A new academic study warns that with China’s growing military power, US policies toward Taiwan may no longer be “sensible.”
China’s military power, and specifically its ability to blunt US power projection in the western Pacific, is growing and growing substantially, the study says.
“Throwing up our hands seems imprudent and possibly foolhardy,” the principal analyst at research and analysis organization CNA, Elbridge Colby, says in the study.
CNA — not an acronym — is the parent organization of the Institute for Public Research and the Center for Naval Analyses.
Colby says he does not advocate for a “maximalist position” on Taiwan and that the US should not write Taiwan a “blank check.” However, he insists the US should strongly support Taiwan’s right to determine its own future and treat the question of Taiwan “with the utmost delicacy.”
He says that it would be “dangerous and rash” to abandon Taiwan, and that the US must continue to walk a fine line “supporting Taiwan’s reasonable rights, while avoiding needlessly angering China.”
Colby, a grandson of former CIA director William Colby, says the US must preserve its position in the western Pacific.
“While we must be prepared to use force in the region, if at all possible we do not want to get in a war with China over Taiwan or anything else,” he says.
“Ultimately, there is no silver bullet on the Taiwan question. Instead, the issues surrounding Taiwan’s future are certain to remain immensely fraught, exceedingly delicate and continually changing. Wise government policy must adapt to these realities even as it charts a course that shapes the environment in ways favorable to our interests,” he adds.
The study was printed this week in the US foreign affairs magazine the National Interest.
“Whatever happens, we will certainly be better off if we are strong. If we are strong, we will have more and better options, more leverage, more maneuvering room, more credibility and more time to chart a course through these waters, relatively placid on the surface, but exceedingly treacherous beneath, of deciding how best to deal with the problems of Taiwan and China,” Colby says.
He adds that the US must focus defense spending “carefully and pointedly” on military capabilities of value in the western Pacific.
“We need the ability to match China’s improvements in its military capabilities, especially its anti-access/area-denial capabilities with correlative and ideally superior improvements of our own,” Colby says.
This means, he says, keeping a lead over China in the areas of high-end military capacities that will enable the US to prevail in a battle for supremacy in the Western Pacific.
“Most obviously this means the kind of naval and aerial capabilities that can deal effectively with an opponent like China, but it also means the cyber, space and associated elements that will mean the difference between a winning and losing combatant in such a conflict,” Colby says.
He advises “focused and intelligent” investment in potentially disruptive technologies, like directed-energy weapons and 3D printing.
“Finally, it means maintaining a sufficiently large, flexible and discriminate nuclear force capable of deterring the most dramatic forms of escalation and as an ultimate backstop for our defense posture,” he adds.
The US will be better off, he says, if it has the military capability to dissuade Beijing from seeing a military option as an attractive solution to its problems.
“But if we are going to do this, we need more strategic discipline, clearer focus, greater efficiency and the willingness to break grooved ways of doing business,” Colby says.
“If not, we might one day in the not too distant future find ourselves in the distinctly unfamiliar position of not only lacking the military capabilities to dictate terms, but in the even more unfamiliar, and decidedly uncomfortable, position of finding that our opponent has the capabilities to dictate terms to us,” he adds.
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