America Won’t Save Taiwan

Whether it be 2022 or, more likely, sometime around 2025, the besieged democracy of Taiwan will face a brutal Chinese invasion of its territory. Already, Taiwan is struggling to maintain its fighting prowess as the tiny nation transitions into an all-volunteer force. Modeled on the advanced U.S. military, Taiwan’s military will be unable to withstand a full Chinese assault—not without a robust U.S. military intervention to resist the inevitable Chinese invasion. 

Yet, when China invades Taiwan, U.S. forces won’t come. The cost of waging war against China’s invasion of Taiwan will be too high for the United States.

At its core, the American support of Taiwan has always been more bluster than actual bite. Yes, Washington has sold billions of dollars of weapons and provided copious training to the Taiwanese—which has been a boon for defense contractors in both countries. But this doesn’t mean the Americans will come rushing to save Taiwan from China’s People’s Liberation Army. 

On the contrary, recent history should demonstrate how unreliable the Americans are for Taiwan. If a $1 trillion, 20-year American commitment to the “democratic” government of Afghanistan was insufficient to get Washington to protect its client in Kabul from a band of seventh century brigands, then Taiwan’s leaders really are screwed if they’re expecting Uncle Sam to risk a nuclear war with China on their behalf. 

What’s needed, therefore, is a realistic vision for the future from Taiwan’s honorable leadership. Clearly, most Taiwanese do not want to become part of China; they understandably value their democratic freedoms too much. Yet, being just across the Taiwan Strait from the Chinese juggernaut means, from a geopolitical perspective, the Taiwanese are undeniably in the hot seat: they are a tiny island and China is very large.

Without nuclear arms or U.S. Marines rushing ashore to save the day, what will the Taiwanese people do after China subjects their island to a 100-hour air war, devastating naval blockade, and capture of Taiwan’s capital of Taipei? 

Taipei should reimagine its military. Taiwan’s military should be conditioned to fight—and win—a brutal, long-term insurgency against a militarily superior China. 

Taiwan’s forces will have to fight in and among the civilian population without the accoutrements of modern military weaponry. Taiwanese forces should be compartmentalized into smaller cells of fighters trained to resist the more numerous Chinese invaders. 

Rather than hold out indefinitely against a Chinese invasion (which Taiwan cannot do for long), Taiwan’s forces ought to draw the unproven Chinese forces onto the island and ensnare them. The struggle will be brutal and will take time. But at the end of the long struggle, China will be far likelier to abandon their quest to recapture Taiwan. 

If Taiwan’s military were reformulated into an insurgency, it could effectively bleed the invading Chinese forces dry. In so doing, a Taiwanese force designed for insurgency would sap resources from the Chinese Communist Party, would likely weaken Chinese President Xi Jinping’s grip on power, and could completely humiliate China—depriving them of their pretensions of becoming the world’s dominant superpower.

While it is doubtful that Washington would overtly go to war with China over Taiwan’s independence, it is likely that America and its allies would engage in covert support of the Taiwanese insurgency—just as the West did for the mujahideen during the Soviet-Afghan War. Over time, the Taiwanese insurgency would be augmented by the covert aid of the West, and China’s attempted conquest of Taiwan could be rebuffed. 

One thing is clear, though: under present conditions Taiwan will lose to China when Beijing decides to invade. Yet Taiwan’s leaders continue making the wrong moves to prepare for a Chinese invasion of their island. A protracted insurgency is the only way Taiwan can ensure its long-term independence from Chinese irredentism.

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