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Is the US military ready to defend Taiwan?


By E.McCusker and E. Coletta

The debate about US policy related to the defense of Taiwan is intensifying, but the question of the ability of the United States to carry out such a mission remains open.

China sees Taiwan - an island democracy with 23 million citizens - as a renegade province that needs to be brought back under Beijing's control. The Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 does not require the United States to defend Taiwan, but ambiguously states that Washington will retain the ability to do so.

Obviously, Taiwan is important to the United States. China's control of Taiwan would give the People's Republic of China (PRC) a forward base 150 miles from the mainland, bringing Chinese aircraft and missiles closer to vital trade routes and important US allies like Japan and Australia.

Control of Taiwan, China's fifth-largest trading partner, would provide Beijing with an important economic asset linked to a strong technology industry. Capturing Taiwan will provide the PRC with semiconductor factories critical to microelectronics.

The latest annual report of the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, released in November 2021, says that decades of improvements in China's military have "fundamentally changed the strategic environment" and weakened the US military deterrence of China. There are indications that the moment of maximum danger in the conflict with China over Taiwan may be just a few years away.

If, as noted above, Taiwan matters to the United States and China's ability to act against Taiwan is improving, we must question whether the United States is adequately resourced with a military to defend Taiwan if necessary. Is the US military now ready for success?

Short answer: no.

The US military currently has four major obstacles to success.

First, defense is not a priority for the current administration, as evidenced by the fiscal year 2022 budget request.

Second, delays in annual appropriations and permits reduce readiness for competitive advantage.

Third, the definition of defense has been broadened to divert defense resources and focus on non-defense priorities.

Fourth, institutional and legislative rules and processes are not conducive to speed and flexibility in testing, acquiring and integrating modern weapons.

All this exacerbates the problem of the US fulfilling its obligations regarding Taiwan, which is of critical importance against the background of the strengthening of the Chinese armed forces and the new cooperation agreement between China and Russia.


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