As the 59th anniversary
of the Cuban missile crisis approaches on
it may be useful to reflect and consider some
strategic similarities, and dissimilarities,
between the U.S.-USSR nuclear confrontation over
Cuba in 1962, and the present China-U.S.
confrontation over Taiwan, that many fear could
escalate into a nuclear World War III.
Cuba and Taiwan: Superpower Confrontation
Ideologically, the takeover of Cuba by communist
revolutionary Fidel Castro in 1959 was perceived
in Washington to be a serious blow to the
credibility of the U.S. and the Free World in
their Cold War struggle against Soviet
communism. Cuba, a free enterprise “wild west”
for U.S. corporations, and in America’s own
backyard, had thrown off “the shackles of
capitalism” to go communist.
Today, Taiwan is literally and figuratively an
island of political and economic freedom, a
prosperous rebuke to communist totalitarianism,
in China’s own backyard.
Far worse from Beijing’s perspective, the
government of Taiwan is descended from
anti-communists who lost the civil war to
control mainland China in 1949. Taiwan’s
government calls itself the “Republic of China”
because they still consider themselves the
legitimate rulers of the mainland, in exile.
The “People’s Republic of China,” as communist
China calls itself, regards Taiwan’s “Republic
of China” as illegitimate, an unconquered pocket
of rebellion, in illegal occupation of communist
China’s island territory of Taiwan.
Worst of all from Beijing’s perspective—Taiwan’s
government poses an existential threat to
communist China. Taiwan could foment
revolution, or someday return from exile with
the backing of the U.S. and allies to takeover
control of the mainland, or so a paranoid
Consequently, China’s ideological and political
interests in conquering Taiwan are far greater
than U.S. interests were or are in ousting
communism from Cuba.
Yet the U.S. did covertly invade Cuba, in the
unsuccessful Bay of Pigs operation, run by the
CIA using an army of Cuban exiles, unsupported
by the U.S. military, so Washington could avoid
looking like an “imperialist” power.
Communist China has no qualms about breaking
international law or making overt military
threats to conquer Taiwan. China has been
constrained from doing so for decades only
because of their insufficient military
capabilities and fear of U.S. intervention.
Cuba and Taiwan: Nuclear Flashpoints
Geostrategically, Cuba and Taiwan are in
analogous situations, island nations next door
to military superpowers, indefensible without a
In 1962, Cuba’s superpower friend was the USSR.
But even the USSR could not project enough naval
strength across the Atlantic to defend Cuba from
the United States.
So Moscow protected Cuba with extended nuclear
deterrence, including by basing nuclear missiles
in Cuba—which also greatly increased the USSR’s
capability to launch a surprise nuclear attack
against the U.S.
So began the Cuban missile crisis (16 October –
20 November 1962), resolved by the USSR’s
humiliating withdrawal of nuclear missiles from
Cuba—compelled by the U.S. having a 5-to-1
advantage in ICBMs and vast superiority in
strategic nuclear bombers.
President Kennedy also secretly agreed to
withdraw U.S. obsolete Jupiter missiles from
Turkey. That the Soviets accepted international
humiliation and kept this part of the deal
secret testifies to the bargaining leverage
afforded by superior U.S. nuclear firepower in
Consequences of U.S. Military and Nuclear
Today, if China attempts to conquer Taiwan, it
will be the U.S., like the USSR in 1962, that
will be militarily disadvantaged.
The Pentagon’s own wargames show the U.S. losing
to China in a conflict over Taiwan.
The Defense Department’s Deputy Chief of Staff
for Strategy, Integration, and Requirements, Lt.
General Sam Hinote, warned recently: “As
Somebody who is cognizant of the evidence at all
classification levels, cognizant of what’s going
on in our exercises…I believe the light is
blinking red…Why? Because it used to be that
when we did future war games, we were having
trouble when we set the war game 5, 10, 15 years
out into the future…But what has changed since
the last time we sat in this building two years
ago, is that it’s not a future problem…It is a
current problem…We are out of time.”
Like the U.S. in 1962, China may soon, if not
already, dominate the nuclear balance.
U.S. STRATCOM Commander, Admiral Charles
Richard, as reported by Bill Gertz in the
Washington Times (12 August 2021), warns China
is building silos for “350-400 new long-range
missiles” like the DF-41 ICBM, that carries 10
warheads. Consequently: “If 10 warheads are
deployed on the DF-41s, China’s warhead level
will increase to 4,000 warheads on the DF-41
4,000 DF-41 ICBM warheads alone would give China
a 10-to-1 advantage over the United States’ 400
ICBM warheads, and nearly a 3-to-1 advantage
over the 1,400 operationally deployed U.S.
strategic nuclear weapons on all ICBMs, SLBMs,
China already has a nuclear first-strike
capability against the U.S. 400 ICBM silos, 3
bomber bases, 2 SSBN ports, and C3I targets
comprising the U.S. nuclear deterrent. China’s
existing DF-41 ICBMs have enough warheads with
yield/accuracy combinations capable of achieving
90% single-shot-kill-probability against the
hardest U.S. targets.
Dr. Mark Schneider, a former senior Defense
Department official and prominent nuclear
strategist, in his excellent article “The
Chinese Nuclear Breakout and the Biden
Administration’s Nuclear Posture Review” (Real
Clear Defense 28 August 2021), makes a
compelling case that U.S. ICBMs and SLBMs lack
yield/accuracy sufficient to destroy China’s
hardest targets, including ICBM silos that may
be hardened to 30,000 psi (U.S. ICBM silos are
hardened to 2,000 psi).
Moreover, U.S. retaliatory capabilities against
counterforce targets in China—including ICBM
silos, missile tunnels, mobile missiles, bomber
and SSBN bases, C3I bunkers, and the 5,000
kilometers long “Underground Great Wall”—are
China, Russia, North Korea: Nuclear Triad
China’s race toward nuclear domination of the
U.S. probably accounts for why Beijing appears
to have retracted its nuclear “No First Use”
Recently, China threatened a nuclear first
strike against Australia for buying U.S.
nuclear-powered (not nuclear-armed) submarines.
In July, an “unofficial” website (Xigua Video)
affiliated with the People’s Liberation Army
--“Now the international situation has
changed dramatically…In order to protect the
peaceful rise of our country, it is necessary to
make limited adjustments to our nuclear policy.”
--“When we liberate Taiwan, if Japan dares to
intervene by force, even if it deploys only one
soldier, one plane and one ship..we will use
nuclear bombs first. We will use nuclear bombs
continuously until Japan declares unconditional
surrender for the second time.”
--“We’ll join force with Russia and North
Korea [to] shoot together to hit the Japanese
mainland thoroughly and in full depth.”
--“After defeating Japan, we must take more
severe measures than in World War II to
partition Japan…by dividing the four Japanese
islands into four independent states…China and
Russia should each formulate its own Peace
Constitution, and each of the four countries
should be placed under the administration of
China and Russia, with China and Russia
Victorious in a nuclear war over Taiwan, would
China be more merciful to its chief opponent,
the United States, than to Japan? In the above,
substitute “Japan” with the “United States” for
the “unofficial” PLA vision of the post-war.
Russia and North Korea have made no official
denial that they would join with China in a
nuclear war against the United States. Indeed,
China, Russia, and North Korea are strategic
partners. China and Russia have conducted major
military exercises together, including at least
one strategic forces exercise postulating a
nuclear war with the U.S. over Taiwan.
In 1962, during the Cuban missile crisis,
President Kennedy did not face a coalition of
three nuclear powers.
China’s most compelling reason for conquering
Taiwan is for ownership of the future—and this
probably makes war inevitable. China needs
Taiwan as an “unsinkable aircraft carrier” to
defend itself and to dominate the South China
Sea and the Pacific. No empire aspiring to
world dominance will tolerate a rival in their
What Is To Be Done?
Given rapidly growing nuclear threats from
China, Russia, North Korea and the proximity of
nuclear confrontation over Taiwan, the Biden
Administration’s failure to publicly spurn
Democrats calling for unilaterally banning U.S.
ICBMs, banning SLCMs, deep reductions in nuclear
weapons, Minimum Deterrence, a U.S. “No First
Use Pledge” etc. etc., is suicidal.
Not only are these anti-nuclear policies
irrational, but their vociferous proposal risks
“sending the wrong message” to China, Russia,
and North Korea at a perilous time. Their
message of weakness, combined with the
Afghanistan debacle, is far worse than Secretary
of State Dean Acheson’s “wrong message” in 1950
that helped start the Korean War.
What is needed is another President John F.
Kennedy or President Ronald Reagan, who invested
in “Peace Through Strength” by building a
nuclear deterrent “second to none,” and who
understood weakness is an invitation to World
War III. President Biden has an opportunity to
follow their good example in the Nuclear Posture
Review and by greatly accelerating and expanding
U.S. nuclear deterrent modernization.
Nuclear strength enabled President Kennedy to
win the Cuban missile crisis without war.
Nuclear strength enabled President Reagan to win
the Cold War peacefully.
U.S. nuclear inferiority will be tantamount to
surrender in the New Cold War.