Victory Without Battle: A Smarter Vision for US-Taiwan Policy (Marcellus Policy Analysis)

By Zachary Yost, Fall 2021 Marcellus Policy Fellow

American leaders, policy makers, and the public at large are invested in the continued de facto independence of Taiwan. These reasons vary, ranging from strategic power projection concerns in East Asia, to historical ties and deeply felt moral obligations to defend democracies against totalitarian governments. Setting aside whether or not Taiwan’s de facto independence is of vital national interest of the United States, it is a widely shared end of U.S. leadership, though the means to achieve this end are often a source of debate.

Due to Chinese anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) capabilities, the vulnerability of forward U.S. bases in the region, and the questionable state of combat readiness of the U.S. Navy, the ability of the U.S. to successfully intervene in a cross-strait invasion is in doubt. Fortunately, military intervention or a security guarantee are not the only means to maintain the status quo in the Taiwan Strait. While public discussion often seems to give the impression that China is capable of swiftly invading and conquering Taiwan whenever it desires, this is not the case. Taiwan has strong defense potential that the U.S. can bolster without a security guarantee and at relatively little expense.

By shifting the U.S. focus away from planning to intervene in a cross-strait invasion, towards a strategy of providing training, planning, and specifically tailored arms sale, American policy makers can avoid a situation that could potentially escalate to conflict with nuclear armed China, while also deterring the Chinese from attempting to invade, or, if necessary, adequately prepare Taiwan to defeat an invasion.