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Revisiting Taiwan’s Defense Strategy

Revisiting Taiwan’s Defense Strategy published on

Authored by Naval War College

China’s recent military modernization has fundamentally altered Taiwan’s security options. New Chinese submarines, advanced surface-to-air missiles, and, especially, short-range ballistic and land-attack cruise missiles have greatly reduced Taiwan’s geographic advantage. Taipei can no longer expect to counter Chinese military strengths in a symmetrical manner, with Patriot interceptors, diesel submarines, surface warships, F-16 fighters, and P-3 maritime patrol aircraft. Taiwan must therefore rethink and redesign its defense strategy, emphasizing the asymmetrical advantage of being the defender, seeking to deny the People’s Republic its strategic objectives rather than attempting to destroy its weapons systems. This would enable Taipei to deter more effectively Beijing’s use of coercive force, would provide better means for Taiwan to resist Chinese attacks should deterrence fail, and would provide the United States additional time to determine whether intervening in a cross-strait conflict was in its own national interest. The strategy would also place the responsibility for Taiwan’s defense squarely on its own military. Finally, it would restore the United States to unambiguous compliance with the Taiwan Relations Act.

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has been increasingly explicit about its military modernization objectives. China’s 2004 white paper on national defense stated that “the PLA[People’s Liberation Army]will . . . enhance the development of its operational strength with priority given to the Navy, Air Force and Second Artillery Force, and strengthen its comprehensive deterrence and warfighting capabilities.” The introduction of new classes of advanced surface warships; the unveiling of new nuclear-powered submarines, tactical fighter aircraft, and short- and medium-range ballistic missiles with advanced warheads; and an antisatellite demonstration-all attest to the determined pursuit of these goals. Many analysts believe that China’s near-term purposes are to deter Taiwan from declaring independence, to provide leverage by which to coerce a reunification with Taiwan if deterrence fails, and to inhibit or delay U.S. intervention in such a conflict.

Chinese employment strategies for these new weapons systems and potential capabilities remain unknown, though statements from senior leaders provide important hints. For example, President Hu Jintao is said to have stated in August 2007 that China had five major military priorities relative to Taiwan: establishing military readiness, conducting demonstrative exercises, “imposing a blockade on the Taiwan Strait,” “carrying out combined firepower attacks,” and “[conducting a] cross-sea landing.” Guo Boxiong, vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, boasted in March 2008, “We have the resolve and capability to deal with a major ‘Taiwan independence’ incident at any time.” The likely use of force would encompass three components: long-range precision bombardment, invasion, and blockade. These attack mechanisms would also likely be conducted in close coordination, not independently. Taiwan faces the daunting challenge of how best to deny China the fulfillment of these objectives.

Publication Date:
Oct 23 2014
1502929589 / 9781502929587
Page Count:
Binding Type:
US Trade Paper
Trim Size:
8.5″ x 11″
Black and White
Related Categories:
Political Science / International Relations / General


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