US expert poses ‘dramatic question’ about Taiwan

By William Lowther  /  Staff Reporter in Washington

Fri, Apr 20, 2012 - Page 3

The US needs to ask itself a “big dramatic question” about Taiwan, a foreign policy expert told a Washington conference on Wednesday.

Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution said that historically the US military had been so powerful that it could operate with impunity “ten or twenty or thirty miles” off the coast of China.

However, those days are over, he said.

Now, with the growth of China’s own military and the technical development of new weapons systems, he said the US had “less supremacy, less dominance.”

He also asked the conference — organized by the National Bureau of Asian Research — to consider if the US needed to “weaken” its defense commitment to Taiwan.

O’Hanlon, a senior fellow in foreign policy who specializes in US defense strategy and the use of military force, stressed that he was not suggesting that the US should pull back from the Western Pacific.

“Does our strategy for the defense of Taiwan have the ability to survive for another decade or two?” he asked.

He said that in the past the US had the ability to help protect Taiwan “in any kind of way that we wished.”

“We could stop an amphibious assault, stop a naval blockade, stop anything else that China might attempt,” he said.

However, that is no longer the case, he said.

“We don’t have the same immunity from Chinese actions in and around Taiwan that we had before,” he said.

“If China blockades Taiwan, rather than breaking the blockade, do we counterblockade?” he asked. “Do we mobilize international sanctions that have the effect of imposing a blockade? In other words, it might be time to get a little more creative about our war planning.”

O’Hanlon added: “China cares more about Taiwan than we do — it’s just a fact.”

“And yet, we do care about Taiwan. We care about it at least as much as we care about Georgia,” he added.

While O’Hanlon said it was not a perfect analogy, he likened a possible Chinese invasion of Taiwan to the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008. Washington, he said, simply told Moscow that if it overthrew the Georgian regime, the Russian-US relationship would not “be the same.”

The US, O’Hanlon said, did not really know what that meant — but Washington was deadly serious even though it did not launch a single war plane or issue a single military threat during the crisis.

He concluded: “Countering a Chinese blockade of Taiwan is going to get harder, but there are other military and economic steps we could take.”