The United States, which last had military forces in Taiwan more than 40 years ago, should consider sending troops into the country again, as a new proposal deems this necessary to deter the Chinese military from attacking Taiwan.
In the September-October edition of the US Army Military Review, Captain Walker D. Mills of the US Marine Corps says in an article entitled “Deterring The Dragon: Returning U.S. Forces to Taiwan” that the US “needs to posture its forces in a way that would inevitably trigger a larger conflict and make plain its commitment to Taiwanese defense”.
“The US needs to consider basing ground forces in Taiwan if it is committed to defending Taiwanese sovereignty,” wrote Capt Mills, a proposal that many consider controversial, given that the US withdrew its forces from Taiwan after the reestablishment of diplomatic ties with Beijing in 1979, which was part of the conditions given in normalising relations under the “One China” policy.
At present, the US policy towards Taiwan is what is known as “strategic ambiguity”, which means that whether the US would deploy forces to Taiwan should China choose to launch an attack is unknown. This “strategic ambiguity” gives both global superpowers leeway in responding in a diplomatic manner to tensions, rather than resorting to conflict.
“A decision to deploy US forces on Taiwan would trigger a crisis in US-China relations and could provoke the attack on Taiwan that we seek to avoid,” the report quotes Ms Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think-tank.
However, China’s recent threats toward Taiwan have resulted in calls for the US to rethink its policy since it has committed to defending Taiwan.
US military presence would also serve as a deterrent against China’s plans of “forced reunification”.
Capt Mills wrote: “The US needs to recognize that its conventional deterrence against PLA (People’s Liberation Army) action to reunify Taiwan may not continue to hold without a change in force posture.
“Deterrence should always be prioritized over open conflict between peer or near-peer states because of the exorbitant cost of a war between them. If the US wants to maintain credible conventional deterrence against a PLA attack on Taiwan, it needs to consider basing troops in Taiwan.”
And if China succeeds in controlling Taiwan, this would be a strategic loss for the US, as it would give the Chinese navy an important access point into the Pacific Ocean, as well as be a blow to endeavours from the US to contain the Chinese navy’s expansion, which it has done so successfully with allied countries in the region.
The japantimes.co.jp report says that Capt Mill’s essay “appears to echo the sentiment of the larger US defence community”, more and more of whom believe that it would be a necessary part of endeavours to check “China’s ‘anti-access and area denial’ anti-ship missiles and naval forces”.
But the report says other experts believe that the PLA is not yet capable of engaging in an amphibious invasion of Taiwan.
It quotes Mr Adam Ni, an expert with the China Policy Centre think-tank in Canberra, as saying that China “doesn’t have enough strategic airlift or logistic capabilities, as well as the ability to ferry enough forces across (the Taiwan Strait) to sustain a full-scale invasion. Militarily, the PLA currently is just not ready for that”.
Additionally, Taiwan’s powerful military, aided by the sales of arms under the US-Taiwan Relations Act, would make an invasion difficult for China.
However, the very idea of US troops in Taipei has had China up in arms, as it claims this would violate Three Joint Communiques, the bilateral agreements governing US-China relations.
An editorial in the state-run Global Times newspaper on Sept 24, 2020, read: “Deployment of the US army to Taiwan means the start of a cross-Straits war. With the Anti-Secession Law in place, Taiwan and the US should be prepared to confront the determination of the 1.4 billion mainland people and the PLA if they step over the red lines.”
As for Taiwan itself, the response to US troops returning has been cautious.
Lawmaker Lo Chih-cheng told Taiwan News: “The US military does not necessarily have to be stationed in Taiwan to act as a deterrent. I think the military performance of the US military in this place is already very clear. That is to say, China cannot be allowed to undermine the stability and security of any region here.” /TISG