The U.S. defense relationship with Taiwan is a risky and costly
commitment that has become increasingly difficult to sustain. Barry
Posen of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology put it best when
he wrote, “The U.S. commitment to Taiwan is simultaneously
the most perilous and least strategically necessary commitment that
the United States has today.”1 The United States can and should strive for a
peaceful resolution of the Taiwan dispute, but through means other
than an implicit commitment to use military force to defend the
Washington’s approach to keeping the peace in the Taiwan
Strait during the latter years of Taiwan’s Lee Teng-hui
(1988-2000) and most of the Chen Shui-bian (2000—2008)
administrations was known as “dual deterrence.” Under
dual deterrence the United States issued a combination of warnings
and reassurances to both China and Taiwan to prevent either from
unilaterally changing the status quo.2 America’s overwhelming military
advantage over the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) deterred
China from using military force, while Taiwan moderated its
behavior lest U.S. forces not come to its rescue.3 However, the dual deterrence concept is
ill-suited to the current military environment in the Taiwan
Dual deterrence is no longer viable because the modernization of
the PLA has improved Beijing’s ability to inflict high costs
on U.S. military forces that would come to Taiwan’s aid in
the event of a Chinese invasion attempt.4 The deployment of two U.S. Navy aircraft
carriers to the waters around Taiwan during the 1995-1996 Taiwan
Strait Crisis was a major embarrassment for the PLA, and it has
played an important role in driving China’s military
modernization.5 Improvements in
China’s anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) capabilities have
significantly complicated the ability of the United States to
defend Taiwan by making it difficult for the U.S. Navy and Air
Force to operate in and around the Taiwan Strait.6 According to a recent RAND Corporation study,
“a Taiwan [conflict] scenario will be extremely competitive
by 2017, with China able to challenge U.S. capabilities in a wide
range of areas.”7 This
shifting balance of power strains the credibility of the U.S.
defense commitment to Taiwan by increasing the costs the United
States would have to pay in an armed conflict.
Two additional developments will challenge the cross-strait
peace. First, the period of rapprochement that has characterized
cross-strait relations since 2008 has ended. The former Taiwanese
president, Ma Ying-jeou (2008-2016), championed cross-strait
cooperation and economic linkages that brought a welcome sense of
calm after the tumultuous administrations of Lee and
Chen.8 However, the January 2016
landslide victory of the DPP in both presidential and legislative
elections revealed popular dissatisfaction with Ma’s policies
and a weakening economy.9
President Tsai Ing-wen pledged to maintain peace. But her
unwillingness to declare support for the “1992
Consensus” (simply stated as “one China, different
interpretations”) caused Beijing to suspend communication
between the Taiwan Affairs Office and Taipei’s equivalent, the
Mainland Affairs Council.10 It is
too early to tell how Tsai’s administration and a
DPP-controlled legislature will affect cross-strait relations, but
the relatively high level of cooperation the Ma administration
promoted is likely over.11
Second, China’s slowing economy adds uncertainty to
cross-strait relations. China’s GDP growth rate was 6.9
percent during the first nine months of 2015, well below the
double-digit GDP growth rates of the last couple of
decades.12 Sliding growth and the
resulting social instability could encourage China’s leaders
to behave more aggressively toward Taiwan to bolster domestic
legitimacy and ensure regime survival.13 However, a slowing economy could also
restrict military spending and encourage Chinese policymakers to
avoid big conflicts as they focus on shoring up the economy. At the
very least, China’s economic situation is a source of
uncertainty that was not present when the United States relied on
What approach should the United States take in this shifting
environment? Generally speaking, there are three options for the
United States: it could do more to shore up the defense
relationship with Taiwan and restore its military superiority over
China; sustain a minimum level of military advantage over China; or
step down from the implicit commitment to use military force in
defense of Taiwan. This paper explores each of these and concludes
that stepping down from the commitment is the best of the three
options. The success of dual deterrence should be praised, but
American policymakers must begin adjusting to a new state of
affairs in the Taiwan Strait.
The Vague U.S. Security
Commitment and the Challenges it Faces
The U.S. security commitment to Taiwan consists of two pillars
established in the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) of 1979: arms sales
and an implicit promise to defend Taiwan with military force should
it be attacked. Both are set forth in Section 3 of the TRA, which
states, in part, that the United States is permitted to sell Taiwan
“defense articles and defense services in such quantity as
may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient
Comparatively, the implicit commitment to use force to defend
Taiwan is less clear. Section 3, part 3, authorizes the president
and Congress to “determine, in accordance with constitutional
processes, appropriate action by the United States” in
response to “any threat to the security or the social or
economic system of the people on Taiwan and any danger to the
interests of the United States arising
force is not explicitly mentioned, but it falls within the category
of appropriate action that the United States could take.
The imprecise wording of the TRA has served the United States
well by creating “strategic ambiguity,” the
underpinning of dual deterrence.16 Strategic ambiguity, the open question of
whether or not the U.S. military would intervene in a cross-strait
conflict, had two important effects. First, it gave the United
States greater freedom of action in trilateral relations. By not
binding itself to one particular position, the United States could
better adapt to unpredictable events. Second, strategic ambiguity
restricted China and Taiwan’s freedom of action. Upsetting
the status quo carried high costs for both sides. The United States
could warn Taiwan that no cavalry would come to the rescue if
Taiwan provoked China by making moves toward de jure
independence.17 Likewise, the
high costs that would be inflicted on the PLA by a U.S.
intervention prevented Beijing from initiating a conflict.
China’s growing military power has diminished the value of
strategic ambiguity by improving Beijing’s ability to inflict
high costs on an intervening American force. The mere possibility
of American intervention may no longer be enough to deter China if
the PLA is better prepared to mitigate the effects.
Further complicating the U.S.-Taiwan defense relationship is the
slow but steady erosion of U.S. credibility over the last two
decades. This analysis uses the “Current Calculus”
theory set forth by Dartmouth professor Daryl G. Press as the basis
for assessing U.S. credibility. Press states, “Decisionmakers
assess the credibility of their adversaries’ threats by
evaluating the balance of power and interests … Future
commitments will be credible if—and only if—they are
backed up by sufficient strength and connected to weighty
Beijing’s perspective, the U.S. commitment to defend Taiwan
is credible if American military power can pose a threat to Chinese
forces and the United States has a strong interest in defending
On the subject of interests, Taiwan carries much more importance
for China than it does for the United States. Charles Glaser of
George Washington University writes “China considers Taiwan a
core interest—an essential part of its homeland that it is
determined to bring under full sovereign
control.”19 Beijing does
not appear eager to reunite Taiwan with the mainland by force in
the near future, but China’s president Xi Jinping has warned that
“political disagreements that exist between the two sides . .
. cannot be passed on from generation to
Taiwan’s de facto independence may be important for the U.S.
position in East Asia, but it does not carry the same significance
that China places on reunification.21
Since China enjoys an advantage in the balance of interests, the
credibility of the U.S. commitment rests on American military
power. According to Press’s model, if the United States can
carry out its threat to intervene with relatively low costs, then
the threat is credible.22 When
the TRA was passed in 1979, the United States enjoyed a clear
advantage over a militarily weak China. That is no longer the case.
Several recently published assessments of a U.S.-China conflict
over Taiwan have sobering conclusions: America’s lead is
shrinking, victory is less certain, and the damage inflicted on the
U.S. military would be substantial. In China’s Military
Power, Roger Cliff of the Atlantic Council writes, “Although
China’s leadership could not be confident that an invasion of
Taiwan in 2020 would succeed, it is nonetheless possible that it
could succeed… . Even a failed attempt, moreover, would likely
be extremely costly to the United States and
Taiwan.”23 The RAND
Corporation reached a similar conclusion: “At a minimum, the
U.S. military would have to mount a substantial
effort—certainly much more so than in 1996—if it hoped
to prevail, and losses to U.S. forces would likely be
heavy.”24 It is impossible
to determine exactly how many American ships, aircraft, and lives
would be lost to defend Taiwan from a PLA attack. But given the
improved quality of PLA weapons systems and training exercises, it
is safe to assume that the U.S. military would have to cope with
losses that it has not experienced in decades.
Of course, it is important to note that high costs do not flow
one way. In a war, the United States and Taiwan would make an
invasion very costly for China, which reduces the credibility of
Beijing’s threats to use force. However, U.S. military
superiority in a Taiwan Strait conflict was nearly absolute until
very recently. This superiority made victory relatively cheap,
which enhanced the credibility of the American
commitment.25 Improvements to
already formidable Chinese weapons systems, combined with recent
reforms that enhance command and control for fighting modern war,
continue to ratchet up the costs the United States would have to
If the PLA continues to improve at the rate it has done over the
last 20 years, the United States could be in the unpleasant
position of fighting a very costly conflict over a piece of
territory that China has a much stronger interest in controlling
than the United States has in keeping independent. Close economic
ties between the United States and China (bilateral trade in goods
was valued at $598 billion in 2015 in nominal dollars) would likely
suffer as well.27 The high costs
the United States would face in a conflict over Taiwan undermine
U.S. credibility. China’s stronger interests and ability to
inflict high costs on the United States could encourage Beijing to
take risks that until recently would have been considered
Three Policy Options for
the United States
Broadly speaking, the United States has three options for
dealing with the diminishing credibility of its implicit commitment
to defend Taiwan. In this section I explain what kinds of policies
would most likely accompany each option and present favorable
arguments for each.
The most straightforward way to bolster American credibility
would be to increase the U.S. military presence close to Taiwan and
clearly demonstrate the political will to honor the defense
commitment. The combination of increased military presence and
unequivocal political support would be a clear break from dual
deterrence. Instead of directing warnings and reassurances toward
both Taiwan and China, the United States would only warn China and
only reassure Taiwan.28 The
United States would welcome a stronger Taiwan, but U.S. support
would not be preconditioned on Taiwan’s willingness to
develop its defenses.
The ultimate goal of this policy option would be the
establishment of a decisive and durable U.S. military advantage
over the PLA. The clearest indicator of the U.S. commitment is
military resources. Increasing the survivability of American air
power in the area around Taiwan would send a clear signal of
support. The American forces currently deployed in Japan would be
the first to respond in a Taiwan conflict. Increasing the number of
hardened aircraft shelters at U.S. bases in Japan, especially at
Kadena Air Base on Okinawa, would protect aircraft from ballistic
missile attacks.29 Additionally,
the United States would revive the annual arms-sale talks with
Taiwan that occurred from 1983 until 2001. Advocates for returning
to annual talks argue that moving away from scheduled talks
resulted in arms sales becoming less frequent.30 Future arms sales would include more
advanced equipment that Washington is currently unwilling to sell
to Taiwan, such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft and
diesel attack submarines.31
Politically, American policymakers would clarify that U.S.
military intervention in a Taiwan conflict is guaranteed. They
would interpret the TRA as a serious commitment to Taiwan’s
security, and, according to Walter Lohman of the Heritage
Foundation, “[make] abundantly clear to Beijing the
consequences that will ensue from the use of
force.”32 The TRA would not
be modified in any way that reduces the scope of America’s
commitment. Supporters in Congress would regularly issue
resolutions that reaffirm support for the TRA, especially the parts
related to the defense of Taiwan.33 Strict interpretation of the TRA would be a
clear demonstration of American willpower to take a hard line
Public statements by American officials about U.S. intervention
would not carry any preconditions or caveats. Such statements would
be similar to the one made by President George W. Bush in April
2001 that the United States would do “whatever it
takes” to defend Taiwan.34
Bush eventually walked back this statement, but successful
implementation of the restore-superiority option would require
similarly categorical shows of support. Removing preconditions from
the commitment would bolster credibility by removing an off ramp
the United States could take to avoid intervention. Additionally,
Taiwan would not be expected to spend a certain percentage of its
GDP on defense to secure U.S. arms sales or intervention.
Finally, the U.S. government would actively support de jure
Taiwanese independence. As Weekly Standard editor William Kristol
warns, “Opposing independence … might give Beijing reason
to believe that the U.S. might not resist China’s use of
force against Taiwan or coercive measures designed to bring about a
capitulation of sovereignty.”35 However, supporting Taiwanese independence
would be risky. In 2005, China passed the Anti-Secession Law (ASL)
in response to the growing political power of the pro-independence
movement in Taiwan.36 Article 8
of the ASL states that “non-peaceful means and other
necessary measures” will be employed if “secessionist
forces … cause the fact of Taiwan’s secession from
China.”37 The increased
American military presence resulting from the restore-superiority
option would have to be strong enough to prevent China from
invoking the ASL.
Advocates of the U.S. military commitment to Taiwan argue that
the island’s success as a liberal democracy is linked to the
regional security interests of the United States. For example,
during his failed campaign for president, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)
said that “Taiwan’s continued existence as a vibrant,
prosperous democracy in the heart of Asia is crucial to American
security interests there and to the continued expansion of liberty
and free enterprise in the region.”38 In the U.S. Congress the ideologically
driven, “pro-democracy” camp of Taiwan supporters is
large and influential.39
Proponents of a strong U.S. commitment to Taiwan also argue that
Taiwan’s political system is evidence that Chinese culture is
compatible with democracy. According to John Lee of the Hudson
Institute, “Taiwan terrifies China because the small island
represents a magnificent vision of what the mainland could be and
what the [Chinese] Communist Party is not. This should be a reason
to reaffirm that defending democracy in Taiwan is important to
America and the region.”40
Supporters of a strong U.S. defense commitment to Taiwan through
restoring America’s military superiority want to send a clear
message to Beijing that the security commitment has not been shaken
by China’s growing military power.
Sustaining a Minimum
The second option, sustaining a minimum advantage, would
maintain the current U.S. military commitment with some slight
modifications. This option is much less resource-intensive than the
restore-superiority option. The United States would maintain its
implicit military commitment, but with preconditions that encourage
Taiwan to invest more in its own defense. Importantly, the United
States would reserve the right not to intervene if Taiwan provoked
an armed conflict with China. The overarching themes of this option
are balance and moderation. It has taken the United States years of
effort to create what appears to be a relatively stable status quo,
so, its supporters ask, why risk destabilizing it by significantly
altering the U.S.-Taiwan relationship without very good
Under this option, the United States would improve the military
assets for defending Taiwan, but at a much smaller scale than with
the restore-superiority option. The PLA’s steadily improving
capabilities diminish the credibility of the U.S. commitment to
Taiwan by raising the costs of conflict. Maintaining a qualitative
advantage over the PLA as it continues to develop will enhance the
credibility of the U.S. commitment to Taiwan by keeping the costs
of war high for the PLA. However, such improvements would be
tempered to mitigate the chance of overreaction by Beijing and
possible damage to U.S.-China relations.
American arms sales to Taiwan would continue under this policy
option. Arms sales create tension in the U.S.-China relationship,
but three benefits of arms sales mitigate the costs they
create.42 First, arms sales
complicate PLA planning and raise the costs of conflict for China.
Second, damage done to U.S.-China relations as a result of the arms
sales is relatively small. A joint report from the Project 2049
Institute and the U.S.-Taiwan Business Council on China’s
reactions to arms sales concludes, “Past behavior indicates
that the PRC is unlikely to challenge any fundamental U.S.
interests in response to future releases of significant military
articles and services to Taiwan.”43 Finally, arms sales demonstrate the
commitment to Taiwan’s defense, especially in times of
Arms sales to Taiwan would also be adjusted to counteract the
PLA’s quantitative advantage and operational strengths.
Expensive items such as AV-8B Harriers, F-16 fighters, and
Perry-class frigates would no longer be sold because they are
highly vulnerable to Chinese weapons systems.44Instead, arms sales would prioritize
cheaper, more numerous precision-guided weapons and advanced
surveillance assets that would prevent Chinese forces from
achieving a quick victory and buy time for the United States to
come to Taiwan’s rescue.45
Such weapons systems are, generally speaking, much cheaper and
easier to maintain than aircraft and ships. A report from the
Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments argues that by
“forego[ing] further acquisitions of costly, high-end air and
naval surface combat platforms” Taiwanese policymakers can
focus their economic resources on more “cost-effective
platforms” better suited to Taiwan’s
The United States would expect Taiwan to make serious defense
investments by increasing military spending and developing
indigenous weapons systems. Taiwan’s military spending has
increased in nominal terms after a precipitous drop in the late
1990s and early 2000s, but since 1999 defense spending has not
risen above 3 percent of GDP.47
Taipei’s unwillingness to spend more on defense has upset
some officials in Washington. In a November 2015 letter to
President Obama calling for a new arms sale to Taiwan, Sen. John
McCain (R-AZ) and Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) wrote, “We
are increasingly concerned that, absent a change in defense
spending, Taiwan’s military will continue to be
under-resourced and unable to make the investments necessary to
maintain a credible deterrent across the
strait.”48 Thankfully, Tsai
Ing-wen and the DPP have made increased defense spending a major
The development of Taiwan’s defense industry would provide
an additional source of high-quality military equipment for the
island’s defense. Taiwan has experience designing and
manufacturing sea and air defense weapons. James Holmes of the U.S.
Naval War College notes, “[In 2010] Taiwanese defense
manufacturers secretly designed and started building a dozen
stealthy, 500-ton fast patrol craft [Tuo Chiang-class] armed with
indigenously built, supersonic anti-ship
produced air defense systems include the Tien Kung (TK) family of
missiles, the Indigenous Defense Fighter, and anti-aircraft
guns.50 Importantly, “Made
in Taiwan” is not a byword for poor quality. According to Ian
Easton of the Project 2049 Institute, the TK surface-to-air (SAM)
missiles are “comparable to [U.S.-made] Patriot systems in
terms of capability,” and the Hsiung Feng III anti-ship
missile “is more capable than any comparable system fielded
by the U.S. Navy in terms of range and speed.”51
Sustaining a minimum advantage would be the easiest of the three
policy options for the United States to implement. Inertia is a
powerful force. The United States has invested a considerable
amount of resources and effort to reach a stable status quo in the
Taiwan Strait, creating an “if it isn’t broken,
don’t fix it” mentality. Advocates of maintaining the
status quo, such as the Center for Strategic and International
Studies, argue that it is “critically important to U.S.
interests” to deter Chinese coercion of Taiwan, lest
instability spread in East Asia.52 In prepared testimony before the House
Foreign Affairs Committee, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State
Susan Thornton said, “The United States has an abiding
interest in cross-Strait peace and stability.”53 Congress, historically a strong bastion of
support for Taiwan, shows no indication of changing America’s
Taiwan policy anytime soon.
Buttressing support for this policy option is the belief that
America’s commitment to Taiwan is a bellwether for the U.S.
position in East Asia. According to John J. Mearsheimer of the
University of Chicago, “America’s commitment to Taiwan
is inextricably bound up with U.S. credibility in the region …
If the United States were to sever military ties with Taiwan or
fail to defend it in a crisis with China, that would surely send a
strong signal to America’s other allies in the region that
they cannot rely on the United States for
protection.”54 Advocates of
maintaining the U.S. commitment argue that East Asia would become
more dangerous if other allies lose faith in the United States and
start building up military capabilities of their own.55 Supporters of the U.S. commitment also
contend that backing down on Taiwan would embolden Chinese
aggression in other territorial disputes.
Stepping Down from
The final policy option would do away with America’s
commitment to Taiwan’s defense on the grounds that military
intervention to preserve the island’s de facto independence
has become too costly and dangerous for the United States. Stepping
down from the commitment to come to Taiwan’s rescue would be
a major change in U.S. policy. However, other factors unrelated to
the U.S. commitment would still make the use of force unattractive
for Beijing. Taiwan would therefore not be defenseless or subject
to imminent Chinese attack if the United States chose this policy
Without a U.S. commitment, Taiwan would have to improve its
self-defense capability to deter an attack by China and fight off
the PLA if deterrence failed. Taiwan does face an unfavorable
balance of power vis-à-vis China, but this does not doom Taiwan to
military defeat. In fact, research by Ivan Arreguín-Toft of Boston
University indicates that large, powerful actors (such as China)
have lost wars against weaker actors “with increasing
frequency over time.”56
However, in order to have the greatest chance of success, the
weaker side must have the right military strategy. A head-on,
symmetric fight with the PLA would likely end in disaster for
Taiwan, but Taiwan could successfully deny the PLA from achieving
its strategic objectives through the same kind of asymmetric
strategy that China uses to make it difficult for the United States
to defend Taiwan.57 A military
strategy emphasizing mobility, concealment, and area denial would
both raise the costs of war for China and be sustainable, given
Taiwan’s limited means.
Changing Taiwan’s defense strategy would not be a quick or
easy task. The most immediate roadblocks to change are the
equipment and mindset of Taiwan’s military. The upper
echelons of the military have resisted implementing changes that
could improve their ability to fight a war against the modern PLA.
For example, James Holmes points out that Taiwan’s navy
“[sees] itself as a U.S. Navy in miniature, a force destined
to win decisive sea fights and rule the waves.”58 This is a dangerous mindset given the PLA
Navy’s dominance in fleet size, strength, and advanced
equipment. The Taiwan Marine Corps (TMC) is also ill-suited to
meeting the threat posed by China. Instead of being a light, agile
force, the TMC is “heavy, mechanized, and not particularly
mobile,” reflecting “a glaring failure by
Taiwan’s defense establishment to recognize the TMC’s
essential role in national defense.”59 Overcoming the forces of bureaucratic
inertia will be very difficult, but doing so is necessary if Taiwan
can no longer count on the United States.
Stepping down from the U.S. defense commitment would likely
involve reductions in U.S. arms sales. Reductions in the size,
quantity, and frequency of arms sales would likely precede any
reductions to the defense commitment because arms sales are a
measurable signal of American support for Taiwan. Lyle J. Goldstein
of the U.S. Naval War College points out, “Arms sales have
for some time taken on a purely symbolic
meaning.”60 This implies
that the negative effects of reducing arms sales would be
relatively small, since China’s extant military advantages
are not being offset by U.S. weaponry. Additionally, stopping the
arms sales would not have to be instantaneous. The United States
could reduce arms sales incrementally to give Taiwan time to
improve its self-defense capabilities.
One common argument made by opponents of stepping down from the
commitment is that it is the only thing preventing China from
attacking Taiwan. This argument ignores several important factors
that make the use of force unattractive for Beijing. First,
China’s reputation and standing in East Asia would be
seriously damaged. Other countries in East Asia would harshly
criticize China’s use of force, and would likely take steps
to defend themselves. For example, countries involved in
territorial disputes with Beijing in the South China Sea have
responded to Chinese aggressiveness by improving their military
power and pushing back politically and diplomatically.61 China’s reputational costs for
attacking Taiwan would be very high. Additionally, any military
operation against Taiwan would tie up a great deal of resources.
Other states could take advantage of a Taiwan-focused Beijing to
push back against other Chinese territorial claims.
Second, the PLA has problems with both “hardware”
(equipment) and “software” (experience) that would
restrict its options for using military force against
Taiwan.62 The modern PLA has no
experience conducting large-scale amphibious landings, which are
complicated operations that would be very costly to execute against
a dug-in defender.63 On the
hardware side, the PLA still lacks the amphibious-lift capabilities
and replenishment ships necessary to mount a successful invasion
attempt.64 China has made big
strides shifting the relative balance of power in the Taiwan
Strait, but it still faces significant challenges that will take
time to overcome.65 Presently,
the PLA is more prepared to push back against American intervention
than to initiate an invasion of Taiwan.
How the United States goes about stepping down from its
commitment is important. Suddenly abrogating the TRA would be
practically impossible given the entrenched support for Taiwan
within Congress. The most realistic, feasible approach requires
incremental reductions in U.S. support for Taiwan. Examples of such
reductions could include setting a cap on the value and/or quality
of military equipment that can be sold to Taiwan, changing the TRA
to more narrowly define what constitutes a threat to Taiwan, or
requiring Taiwan to spend a certain percentage of its GDP on
defense in order to receive U.S. military support.
Incremental reduction would be easier to sell to U.S.
policymakers because it buys time for Taiwan to improve its
defenses, thus increasing the credibility of the island’s
military deterrent. As discussed earlier, Taiwan’s defense
industries have proven they can make high-quality military
equipment that meets the island’s defense needs. Taiwan has
the ability to develop a robust and effective military deterrent,
but it needs time to overcome existing challenges and address
unforeseen obstacles. If the United States were to reduce its
commitment incrementally, Taiwan’s political and military
leadership would have the time to address such challenges.
Incremental implementation of this policy option would also
provide the United States with opportunities to learn about Chinese
intentions, based on Beijing’s reaction.66 Stepping down from the defense commitment
to Taiwan would be a major accommodation on a core Chinese security
interest. American policymakers should demand some sort of
reciprocal actions from Beijing that reduce the military threat the
PLA poses to Taiwan. In Meeting China Halfway, Lyle J. Goldstein
explains how “cooperation spirals” in the U.S.-China
relationship can build “trust and confidence … over time
through incremental and reciprocal steps that gradually lead to
larger and more significant compromises.”67 However, if Washington takes accommodating
policy positions and Beijing responds with obstinacy or increased
aggression, then American policymakers would likely want to adjust
Stepping down from the U.S. defense commitment to Taiwan,
regardless of how it is implemented, is a controversial policy
option that would face significant opposition. However, there is a
strong case to be made for the benefits of such a policy.
Taiwan’s fate carries much more significance for China than
the United States, and American military superiority over China is
eroding. Although Taiwan faces serious challenges, it would be
capable of maintaining a military deterrent without American
support, especially given the other factors that rein in Chinese
aggression. A self-defense strategy emphasizing asymmetric warfare
could raise the costs of military conflict for China to
unacceptably high levels. Most important, the risk of armed
conflict between the United States and China would be significantly
Shortcomings of Each
Each of the three policy options has problems and shortcomings
that would make their implementation difficult and limit their
effectiveness. In this section I will discuss the most important
flaws of each policy option.
Restoring U.S. military superiority would shore up the
credibility of the American commitment to Taiwan at the cost of
severe damage to the U.S.-China relationship. China might be
deterred from attacking Taiwan, but it would have ample reason to
strongly oppose the United States across other issue areas,
including the South China Sea, trade issues, and reining in North
Korea. Additionally, unequivocal American support would reduce
incentives for Taiwan to improve its defenses.
The most important negative consequence of restoring U.S.
military superiority is the severe damage that would be done to
U.S.-China relations. China and the United States do not see
eye-to-eye on many issues, but this does not make China an outright
adversary.68 Chinese cyber
espionage against American companies, the rise of alternative
development institutions led by Beijing, and island-building in the
South China Sea are of great concern to policymakers in
U.S.-Chinese cooperation on other pressing issues, especially
environmental concerns and punishing North Korea after its recent
nuclear tests, has supported U.S. goals.70 China is certainly not a friend or ally of
the United States, but treating it as an enemy that needs to be
contained is unwise.71 Restoring
U.S. military superiority would set back much of the progress made
in U.S.-China relations.
Restoring U.S. military superiority might be a boon to
America’s credibility in the short term, but superiority may
be fleeting. The growing U.S. military presence in East Asia, a
result of the Obama administration’s “pivot” or
“rebalance” to the region, has exacerbated the Chinese
perception of the United States as a threat.72 Restoring U.S. military superiority will
likely support this perception and provide a strong incentive for
China to invest even more resources in its military. Additionally,
falling behind in the conventional balance of power could prompt
China to increase the quantity and quality of its nuclear weapon
arsenal.73 If Beijing quickly
offsets the advantages of stronger U.S. military support for
Taiwan, the United States could end up in a similar position to the
one it’s in now, but with a stronger China to deter.
Increasing American support for Taiwan without any preconditions
regarding Taiwan’s role in its own defense would be
detrimental in the long run. Taiwan and the United States’
other East Asian allies are willing to cheap-ride on American
security guarantees.74 Taiwan is
not disinterested in self-defense, but if someone else is
shouldering the burden there is less urgency to do more, especially
if increasing military spending means reducing social spending.
China could exacerbate Taiwan’s “guns vs. butter”
dilemma if it restricted economic exchanges (trade, investment, and
tourism) with Taiwan as a result of a stronger U.S. posture.
Increasing the American commitment to Taiwan carries significant
risks and costs for a benefit that would likely be fleeting. The
likely negative consequences of restoring U.S. military superiority
would not be worth the benefits. American policymakers should not
go down this path.
Sustaining a Minimum
The biggest weakness of sustaining a minimum U.S. military
advantage is that it does not resolve any of the underlying issues
in the cross-strait dispute, most important of which is the fact
that Taiwan matters more to China than it does to the United
States. Since the United States cannot equalize the imbalance of
stakes vis-à-vis China, credible deterrence will require the United
States to maintain military superiority over a steadily improving
PLA. The United States is capable of absorbing these costs in the
short run, but the recent history of the U.S.-China military
balance suggests that China will be able to narrow the gap
Maintaining stability in the Taiwan Strait will become more
complicated as a result of two trends in cross-strait relations and
one higher-level trend. First, a distinct identity is taking hold
in Taiwan; the people living there see themselves as Taiwanese
instead of Chinese. Surveys conducted in 2014 showed that
“fewer than 4 percent of respondents [in Taiwan]
self-identified as solely Chinese, with a clear majority (60
percent) self-identifying solely as Taiwanese.”75 A unique Taiwanese identity is dangerous to
Beijing because it makes China’s ultimate goal of
reunification more difficult, especially if the identity issue
leads to greater political support for independence. Thankfully,
the Taiwanese people have been very pragmatic and have not yet made
a significant push for de jure independence.76
Second, if China’s economy continues to slow down Beijing
could become more aggressive toward Taiwan. A parade of doom and
gloom headlines reveal the weaknesses of China’s economic
miracle. The Chinese stock market experienced downturns in August
2015 and January 2016 that affected global financial
markets.77 China Labor Bulletin,
a Hong Kong-based workers’ rights group, recorded more than
2,700 strikes and worker protests throughout China in
2015—more than double the 1,300 recorded the year
before.78 In February 2016,
Reuters reported that 1.8 million workers in China’s
state-owned coal and steel companies will be laid off in the coming
years.79 This is not to say that
China’s economy is in imminent danger of a catastrophic
collapse. However, the political instability resulting from
economic troubles could create an incentive for Beijing to act
aggressively to burnish the Chinese Communist Party’s image
at home.80 Exacerbating this risk
is the rise of nationalist forces within Chinese society that could
push the government into a more aggressive cross-strait policy.
Such forces played an important role in the government’s
heavy-handed response to 2014’s Occupy Central protests in
Hong Kong.81 Economic problems
coupled with aggressive ideology could prompt China to back away
from any rapprochement with Taiwan. This could make the task of
deterring a Chinese attack harder for the United States.
Third, America’s other security commitments could draw
attention and resources away from Taiwan. Keeping pace with the PLA
in the Taiwan Strait will require investments in military power
that will become more difficult to sustain, barring either a
reduction in global commitments or a significant decrease in
China’s own economic and military power. The fight against
ISIS in the Middle East and North Africa, the Russian threat to
Eastern Europe, and Chinese island-building in the South China Sea
are all vying for the attention of the U.S. military. The military
has been able to cope with these contingencies, but there are signs
of strain on the force.82 Given
America’s current global security posture, it will be
difficult for the United States to sustain a minimum advantage over
the PLA in perpetuity.
Sustaining a minimum U.S. military advantage is growing more
difficult and costly over time as these above trends develop.
Fortunately, the costs are likely to increase slowly and could be
mitigated by advances in U.S. military technology. However,
ultimately the United States will be stuck in the unenviable
position of trying to defend Taiwan from a China that has growing
military power and a strong interest in prevailing in any
Stepping Down from
The two most important potential negative consequences of
stepping down from the defense commitment to Taiwan are the
reputational and credibility costs to the United States and the
worsening of America’s military position in the region.
Advocates of maintaining the U.S. commitment also contend that
Chinese control over Taiwan would lead to a substantial PLA
presence, which would pose a serious threat to American and allied
interests. The military dominance that the United States has
enjoyed since the end of World War II would be called into
question. Advocates of U.S. primacy in East Asia consider such an
outcome dangerous and unacceptable.83
Opponents of stepping down from the commitment argue that both
China and the United States’ Asian allies will view such a
change as a sign of American weakness and unwillingness to live up
to other commitments.84 If the
United States does not show strong resolve as China grows more
powerful, Beijing would take advantage of American weakness to more
forcefully pursue objectives that are detrimental to U.S. allies
and partners.85 The Brookings
Institution’s Richard Bush argues that “[the United
States] cannot withdraw from the cross-Strait contest altogether
because U.S. allies and partners would likely read withdrawal as a
sign that the U.S. security commitments to them are no longer
down from the commitment to Taiwan would have two mutually
reinforcing harmful effects: China would grow bolder in threatening
U.S. allies and the allies would presume that the United States
would not fulfill its commitments as the threat from China
Fears over these negative consequences stem from a popular
misconception of credibility in which the past actions of a state
are considered indicative of how the state will behave in the
future. As noted earlier, academic research indicates that states
take other factors into account when making judgements of
credibility, but the dogmatic adherence to this misconception among
the American policymaking elite makes stepping down from the
commitment an uphill battle.87
Formal treaty commitments to states like Japan and South Korea
carry more weight than America’s vague commitment to Taiwan,
but fears of abandonment will likely weigh heavily on the minds of
policymakers in Seoul, Tokyo, and Washington.88 Overturning the assumptions that
credibility is bound up in upholding past promises will take a
great deal of time and effort.
Ending the U.S. defense commitment to Taiwan could be
detrimental to the U.S. military’s broader goals in East
Asia. Taiwan lies in the middle of an island chain that runs from
Japan to the South China Sea. Control of Taiwan has important
strategic implications because of this location. The PLA could use
Taiwan as a staging area to more easily project power into the
South China Sea, the East China Sea, and the western
Pacific.89 Keeping this island
chain free of Chinese military bases and friendly to the United
States is therefore seen as essential for America’s position
in the region. Indeed, Taiwan has loomed large in American military
strategy in the region for decades. In 1950 General Douglas
MacArthur described Taiwan as “an unsinkable aircraft carrier
and submarine tender ideally located to accomplish offensive
strategy and at the same time checkmate defensive or
counter-offensive operations” from the surrounding
area.90 If Taiwan becomes the
PLA’s ‘unsinkable aircraft carrier,’ it would
make U.S. military actions in support of other regional interests
Fears over China’s improved military position that would
follow seizing control over Taiwan are valid, but there are
roadblocks to this outcome that exist independent of the U.S.
defense commitment. As mentioned earlier in this analysis, China
would face numerous hurdles and negative consequences if it tried
to invade Taiwan, given the difficulty of conducting amphibious
invasions, the high likelihood of regional backlash, and the
materiel and training limitations of the PLA.91 Taiwan could also do more to raise the
costs of conflict for China through changes in military technology
and warfighting doctrine.92 For
example, Taiwan’s fleet of fighter aircraft is costly to
maintain and outclassed by PLA fighters and surface-to-air missile
capabilities.93 Reducing the size
of Taiwan’s fighter fleet and redirecting funds to build up
mobile missile forces that could support ground units fighting
against a PLA invasion attempt would improve Taiwan’s ability
to resist the PLA and inflict heavy losses on Chinese
forces.94 If President Tsai and
the DPP can deliver on their promises to increase defense spending
and develop Taiwan’s defense industries, Taiwan could be
capable of mounting an effective self defense without American
intervention in the coming decades.
Why the United States
Should Step Down from its Commitment
The United States should step down from the implicit commitment
to use military force to preserve Taiwan’s de facto
independence. American credibility is slowly eroding as China
becomes more powerful, and the commitment will be more costly to
maintain for a relatively minor benefit. Broadly speaking, the
United States has two options for how it could implement this
policy option: it could try to draw concessions from China to get
something in return for stepping down from the commitment, or it
could unilaterally drop the commitment. In either scenario, Taiwan
would have to take on sole responsibility for deterring Chinese
A policy that wins concessions from China would be the more
desirable of the two options. Concessions could include resolution
of other territorial disputes involving China and American allies
or dropping the Chinese threat to use force against Taiwan. This
would be characteristic of what Charles Glaser calls a grand
bargain, “an agreement in which two actors make concessions
across multiple issues to create a fair deal … that would have
been impossible in an agreement that dealt with a single
issue.”95 Making the end of
the U.S. commitment to Taiwan contingent upon Chinese concessions
to resolve its other territorial disputes peacefully would benefit
both the United States and China.96 The United States would free itself of an
increasingly costly and risky commitment to Taiwan’s defense,
but only if China compromises in ways that align with U.S.
allies’ interests in the South and East China Seas. China
would have to limit its objectives in the South and East China
Seas, but in return would earn a major policy concession from the
United States on a core national interest that has much more
importance than the other territorial disputes.
If China proves unwilling to make concessions across multiple
issue areas, the United States could still push for concessions on
China’s military posture toward Taiwan. Instead of demanding
a concession on the South China Sea dispute, U.S. policymakers
could press China to take actions that reduce the military threat
it poses to Taiwan via an incremental, reciprocal process of
concessions.97 Refusing to sell
Taiwan any new military equipment would be a good way to initiate a
Stopping the sale of new equipment would not significantly
reduce the Taiwanese military’s ability to defend itself for
three reasons. First, most equipment sold to Taiwan by the United
States does not represent the latest in U.S. military technology
and is not necessarily superior to new capabilities fielded by the
PLA.98 Second, Taiwan’s
domestic defense industry is capable of producing new equipment
that is well-suited to asymmetric defense, although it will take
time for Taiwan’s relatively small and underdeveloped defense
industry to reach its full potential.99 Finally, stopping the sale of new weapons
still gives the United States the latitude to sell spare parts and
ammunition for weapons systems that have already been sold. Halting
the sale of new types of weapons systems will signal a reduced U.S.
commitment to Taiwan’s security that would not be overly
disruptive to Taiwan’s self-defense.
One of several ways that Beijing might respond to this U.S.
concession on arms sales would be to reduce the number of
short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) within firing range of
Taiwan. Currently there are more than 1,000 conventionally armed
SRBMs (with a maximum range of approximately 500 miles) in the PLA
arsenal that could strike Taiwan.100 Improvements in guidance technology have
transformed these missiles from inaccurate “terror
weapons” that would likely target cities to precision
munitions better suited for strikes against military airfields and
ports.101Stationing the SRBMs
out of range of Taiwan would be a low-cost, but symbolically
important, action. The missiles are fired from mobile launchers
that could be moved back into range of Taiwan. However, the act of
moving the missiles out of range would, according to Lyle J.
Goldstein, “show goodwill and increasing confidence across
the Strait and also between Washington and
Beijing.”102 If China
agrees to America’s demand to relocate its ballistic
missiles, then additional steps could be taken to further reduce
the threat China poses to Taiwan.
If China proved unwilling to make any concessions, either in
other territorial disputes or in cross-strait relations, the United
States could still unilaterally withdraw from its military
commitment to Taiwan. No demands or conditions would be placed on
Chinese behavior. American policymakers are unlikely to accept such
a course of action given recent shows of Chinese assertiveness.
Charles Glaser explains, “China appears too likely to
misinterpret [unilaterally ending the U.S. commitment to defend
Taiwan], which could fuel Chinese overconfidence and intensify
challenges to U.S. interests.”103 Unilateral withdrawal would reduce the
likelihood of U.S.-Chinese armed conflict, but the dearth of other
benefits would make the policy difficult for policymakers to
implement. Extracting some kind of concession from China, either in
cross-strait relations or in other territorial disputes, should be
Finally, stepping down from the commitment to defend Taiwan with
military force does not remove America’s interest in keeping
the Taiwan Strait free of armed conflict. The United States would
retain the ability to punish China in other ways should it attack
Taiwan. Diplomatic isolation and economic sanctions may not inflict
the same kinds of costs on Beijing as military force, but they are
additional costs that would have to be absorbed.104 Additionally, U.S. arms sales are
separate from the implicit commitment to defend Taiwan and could
continue, albeit in some reduced or modified form.105 Continuing to sell arms to Taiwan while
stepping down from the implicit commitment to use military force to
defend the island allows the United States to demonstrate support
for Taiwan’s defense without taking on the risks associated
with direct intervention.106
The United States should no longer provide the military backstop
for Taiwan’s de facto independence. The security commitment
to Taiwan outlined in the TRA is a product of a different time,
when the United States enjoyed clear military advantages over
China, and Taiwan could be defended on the cheap. China’s
growing military power strains the credibility of the American
commitment. Policymakers in Washington could respond to this
changing environment by restoring American military superiority,
sustaining a minimum military advantage, or stepping down from the
commitment. All of these options carry risks and negative
consequences, but it is in the best long-term interest of the
United States to step down from the commitment to Taiwan.
American policymakers must come to terms with the idea that the
balance of power has become much more favorable for Beijing since
the TRA was adopted in 1979. Defending Taiwan is more difficult now
than ever before, and this trend will be very hard to reverse. The
most realistic way to reorient U.S. policy is to reach out to China
to take incremental, reciprocal steps that slowly bring about the
end of America’s commitment. This policy will be very
difficult for the United States to implement, but the advantages to
U.S.-China relations could be substantial. Changing the U.S.-Taiwan
security relationship would greatly reduce the likelihood of armed
conflict between the United States and China and could create
opportunities for U.S.-China cooperation that are currently beyond
1. Barry R. Posen, Restraint: A New Foundation for
U.S. Grand Strategy (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2014),
2. Richard Bush, “Taiwan’s January 2016
Elections and Their Implications for Relations with China and the
United States,” Asia Working Group Paper no. 1, Brookings
Institution, December 2015, p. 5.
3. Andrew Scobell, “China and Taiwan: Balance
of Rivalry with Weapons of Mass Democratization,” in
China’s Great Leap Outward: Hard and Soft Dimensions of a
Rising Power, ed. Andrew Scobell and Marylena Mantas (New York: The
Academy of Political Science, 2014), pp. 130-31.
4. Invasion is not the only military option
available to China. The PLA could also conduct a blockade of Taiwan
or conduct decapitation strikes to eliminate Taiwan’s
political leadership. This analysis focuses on a Chinese invasion
attempt because it is the most severe military option in terms of
costs for all sides involved, and it carries the best chance for
Beijing to accomplish its ultimate goal of reunifying Taiwan with
the mainland via direct military and political control.
5. For an excellent overview of the 1995-1996
crisis, see: Ted Galen Carpenter, America’s Coming War with
China: A Collision Course over Taiwan (New York: Palgrave
Macmillan, 2005), pp. 66-70; Robert S. Ross, “The 1995-96
Taiwan Strait Confrontation: Coercion, Credibility, and the Use of
Force,” International Security 25, no. 2 (Fall 2000): 87-123.
On the role of the crisis on China’s military modernization,
see: Michael S. Chase et al., China’s Incomplete Military
Transformation: Assessing the Weaknesses of the People’s
Liberation Army (PLA) (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2015),
p. 14; Andrew J. Nathan and Andrew Scobell, China’s Search
for Security (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012), pp.
6. Dean Cheng, “Countering China’s A2/AD
Challenge,” The National Interest, September 20, 2013,
Henry J. Hendrix, At What Cost a Carrier? Disruptive Defense Papers
(Washington: Center for a New American Security, 2013); Ronald
O’Rourke, China’s Naval Modernization: Implications for
U.S. Navy Capabilities—Background and Issues for Congress
(Washington: Congressional Research Service, 2015).
7. Eric Heginbotham et al., The U.S.-China Military
Scorecard: Forces, Geography, and the Evolving Balance of Power
1996-2017 (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2015), p. 330.
8. Lyle J. Goldstein, Meeting China Halfway: How to
Defuse the Emerging U.S.-China Rivalry (Washington: Georgetown
University Press, 2015), pp. 52-53.
9. Tom Phillips, “Taiwan Elects First Female
President,” Guardian (London), January 16, 2016, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/16/taiwan-elects-first-female-president.
10. Javier C. Hernandez, “China Suspends
Diplomatic Contact With Taiwan,” New York Times, June 25,
11. Bush, “Taiwan’s January 2016
Elections and Their Implications for Relations with China and the
United States,” pp. 15-19.
12. Shannon Tiezzi, “China’s ‘New
Normal’ Economy and Social Stability,” The Diplomat,
November 24, 2015, http://thediplomat.com/2015/11/chinas-new-normal-economy-and-social-stability/.
13. Ted Galen Carpenter, “Could China’s
Economic Troubles Spark a War?” The National Interest,
September 6, 2015, http://nationalinterest.org/feature/could-chinas-economic-troubles-spark-war-13784.
14. The full text of the Taiwan Relations Act can
be found at American Institute in Taiwan, “Taiwan Relations
Act,” January 1, 1979, http://www.ait.org.tw/en/taiwan-relations-act.html.
16. Brett V. Benson and Emerson M. S. Niou,
“Comprehending Strategic Ambiguity: U.S. Security Commitment
to Taiwan,” November 12, 2001, http://people.duke.edu/~niou/teaching/strategic%20ambiguity.pdf;
Carpenter, America’s Coming War with China, pp. 7-8; J.
Michael Cole, “Time to End U.S. ‘Ambiguity’ on
Taiwan,” The Diplomat, July 6, 2012, http://thediplomat.com/2012/07/time-to-end-u-s-ambiguity-on-taiwan/;
and Michal Thim, “Time for an Improved Taiwan-U.S. Security
Relationship,” American Citizens for Taiwan, February 21,
17. Carpenter, America’s Coming War with
China, pp. 84-85; Scobell, “China and Taiwan: Balance of
Rivalry with Weapons of Mass Democratization,” pp.
18. Daryl G. Press, Calculating Credibility: How
Leaders Assess Military Threats (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University
Press, 2005), p. 3.
19. Charles L. Glaser, “A U.S.-China Grand
Bargain? The Hard Choice between Military Competition and
Accommodation,” International Security 39, no. 4 (Spring
20. “China’s Xi says Political Solution
for Taiwan Can’t Wait Forever,” Reuters, October 6,
21. On the asymmetry of interests between China and
the United States, see: Charles Glaser, “Will China’s
Rise Lead to War? Why Realism Does Not Mean Pessimism,”
Foreign Affairs 90, no. 2 (March/April 2011): 86; Glaser, “A
U.S.-China Grand Bargain?” p. 50; Goldstein, Meeting China
Halfway, p. 65; John J. Mearsheimer, “Say Goodbye to
Taiwan,” The National Interest no. 130 (March/April 2014):
103; Posen, Restraint, p. 103; and Ross, “The 1995-96 Taiwan
Strait Confrontation,” p. 123.
22. Press, Calculating Credibility, p. 3.
23. Roger Cliff, China’s Military Power:
Assessing Current and Future Capabilities (New York: Cambridge
University Press, 2015), p. 221. Emphasis in original quote.
24. Heginbotham et al., The U.S.-China Military
Scorecard, p. 331.
25. Press, Calculating Credibility, p. 21.
26. Philip C. Saunders and Joel Wuthnow,
China’s Goldwater-Nichols? Assessing PLA Organizational
Reforms (Washington: National Defense University, April 2016).
27. The trade value figure from the U.S. Census
Bureau represents the sum of U.S. exports to ($116.2 billion) and
imports from ($481.9 billion) China. See United States Census,
“Trade in Goods with China,” https://www.census.gov/foreign-trade/balance/c5700.html.
28. Richard C. Bush, Untying the Knot: Making Peace
in the Taiwan Strait (Washington: Brookings Institution Press,
2005), p. 258.
29. Cliff, China’s Military Power, p.
30. Michael Mazza, “Taiwanese Hard Power:
Between a ROC and a Hard Place,” in A Hard Look at Hard
Power: Assessing the Defense Capabilities of Key U.S. Allies and
Security Partners, ed. Gary J. Schmitt (Carlisle Barracks, PA: U.S.
Army War College Press, 2015), p. 221.
31. Kent Wang, “Why the U.S. Should Sell
Advanced Fighters to Taiwan,” The Diplomat, January 10, 2014,
32. Walter Lohman, “What the United States
Owes to Taiwan and Its Interests in Asia,” War on the Rocks,
January 27, 2016, http://warontherocks.com/2016/01/what-the-united-states-owes-to-taiwan-and-its-interests-in-asia/.
33. Riley Walters, “Affirming the Taiwan
Relations Act,” The Daily Signal, March 27, 2014, http://dailysignal.com/2014/03/27/affirming-taiwan-relations-act/.
34. Quoted in Scobell, “China and Taiwan:
Balance of Rivalry with Weapons of Mass Democratization,” p.
131. Also see David E. Sanger, “U.S. Would Defend Taiwan,
Bush Says,” New York
Times, April 26, 2001, http://www.nytimes.com/2001/04/26/world/us-would-defend-taiwan-bush-says.html?pagewanted=all.
35. William Kristol, “The Taiwan Relations
Act: The Next 25 Years,” in Rethinking “One
China,” ed. John J. Tkacik, Jr. (Washington: The Heritage
Foundation, 2004), p. 17.
36. Zhidong Hao, “After the Anti-Secession
Law: Cross-Strait and U.S.-China Relations,” in Challenges to
Chinese Foreign Policy: Diplomacy, Globalization, and the Next
World Power, ed. Yufan Hao, George Wei, and Lowell Dittmer
(Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 2009), p.
37. Full text of the Anti-Secession Law can be
found at Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the
United States of America, “Anti-Secession Law” (full
text), March 15, 2005, http://www.china-embassy.org/eng/zt/999999999/t187406.htm.
See also, Chunjuan Nancy Wei, “China’s Anti-Secession
Law and Hu Jintao’s Taiwan Policy,” Yale Journal of
International Affairs 5, no. 1 (Winter 2010): 112-27.
38. “Following Historic China-Taiwan Meeting,
Rubio Calls for Strengthening U.S.-Taiwan Relations,” press
release, Marco Rubio’s official website, November 7, 2015,
39. Eric Gomez, discussion with staffer for a
senior Member of the House Armed Services Committee, October 6,
40. John Lee, “Why Does China Fear
Taiwan?” The American Interest, November 6, 2015, http://www.the-american-interest.com/2015/11/06/why-does-china-fear-taiwan/.
41. Eric Gomez, conversation with Andrew Scobell,
Senior Political Scientist, RAND Corporation, November 23,
42. Michael Forsythe, “China Protests Sale of
U.S. Arms to Taiwan,” New York Times, December 17, 2015,
43. US-Taiwan Business Council and Project 2049
Institute, Chinese Reactions to Taiwan Arms Sales, ed. Lotta
Danielsson (Arlington: US-Taiwan Business Council and Project 2049
Institute, 2012), p. 36.
44. On the subject of AV-8 aircraft, see Wendell
Minnick, “Despite Pressures from China, Taiwan Might Procure
Harriers,” Defense News, January 16, 2016, http://www.defensenews.com/story/defense/air-space/strike/2016/01/16/despite-pressures-china-taiwan-might-procure-harriers/78733284/.
On Perry-class frigates, see Ankit Panda, “US Finalizes Sale
of Perry-class Frigates to Taiwan,” The Diplomat, December
20, 2014, http://thediplomat.com/2014/12/us-finalizes-sale-of-perry-class-frigates-to-taiwan/.
On F-16 aircraft, see: Van Jackson, “Forget F-16s for Taiwan:
It’s All About A2/AD,” The Diplomat, April 8, 2015,
45. William S. Murray, “Revisiting
Taiwan’s Defense Strategy,” Naval War College Review
61, no. 3 (Summer 2008): 13-38; and Jim Thomas et al., Hard ROC 2.0
Taiwan and Deterrence through Protraction (Washington: Center for
Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, 2014).
46. Thomas et al., Hard ROC 2.0, p. 4.
47. Bonnie Glaser and Anastasia Mark,
“Taiwan’s Defense Spending: The Security Consequences
of Choosing Butter over Guns,” Asia Maritime Transparency
Initiative, March 18, 2015, http://amti.csis.org/taiwans-defense-spending-the-security-consequences-of-choosing-butter-over-guns/.
Also see: Justin Logan and Ted Galen Carpenter,
“Taiwan’s Defense Budget: How Taipei’s Free
Riding Risks War,” Cato Institute Policy Analysis no. 600,
September 13, 2007.
48. For the full text of the letter, see Taiwan
Defense and National Security, “Benjamin L. Cardin and John
McCain Letter to President Obama Regarding Arms Sales to
Taiwan,” November 19, 2015, http://www.ustaiwandefense.com/benjamin-l-cardin-john-mccain-letter-to-president-obama-regarding-arms-sales-to-taiwan-november-19-2015/.
49. James Holmes, “Securing Taiwan Starts
with Overhauling Its Navy,” The National Interest, February
5, 2016, http://nationalinterest.org/feature/securing-taiwan-starts-overhauling-the-navy-15122.
50. Ian Easton, Able Archers: Taiwan Defense
Strategy in an Age of Precision Strike (Arlington: Project 2049
Institute, September 2014), pp. 35-37.
51. Ibid., p. 36 (TK surface-to-air missile), and
p. 64 (HF-3 anti-ship missile). It should be noted that the quote
comes from a report written in late 2014. In February 2016, the
U.S. Navy announced that the Standard Missile-6 (SM-6), which is
capable of greater range and speed than the HF-3, will be modified
for use as an anti-ship missile. Sam LaGrone, “SECDEF Carter
Confirms Navy Developing Supersonic Anti-Ship Missile for Cruisers,
Destroyers,” USNI News, February 4, 2016, http://news.usni.org/2016/02/04/secdef-carter-confirms-navy-developing-supersonic-anti-ship-missile-for-cruisers-destroyers.
52. Michael Green et al., Asia-Pacific Rebalance
2025: Capabilities, Presence and Partnerships (Washington: Center
for Strategic and International Studies, January 2016), p. 94.
53. Susan Thornton, “Testimony of Susan
Thornton,” House Foreign Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on
Asia and the Pacific (Washington: House Foreign Affairs Committee,
February 11, 2016), p. 4, http://docs.house.gov/meetings/FA/FA05/20160211/104457/HHRG-114-FA05-Wstate-ThorntonS-20160211.pdf.
54. Mearsheimer, “Say Goodbye to
Taiwan,” p. 35.
55. Shelley Rigger, “Why Giving Up Taiwan
Will Not Help Us with China,” American Enterprise Institute
(November 2011), p. 3.
56. Ivan Arreguín-Toft, “How the Weak Win
Wars: A Theory of Asymmetric Conflict,” International
Security 26, no. 1 (Summer 2001): 96.
57. Michael J. Lostumbo et al., Air Defense Options
for Taiwan: An Assessment of Relative Costs and Operational
Benefits (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2016); Murray,
“Revisiting Taiwan’s Defense Strategy,” p.
58. Holmes, “Securing Taiwan Starts with
Overhauling Its Navy.”
59. Grant Newsham and Kerry Gershaneck,
“Saving Taiwan’s Marine Corps,” The Diplomat,
November 16, 2015, http://thediplomat.com/2015/11/saving-the-taiwan-marine-corps/.
60. Goldstein, Meeting China Halfway, p. 65.
61. Dan De Luce et al., “Why China’s
Land Grab Is Backfiring on Beijing,” Foreign Policy, December
7, 2015, http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/12/07/why-chinas-land-grab-is-backfiring-on-beijing/;
Prashanth Parameswaran, “Indonesia Plays Up New South China
Sea ‘Base’ after China Spat,” The Diplomat, March
28, 2016, http://thediplomat.com/2016/03/indonesia-plays-up-new-south-china-sea-base-after-china-spat/;
and Richard Sisk, “Japan Sends ‘Destroyer’ to
South China Sea in Message to China,” Military.com, April 6,
62. Chase et al., China’s Incomplete Military
Transformation; and Scott L. Kastner, “Is the Taiwan Strait
Still a Flash Point? Rethinking the Prospects for Armed Conflict
between China and Taiwan,” International Security 40, no. 3
(Winter 2015/16): 71-74.
63. David A. Shlapak et al., A Question of Balance:
Political Context and Military Aspects of the China-Taiwan Dispute
(Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2009), p. 118.
64. Chase et al., China’s Incomplete Military
Transformation, p. 100.
65. Recent military reforms could speed up the pace
of solving these challenges. See “Xi’s New Model
Army,” The Economist, January 16, 2016, http://www.economist.com/news/china/21688424-xi-jinping-reforms-chinas-armed-forcesto-his-own-advantage-xis-new-model-army;
Kor Kian Beng, “A Different PLA with China’s Military
Reforms,” Straits Times (Singapore), January 5, 2016,
and Mu Chunshan, “The Logic Behind China’s Military
Reforms,” The Diplomat, December 5, 2015,http://thediplomat.com/2015/12/the-logic-behind-chinas-military-reforms/.
66. Glaser, “A U.S.-China Grand
Bargain?” p. 51.
67. Goldstein, Meeting China Halfway, p. 12.
68. In a recent Pew survey, 23 percent of U.S.
respondents considered China to be an adversary of the United
States, while 44 percent considered China to be a “serious
problem, but not an adversary.” Pew Research Center,
“International Threats, Defense Spending,” May 5,
69. On cyber espionage, see: Jon R. Lindsay,
“The Impact of China on Cybersecurity: Fiction and
Friction,” International Security 39, no. 3 (Winter
2014/15): 7-47; and Ellen Nakashima, “Chinese Breach Data of
4 Million Federal Workers,” Washington Post, June 4,
On alternative institutions, see: Jane Perlez, “China Creates
a World Bank of Its Own, and the U.S. Balks,” New York
Times, December 4, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/05/business/international/china-creates-an-asian-bank-as-the-us-stands-aloof.html?_r=0.
On the South China Sea, see: Melissa Sim, “U.S., China Cross
Swords over South China Sea,” Straits Times (Singapore),
February 25, 2016, http://www.straitstimes.com/world/united-states/us-china-cross-swords-over-south-china-sea.
70. Joshua P. Meltzer, “U.S.-China Joint
Presidential Statement on Climate Change: The Road to Paris and
Beyond,” Brookings Institution, September 29, 2015, http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/planetpolicy/posts/2015/09/29-us-china-statement-climate-change-meltzer;
and Somini Sengupta, “U.S. and China Agree on Proposal for
Tougher North Korea Sanctions,” New York Times, February 25,
71. Posen, Restraint, pp. 93-96.
72. Exacerbating tensions: Andrew J. Nathan and
Andrew Scobell, “How China Sees America: The Sum of
Beijing’s Fears,” Foreign Affairs 91, no. 5
(September/October 2012): 32-47; and Robert S. Ross, “The
Problem with the Pivot,” Foreign Affairs 91, no. 6
(November/December 2012): 70-82. On the subject of Taiwan’s
role in the pivot, see: Green et al., Asia-Pacific Rebalance 2025,
73. Fiona S. Cunningham and M. Taylor Fravel,
“Assuring Assured Retaliation: China’s Nuclear Posture
and U.S.-China Strategic Stability,” International Security
40, no.2 (Fall 2015): 16-19; and Gregory Kulacki, China’s
Military Calls for Putting Its Nuclear Forces on Alert (Cambridge,
MA: Union of Concerned Scientists, January 2016).
74. Jennifer Lind, “Japan’s Security
Evolution,” Cato Institute Policy Analysis no. 788, February
25, 2016; Logan and Carpenter, “Taiwan’s Defense
75. Kastner, “Is the Taiwan Strait Still a
Flash Point?” p. 76.
77. “The Causes and Consequences of
China’s Market Crash,” The Economist, August 24, 2015,
78. James Griffiths, “China on Strike,”
CNN, March 29, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/03/28/asia/china-strike-worker-protest-trade-union/index.html.
79. Kevin Yao and Meng Meng, “China Expects
to Lay Off 1.8 Million Workers in Coal, Steel Sectors,”
Reuters, February 29, 2016, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-economy-employment-idUSKCN0W205X.
80. Carpenter, “Could China’s Economic
Troubles Spark a War?”
81. Taisu Zhang, “China’s Coming
Ideological Wars,” Foreign Policy, March 1, 2016, http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/03/01/chinas-coming-ideological-wars-new-left-confucius-mao-xi/.
82. David Larter, “Carrier Scramble: CENTCOM,
PACOM Face Flattop Gaps This Spring Amid Tensions,” Navy
Times, January 7, 2016, http://www.navytimes.com/story/military/2016/01/07/carrier-scramble-centcom-pacom-face-flattop-gaps-spring-amid-tensions/78426140/;
and Andrea Shalal, “U.S. Arms Makers Strain to Meet Demand as
Mideast Conflicts Rage,” Reuters, December 4, 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-usa-arms-insight-idUSKBN0TN2DA20151204.
83. Dana R. Dillon and John J. Tkacik, Jr.,
“China and ASEAN: Endangered American Primacy in Southeast
Asia,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder no. 1886, October 19,
84. Ross, “The 1995-96 Taiwan Strait
Confrontation,” p. 109.
85. Nancy Bernkopf Tucker and Bonnie Glaser,
“Should the United States Abandon Taiwan?” The
Washington Quarterly 34, no. 4 (Fall 2011): 32-33; Mearsheimer,
“Say Goodbye to Taiwan”; Peter Navarro, “Is It
Time for America to ‘Surrender’ Taiwan?” The
National Interest, January 18, 2016, http://www.nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/it-time-america-%E2%80%98surrender%E2%80%99-taiwan-14955;
and Daniel Twining, “(Why) Should America Abandon
Taiwan?” Foreign Policy, January 10, 2012, http://foreignpolicy.com/2012/01/10/why-should-america-abandon-taiwan/.
86. Bush, “Taiwan’s January 2016
Elections and Their Implications for Relations with China and the
United States,” p. 21.
87. Max Fisher, “The Credibility Trap,”
Vox, April 29, 2016, http://www.vox.com/2016/4/29/11431808/credibility-foreign-policy-war;
Paul Huth and Bruce Russett, “What Makes Deterrence Work?
Cases from 1900 to 1980,” World Politics 36, no. 4 (July
1984): 496-526; Jonathan Mercer Reputation and International
Politics (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996), pp. 22-25;
and Press, Calculating Credibility, pp. 20-24.
88. Glaser, “A U.S.-China Grand
Bargain?” pp. 77-78.
89. Bosco, “Taiwan and Strategic
90. Quoted in Andrew S. Erickson and Joel Wuthnow,
“Why Islands Still Matter in Asia,” The National
Interest, February 5, 2016, http://nationalinterest.org/feature/why-islands-still-matter-asia-15121?page=show.
91. Nathan and Scobell, China’s Search for
Security, pp. 307-08.
92. J. Michael Cole, “How A2/AD Can Defeat
China,” The Diplomat, November 12, 2013, http://thediplomat.com/2013/11/how-a2ad-can-defeat-china/;
Eric Gomez, “Taiwan’s Best Option for Deterring China?
Anti-Access/Area Denial,” Cato at Liberty (blog), April 7,
Holmes, “Securing Taiwan Starts with Overhauling Its
Navy”; and Thomas et al., Hard ROC 2.0.
93. Lostumbo et al., Air Defense Options for
Taiwan, pp. 2-11.
94. Ibid., pp. 73-89.
95. Glaser, “A U.S.-China Grand
Bargain?” p. 79.
96. Ibid., pp. 78-83.
97. Goldstein, Meeting China Halfway, p.
98. Sam LaGrone, “UPDATED: U.S. Plans Modest
$1.83B Taiwan Arms Deal; Little Offensive Power in Proposed
Package,” USNI News, December 16, 2015, https://news.usni.org/2015/12/16/breaking-u-s-plans-modest-1-83b-taiwan-arms-deal-little-offensive-power-in-proposed-package.
99. For Taiwan’s indigenously produced
equipment, see Easton, Able Archers.
100. Kastner, “Is the Taiwan Strait Still a
Flash Point?” p. 70; and Mazza, “Taiwanese Hard Power:
Between a ROC and a Hard Place,” p. 202.
101. Murray, “Revisiting Taiwan’s
Defense Strategy,” pp. 17-19; and Thomas et al., Hard ROC
2.0, pp. 12-14.
102. Goldstein, Meeting China Halfway, p.
103. Glaser, “A U.S.-China Grand
Bargain?” p. 85.
104. Carpenter, America’s Coming War
with China, p. 177.
105. Eric Gomez, “The U.S.-Taiwan
Relationship Needs a Change,” Cato at Liberty
(blog), November 30, 2015, http://www.cato.org/blog/us-taiwan-relationship-needs-change>.
106. Carpenter, America’s Coming War
with China, p. 176.