The Journal

Countering China’s Adventurism Over Taiwan: A Third Way


Faced with the possibility of another Taiwan Strait crisis, more and more observers in Washington and elsewhere are making the case for an unambiguous US commitment to defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack. This essay contends that the United States has options between total commitment and abandonment. There is a prudent middle way in which the United States, while reserving the right to intervene if it so chooses, focuses on helping Taiwan to defend itself while building a menu of options for deterring and punishing Beijing’s aggression without fighting.

This essay first argues that the case for Taiwan’s strategic significance is often overdrawn. Any Chinese attack would be a tragedy and a crime, and the United States should make clear that such a step is unacceptable and would destroy the Chinese Communist Party’s ambitious development plans. But it need not destroy the US position in Asia or produce a wave of successful Chinese adventurism. The essay then points to the intense dangers of a war for the United States, including outright loss, a crippled military, large-scale attacks on the homeland, and nuclear escalation. We make the case for an alternative to the binary choice of all-out war or desertion: Taking some additional risk to help Taiwan prepare for its own defence, combined with the development of multiple options short of outright war for punishing China in the event of an attack.

Published in The Lowy Institute.

Patrick Porter

Patrick Porter

Professor, International Security & Strategy, University of Birmingham

Patrick Porter is Professor of International Security and Strategy at the University of Birmingham. He is also Senior Associate Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, London. He is published in International Security and Security Studies, as well as in the Journal of Strategic Studies, International Affairs, the Washington Quarterly, Security Dialogue, Diplomacy and Statecraft, and War in History, and author of the book, The False Promise of Liberal Order: Nostalgia, Delusion and the Rise of Trump. He has appeared as an expert witness before the parliamentary Defence Select Committee, the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, and the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy.

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