In the post-COVID-19 era, the national defense and security competition between the US and China is expected to become more intense than ever, and the US’ efforts to use its Indo-Pacific strategy and the Five Eyes intelligence alliance to contain China are likely to become increasingly conspicuous.
Situated in the key position for safeguarding the first island chain, Taiwan should prepare by pushing for Operation Plan Rochester to be updated.
The plan was signed by Taiwan and the US in July 1955, subsequent to the Sino-American Mutual Defense Treaty signed in December 1954.
According to a report sent by then-US ambassador to the Republic of China (ROC) Karl Rankin to the US Department of State, the plan’s geographical range covers “Taiwan, Penghu and, possibly, the off-shore islands,” suggesting that Kinmen and Matsu were also included.
In the event of hostilities, the report says, the ROC military — referred to as “the Chinese” in the report — would be responsible for ground combat, while the US would take “the major task of air defense and naval support and bombardment.”
While the treaty and the plan were annulled in 1980, one year after the US established diplomatic ties with China, the core idea — that the US would provide assistance in defending Taiwan — was still visible during the 1995-1996 Taiwan Strait missile crisis, when the US dispatched aircraft carrier battle groups to the Taiwan Strait.
During Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) presidency, then-deputy minister of national defense for administrative affairs Kang Ning-hsiang (康寧祥) visited the US and met with then-US deputy secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz.
When Kang proposed renewing the plan, Wolfowitz said that as Taiwan and US shared a good relationship, the plan should be amended step-by-step like a child learning to walk, in the sense that after learning to walk, learning how to run is much easier.
Twenty years later, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) poses an incomparably greater military threat to Taiwan, from its offshore defense to the deployment of warplanes and military vessels encircling Taiwan and crossing into the West Pacific for deep-sea operations. Renewed Taiwan-US cooperation is of the utmost urgency.
In compliance with the spirit of the Rochester plan, which allocated ground activity to Taiwan and air defense and naval support to the US, there are areas where Taiwan needs to work harder.
First, the government should implement a comprehensive defense strategy. Taiwan should build innovative capabilities for asymmetric warfare, allowing it to set up a multi-layer coastal defense using a huge numbers of precision-guided weapons that are small, lethal and mobile.
Such weapons would include surface-to-air missiles, anti-tank missiles, anti-ship missiles, naval mines and drones, which would delay or deter an enemy from achieving its goals.
Second, the government needs to fix the problems with the voluntary enlistment system and improve reserve troop mobilization. The voluntary enlistment system has resulted in a severe lack of frontline military units, such as infantry, armor and artillery units, as well as outlying island units. Terminating the recruitment of reserve officers also affects the composition of basic-level squad and platoon leaders.
Moreover, the reserve is not mobilized according to the specializations they were taught during their military service, and the current mandatory four-month military service is too short to give soldiers proper training, which complicates future reserve mobilization.
Third, the government must work harder to establish essential industries for national defense autonomy.
As weaponry and equipment procurements are highly politicized, Taiwan — which faces a difficult diplomatic situation — must build independent manufacturing capabilities for submarines and long-range missiles.
The US government should help Taiwan enhance its cyber and electronic warfare capabilities.
That both sides of the Strait have established relevant military units — the Information Communication and Electronic Warfare Office under the Ministry of National Defense’s General Staff Headquarters in Taiwan, and the PLA Strategic Support Force’s Network Systems Department — underscores the importance of cyber and electronic warfare.
To gain leverage against China, Taiwan needs to sharpen and refine these new combat capabilities.
Taiwan and the US must establish a channel for sharing command, control, communications, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance information, and develop a “common operational picture” for defense cooperation.
In particular, the US has diverse intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems, which could help Taiwan improve in these aspects.
The US should consider providing Taiwan with emergency ammunition. Modern warfare involves high consumption of precision-guided missiles, which Taiwan does not have in sufficient reserve due to the high unit cost. Emergency supplies would be necessary if a conflict occurs.
Last but not least, the US should consider deploying superior air-sea combat forces to deter a Chinese attempt to flank Taiwan from the northeast and southwest.
While the PLA is capable of launching an attack on Taiwan from many directions, the US forces would be a huge deterrence, holding the PLA at bay to the north and south and allowing the nation to concentrate its defensive power on its west coast.
Since Operation Plan Rochester helped cool down the cross-strait crisis during the era of the Cold War, it would be ideal for Taiwan and the US to update the plan to maintain peace and stability in the Strait.
Ou Si-fu is a research fellow at Institute for National Defense and Security Research.
Translated by Chang Ho-ming
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