The Return of WWII Nuclear Bombers: Tensions Over Taiwan Increase Between US and China
As of fall 2022, nuclear bombers and other nuclear weapons are being deployed to Australia. This move represents the latest US military action in the region, made to counteract China’s growing threat of invasion and annexation of territories in Southeast Asia. In this instance the move is aimed at protecting Taiwan in particular, which is under a growing threat of invasion.
While the B-52 bomber was designed in 1948, it remains in the US arsenal over 76 years later. A veritable flying relic, this innocuous aircraft makes up the backbone of the US’ nuclear bombers.
The total number of bombers deployed is only up to six, but given the potency of the nuclear weapons that are usually stationed with these bombers, this still represents up to six opportunities to use weapons of mass destruction against another country; this was only ever done in World War II against Imperial Japan. The bombers would be an addition to the US’ Pacific Fleet and the hundreds of military bases also stationed throughout Asia. To support the new group of bombers, the US will be building up an air base to enable their deployment from Australia. This move incurs a significant cost to US taxpayers, potentially exceeding $1 billion. However, such an amount is a drop in the bucket compared to the $772 billion total US defense budget. The construction of this permanent infrastructure for the bombers suggests that the increased threat of invasion is more than a transient situation for the region.
This escalation of weaponry comes as an indirect response to the recent reelection of Xi Jinping who will lead the Chinese Communist Party, or CCP, through a third term. Tensions have increased around the country of Taiwan, which mainland China claims is a part of their territory and states the island is neither a country nor a legitimate government. Xi explicitly stated a desire to forcefully integrate it, and even invade Taiwan to quell domestic unrest and cement his legacy. Xi has also faced immense domestic pressure over Covid measures in the past couple years.
Though the CCP never owned the island of Taiwan, The Chinese Communist Party still claims that Taiwan is an inalienable part of the mainland. However, Taiwan has been a separate country since they lost the Chinese Civil War against the communist forces of Mao Zedong. Originally the Republic of China, Taiwan was forced out of the mainland following the successful campaign of Mao which culminated in establishing the People’s Republic of China in 1949. While not an end to the civil war, the lack of combat therein set a stalemate in which the republican government, having retreated to the island of Taiwan, would remain separate. When it became clear that this government in exile could not take back the mainland, the name and identity slowly shifted away from the Republic of China. Following the establishment of the One China Policy, the Republic of China lost its own name and became Taiwan.
The US and Australia back the independence of Taiwan, primarily through the Quad Alliance. The Quad Alliance refers to the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue which sees the US, Australia, India, and Japan come together in an informal military alliance in order to counteract Chinese aggression in the region. To that end, the US has deployed these bombers, despite having served since just after World War II, due to their immense range, reliability, and ability to deploy nuclear weapons. Ostensibly, both as part of the alliance and to enable future cooperation, Australia has permitted and aided in the stationing of these forces within their territory.
This move by the US government to deploy nuclear bombers on China’s doorstep could trigger an arms race, according to CCP Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian. The Chinese Communist Party blames the US for this trend of rising tension, calling US policy a “zero-sum game” in its approach to the region. The continued deployment of US military assets in the region has forced continued responses by the CCP due to the perceived threat against their sovereignty. However, Chinese hostility in the South China Sea predates this issue, which can be seen in their rejection of international law in the region. Neither is the US exempt of blame for escalating the military tensions in the region, as the US has consistently singled out the Chinese Communist Party and deployed military assets in the region. Tensions remain far from resolved, and the use of military force by both the US and China is likely to continue.