Sunday, January 23, 2005

Taiwan Marines in Iraq

The recent House Resolution 437 introduced by Dana Rohrabacher and Jim Ryun strikes me as a brilliant way to alert Taiwan and the Taiwan people that they will soon be asked to shoulder a more onerous burden. Up to the present, Taiwan and its leaders have, consciously or not, calculated that in case of conflict with China, the United States would be there to defend its friend and under-the-table ally.
Someone, probably not Representatives Rohrbacher and Ryun, has decided that it is now Taiwan’s turn to prove its willingness to participate in its own defense. This unknown person is probably the same architect of the policy that has compelled all of America’s allies in Asia to contribute troops to the effort in Iraq. I don’t attribute this idea to the Representatives for two reasons: 1) I have spoken to both men, and have heard their views regarding Taiwan, and I do not believe that either has a real grasp on the issues that face Taiwan. 2) I think that both men sincerely see themselves as friends of Taiwan but would not make the type of proposal they did without prior consultations with the executive branch.

The proposal deftly fits into the policy that the US has pursued throughout the region. Korea, Japan, the Philippines, and Thailand (Australia is in a different category and New Zealand is, sadly, irrelevant) have all, even in the face of substantial local anger, contributed troops to the effort in Iraq. The reason for this common decision can only be because the United States has compelled them to make the decision. The logic used (if my conjecture is correct) is unassailable. These small countries rely on the US for their defense from larger and ruthless neighbors. None really believes that they would successfully be able to defend themselves in the face of aggression, and all had made the same calculation that Taiwan has made.

Now, the equation has changed. Possibly because of 9-11, and possibly because of a new executive branch policy that would have been enacted even in the absence of 9-11, America’s allies are now required to, as a component of their own defense, to assist America in conflicts that might have nothing to do with them. Korea, Thailand, the RP, and Japan have all heard this compelling argument and have responded. Taiwan, apparently with its head in the sand, figured that its unique geopolitical position would shield it from the responsibilities that the other democracies in the region have been forced to bear. It is time for the Taiwanese to wake up.

This policy offers a number of concrete benefits. It solidifies Taiwan’s defense, relieves US of some rear area responsibilities in Iraq, gives Taiwan troops valuable real world experience, and enhances Taiwan’s military’s interoperability with the US. The downside, which is really all that most can see, is: that the policy risks irritating China. However, as I explained in my Chase competition essay, China really has no leverage. I quote the passage of my essay below:

Finally, there is the fear of China. Anytime the United States and Taiwan make any constructive moves towards one another, China responds with belligerent rhetoric and threatening actions. Many in Taiwan and the West fear that should the US offer overt support for Taiwan’s defense, such as by preparing plans to move the Marines to Taiwan, then China will choose that moment to launch an attack. But that begs the question; when is an aggressor more likely to attack a small country? When the aggressor calculates that there is a chance the United States will not respond? Or when the aggressor is GUARANTEED that the US is planning to respond and WILL respond to such an attack?

There are other reasons to conclude that China will not attack. These reasons are lack of lift, lack of adequate covering fires, and if they are successful, the likelihood of a disastrous and long occupation on a hostile island that would sap its resources and topple the central government. Perhaps the thing that protects Taiwan more than anything else is the precariousness of China’s economy that would absolutely tank in the face of armed aggression towards Taiwan. China blusters that they are indifferent to the consequences on their economy should they attack, but they only believe that if they are insane or have a death wish. Crashing the Chinese economy would, in short order, result in the overthrow of the Chinese communists by a popular uprising. We can take heart in an ironclad proposition: Communist China is run by a Committee and no committee in human history has ever had a deathwish.