If You Live In Taiwan, It’s Time To Worry

Taiwan needs to worry about American reliability. Unlike Afghanistan, where the United States had committed its forces for two decades, Taiwan has no U.S. forces and no assurance that the United States will come to their defense if attacked by China.

The United States has a bad habit of walking out on its allies and friends. The list is long. It includes Vietnam and Cambodia, Iraq and Afghanistan, and Iran. In all of those cases, one way or another, the United States, for its own reasons, took a hike.

Obama pulled U.S. troops from Iraq, opening the door to Iran. While the United States has a few thousand soldiers still in Iraq in training and advisory capacities, they’re under siege and it’s unlikely the United States will protect them.

In fact, President Joe Biden has said the United States will end combat missions in Iraq by the end of 2021. Unless U.S. troops are pulled out in the middle of the night, as they were in Afghanistan, they’ll quite possibly have to shoot themselves out while exiting.

Carter let Iran collapse into chaos and refused to support the Shah. Prior to that time, the United States had massively supplied Iran with weapons and military advisors. But when the Shah asked for help, he got none. The collapse of the Shah’s regime, without U.S. backing, was a foregone conclusion.

Nixon let Vietnam and Cambodia go down the drain, trying to cover their tracks with the so-called Paris Peace Accords that required U.S. troops’ withdrawal from Vietnam, a key demand of North Vietnam. South Vietnam hung on for a while, but without U.S. airpower and support, they couldn’t win against a North Vietnamese army supported by Russia and China.

The debacle in Cambodia involved the mass murder of perhaps 2 million Cambodians by the Khmer Rouge over a three-year period. Washington could have prevented it but didn’t. The United States was fully aware of what the Khmer Rouge was doing as the flow of starved and brutalized victims flowed into Phnom Penh as the impending collapse gained momentum. (The author was in Cambodia in the last two weeks of the war.)

The United States also let mass murder happen elsewhere, although the United States wasn’t under any specific obligation to intervene. The Rwanda genocide in 1994 took the lives of 1.1 million people in that country.

The U.N. had a peace-keeping mission there (UNAMIR), but because of restrictive rules of engagement and logistical limitations, those forces failed to stop the genocide. Its head, a Canadian named Romeo Dallaire, afterward tried to commit suicide four times.

No one (yet) is saying there’s anything comparable happening in Afghanistan, but the future there looks bleak. Already, there are numerous reports of executions of Afghan army soldiers and many murders.

In Taiwan, a prosperous middle-class, Asian country, there’s a palpable fear of China. The United States is obligated to supply Taiwan with defense materials under the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979.

That act provides for the United States to supply Taiwan with “arms of a defensive character” and “to maintain the capacity of the United States to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social or economic system, of the people on Taiwan.”

In 1979, the United States canceled the Sino-American Mutual Defense Treaty with Taiwan. That treaty required that if either party was attacked, the other would come to its assistance with military aid. The language of the Taiwan Relations Act doesn’t reflect this key mutual defense provision and only requires the United States to “maintain the capacity” to resist any resort to force.

In truth, the United States faces many issues in “maintaining the capacity” to resist any resort to force. China has been building up its conventional and military forces and has been harassing Taiwan and Japan increasingly by using its air and naval power.

The U.S. response to the stepped-up tempo of China’s aggressive actions has been less than stellar. U.S. Navy ships have conducted freedom of navigation exercises in the South China Sea and in the Taiwan Strait, but those exercises have been few and far between. Moreover, there’s already pushback about freedom of navigation exercises, mainly because there’s fear it’ll get the United States into a war with China.

But the United States has also pulled its long-range bombers (B-52s and B-1s) out of Guam and has taken few steps to reinforce U.S. forces in Japan and Okinawa. The single U.S. aircraft carrier in the Pacific, the USS Ronald Reagan, has been redeployed to the Indian Ocean, removing a formidable capability from the area. These measures, especially Guam and the redeployment of the Reagan, represent dangerous Biden administration concessions to China.

No one in the administration has explained why the United States is reducing its profile in East Asia while the threat from China is rising.

A few voices have been raised in Congress, even by Democrats who are alarmed. One of them is Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.), vice chairperson of the House Armed Services Committee-Sea Power subcommittee. Luria called the redeployment of the Ronald Reagan carrier “one of the biggest mistakes we have made in maybe my lifetime, strategically.”

Luria served two decades in the Navy, retiring at the rank of commander. She served at sea on six ships as a nuclear-trained surface warfare officer, deployed to the Middle East and Western Pacific, and culminated her Navy career by commanding a combat-ready unit of 400 sailors.

Even before the Afghanistan debacle, Japanese leaders reflected growing alarm about Chinese threats to Taiwan. Japan’s Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso asserted that a Chinese invasion would be an “existential threat (to Japan) since Okinawa could be next.”

The primary issue is U.S. reliability. South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan all depend directly on the United States. Without its support, none of them can avoid war—in Korea, the threat from Pyongyang and in Japan and Taiwan, the threat from Beijing.

Neither Taiwan nor Japan can defend against China by themselves. South Korea is different only in the sense that it has a formidable army and a lot of firepower. But in any war, South Korea would pay a very high price.

The United States has troops in Japan and on Okinawa and in South Korea. Will they fight or leave? The United States has mutual defense treaties with both countries, unlike the case of Taiwan, where only the Taiwan Relations Act offers some help to Taiwan.

Will the United States stay the course in the Pacific?

Stability in the Pacific depends on strong and visible U.S. resolve and U.S.-led deterrence. That seems to be at risk right now.

The signals coming from Washington are anything but positive.

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