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HomeGlobal Perspective & Critical ResearchThe United States Should Not Defend Taiwan

The United States Should Not Defend Taiwan

Author: Patrick Porter

Affiliation: The Department of Political Science and International Studies (POLSIS) at University of Birmingham, in England

Organization/Publisher: The National Review

Date/Place: December 2, 2021/ USA

Type of Literature: Debate 

Word Count: 2623 


Keywords: Defend Taiwan, China’s Dominance in Asia, the Limits of US Denial Defense Strategy, and Great Power Competition 



Here, Porter responds to Colby’s article in the same magazine when he argued that the United States should defend Taiwan (see my brief, Issue NO. 106). Porter argues that the United States should not go to war with China over Taiwan, as there are options to deter and respond to Beijing other than war. It is true that Taiwan’s fate is important to American interests, but it does not justify the dangerous choice of war for these interests. Washington should not go all in” for Taipei or step back passively, but rather steer a middle course. The US should be Taiwan’s shield, not its guarantor; this is the wisest option available compared to engaging in a conflict that could easily escalate out of control and directly destroy the US’ standing in the region. 

Porter agrees with Colby on many points such as Beijing’s apparent desire for hegemony, its aggressive practices at home and abroad, the need to contain it, providing support for other countries including Taiwan as bulwarks against Chinese aggression, dealing with the China and Taiwan issue as a balance of power subject away from any ideological basis, and the necessity of mobilizing a balancing coalition and repositioning the American assets spread across the world to fit this mission.

However, Porter disagrees with Colby on other points. First, Taiwan’s status and the appropriate way to deal with China regarding the island. In his view, Colby exaggerates by comparing Taiwan’s status to Western Europe during the Cold War as a measure of US commitment, and to Cuba as a platform for threatening US national security. For Porter, Taiwan does not hold a unique and dangerous position, and is not the only potential flashpoint between China and the United States in the region, although it is the most difficult issue to deal with peacefully. Second, Colby has an optimist argument by assuming that Beijing can successfully be deterred. When Washington is committed to fighting for Taipei, this will push – in Colby’s vision – China to retreat for fear of confronting the most powerful country in the world. On the contrary, Porter argues that China is not likely to back down because Taiwan is existentially important for it, more than the Falkland Islands was to Britain or Algeria to France in terms of geopolitical value. It is more like the importance of Texas to America. Therefore, China is prepared to take on the risks of war for Taiwan more than any other conflict. Taiwan is also a vital political issue for the Chinese Communist Party’s status and domestic survival, which is why the balance of power is always imbalanced in China’s favor. Third, China has sufficient military and technological power to support its decisiveness if the US prefers the option of war. The US will not have the ability to limit or control the escalating fighting in its favor. Also, China’s geographical proximity to Taiwan makes it impossible for the US to wage a war without a strike on the Chinese mainland. This may ignite a catastrophic war between the two superpowers that does not rule out the nuclear option and lead to exposing the regional order to greater danger, as it may undermine local support to maintain the American commitment in the region. Even if America wins the war on Taiwan, its victory has a high price and would eventually lead to an exit from the region. Therefore, the chance of a successful deterrence to China is significantly low, according to Porter. Fourth, the author rejects the assumption that China’s invasion of Taiwan will necessarily lead to the collapse of US alliances or China taking over as a leading regional power. In his view, if the United States would only provide assistance without entering a war, this would not lead to the destruction of America’s standing or bring Asia into China’s domination era. The allies will not explicitly ask Washington to escalate against Beijing, but any Chinese attempt to attack Taiwan will lead to a hostile response, as Asian allies, in particular, will have additional incentives to strengthen their efforts to balance China, like some of them did recently by joining the AUKUS and Quad with the growing hostile Chinese behavior.

Thus, the author calls for allocating more resources to help Taiwan and create a counterforce in a region of a large balancing potential that is insufficiently exploited. This would help Washington more to embody the “Denial Defense Strategy” that Colby spoke about, confining China in a narrow corner and making its hegemony in the region difficult and costly. Moreover, the author argues that China’s attack on Taiwan will not expand its power in the region but will deplete it further. Invading the island will not be easy militarily; it will exhaust Beijing economically and provoke urban warfare and rebellion. In addition, the invasion of the island will offer China only a few military advantages, many barriers will remain in front of it related to distances, the stopping power of nuclear marine environment, and others. Finally, if China does move to invade the island, the author urges the United States to continue to aid and equip Taiwan as well as punish China with different methods except military war, such as imposing economic sanctions in coordination with Asian and European allies and continuing to contain China on a larger scale. He also calls for embarking, in the long run, on a program of gradual economic decoupling from Beijing, “something few countries are willing to consider today but that could be promoted as a geopolitical necessity in the wake of an attack.” As well as other countries should bear more of the burden, “rather than hoping that a great and powerful friend will relieve them of painful choices.”


By: Djallel Khechib, CIGA  Senior Research Associate



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