With ongoing speculations of an invasion of Taiwan by China, ranging from sovereignty to reunification to strategic motives, coped by factors such weak American cross-strait deterrence, Xi Jinping’s nationalistic policies, and a closing window of opportunity, the probability of an attack increases. 1 Modern industrial environments foster strategic attacks to impede production means, thereby threatening the economy. A by-product of an industrial attack is not solely economic; it is environmental. The question, then, becomes one focused on the environmental implications of chemical factory attacks. Factories, namely chemical factories, store hazardous materials to enrich and process resources, which, if bombed, may release grand explosions causing chemical spills, leaks, wide range fires, and long-term ecological damage. Given the demographic dispersal of Taiwanese factories (see Figure 1) and the population density of the area, Taiwan must be prepared to respond to this type of ecological emergency.
Modern examples of chemical disasters include the Texas City disaster (1947), the Bhopal disaster (1984), and the Tianjin explosion (2015), highlighting the precedence of accounting for the harm of industrial accidents and contingency planning. Although these incidents are not products of military strategies, their range of effect provides for valuable consideration for buffering against alluring incentives. The omission of cases, such as the Minamata incidence, derives from intended harm versus human error resulting in ecological and anthropogenic damages. The Texas City disaster demonstrated the range of effect of chemical incidence, outcompeting damages induced by oil spills, with the release of 900 tones of ammonium nitrate fertilizer. 2 It killed 581 and injured over 5’000 citizens, releasing the accompanied ammonium with 1’800 tons of sulfur in the atmosphere. 3 Negligence of the safety temperature of the cargo and the poor extinguishing of the morning fire, from behalf of the capitaine of the ship, resulted in two massive explosions in the Grand camp. 4 From an ecological perspective, the damage focused on the impact on landscape, infrastructure, and individual health engendering a rise in cardiovascular health problems (CVD), stress, and other health concerns.
Correspondingly, the Bhopal disaster of 1984 illustrates the socio-political, socio-environmental and the range of effects on the ecology and human population. Some scholars argue that allotment of technologies to developing countries increases the probabilities of chemical accidents, however, the problems lie in the relationship between man and machine. The failure of the cooling systems, increasing the temperature and pressure of the methyl isocyanate gas (MIC), was the cause of the gas leak; it was unintentional and a product of human error. The plant released 40 tons of MIC, killing over 3’800, injuring 500’000, and engendering between 10’000 to 15’000 premature deaths over a span of twenty years. 6 Widespread panic led to waves of migration to other areas, as the gas asphyxiated dwellers indiscriminately. From the ecological perspective, the gas contaminated the soil and water, affecting agricultural production and the local ecosystems.7 The plant contained other toxic chemicals such as chloroform, carbon tetrachloride, and other volatile organic compounds. With their release in the atmosphere and infiltration into the water and soil, consumption and production within the region became unsafe. It meant a relocation of livestock local agricultural practices elsewhere.
Moreover, the Tianjin explosion of 2015, in China, injuring hundreds and killing over 170, led to the release of nitrate, sulfuric acid, ammonium, benzene, cyanide, etc., affecting the Bohai Sea and nearby ecosystem. 8 It released into the water, soil, and air causing widespread contamination and impacting the health of citizens. The most impactful environmental implication is the persistent life cycle of the released gasses into the atmosphere. These impact emission objectives and, their infiltration into the soil and water, impedes on production systems.
Logically, pre-emptive planning including emergency response plan, disaster management infrastructure and initiatives, emergency training and preparation drills, emergency supplies, military, and chemical simulations scenarios, etc. are pathways to reduce the impact of environmental implications of bombed chemical factories in the instance of an invasion. The rational derives from speculations of Chinese capabilities to attack momentarily. Additionally, to national preparations, Taiwan must engage in international preparations. An act prohibiting ecological warfare would be advantageous for the tripartite given the volatility of the range of environmental damages. Importance for Western allies centers on Chinese deterrence, therefore requiring greater American engagement in the Straits than previous years, to manage civilians, military casualties, and safeguard international markets. Western deterrence presumably focuses on media demonstration of a strong commitment to defending, aiding, and punishing the invasion of Taiwan by involving multi-national, diplomatic, and economic participation to disincentivize aggressive Chinese action. Although, based on Chinese historical behaviour, the probability of a first strike is very low, but not implausible given the belief that Taiwan is a Chinese province. If the latter interpretation withstands, the Chinese government will engage in the same fashion as it does at home; violently.
Other pre-emptive methods include increasing security and military forces, include strengthening its military and security forces, developing international partnerships, promoting economic development, enhancing intelligence and surveillance capabilities, etc. Again, increase either of the latter does not guard against nor reduce the risk of targeting chemical factories in Taiwan, it simply reduces domestic damage by increasing preparedness. Consequently, an increase in domestic preparedness entails more efficient safety regulations, environmental protection acts and regulations, greater dialogue and cooperation, and better resilience building. Thus, these initiatives reduce the range of effect of environmental consequences of being victim to ecological warfare tactics and reduce human error. Furthermore, the aggregated data demonstrates, in Figure 1, the correlation between population density and factory locations. Its importance derives from anticipated damages and the severe threat of the range of effect as the factories are in densely populated regions. An explosion, clustered within the population, would cause a chain reaction. Another conundrum is the damage to the coast regions and the agricultural regions located on the flat areas near the coast. Maritime biodiversity is at risk, more than terrestrial biodiversity as the forested regions are on the other side of the island.
Implementing policy prescription aids with directing Taiwan away from unpreparedness errors by strengthening military and security capabilities, implementing safety regulations, promoting economic development, enhancing intelligence and surveillance capabilities, and developing international partnerships. Maintaining friendly liaisons with China and Western allies strengthens Taiwan’s diplomatic power and grants it sovereignty over decision-making rather than strictly relying on a singular external agent (i.e. United States).
Briefly, the anticipated invasion of Taiwan poses serious environmental implications for consideration, thereby requiring preparedness programs. The international uproar an invasion would cause from a strategic and environmental perspective would result in status quo and diplomatic conundrums. By preparing, based on the empirical cases’ effects, a program with Western allies and China, environmental damages may be reduced. Thus, developing the necessary capabilities, Taiwan will better protect itself and its people from the potential consequences of ecological warfare.
- Scott L. Kastner, War and Peace in the Taiwan Strait (New York: Columbia University Press, 2022), 15.
- Hugh W. Stephens, “The Texas City Disaster: A Re-Examination”, Industrial & Environmental Crisis Quarterly 7, no. 3 (1993), 191.
- Yang, X. Dinh et al., “Common Lessons Learned From An Analysis of Multiple Case Histories”, Process Safety Progress 30, no. 2 (2009): 45.
- Maryam Hussain et al. “”Psychosocial stressors predict lower cardiovascular disease risk among Mexican-American adults living in a high-risk community: Findings from the Texas City Stress and Health Study.” Plos one 16, no. 10 (2021): 1.
- Edward Broughton, “The Bhopal Disaster and Its Aftermath: A Review”, Environmental Health: A Global Access Science Source 4, no.6 (2016):2.
- Ibid, 4.
- Zong Zheng et al. “Impact of an Accidental Explosion in Tianjin Port on Enhanced Atmospheric Nitrogen Deposition Over the Bohai Sea Inferred from Aerosol Nitrate Dual Isotopes”, Atmospheric and Oceanic Science Letters 13, no.3 (2020): 195-196.