Taiwan is a great success story. It is a prosperous, thriving democracy living at peace--and it wants to remain at peace. A recent poll shows that more than 90 percent of Taiwanese support maintaining the "status quo," meaning principally that an overwhelming majority of the island's citizens wants to avoid a conflict with the mainland if at all possible while retaining their de facto sovereignty.
But in order to maintain that peace, Taipei will have to build a military strong enough to make the use of force against Taiwan unlikely. The Republic of China (ROC) faces one of the world's most daunting security challenges. Over the past thirty years, the People's Republic of China (PRC) has gone from being an impoverished, technologically backward state to a nation of increasing wealth, power, and international stature. The PRC's stated ambition to unify Taiwan with China has neither changed nor slackened. As highlighted in the March 2009 Department of Defense annual report to Congress on China's military, "China's armed forces are rapidly developing coercive capabilities . . . [that] could in the future be used to pressure Taiwan toward a settlement of the cross-Strait dispute on Beijing's terms while simultaneously attempting to deter, delay, or deny any possible U.S. support for the island in case of conflict." Even though cross-Strait tensions have been significantly reduced under the Ma Ying-jeou administration, the ROC's defense establishment continues to fulfill a vital role in allowing the people on Taiwan to make their own choices about the island's future. And indeed, arguably, relations between the PRC and the ROC are likely to be more peaceful and productive if the ROC is not perceived as being in a position of military weakness.
The ROC can take great pride in what it has become: a prosperous, liberal democracy. Its strategic goal should be to preserve those achievements, retain its de facto sovereignty, and allow its citizens to decide their future in an environment in which coercion is minimized. Although diplomatic and economic policies can certainly contribute to achieving this goal, they will not be sufficient. This report's purpose is to describe how Taiwan's military can best contribute to achieving the ROC's strategic objectives. Taking account of both Taiwan's political, economic, and military limitations and its many strengths and advantages, we lay out a future defense strategy that, we believe, is realistic about what Taiwan can do to defend itself adequately. Cognizant of the ROC's relatively small size and international isolation, we were careful to lay out realistic and achievable goals.
The ROC should be prepared to respond to and defend against an array of threats and military contingencies. These may range from coercive PRC actions involving limited uses of force--such as intimidating live-fire exercises, a blockade, or seizure of an offshore island--to a full-scale invasion designed to bring the island of Taiwan under the control of the PRC. Complicating the ROC's defense planning is the fact that the "triggers" for the PRC's use of force and its courses of action cannot be predicted with any degree of certainty. Stated "red lines" for PRC military action have included a formal declaration by Taiwan of "independence," internal unrest in Taiwan, foreign intervention in Taiwan's internal affairs, foreign troops stationed in Taiwan, or even indefinite delays in the resumption of cross-Strait dialogue on unification.
Ideally, the ROC's strategic goals should be to convince the PRC to renounce the use of military force as a means to resolve its differences with Taiwan and to effect a durable peace in the Taiwan Strait. The more immediate objective of the ROC military, however, should be to deter the PRC's use of force through a credible ability to deny the People's Liberation Army (PLA) its military objectives. To do so, the ROC will need to match the PRC's increasingly diverse array of coercive military options with defense strategies that make it less likely that any one coercive option would look attractive to PLA military planners. As we point out, this does not mean that Taiwan's military should try to match the PRC ship for ship, plane for plane, or missile for missile. To the contrary, as an island-state and as a nation with a highly developed technological base, Taiwan can employ asymmetric strategies to help deter China's use of any particular coercive military strategy. Taiwan's defense transformation should prioritize development of a flexible and well-exercised military that is capable of responding to a wide range of contingencies. The armed forces of Taiwan will need to think about warfare in both conventional and unconventional ways--that is, while the ROC has to protect the island's people, territory, and assets, it also, like a guerrilla force, must, as Henry Kissinger once said about guerrilla forces, "win by not losing."
Our report is not intended to serve as the final word on Taiwan's evolving defense and security requirements. Instead, it is meant to augment existing reviews, examine alternative competitive defense and security strategies, and offer possible ways to broaden and deepen unofficial U.S.-ROC defense and security relations. At a minimum, our report is designed to help generate serious reflections on how best to preserve the ROC's own accomplishments as a people and a government and to enable it to choose its own future as free of coercion as possible. . . .
Dan Blumenthal is a resident fellow at AEI. Michael Mazza is a research assistant at AEI. Gary J. Schmitt is a resident scholar at AEI. Randall Schriver is a founding partner of Armitage International LLC and the president and CEO of the Project 2049 Institute. Mark Stokes is the executive director of the Project 2049 Institute.
1. Mainland Affairs Council, "MAC Regular Press Briefing," December 25, 2008, available at www.mac.gov.tw/english/english/macnews/enews/enews971225.htm (accessed July 2, 2009).
2. U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), Military Power of the People's Republic of China (March 2009), available at www.defenselink.mil/pubs/pdfs/China_Military_Power_Report_2009.pdf (accessed May 29, 2009).
3. According to the Republic of China's (ROC) 2009 Quadrennial Defense Review, "the purpose of national defense is to safeguard national security and maintain the livelihood of the people and sustainable development of the
country. . . . The Armed Forces has a mission of defending the homeland and deterring wars to serve as a solid buttress for the Government's position in the pursuit of cross-Strait peace, regional stability and national prosperity."
4. DOD, Military Power of the People's Republic of China.