The United States is speeding up the transformation of Taiwan’s defense to deter China
The United States is speeding up the transformation of Taiwan’s defense to deter China

The United States is speeding up the transformation of Taiwan’s defense to deter China

WASHINGTON – The Biden administration has stepped up its efforts to reshape Taiwan’s defense systems as it projects a more robust US military presence in the region to try to deter a potential attack of the Chinese military, say current and former U.S. officials.

Russia’s war in Ukraine has made American and Taiwanese officials very aware that an autocrat can order an invasion of an adjacent territory at any time. But it has also shown how a small military can withstand a seemingly powerful enemy.

U.S. officials are learning from arm Ukraine to work with Taiwan to shape a stronger force that could repel a naval invasion of China, which has one of the world’s largest military.

The goal is to turn Taiwan into what some officials call a “hedgehog” – a territory filled with weapons and other forms of US-led support that appear to be too painful to attack.

Taiwan has long had missiles that can hit China. But the US-made weapons it has recently acquired – mobile rocket platforms, F-16 fighter jets and anti-ship projectiles – are better suited to repel an invading force. Some military analysts say Taiwan may buy naval mines and armed drones later. And as it has done in Ukraine, the US government can also provide intelligence to increase weapons mortality, even if it refrains from sending troops.

U.S. officials have quietly pressured their Taiwanese counterparts to buy weapons suitable for asymmetric warfarea conflict in which a smaller military uses mobile systems to carry out deadly attacks on a much larger force, say US and Taiwanese officials.

Washington is increasingly using the presence of its military and allies as a deterrent. The Pentagon has begun revealing more details about U.S. warships sailing through the Taiwan Strait – 30 since the start of 2020. And US officials praise partner nations like Australia, Britain, Canada and France as their warships pass through the strait.

By increasing its posture and language, the United States is trying to walk a fine line between deterrence and provocation. The actions risk pressuring President Xi Jinping of China to order an attack on Taiwan, some analysts say. A Chinese offensive against Taiwan can take many forms, such as a full-scale sea and air attack on the main island with missile barriers, an invasion of small islands closest to China’s southeast coast, a naval blockade or a cyber attack.

“Are we aware of what is deterring China and what is provoking China?” said Bonnie S. Glaser, director of the Asia program at the German Marshall Fund in the United States. “The answer to that is ‘no’ and it’s dangerous territory.”

“We need to think long and hard about how we can strengthen deterrence,” she said.

U.S. officials often discuss potential deterrents that end up being dropped because they are considered too provocative. In the Trump administration, National Security Council officials discussed deploying U.S. troops in Taiwan, a former official said. White House and Pentagon officials also proposed sending a high-level U.S. military delegation to Taiwan, but the idea was killed after senior State Department officials objected, another former official said.

President Biden’s strong language during a visit to Tokyo this week peaked at provocation, Glaser and other analysts in Washington said.

The president on Monday stated that the United States had an “obligation” to engage militarily to defend Taiwan third time he has made such remarks during his presidency. And he explicitly said he would take measures that go beyond what the United States has done in Ukraine. While Beijing might see the words as belligerent, they are consistent with the new emphasis in Washington on powerful deterrence.

On Tuesday, Mr Biden said in Tokyo that the decades-old policy of “strategic ambiguity” – which leaves open whether the US military will fight for Taiwan – still stands. “Politics has not changed at all,” he said.

Harry B. Harris Jr., a former U.S. ambassador to South Korea and a retired admiral who led the U.S. Pacific Command, said the United States now needs to adopt “strategic clarity” rather than “strategic ambiguity” to serve as a deterrent. . China, he said, “does not restrain its preparations for whatever it decides to do, simply because we are ambiguous about our position.”

The United States has called on allies to speak out for Taiwan in an attempt to show Beijing that Washington can unite other nations against China if it attacks the self-governing democratic island. On Monday, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said at a press conference with Mr. Biden that the two leaders had reaffirmed “the importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.”

During the three-month war in Ukraine, Washington has held together a coalition of European and Asian partners to impose sanctions on Russia. U.S. officials say they hope the measures send a message to China and other nations about the cost of carrying out the type of invasion that Russian President Vladimir V. Putin is monitoring. U.S. officials are already discussing the extent to which they can copy the economic sanctions and military aid deployed to defend Ukraine in the event of a conflict over Taiwan.

“I want the PLA officers to wake up every day and believe that they cannot isolate Taiwan in a conflict and instead have to face the decision to launch a costly, broader conflict where their goals are beyond their reach. , “said Eric Sayers, a former senior adviser to the U.S. Pacific Command who is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, referring to China’s military, the People’s Liberation Army, with the initials.

U.S. intelligence analysts have studied the evolving relationship between China and Russia and the lessons Beijing can gain from Ukraine.

Chinese leaders face a complicated calculation in weighing whether their military can conquer Taiwan without incurring an overwhelming cost.

ONE Pentagon report released last year said China’s military modernization efforts continued to widen the capacity gap between the country’s forces and Taiwan’s forces. But the Chinese military has not fought a war since 1979, when it attacked Vietnam in an offensive that ended in a strategic loss for China.

To take Taiwan, the Chinese navy had to cross more than 100 miles of water and make an amphibious attack, an operation far more complex than anything Mr Putin has tried in Ukraine.

And in any case, perceived abilities on paper may not translate into performance in the field.

“As we have learned in Ukraine, no one really knows how hard a military will fight before a war actually starts,” said James G. Stavridis, a retired four-star admiral and former dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. “China is probably not ready to take a risk of an invasion with the current levels of strength and capabilities in terms of attacking Taiwan.”

U.S. officials do not make that assumption. They have pressured Taiwan to buy weapons systems that they consider suitable for asymmetric warfare against China. The Biden administration recently told the Taiwanese Ministry of Defense not to order MH-60R Seahawk helicopters made by Lockheed Martin, and it has also discouraged orders for more M1A2 Abrams thought.

Admiral Stavridis said the United States needed to quickly get its hands on the Taiwanese if an invasion seemed imminent, focusing on systems that would erode Chinese offensive capabilities.

“It will include smart mines, cruise missiles against ships, cybersecurity capabilities and special forces capable of neutralizing Chinese advance teams and air defense systems,” he said.

U.S. officials consider mobility critical and urge Taiwan to buy mobile land-based Harpoon anti-ship missiles. Stinger anti-aircraft missiles can also be valuable in averting the Chinese Air Force.

The pace of Taiwan’s arms purchases has increased. Since 2010, the United States has announced more than $ 23 billion in arms sales to Taiwan, according to the Pentagon report from last year. In 2020 alone, the permits amounted to more than $ 5 billion. Sales included advanced unmanned aerial systems, long-range missiles and artillery and anti-ship missiles.

Taiwan’s annual defense budget is more than 2 percent of its gross domestic product. President Tsai Ing-wen has increased the annual figure by modest amounts.

Both U.S. and Taiwanese officials say Taiwanese troops need better training, but each government wants the other to take more responsibility.

“The Taiwanese troops have little opportunity to carry out exercises with the Allies,” said Shu Hsiao-huang, a researcher at the Taiwanese National Institute of National Defense and Security Research. “Military cooperation between Taiwan and the United States should be strengthened in aspects of regional exercises and the deployment of weapons.”

Ms Glaser said Taiwan needed to create a strong reserve force and territorial defense force that could bring down an invading military, as the Ukrainians did.

“The United States has been encouraging the Taiwanese military for years to talk to countries with a robust defense force,” she said. “Taiwan has sent delegations to Israel, Singapore, Finland, Sweden, some of the Baltic countries. Now the situation is far more serious and far more urgent. There is much more pressure.”

John Ismay and Julian E. Barnes contributed reporting from Washington, and Amy Chang Chien from Taipei, Taiwan.

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