The recent US Department of Defense report on PRC military modernization is a useful reminder of the challenges posed by China's rise as a major regional power. This year's report is the most detailed and insightful to date and a number of issues are worthy of consideration for Taiwan.
First, the exclusive focus on the dangers of China's military modernization risks diverting attention away from other important security challenges that Taiwan faces.
Most noteworthy is economic security. Given the risks inherent in overreliance on China for sustained economic growth and prosperity, much more could be done to integrate the economy of Taiwan with those of the US, Japan and other Asian countries.
For example, Taiwan could be encouraged to leverage its competitive advantages in information technology and participate in the globalization of the US defense industry through a bilateral defense procurement memorandum of understanding.
Natural disasters, epidemics and terrorism and other extremism, just to name a few, also pose significant challenges to Taiwan's security. While the military challenges are serious, these non-traditional threats may be more imminent and possibly just as lethal to life and prosperity.
Secondly, as China's military becomes more skilled and innovative, defenses become increasingly important. While assessing a stronger Chinese military, the most important considerations are worst-case scenarios and what the responses to those cases would be.
Here are a few ideas that could serve as starting points for further debate.
To begin with, should Taiwan assume US intervention as the basis for strategic and operational planning?
While there is good reason to hope and plan for potential ad hoc coalition operations with intervening US forces, the Taiwan Relations Act is no substitute for a mutual defense treaty.
With this in mind, and in the absence of a formal alliance commitment, prudence seems to suggest that independent defense should serve as a formal planning assumption. Hope for the best, yet plan for the worst.
Another important question: What is the best way to ensure that the perceived and real costs to the individuals in Beijing making an ill-advised decision to use military force outweigh any perceived benefit?
Put another way, and with independent defense as a guiding principle, how could one ensure that a future Chinese leadership understands that it would be unsuccessful in any attempt to forcibly oust a democratically elected leadership, physically occupy an entire island and rule through proxies at the central and local levels?
An amphibious invasion is the least likely yet most dangerous scenario.
Chinese decision makers could resort to coercive uses of force, short of a full scale invasion, in order to achieve limited political objectives. However, the outcome of coercive campaigns can not be predicted with any degree of certainty.
While gradual annexation through peaceful means may be preferable, annihilation and occupation could one day be perceived as the only means to victory.
As time goes on, China's ability to physically occupy Taiwan and force a regime change may become easier. And if it is easier, such a course of action could become more tempting.
But victory could still be elusive, regardless of how strong China's military is. History is replete with examples of militarily superior powers losing to weaker ones.