensive destruction of civilian infrastructure and economic assets.
Rapid and overwhelming force: To minimize the duration of the conflict and reduce the chances of escalation, China might deploy a large, well-coordinated force, combining air, sea, and land elements. The objective would be to quickly overpower Taiwan's defenses, neutralize its military capabilities, and establish control over the island.
Special operations and covert actions: China could use special operations forces and covert agents to infiltrate Taiwan before the invasion. These forces could focus on intelligence gathering, sabotage, and targeted strikes against key military and political targets to weaken Taiwan's ability to respond effectively to an invasion.
Cyber and electronic warfare: China might launch cyber attacks and engage in electronic warfare to disrupt Taiwan's command and control systems, communication networks, and critical infrastructure. This could create confusion, hinder Taiwan's ability to coordinate its defenses, and reduce the need for extensive kinetic attacks on strategic targets.
Psychological operations and information warfare: China could engage in psychological operations and information warfare to undermine the morale of Taiwan's population and military, spread disinformation, and sow confusion. This could facilitate a quicker surrender or capitulation by Taiwan, reducing the need for prolonged conflict and minimizing damage to strategic assets.
Blockade and isolation: China might impose a naval blockade and restrict airspace access to Taiwan, aiming to cut off supplies and reinforcements from the outside world. This could pressure Taiwan into submission without the need for extensive military action or the destruction of economic resources.
Post-invasion management: In the event of a successful invasion, China would likely implement a plan to restore order, rebuild damaged infrastructure, and integrate Taiwan's economy and society into the mainland. This could involve offering incentives to retain skilled workers and key industries, such as TSMC, to maintain Taiwan's economic value.
Based on these assessments, we can posit a hypothetical timeline of events:
- China conducts a massive cyber attack on Taiwan's critical infrastructure, including power grids, communication networks, and government systems, disrupting the country's ability to respond effectively and sowing confusion.
- Chinese special operations forces and covert agents, who have infiltrated Taiwan, launch targeted strikes against key military installations, government facilities, and transportation hubs, further weakening Taiwan's defenses.
- Chinese aircraft and missile systems enforce a strict no-fly zone over Taiwan, grounding the Taiwanese Air Force and limiting the ability of allies to provide aerial support.
- China imposes a naval blockade around Taiwan, cutting off supplies and reinforcements from the outside world.
- China commences a massive information warfare campaign to spread disinformation, undermine morale, and sow confusion among Taiwan's population and military.
- In a coordinated air, sea, and land assault, China deploys a large and overwhelming force to quickly seize control of key locations in Taiwan, including major cities, military installations, and transportation infrastructure.
- Taiwan attempts to mount a defense, relying on its remaining military assets and mobilizing reserve forces, but struggles due to the initial cyber attacks and covert actions by Chinese forces.
- The United States, Japan, and other regional allies begin to mobilize their forces in response to the invasion. However, they face challenges in coordinating a rapid and effective response due to the suddenness and scale of China's actions.
- The international community condemns China's invasion, with countries around the world implementing economic sanctions and diplomatic measures against China.
- Taiwan continues to resist the invasion, with pockets of resistance engaging in urban and guerrilla warfare against Chinese forces. However, the overwhelming force of the Chinese military makes it difficult for Taiwan to regain control of key strategic locations.
- The United States and its allies struggle to find an appropriate response that would effectively support Taiwan without escalating the conflict into a full-scale war with China.
- As China consolidates control over Taiwan, it begins to implement plans to restore order, rebuild damaged infrastructure, and integrate Taiwan's economy and society into the mainland.
- Negotiations and diplomatic efforts between China, the United States, and other involved parties commence, with the goal of finding a resolution to the conflict and avoiding further escalation.
At this stage in the hypothetical scenario, the prospect of a negotiated peace would likely be challenging but not impossible. Given the complex and intertwined nature of the conflicts involving multiple nations and interests, diplomatic efforts would require extensive negotiation and compromise to reach a resolution. Here are some potential points of discussion and concessions that could be made to reach a peace agreement:
Confidence-building measures: Establish a series of mutual actions designed to reduce tensions, increase transparency, and foster trust between the involved parties. This could include joint military exercises, regular diplomatic consultations, and the establishment of hotlines for communication during crises.
Economic incentives: Offer economic incentives to Russia and China, such as lifting or reducing existing sanctions, increasing trade, or providing financial assistance for infrastructure and development projects, in exchange for a peaceful resolution to the conflicts.
Security guarantees: Provide security guarantees to both Russia and China, such as non-aggression pacts or agreements not to expand NATO further towards Russia's borders, in exchange for their withdrawal from the disputed territories.
Regional autonomy: In territories such as Ukraine and Taiwan, consider proposals for increased regional autonomy or special administrative arrangements that would allow for a degree of self-governance while still respecting the territorial integrity of the countries involved.
Multilateral diplomacy: Involve international organizations such as the United Nations, the European Union, and other regional organizations in the peace process, to ensure that any agreements reached have broad international support and legitimacy.
Incremental agreements: Aim for smaller, incremental agreements that address specific aspects of the conflicts, such as ceasefires, humanitarian corridors, and prisoner exchanges, as a way to build momentum towards a comprehensive peace agreement.
Third-party mediation: Seek the assistance of neutral third-party countries or organizations to act as mediators in the negotiations, helping to bridge the gaps between the various parties and facilitate dialogue.
The fact that Russia and China would have already been subjected to maximum sanctions and are involved in multiple conflicts might limit the incentives they have to engage in negotiations. In this context, their Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA) would be to continue with military actions.
However, there are still some factors that could influence Russia's and China's willingness to negotiate:
Cost of ongoing conflicts: Prolonged military engagements can take a significant toll on a country's economy, military, and domestic stability. As the conflicts continue, Russia and China might face increasing pressure from their populations and elites to seek a peaceful resolution.
International isolation: As conflicts continue, Russia and China could become increasingly isolated on the international stage. This isolation could have long-term implications for their global influence and ability to achieve their strategic objectives.
Risk of further escalation: As the conflicts drag on, there is a risk of further escalation, potentially involving the use of nuclear weapons or drawing in additional countries. This could have devastating consequences for all parties involved, making a negotiated resolution more appealing.
Potential for internal unrest: Prolonged conflicts can lead to domestic unrest, especially if the population starts to question the rationale behind the conflicts and the costs they impose on the country. Internal pressure could force the governments of Russia and China to consider a negotiated settlement.
Economic recovery: While the global economic situation may already be in decline, a peaceful resolution to the conflicts could open up opportunities for economic recovery and development, both for Russia and China and for the rest of the world.
It is essential to remember that this analysis is based on a hypothetical scenario and should not be taken as a prediction or assessment of any real-world situation. In any conflict, diplomatic efforts should always be pursued to resolve disputes peacefully and avoid catastrophic outcomes.
Continued Escalation Timeline
Barring any progress in negotiations, our timeline might progress as follows:
- Diplomatic efforts stall, with no breakthroughs or meaningful progress in negotiations between China, the United States, and other involved parties.
- Australia, Japan, and the Philippines offer assistance to the remaining Taiwanese military forces, providing material support, intelligence, and potentially deploying their own troops for limited operations.
- Tensions rise further as Chinese warships mistakenly fire on and sink a US vessel, resulting in significant casualties and further complicating the conflict.
- The United States and its allies condemn China's actions, demanding an immediate explanation and accountability for the incident.
- The United States increases its military presence in the region, with more warships, aircraft, and troops being deployed to support Taiwan and deter further Chinese aggression.
- China, in response, strengthens its military posture around Taiwan, reinforcing its naval blockade and airspace restrictions.
- Despite the rising tensions, back-channel diplomatic efforts continue in an attempt to de-escalate the situation and prevent a full-scale war between China and the United States and its allies.
- The United Nations and other international organizations call for an immediate ceasefire and a return to negotiations to resolve the conflict peacefully.
- As the situation remains volatile, the United States and its allies, including Australia, Japan, and the Philippines, coordinate limited military operations to support Taiwan's remaining forces and provide humanitarian assistance to the Taiwanese population.
- China continues to consolidate its control over Taiwan, facing ongoing resistance from local militias and remnants of the Taiwanese military, supported by international allies.
- The international community remains on edge, as the risk of further escalation between China and the United States and its allies remains high. Intense diplomatic efforts are ongoing behind the scenes to find a resolution to the crisis and prevent a larger regional or global conflict.
- Taiwan's situation becomes increasingly dire, with the population facing shortages of essential supplies and infrastructure damage due to the ongoing conflict.
Nuclear Escalation Risks
It is essential to emphasize that the use of nuclear weapons in any conflict would have catastrophic consequences, and states with nuclear capabilities generally strive to avoid scenarios that could lead to nuclear escalation. Circumstances that might increase the risk of nuclear escalation include:
Miscommunication or misunderstanding: In a high-tension situation, misinterpretation of another state's intentions or actions could lead to miscalculations and overreactions, potentially triggering a nuclear response.
First strike concerns: A state may fear that its adversary is preparing for a nuclear first strike and decide to launch a preemptive strike to prevent or minimize the damage from the perceived attack.
Escalation during conventional conflict: A conventional conflict might escalate to a point where one side feels that its survival is at stake, leading it to resort to nuclear weapons as a last resort to deter further aggression or achieve a decisive victory.
Loss of control over nuclear weapons: A state's command and control systems might be compromised, either through cyber attacks or internal sabotage, leading to the unauthorized or accidental launch of nuclear weapons.
Unintended signaling: A state might inadvertently signal its willingness to use nuclear weapons through actions such as raising the alert level of its nuclear forces, leading its adversary to perceive an increased risk of a nuclear attack and potentially respond with a nuclear strike.
Proxy conflicts: Regional conflicts involving nuclear-armed states or their allies could lead to a larger confrontation between nuclear powers, increasing the risk of nuclear escalation.
Breakdown of deterrence: A failure of nuclear deterrence, either due to a lack of communication, misperception of intentions, or technological advancements that undermine the effectiveness of second-strike capabilities, could increase the likelihood of nuclear escalation.