At the heart of this debate, though, lies a mistake that threatens to blind the US to its options and, in doing so, could lead to a stance that increases the risk of conflict.
The National Interest
Date: December 27, 2020
By: Simon Cotton
As Joe Biden’s inauguration approaches, debate about the US’s China policy is intensifying. At issue are the traditional pillars of strategy ambiguity and dual deterrence. Strategic ambiguity means that the US reserves the right to assist Taiwan militarily in the event of a conflict with China but does not commit itself to doing so. Dual deterrence means that the US doesn’t only seek to deter China from an unprovoked attack on Taiwan; it also seeks to deter Taiwan from provoking an avoidable conflict by declaring independence.
Biden has endorsed both pillars in the past. In a 2001 Washington Post op-ed, he wrote that while he remained a strong supporter of Taiwan, ‘The United States has not been obligated to defend Taiwan since we abrogated the 1954 Mutual Defense Treaty’. He also stressed that ‘there is a huge difference between reserving the right to use force and obligating ourselves, a priori, to come to the defense of Taiwan’.
Yet a growing number of commentators and policymakers argue that China’s power is now so great, and its ambitions so extensive, that the US should move away from strategic ambiguity and towards what Richard Haass and David Sacks described in Foreign Affairs as ‘strategic clarity’. In short, they suggest that to better deter China the US should make an unequivocal public commitment to aid Taiwan in any conflict.
At the heart of this debate, though, lies a mistake that threatens to blind the US to its options and, in doing so, could lead to a stance that increases the risk of conflict. [FULL STORY]