Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

A Secret War in the Making: Americans Should Not Die to Defend Taiwan | AIER

Posted by M. C. on January 10, 2023

Most members of the Washington foreign policy elite have never met a war they didn’t want other Americans to fight. Policymakers managed to blunder through Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya without wrecking the US. A war against China over Taiwan could have far more destructive consequences.

Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow

The United States might be a democracy in form, but most policies are developed without even a semblance of public participation. For instance, policymakers overwhelmingly believe that the US should go to war with the People’s Republic of China if it attacks Taiwan. President Biden has five times declared that he would back Taiwan militarily. Yet Congress has not voted.

Those predicting conflict believe the hour is late, but some imagine that a tough stance would preclude war. America’s president merely needs to wave his pinky finger, or state his demands, and Chinese Communist Party officials would run screaming back to the leadership compound of Zhongnanhai, never to be heard from again. General Secretary Xi Jinping is, however, made of sterner stuff, buttressed by the People’s Liberation Army, which is rapidly expanding to prevent Washington from treating the Asia-Pacific as coastal American waters.

Even so, many Blob members assume that if Beijing were foolish enough to fight, it would (of course) be defeated. Not so. Any war over Taiwan would be won on the seas, and the PRC is much closer and can more easily reinforce its forces. Breaking a naval blockade would be difficult and would invite full-scale conflict. Beijing now possesses a larger (based on numbers, not tonnage) navy than America. And China is able to concentrate its forces in the Asia-Pacific. Reported the Congressional Research Service: “China’s navy is a formidable military force within China’s near-seas region, and it is conducting a growing number of operations in the broader waters of the Western Pacific, the Indian Ocean, and waters around Europe.”

Geography is a major problem: Taiwan is barely 100 miles off China’s shore, roughly the same distance as Cuba from America. The PRC could rely on two score mainland military bases and enjoy air superiority over the island. Beijing’s strategy would be anti-access/area denial, using submarines and missiles, especially, to keep the US Navy afar.

Washington would have to rely on allied bases, most notably Japan (Okinawa), the Philippines, and South Korea. However, none of America’s friends want to end up as targets of Chinese missiles. The Republic of Korea, confronting a dangerous North Korea, is least-likely to back the US in a war against the PRC. The Philippines is a semi-failed state; a former defense secretary once opined that his nation had “a navy that can’t go out to sea and an air force that cannot fly.”

Which leaves Japan. North Korea’s nuclear turn and China’s rise have caused Tokyo to plan a major increase in defense outlays. That government now notes its strategic interest in Taiwan, but has insisted that nothing said so far commits Japan to go to war with China over the issue. Entry into any war would turn the entire country into a potential target, and reaffirm Tokyo’s status as an enemy of the PRC.

Alas, the US usually loses wargames involving a Taiwan conflict. Even when America prevails in such contests, the price is quite high. A highly-publicized August wargame gave the trophy to Washington, but only at very substantial cost, including the loss of half the US aircraft involved. The sinking of one aircraft carrier could result in several thousand deaths. The conflict would be nothing like battling unwilling Iraqi soldiers or ill-armed Afghan insurgents.

Equally important, China cares much more about Taiwan than does the US. For the Chinese, the issue is nationalism at its most raw: the island was seized by Japan as war booty more than a century ago. Regaining Taiwan would complete recovery from the so-called “century of humiliation,” during which outside imperialistic powers, including America, effectively humbled and dismantled the moribund Chinese empire.

Taiwan also has obvious military significance. No great power would accept an enemy base so close to its territory. In the event of defeat, China could expect the island to fill with US bases and forces. Washington faced such a possibility with Cuba in 1962 and almost fought a nuclear war with the Soviet Union over the issue.

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