Sunday, April 20, 2008

First to Deter

Keeping the Chinese at bay as their military power increases with their economic growth is making the defense of Taiwan more difficult. We must urge Taiwan to make their tiny island democracy a hard target, maintain our ability to fight alongside the Taiwanese early to maintain deterrence, and change the debate so that Taiwan isn't China's highest military priority.

I mentioned in this post on the increasing difficulty of deterring Chinese attacks on Taiwan by counting on moving forces to Taiwan. As Chinese power grows, we must use more force to fight our way through potential Chinese blocking forces.

If we wish to keep Taiwan free, the logic of the situation is clear:

The Taiwanese need to take note of this trend and increase their forces to buy the increasing amount of time we will need to gather sufficient naval power to blast through the PLAN.

Heck, eventually, if we're serious about defending Taiwan in the face of increasing Chinese power, we will need to deploy air and ground forces on Taiwan itself. Say a fighter wing of F-16s and a Stryker Brigade so that China knows that they can't conquer Taiwan without fighting us.

This isn't exactly a Stryker Brigade, but uniformed American Marines may soon be stationed on the island:

A State Department advertisement in the English-language Taipei Times newspaper called for contractors to construct quarters for Marine security guards at a new U.S. compound in the capital, Taipei.

Since the U.S. switched its recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979, there have been no marine guards at its Taipei facility — the American Institute in Taiwan — in keeping with its deliberately low political profile. ...

Placing the guards at AIT — the de facto American Embassy on the island — would constitute another in a series of gradual steps in upgrading its status.

The Chinese will protest. No doubt they don't like the precedent of American troops on Taiwan. My guess is that more will follow eventually.

The logic of the Taiwan Straits situation is that deterrence from a distance is eroding. If we are serious about defending Taiwan, we will lose many sailors making good our pledge to defend Taiwan if deterrence fails and we must fight through more powerful Chinese forces trying to block our intervention. So even though putting US forces on Taiwan would seem to guarantee US casualties and limit our flexibility in a crisis by committing us early, such a move would also increase deterrence and make it less likely that a war will start in the first place.

But making Taiwan stronger and maintaining deterrence is only our side of the equation and doesn't get the answer we want. Ultimately, we need to either to hope the Chinese lose their obsession with Taiwan and become a non-communist democracy, stop working on the assumption that the China-Taiwan problem means we are always on defense, or at least get the Chinese to look to the interior of Asia as their priority.