Ian Easton on Taiwan: America should put military forces in Taiwan

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Now is the time for Washington and Taipei to take Taiwan’s defense seriously. As the eyes of the world are on the rapid spread of a mysterious strain of coronavirus, there is another incubating threat in China that could end up being much more deadly if strong compensatory measures are not taken quickly.

The Chinese Communist Party has made it clear that it is on a collision course with the free people of Taiwan and its democratic government. With each passing year, the risk increases that Beijing decides to pull the trigger. Neither America nor Taiwan seems to have a realistic strategy for responding to an all-out Chinese attack. The two countries have defense plans to increase the costs China would have to incur to conquer Taiwan, and there is no doubt that they could wage a bloody war of resistance, but these defense plans are said to be uncoordinated, underfunded. and uncertain. No one seems to know how they would actually win the war. Sinking the first few hundred ships to cross the Taiwan Strait is necessary, but barely sufficient, for victory.

The most realistic and cost-effective way to ensure that China never breaks the peace is to do something that has long seemed unthinkable: place US forces in Taiwan as a strategic trigger. A modest mix of soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines would probably suffice, perhaps a thousand in total. To avoid giving China a pretext to trigger a crisis (which it is likely to do anyway), the Pentagon can think creatively, deploying forces on a rotating, not permanent basis for missions. education, training and liaison. Small units could arrive with a bang and establish themselves over several years.

Of course, doing something like that wouldn’t be politically appealing. Yet the tragedies of history show why it makes no sense for status quo democracies to tolerate the military balance so far tilting in favor of a vengeful neighbor. We have seen this movie and know how it ends. We also have the added benefit of the Chinese leadership telling us how they plan to end it. President Xi Jinping (ç¿’è¿‘å¹³) has publicly stated that Taiwan’s subjugation is essential for China’s rise to power. Flush with ill-gotten capital and stolen Western technology, the Chinese military is preparing for the invasion. Beijing recently announced that it will wear bulletproof vests to more than a million troops in anticipation of a future ground war against Taiwan and the United States.

With the grim facts ahead, America and Taiwan must prepare for the worst. It requires doing things that the Chinese Communist leadership hates and fear. Placing American forces on the island is one of those options. There are others that deserve careful exploration as well. There are at least three alternative paths the United States should consider.

First, the United States could dramatically improve its diplomatic treatment of Taiwan. The US government could revisit its outdated Taiwanese policy and come up with a game plan to treat the Republic of China, Taiwan, as the free and sovereign country that it really is and has been for 70 years. In this scenario, the President of the United States would meet with the President of Taiwan and the two would sign a historic joint communiqué. By welcoming Taiwan into the international community, America would mark its determination to guarantee the survival of the island. Of course, a rock-solid advocacy commitment might become necessary to ensure that the message does not invite any misunderstanding.

Second, Washington could avoid the art of government and diplomacy in favor of a purely military solution. The United States could dramatically increase its forward-deployed defense position all around Taiwan. In this scenario, the US military would spend considerable sums to make its Pacific forces more ready and resilient to fight their Chinese adversaries. The Pentagon would develop a well-oiled and coordinated war plan with the Taiwanese and Japanese armies to sink the Chinese fleet in the early days of the conflict and then wage a long war of attrition. Intensive military exercises and training among de facto allies would become routine, as would joint Taiwan Strait patrols.

Third, the United States could try to transform Taiwan into a modern-day Sparta, quietly helping the island develop a large standing army, a two-year mandatory military conscription, and a massive and well-trained reserve force. In this scenario, a loan-lease type arrangement would be worked out to provide Taiwan with a huge influx of modern equipment and training. Long-range land attack cruise missiles and ballistic missiles would be deployed by the thousands on mobile launchers. Men and women would have their weapons locked up in their homes, ready to assemble at any time. Obviously, this would require a complete reengineering of Taiwanese society. In the absence of a 9/11-type crisis, Taiwanese voters are unlikely to support anything like this.

The advantage of putting a small number of US military forces in Taiwan is that it mixes the positives of the above three paths, while avoiding their potential pitfalls. It would be a sign of political courage, without requiring a sudden and radical overhaul of US-Taiwan relations. This would improve US military readiness, without requiring increased defense spending. It would increase Taiwanese capabilities, while respecting the will of Taiwanese voters. Better yet, it would allow US policymakers to act boldly, correcting the strategic imbalance while there is still time.

Ian Easton is a researcher at the Project 2049 Institute and author of The Chinese Invasion Threat: Taiwan’s Defense and American Strategy in Asia (中共 攻台 大 解密).

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