Then What? | 2021 | Events

Then What? Assessing the Strategic Implications of Chinese Control of Taiwan
Caitlin Talmadge
Caitlin Talmadge
Georgetown University
November 10, 2021


This project, co-authored with Professor Brendan Green of the University of Cincinnati, analyzes the strategic implications of Chinese control of Taiwan, a curiously understudied topic given Taiwan’s location at the center of the first island chain. We argue that control of Taiwan would endow China with a host of geostrategic opportunities that could substantially improve China’s ability to contest U.S. command of the Philippine Sea. Such an ability would be strategically consequential for U.S.-Chinese competition after reunification. We identify three classes of military assets—aircraft, submarines, and underwater sensors—whose deployment on or near Taiwan, rather than the mainland, would render them significantly more effective. We use qualitative analysis and quantitative modeling to assess whether and to what degree such deployments might generate advantages for China in the areas of air warfare, undersea warfare, and ocean surveillance. We then evaluate the potential strategic implications of these operational-level changes. Overall, we find that Chinese control of Taiwan would be a uniformly negative military development for the United States, although exactly how negative in operational terms, and how consequential in strategic and political terms, would depend on other choices made by both countries. This finding has major implications for U.S. operational planning, policy, and grand strategy.


Caitlin Talmadge is Associate Professor of Security Studies in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, as well as Senior Non-Resident Fellow in Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution and Research Affiliate in the MIT Security Studies Program.

Professor Talmadge’s research and teaching focus on defense policy, civil-military relations, U.S. military operations and strategy, deterrence and escalation, and security issues in Asia and the Persian Gulf. She is author of the award-winning book, The Dictator’s Army: Battlefield Effectiveness in Authoritarian Regimes (Cornell, 2015), and co-author of U.S. Defense Politics: The Origins of Security Policy (Routledge, 2021), with Harvey Sapolsky and Eugene Gholz, now in its fourth edition. Dr. Talmadge is currently writing a book on the role of nuclear escalation risk in world politics with Brendan Green, and they are also in the final stages of a two-year study examining the strategic military implications of potential Chinese control of Taiwan.

Dr. Talmadge is a graduate of Harvard (A.B., Government, summa cum laude) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Ph.D., Political Science). Her work has received funding from the Department of Defense, the Carnegie Corporation, the Smith Richardson Foundation, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Stanton Foundation, among others. Previously, she worked as a researcher at the Center for Strategic and International Studies; a consultant to the Office of Net Assessment at the U.S. Department of Defense; and a professor at the George Washington University. For more information please visit or follow her on Twitter @ProfTalmadge.