The question of a US military reaction in the event the Chinese government decides to make use of its military strength to reunify the island with the mainland has been the subject of intense policy debate for years. The US government has encouraged this debate, as its policy of “strategic ambivalence” was specifically formulated in order to prevent the need to make any promises that might need to be broken as well as to add an element of uncertainty to the Chinese leadership’s analysis of the situation.
However, it is abundantly clear that for all its posturing and strong words and saber-rattling, there is no chance that the US military will make any serious attempt to defend the independence of Taiwan island or to intervene in Chinese domestic affairs. There are seven reasons for this.
1. The USA will not risk the conclusive loss of its global status in a single throw.
Since 1989, the US has enjoyed its status as the singular global superpower. But in the aftermath of the astonishingly rapid defeat of Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi military, potential US opponents such as Iran, Russia, and China have intelligently pursued asymmetrical weapons development programs that now permit them to neutralize important aspects of the US military’s advantage. For example, the development of long-range, high-speed anti-ship missiles have eliminated the ability of US carrier groups to enter littoral zones or narrow sea lanes such as the Persian Gulf or the Taiwan Straits without risk.
Since the aircraft carrier replaced the battleship as the chief military symbol of a nation’s power in 1942, the US Navy carrier groups have been the material demonstration of US military dominance to the world. And while refusing to put her carriers at risk to defend Taiwan island would have a negative effect on the global perception of US power, the damage that restraint would do to perceived US status is infinitely less than permitting the world to see one or more USN carriers sent to the bottom of the South China Sea.
2. The American people will not support a war against China.
The American people are tired of the endless wars waged by their government over the last three decades. Despite the best efforts of the warmongering neocons, Americans flatly refused to support calls for invasions of Iran and Syria, and they have welcomed the long-overdue end of the war in Afghanistan. They now eagerly anticipate a final end to the war in Iraq. Unless the People’s Liberation Army were to invade the USA itself, the American people will not support a war against China.
3. The US military is not in any shape to fight a major regional power.
After the ignominious retreat from Afghanistan, the vaccine mandates that threaten to expel 30 percent of its best and most experienced soldiers, the politicization of the ranks above O-6, and the push to include more women, homosexuals, and transvestites, the US military is observably unready for war. At present, it is no more able to dispute the Taiwan Straits with China than it is to contest the Crimea with Russia or even defend its own border with Mexico.
4. Joe Biden is not a credible wartime leader.
Over one-third of Americans believe that the 2020 presidential election was fraudulently stolen from President Donald Trump. This also happens to be the segment of the American population that most strongly supports the U.S. military. And these Americans will not support any military action taken by a man they believe to be an illegitimate and unelected Commander-in-Chief.
5. The USA has nothing to gain and much to potentially lose from a conflict over Taiwan.
What would the American people gain from a successful defense of Taiwan by the U.S. military. Absolutely nothing. At most, the status quo would be maintained, which would provide no actual benefit to any American. But an unsuccessful defense would be severely damaging to world respect for the USA, and a complete military catastrophe would be the first step toward the collapse of the United States as a political entity. To put it in historical terms, any attempt to interfere in the unification of China would run a real risk of becoming the American equivalent of the Athenian Sicilian Expedition.
6. The US government cannot afford a war against its second-largest creditor.
Between the massive public and private debt, the economic lockdowns, the growing number of workers killed and incapacitated by the vaccines, and the huge number of workers being disemployed by the vaccine mandates, the US economy is a shambles. The US government already owes China more than $1 trillion. China obviously will not finance a US war against China, but neither will the US’s leading creditor, Japan.
7. Xi Jinping knows Taiwan.
President Xi knows both Taiwan and the Taiwan people very well. He served as provincial governor for Fujian and Zhejiang, and his success in attracting Taiwan investment into both coastal provinces is considered one of his significant accomplishments. Xi’s objective is unification, by any means necessary, but it is clear that he would prefer the unification to be a peaceful one. And as a leader who has successfully convinced Taiwan capital to join with the mainland in the past, he is very well-positioned to convince the Taiwan people it is in their long-term interest to unify with the mainland rather than resist it.
Ironically, it is the change in the balance of military power in China’s favor that makes a future war in the Taiwan Straits less likely. There are many factors that the Chinese leadership must take into account concerning the ultimate resolution of the unification of Taiwan with the mainland. But a military response by the United States to Chinese action is not one of them.