A prominent Washington-based policy research organization says the United States is preparing for the wrong kind of likely conflict should China invade Taiwan.
In a newly released book titled, “Defending Taiwan,” the American Enterprise Institute argues Washington wrongly predicts a short and geographically localized war over Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion. Instead, AEI researchers say, the Pentagon’s planning should revolve around “a conflict of extended duration.”
“In the most worrying scenario, Beijing would launch a surprise missile attack, hammering not only Taiwan’s defenses but also the American naval and air forces concentrated at a few large bases in the western Pacific,” according to AEI’s senior fellows Hal Brands and Michael Beckley who assessed a U.S.-China conflict in the western Pacific will not end quickly.
For years, U.S. policy has been to effectively deter a military conflict in the Taiwan Strait while preparing for contingencies in the event of a Chinese attack.
Senior U.S. officials have also raised grave concerns about the Beijing government’s “increasingly provocative rhetoric and activity” towards Taiwan.
Civilian leaders in the past had directed the U.S. military to develop viable plans to defend Taiwan, according to an internal document under former U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration.
More recently, top officials from President Joe Biden’s administration have repeatedly warned against Beijing’s use of force to alter the status quo.
If Taiwan were attacked by China, opinion polls indicate a bare majority of Americans now favor defending Taiwan.
“Fifty-three percent may not seem like a lot but that's more than the percentage of Americans who favor defending Germany from Soviet aggression at various points during the Cold War. And so, it’s fairly significant,” Brands told reporters on Monday. He was citing the finding by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs in August 2021.
“With respect to allies, it’s been pretty striking. I mean, both the Japanese and the Australians have said as clearly as they can that they would not simply sit out a U.S.- China war over Taiwan,” said Brands, who is also one of the members of the State Department’s Foreign Affairs Policy Board. “The Japanese have said that this would be nearly existential for them, given geography.”
To prevent the worst from happening while preparing for a long war, Brands and Beckley made several policy recommendations. They suggested the United States and Taiwan could amass key weapons stockpiles “to win the race to reload,” which would also deter China from resorting to war if Beijing knew it would be outgunned if the conflict drags on. In addition, Washington can demonstrate through preparations the grit to endure losses, threaten retaliation, and contain escalation.