A faction of isolationists have recently been flooding the internet with articles and postings demanding that the United States cut off its arms shipments to Ukraine in order to save Taiwan from Chinese invasion. According to these writers, delivery of artillery, anti-tank, and other ground warfare systems to Ukraine must be suspended, because the U.S. has limited supplies. Therefore, since China is our most important geopolitical rival, stopping it from seizing Taiwan must be our priority. Should Ukraine be conquered by Russia in consequence of our arms cutoff, that’s just too bad.
This is pure nonsense, for three reasons.
First, there is no possibility that Taiwan’s army can resist that of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), should the latter be allowed to get across the Straits of Formosa. Ukraine has a fighting chance against Russia in a land war, because it has a very strong military tradition, a large territory providing it with strategic depth, and its population is only outnumbered by Russia’s three to one. In contrast, Taiwan has no such tradition, no strategic depth to absorb an initial blow, and its population is outnumbered by China’s more than 60 to 1. If the People’s Liberation Army ever makes it across the water, it’s all over. Only air and naval power can stop such an invasion.
Second, and more importantly, China does not even have to invade Taiwan in order to conquer it. Taiwan is an island. To force Taiwan to surrender, all China needs to do is blockade it. Under such circumstances all the antitank weapons in the world would not do Taiwan the slightest good. In his memoir of the Second World War, Winston Churchill makes clear that he never regarded outright invasion as the primary Nazi threat to Britain; but rather, being starved into submission by having its lifelines cut by U-boat attacks on its merchant fleet. This was despite the fact that the British had a blue ocean navy, which by itself, let alone when reinforced by its American ally, was far superior to anything the Germans could put to sea. In fact, as Paul Kennedy shows in his excellent book Engineers of Victory, the Allies came close to losing the Battle of the Atlantic as late at March 1943.
In contrast, China has the second most powerful navy in the world, while Taiwan’s fleet is insignificant. There is no prospect whatsoever of the Taiwanese navy contesting with China for control of the Pacific Ocean. The only power capable of breaking a Chinese blockade of Taiwan is the United States, and to do that, we would have to commit and put at risk our entire Pacific Fleet. Furthermore in order to prevail in such a contest, the U.S. would need to achieve near total supremacy not only at sea, but be able to sweep all enemy reconnaissance assets from the atmosphere, stratosphere, and orbital space as well. This is so because even if we sink the Chinese navy, the PRC would still be able to blockade Taiwan (and sink our fleet) using land based missiles if they are allowed to maintain a view of the ocean from above.
I believe the U.S. can achieve the required air and space supremacy by developing the necessary advanced systems – particularly fighter satellites capable of protecting our own vital space assets while eliminating those of any adversary. But still, it would be much better not to have to put our fleet at risk by engaging in such a contest. Furthermore, while the U.S. navy might prevail and break the blockade, thereby preserving Taiwan’s independence, the island nation would still be reduced to ruins by Chinese air and missile strikes.
This brings us to the third and most important point of all. The best way to defend Taiwan is to maintain deterrence. Even an unsuccessful Chinese attack would cause untold devastation. We need to prevent such an attack from ever occurring. The only way to do that is to convince China in advance that we are willing to fight. That will not be done be deserting Ukraine.
On the contrary, if we show that we aren’t willing to be firm when all we have to do is supply weapons to others willing to fight for us, the Chinese leadership would be given every reason to believe that we would not put ourselves at risk by challenging their blockade. On the other hand, if we give Ukraine all the weapons it needs to crush the Russian army, not only the Chinese, but everyone else will have second thoughts about crossing the Western alliance.
U.S. President Joe Biden invited Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by ordering our forces to flee the Taliban in Afghanistan. If we follow the isolationists’ advice and yield to Russia, Taiwan will be next. Far from helping Taiwan, a U.S. decision to desert Ukraine would insure the island nation’s destruction.
Only the strong are left in peace.
The views expressed in this opinion article are the author’s and not necessarily those of Kyiv Post.
Robert Zubrin @robert_zubrin is an aerospace engineer. His most recent book is The Case for Nukes: How We Can Beat Global Warming and Create a Free, Open, and Magnificent Future.
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