Sat, May 04, 2019 - Page 8 News List

US helps those who help themselves

By Elbridge Colby

The threat to Taiwan from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is increasing — sharply. Beijing is putting the nation under tremendous political pressure, but the military threat to Taiwan is especially alarming. China has spent the past 25 years working to undermine US and allied military advantages, above all with respect to Taiwan.

As US think tank RAND Corp and other sources have shown, helping Taiwan defend itself has gone from a relatively easy task in the 1990s for the US military to an exceptionally stressful one today. For Beijing, a military solution to the “Taiwan problem” is no longer fanciful — and China is not resting.

The situation is therefore urgent, but it is far from hopeless. Taiwan can be effectively defended. Addressing the growing threat from the People’s Republic will, however, require implementing a marked shift in Taiwan’s defense along the lines of the new Overall Defense Concept.

In brief, Taiwan must shift from a conventional defense approach to a much more lethal and resilient model. The purpose of Taiwan’s defense posture — including not only its military, but its civil defense efforts — should be to make it as difficult and costly as possible for the PRC to conquer or subordinate Taiwan.

The crucial purpose of this approach should be to make it as credible and feasible as possible for the US to come to Taiwan’s defense. This is increasingly vital because the costs and risks to Americans of helping Taiwan defend itself have risen dramatically in the past two decades, due to the growing might of the PRC.

The problem is that sticking with Taiwan’s old defense approach will increase the presumption on America’s resolve a great deal. Taiwan’s military cannot look like the military of a secure country, nor its civil defense preparations resemble those of contemporary western Europe’s. Taiwan cannot simply expect America to pull its chestnuts out of the fire if the worst happens and the PRC invades or imposes a blockade.

Such a course would not only be unfair, it would be exceedingly unwise. Experience and common sense indicate that Americans will most help those who help themselves. Americans are thus more likely to help a Taiwan that can materially blunt and degrade a Chinese assault, as well as ride out a long blockade. This is a Taiwan armed more with ship-killing cruise missiles and sea mines than the fanciest fighters or frigates, and a Taiwan with deep stockpiles of food, medicine and gas, not a fragile, just-in-time economy.

The point is not to pretend that Taiwan could defend itself alone from a determined attack by the mainland. The point, rather, is to reduce the demands on and catalyze the resolve of Americans in ways that make it more likely that they will answer Taiwan’s call for help if it is needed.

Helping Taiwan defend itself would be very hard for the US, but Taiwan can make doing so less painful and difficult in ways that can make a significant difference.

Taiwan can do this in a number of ways. Militarily, it is far easier for the US to aid a fighting defense than recapture a fortified conquest. It is considerably less demanding — even if still very challenging — for the US military to help defend a Taiwan that can hold out for a time than to recapture a Taiwan that has fallen quickly and that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army can heavily fortify. The less Taiwan’s defense demands of Americans, the more likely they are to go the distance.

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