Idea Behind AmbiguityThe gist of the ambiguity strategy is that U.S. military planners and policymakers think that it’s most effective to keep both Beijing and Taipei guessing regarding U.S. defense plans concerning Taiwan. Not knowing if the United States would defend Taiwan, and if so, under what circumstances and by what means, supposedly made it much more difficult for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to plan an invasion of the island nation.
As for the Taiwanese, ambiguity serves to keep them on their toes militarily and maintain readiness rather than becoming militarily weak, as some European allies had become under U.S. security guarantees. It also has kept Taipei from declaring independence from Beijing, which could trigger an escalatory response from China.
China Goes From Competitor to Global US AdversaryBut it would be unwise to regard the past as a prologue. Today, China is, on every level, a qualitatively different country than it was even 10 or 20 years ago. Both strategically and militarily, China now is a direct competitor, if not an adversary to the United States. The latter is more accurate.
They’re well on their way to doing so. In terms of projecting power, Beijing now fields a blue water navy that exceeds the number of ships than that of the United States. Though the U.S. Navy is superior to China’s, superior numbers allow Chinese naval presence to assert itself in more areas around the world at once. Perceptions matter.
US Decline Is UnambiguousConversely, the United States is not the same country that it used to be. Concurrent with China’s rise has been a demonstrable and consistent downgrading of American military capabilities. Recent policy decisions have certainly contributed to that.
US Policy Decisions Tarnish Its ReputationWhat’s more, the Ukraine policy is degrading our reputation as a nation that is strategically serious. The war is a tragedy that could have been mostly avoided by not making Ukraine a NATO puppet. We’re backing a deeply corrupt country that, in its war effort, is moving further down the road toward a personality-driven neo-fascism, not away from it.
US Intentions, Political Will, and Capabilities DegradedThe irony is as clear as it is disturbing. Three major factors of power in international relations are the intentions of a policy, the will to support those intentions, and the military capability to enforce your policy upon others. With respect to the U.S. security plans for Taiwan, the ambiguity is growing in all three areas.
Beijing Doesn’t Fear the Biden AdministrationWhat’s also ambiguous is U.S. intentions regarding Taiwan’s defense. In the event of an invasion by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), does the Biden administration really intend to send American sailors and soldiers to fight with the Taiwanese against the Chinese?
Given the policy decisions of the Biden administration so far, that seems highly unlikely, and much less ambiguous.
But what’s not in the least ambiguous is the U.S.’ declining military capability to defend Taiwan in absolute terms. China’s numerically superior navy dwarfs the U.S. navy, which itself could be the deciding factor in a naval battle. In fact, there is great doubt the United States is still capable of actually defending Taiwan.
Working from that assumption, perhaps the least ambiguous option for Taiwan would be to take a page out of North Korea’s book and arm itself with a nuclear defense force as soon as it can.