The China‐​Taiwan Military Balance: Implications for the United States

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China's economy is four times the size ofTaiwan's and apparently growing at a fasterrate; that economic disparity betweenChina and Taiwan could eventually lead toa military disparity as well. Nonetheless,even an informal U.S. security guarantee forTaiwan against nuclear-armed China is ill-advised.Taiwan is not strategically essentialto America's national security. Moreover,China has significant incentives to avoidattacking Taiwan. Perhaps the most crucialis that hostile behavior toward Taiwanwould jeopardize China's increasing economiclinkage with the United States andother key countries.

Taiwan has several military advantagesthat it could exploit. First, Taiwan coulduse a "porcupine" strategy to deter China—Taiwan does not need to be able to win aconflict with a more powerful China; itneeds only to inflict unacceptable damageon Chinese forces. Second, Taiwan wouldhave the advantage of defending an islandagainst an amphibious attack—an attackthat is extremely hard to execute successfully.Prospects for a successful defense areenhanced because China would be unlikelyto have strategic surprise; air or navalsupremacy; or sufficient landing forces,fleet air defense, or naval gunfire support.Third, because of current Taiwanese navalsuperiority (including anti-submarine warfarecapabilities) and deficiencies inChinese fleet air defense and command andcontrol, even a partial Chinese naval blockadewould be difficult to carry out. Fourth,Chinese missile strikes on Taiwan could becountered with enhanced passive defensesand retaliatory strikes on the Chinesehomeland by the superior Taiwanese airforce.

Rather than provide an informal securityguarantee to Taiwan, the United Statesshould sell that nation more arms todefend itself. President Bush has authorizedthe sale of more weapons, but Taiwanneeds to spend more on its own defensesand actually buy the needed weapons.

Ivan Eland

Ivan Eland is director of defense policy studies at the Cato Institute and author of Putting "Defense" Back into U.S. Defense Policy: Rethinking U.S. Security in the Post-Cold War World.