Abandoning Ukraine will Destroy Taiwan

Some of those interested in abandoning Ukraine to Russian conquest have recently advanced an argument supposedly based on strategic realism. The U.S. cannot provide Ukraine with the arms it needs for self-defense, they say, because to do so would make it impossible to meet our allegedly much more important need to defend Taiwan from Chinese invasion.

For example, writing in National Review on Nov. 17, Austin Dahmer says “Washington faces a choice: It can continue arming Ukraine at the present rate, or it can forestall the manifest danger of Chinese aggression in the Indo-Pacific. We cannot do both because resources are limited. Politically and strategically, conservatives are right to prioritize China over Russia.”

This argument has no rational foundation.

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In the first place, the primary instrument for the defense of Taiwan is the U.S. Pacific Fleet. So long as we maintain naval control over the Taiwan Strait, no Chinese invasion of Taiwan can occur. However, should we choose not to engage our fleet, Taiwan would be quickly overrun, as it has no strategic depth, and is outnumbered by China 20 to one in armed forces and more than 50 to one in population. Cutting off our limited shipments of second-string ground warfare weapons to Ukraine would in no way rectify that situation.

Consider the following. The most powerful weapons the U.S. has sent to Ukraine has been 20 HIMARS rocket artillery units. Count them, 20. The U.S. has over 500 HIMARS and more than 1,000 MLRS units, each of which has twice the firepower of a HIMARS. If we wished, we could multiply Ukraine’s rocket artillery forces fivefold without denting our ability to provide similar – or much better – weaponry to Taiwan.

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We have sent two NASAMS anti-aircraft batteries to Ukraine, with six more scheduled for delivery next August. But we have sent none of the far more effective Patriot air defense systems that we have sent to Taiwan.

The U.S. has over 4,000 F-16 fighters. First introduced in the 1970s, F-16s are no longer our front-line fighter aircraft. In fact, we use them for target practice for our more modern fighters. We have sent over 200 of them to Taiwan, but none to Ukraine. If we sent 100 to Ukraine that would probably decide the war within a few months, and still leave us plenty more to send Taiwan, should we so wish.

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But again, the necessary and sufficient instrument to defend Taiwan is the U.S. Pacific Fleet. No one is suggesting that we send that to Ukraine.

Cutting off arms aid to Ukraine would not help Taiwan one bit. On the contrary, it would doom the island to invasion, devastation, and conquest.

If the U.S. were to cut off arms to Ukraine, that country would be conquered. Russian forces would then advance to the borders of NATO countries Poland and Romania, and the expansionist Putin regime would be greatly strengthened both economically and politically.

Furthermore, by conquering Ukraine Putin would delist the million-man Ukrainian army from the West’s order of battle and eliminate Russia’s gaping strategic weakness along its south-west border. With this weakness cured, Russia would be free to invade the Baltic States. Under such circumstances the U.S. would be forced to reposition massive armed forces to defend Europe. This would greatly weaken our ability to defend Asia, both by draining our treasury and directly diverting our military capabilities.

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But the strategic catastrophe resulting from the desertion of Ukraine would be far worse than even this implies, because it would fatally undermine the deterrent effect of America’s military. President Biden set the current disaster in motion when, rather than maintain a deployment that since 2014 was costing the lives of about ten soldiers per year, he ordered U.S. forces to flee Afghanistan. This “America won’t fight” signal was read by Putin as an invitation to invade Ukraine – an invitation he accepted with alacrity with Russian invasion forces assembling on Ukraine’s border within two months of our self-imposed rout.

Ukraine is vastly more strategically important than Afghanistan, and we can defend it without risking a single American solider. If we choose to cut and run rather than accept the extremely modest costs in second-rate armaments that it would take to secure victory, why would anyone, in particular Chinese dictator Xi, believe for a minute that we would risk our entire Pacific Fleet to defend Taiwan?

The United States signed an agreement to defend Ukraine’s territorial integrity, (the 1994 Budapest Memorandum). In contrast, we don’t even officially recognize Taiwan’s government. If we allow Ukraine to be conquered, we would be allowing Russia’s forces to advance right to the borders of countries we are pledged by treaty to defend.

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In contrast, taking Taiwan would not move China a single kilometer closer to Japan or South Korea, and barely any towards the Philippines. The isolationists claim we have no obligations or national interests worth the expense of defending Ukraine.

If the time were to come when we would have to pay a vastly higher price to defend Taiwan, would they not repeat the same lines?

Obviously, they would. To embrace defeat in Ukraine is to embrace defeat in Asia too.

Robert Zubrin @robert_zubrin is an American aerospace engineer. His latest book, The Case for Space, was recently published by Prometheus books.

 The views expressed in this opinion article are the author’s and not necessarily those of Kyiv Post.   

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