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Ukraine Lessons for Taiwan

R. G. Jones
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Ukraine Lessons for Taiwan

Stephen Bryen

Stephen Bryen


June 9, 2022 Updated: June 9, 2022




If China makes good on its frequently enunciated threats, Taiwan will be attacked by a large People’s Liberation Army (PLA) force.

No one knows exactly how such an attack will unfold, but its main outlines are clear. China will first bombard Taiwan with missiles, aimed at knocking out airports, army and air force headquarters, and possibly government operations. It’s easy to imagine China will hit Taiwan’s parliamentary headquarters, known as the Legislative Yuan.

China might also launch attacks on nearby Japanese territory, including Okinawa (where U.S. Marines and the U.S. Air Force are located), or Japan’s southern islands, which are close to Taiwan. China actually claims both Okinawa and the Japanese islands, but that’s not the reason both could be attacked. China’s idea would be to neutralize nearby U.S. and Japanese forces on the one hand, and force the United States and Japan to divert attention from Taiwan.

Can Taiwan defend itself? In a huge lopsided battle, Taiwan is going to need all the help it can get. It will also have to be prepared to resist aggression.

Today the Taiwan military mainly operates on its own, with little outside support. In the past couple of years, the United States has offered some limited training to Taiwan’s military, but hardly enough. For the most part, Taiwan is isolated and shunned. That has to change, and fast.

There are key lessons from Ukraine that apply to Taiwan. While Ukraine is a much larger territory than the small Taiwan island, and has markedly different terrain, the Ukrainians have been holding off a much larger, aggressive Russian invasion force. Most of the actual fighting has been in cities and towns, which parallels what will happen if Taiwan is invaded. The Russians have been forced to pay a high price to take over cities such as Mariupol, and in at least two cases, Kyiv and Kharkiv, have failed.

In Ukraine, the United States and its NATO allies have provided crucial intelligence and important weapons, including artillery systems, to help Ukraine’s forces. However, neither the United States nor NATO has supplied any troops to support Ukraine.

That’s a crucial difference in the Ukraine war. Were it repeated in Taiwan, Taiwan would be ground down by China’s vastly larger and technologically capable forces.

It’s a fact that the United States knows very little about the fighting qualities of Taiwan’s army, marines, navy, and air force. Taiwan isn’t included in any U.S.-sponsored military projects, and the United States doesn’t have advisers on the ground working with Taiwan’s military. That’s quite different from what we were doing with Ukraine for the past seven or eight years.

The classic U.S. Taiwan strategy, if one can call a bad policy a strategy, was to arm Taiwan just enough so it could fend off a Chinese attack for a few weeks. For political reasons that meant, in practice, selling mainly old, second-rate equipment to Taiwan and making sure that anything supplied to Taiwan could not reach the Chinese mainland. The United States often delayed sending equipment, even today, usually making various excuses (like they were needed elsewhere). And some requests by Taiwan—such as for modern aircraft such as the F-35 stealth jet—were rejected out of hand.

The United States and NATO are providing some equipment in Ukraine, but imposing certain limitations. For example, while the United States has agreed to supply the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) to Ukraine, long-range HIMARS rockets aren’t being sent to Ukraine. NATO, so far, isn’t supplying modern aircraft or Western tanks, even though there’s some talk about Germany sending Leopard tanks to Ukraine.

As we point out in our new book “Stopping a Taiwan Invasion,” there are three critical issues on the table when it comes to defending the island. The first is we can’t realistically expect Taiwan to fight on its own nor can we expect an uncoordinated expeditionary U.S. force to save Taiwan. The second is that the United States, Japan, and Taiwan need to have a common command system and a robust intelligence and tactical combat information joint operation to improve Taiwan’s survival chances. The third is that Chinese invasion bases, command and control, missile launching sites, and naval operations need to be counterattacked if China starts a war. On the third point, Taiwan lacks the capability to hit back at China’s bases backing any attack. China would have to be countered by U.S. forces.

Today there’s no common command structure and no coordination between Taiwan, the United States, and Japan. In fact, even coordination with Japan is too limited and is in need of improvement.

U.S. leaders have to step up and create a much more capable integrated force to confront the threat from China, which will be aimed at Taiwan and Japan but actually would be designed to push the United States out of the region, perhaps back as far as Guam and maybe as far back as Hawaii and Alaska.

The United States also must lead in setting up military intelligence cooperation on a real-time basis with Japan and Taiwan. This really can pay off, as it already is in Ukraine.


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