Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Our Military Alliance with Taiwan

In the recent article of "Strategy and Tactics", an excellent magazine that I highly recommend, they discussed the threat from China with a sobering assessment of the potential outcome of a war between the USA and China over Taiwan. China's military is becoming more and more effective each year as the country gets richer, and China's technical capabilities are increasing by the day (think of how much of your electronics are "Made in China"). As I read through the article I thought of all the casualties our carrier and air forces would suffer while repelling a Chinese attack across the Straits of Formosa, the open ocean separating Taiwan from the mainland, even in the "best case" scenario.

At the end of the article I had what was, for me, kind of a heretical thought:

"Why are we even in this alliance with Taiwan, anyways, and is it worth a war against China?"

In the past Taiwan has been seen, rightly so, as a bulwark against Communist expansion. In the years following WW2, when the Communists took power in China (in the late 1940's), the USA was looking for dedicated friends in the region, not only for Allied troops but for bases that could be used to counter the Communist threat (both Russia and China).

Over the years, however, the situation has changed. China has gone from being a nearly-insane, Mao led "cultural revolution" type of society to one that is fiercely free-market based and where most forms of expression, with the exception of political discourse, is not too severely repressed.

Hong Kong was integrated into the fold, and while human rights haven't increased in that country, they haven't noticeably decreased, either. Certainly the hand off went pretty smoothly, much better than the doomsayers (such as myself) would have predicted.

What I thought of was a friend I met who is from the Channel Islands, which are filled with citizens of British origin (mainly). These islands were occupied by the Germans in WW2, even though the Royal Navy controlled the English Channel.

The reason that the islands were occupied is that they were so close to the mainland that they were basically indefensible; the Germans could pound the islands with artillery fire, wrecking it militarily and inflicting unacceptable casualties on the non-soldier citizens.

While Taiwan is more defensible than the Channel Islands were in WW2, the concept is basically the same; these possessions can't reasonably be expected to be held if the enemy is willing to expend considerable effort (blockades, air attacks, missile attacks, as well as amphibious invasion) against the island.

And what is our cultural tie to Taiwan? Do you know any Taiwanese people? Do we have significant inter-family relationships? Other than a shared hatred of Communism, there isn't a lot that joins us together. We do want them to exist as a democracy, and should support them to the extent possible, but should we prepare to fight a major war with China on their behalf?

In WW2 the British and French fought a war to help the Poles, and although in the end Poland fell under the Iron Curtain until it fell in the late 80's, it made sense due to a shared history that Poland was part of a military alliance. Chicago is supposedly the largest Polish city after Warsaw in terms of # of Poles, after all.

In summary:
1) the take over of Hong Kong by China didn't involve mayhem or bloodshed, or significant suppression of human rights, as the worst-case may have suggested
2) China's capabilities are growing by the day militarily
3) Taiwan has a natural defensive barrier (the open ocean) but this is diminishing as a shield against Chinese military abilities
4) the US and Taiwan share a hatred of Communism, but not a lot of inter family ties, or shared culture. The current version of Chinese communism does not inspire the same level of intense feelings as did the version under Mao of the Great Leap Forward, for example

Maybe we ought to let Taiwan take a bigger part in its own defense, or pare back our desire to fight over this island. At a minimum, Taiwan ought to think twice before overly provoking the mainland. Or maybe we ought to realize that it is frankly indefensible.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

1 comment:

Gerry from Valpo said...

Excellent essay and interesting observations.

Consider this:

Grab your ankles.