Flashpoint Taiwan

Could the Struggle for the Island Nation Break America?

Flashpoint Taiwan
Photo by Ronald Bradshaw (The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense visual information does not imply or constitute endorsement)

Will Taiwan be the spark to a conflagration of world war? Or will it be merely one more conquered “red line” that the US ignores?

These questions may have seemed hyperbolic a decade ago, but are now at the front and center of US foreign policy discussions following Admiral John Aquilino’s testimony that an armed takeover of Taiwan by China is likely to be attempted within the next six years. Aquilino also said that the continued defense of Taiwan is a necessary condition to preserving American interests and maintaining national defense priorities in the Pacific.

In the days since those comments, the US has hurried to solidify its ties with the small island nation in the wake of increasing Chinese aggression.

Friday, the largest ever incursion into Taiwan airspace by the Chinese military took place in has become near-daily exercises in intimidation.

Such provocations by China, using both manned and unmanned aircraft, are leading to exhaustion and accidents among the Taiwanese military. At least four crashes involving aircraft have occurred within the past year, including one that killed Taiwan’s top military official.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen vowed not to cede “any single inch” of the nation’s territory, according to the Associated Press.

It is unclear, however, just how much of a fight Taiwan could put up without immense military backing from the US and its allies.

To this end, Taiwan has begun mass production of long-range missiles and is developing three more models in an effort to bolster its asymmetrical warfighting capabilities. Further, the nation has entered into agreements with the US to strengthen maritime coordination and to facilitate increasing semiconductor chip production, which the nation leads in production of.

The maritime agreement between the US and Taiwan was made in response to China’s authorization of its coast guard to fire upon foreign vessels. China has since threatened to invade Taiwan and denounced the maritime agreement for what it considers an encouragement of Taiwanese independence, as China considers the nation to properly be a part of China.

There is a real fear now that China could overrun the area, claiming Taiwan, as well as precious underwater gas and fishing resources, if allowed to politically dominate those nations which currently hamper its control of the seas. Those nations are primarily Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam.

As tensions have escalated over the last year, the number of Chinese and American warships maneuvering in the region has more than doubled, and the risk of military conflict over the continued independence of Taiwan has become a clear and present danger.

The question is now asked: Would such a war break US global hegemony for good?

Such a disastrous outcome, unfortunately, could be possible regardless of whether the US fought such a war or not. Should the US fight, it would be faced with the reality that it may not be able to win. Should it refuse, as the world knows all to well it might, given the red lines abandoned in Syria and Ukraine, the world would likely look toward China as the new hegemon.

There are precious few routes out of this vacuum for the US. In order to secure its future and that of Taiwan, America needs to both adapt its foreign policy beyond the hollow promises of a 20th-centrury global liberal order, as well as quickly adapt its military capabilities to a fifth-generation state, up to and including the weaponization of both artificial intelligence and space.

The world stands at a new age of technology, culture, and war. What was sufficient to the needs of the past is no longer relevant to the needs of the present or the future. Without these changes it is all too likely that the promise and power of America will be dashed on the shores of a small island in the Pacific.


Subscribe to The Rearguard

Don’t miss out on the latest issues. Sign up now to get access to the library of members-only issues.