After two months of fighting in Ukraine, American weapons have helped fend off Russia’s illegal invasion. U.S. officials, including Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, are now calling to “weaken” Russia further by sending additional arms to Ukraine. Against this backdrop, there is a temptation to argue that the United States should preempt conflict with Beijing by sending more asymmetric weapons to Taiwan.
Already in 2022, the Biden administration has approved the sale of two arms packages for the island together worth $195 million. Washington risks making a mistake, however, by assuming that additional weapons for Taipei will deter rather than provoke Beijing.
The costs of Russia’s offensive — to Ukrainian civilians, peace in Europe, and the global economy — should convince U.S. officials that they must do all that they can to prevent conflict with mainland China. Despite weakening Russia, Ukraine has not emerged from battle unscathed. Any war in the Taiwan Strait, similarly, is likely to end in “disaster for all sides,” as Taiwan’s defense minister recently put it.
To avoid conflict with Beijing, the United States should focus less on providing direct weapons to Taipei and more on working with allies and partners to deter Chinese aggression. The recently announced delay of U.S. howitzer deliveries to Taiwan shows that the United States does not have unlimited capacity to strengthen deterrence in the Western Pacific. Bolstering allied capabilities is less likely to provoke mainland China than direct support for Taiwan yet more likely to shift the military balance in Washington’s favor.
Meanwhile, the United States should reassure mainland China that it does not seek military conflict. Reassurances alone cannot prevent a crisis, but good-faith efforts to reduce tension will signal that the United States stands for peace in the Taiwan Strait. As the war in Ukraine demonstrates, clarity about who is to blame for the conflict can help build a global coalition in opposition to the aggressor.
The dangers of the current situation in Taiwan are not lost on Washington. In Biden’s first year in office, the administration tried to build “guardrails” with Beijing to prevent a mutually destructive war from breaking out. After multiple attempts to reactivate U.S.-China defense hotlines, Washington made limited progress in reopening security dialogues with Beijing.
At the same time, the White House recognizes that the main battleground in U.S.-China competition is not in the Taiwan Strait, but in the international community, which will have a deciding vote on how to respond to any future Chinese attack. The new Indo-Pacific Strategy states that Washington seeks to “shape the strategic environment in which it [China] operates.” For this reason, the Biden administration has worked with allies and partners to pursue “integrated deterrence.” A number of U.S. allies, from Australia to Japan, have already taken steps to underscore the importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, while the Quad and G7 have expressed concerns about Beijing’s destabilizing actions in the Western Pacific.
The reality is that sending more weapons to Taipei will do little to alter the military balance in the Taiwan Strait. The mainland is tooclose to the island,possesses too many advanced ballistic and cruise missiles, and has the political will too strong to back down if provoked. Many analysts assess that the PLA isunlikely to perform as poorly in Taiwan as Russia has in Ukraine and, even if the United States intervenes, it is unclear that Washington alone canprevail in conflict with Beijing.
In this context, it is tempting to argue that the United States should send more asymmetric weapons to Taiwan, as it has done with Ukraine, to stifle the mainland’s attempts at forceful unification. The risk, however, is that Beijing perceives additional support for Taipei as a pretext for Taiwan to declare independence and judges that forced unification is more likely to succeed sooner rather than later. For this reason, the United States should proceed with caution when deciding whether to export more weapons to Taiwan.
Nonetheless, there is much that the United States can do to deter Chinese aggression without provoking the same conflict that it is trying to avoid.
First, Washington should bolster the deterrence capabilities of countries in Asia with whom it shares official treaty alliances. Ukraine’s ill fate was partly the result of its tenuous position — at once removed from NATO yet too close to reduce Russian paranoia. Before the war, one respected Russia expertwrote, “the Kremlin increasingly views Ukraine as a Western aircraft carrier... Ukraine is now one of the largest recipients of U.S. military assistance.” The United States should not repeat its mistakes in Ukraine by emboldening forces in Taiwan that it is not ready to unambiguously defend. The majority of Americans donot support “committing to defend Taiwan” and shifting to a policy of “strategic clarity” would be a recipe for immediate escalation.
Instead, the United States should use its limited resources to reinforce the defense capabilities of the countries that it is formally obliged to protect and whose defense forces are more likely to deter Beijing: Australia, Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines. While these countries may not be willing to fight mainland China on their own, their commitment to defend the United States could be invoked if Beijing targets U.S. assets in the course of attacking Taiwan. The Biden administration has been correct, therefore, to strengthen allied deterrence, but its actions to date, such as stationing attack helicopters in South Korea and sending additional aircraft to Australia, are wanting.
Second, the United States should work with allies and partners in Europe and Asia to mount a unified response to Chinese aggression. Perceiveddaylight between Washington and Brussels before Moscow’s invasion was a major weakness in NATO’s deterrence. Signaling that an attack on Taiwan could trigger international sanctions would do more to deter and less to provoke Beijing than the export of more weapons to Taipei.
Finally, Washington should reassure mainland China that it does not seek military conflict. Recent U.S. actions, such as dispatchingmarines and congressionaldelegations to Taiwan, have done little to raise the costs of a potential attack. Instead, Washington has given Taipei false hope that it supports Taiwan independence and convinced Beijing that it has little regard for its interests. Mainland China now believes that the United States is dead set on using Taiwan as a strategicasset to contain it. The Biden administration should quell these perceptions by reiterating that the United States does not support Taiwan independence in keeping with decades of past U.S. policy. Even if reassurances fail to prevent conflict, efforts to reduce tension will signal that the United States stands for peace, helping to clarify who is to blame in the event of a future conflict.
The costs of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine should convince Washington that it must do all that it can to prevent a military conflict with mainland China. Bolstering the defense capabilities of U.S. allies, speaking in concert with international partners, and providing reassurances to Beijing will do more to alter the mainland’s calculus than the export of more American weapons to Taiwan. The alternative would be a world in which conflict is inevitable and the United States’ prospects on the battlefield are uncertain.
Nathaniel Sher is a research analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He completed master's degrees from Tsinghua University and the University of Chicago. His work has been published in Foreign Policy, The Wire China, and The Tsinghua International Relations Review.
Chinese President Xi Jinping (Shutterstock/Kaliva); President Joe Biden (Devi Bones/Shutterstock);Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen (shutterstock/Glen Photo)
DOHA, QATAR — In remarks Sunday at the 21st Doha Forum in Qatar, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov seemed to revel in what is becoming a groundswell of international frustration with the United States over its policies in Israel. Despite Russia’s own near-isolated status after its 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Lavrov glibly characterized the U.S. as on the wrong side of history, the leader of the dying world order, and the purveyor of its own brand of “cancel culture.”
“I think everybody understands that this (Gaza war) did not happen in a vacuum that there were decades of unfulfilled promises that the Palestinians would get their own state,” and years of political and security hostilities that exploded on Oct. 7, he charged. “This is about the cancel culture, whatever you don’t like about events that led to the current situation you cancel. Everything that came before February 2022, including the bloody coup (in Ukraine) and the unconstitutional change of power … all this was canceled. The only thing that remains is that Russia invaded Ukraine.”
Lavrov, beamed in from Russia to the international audience in Doha, went fairly unchallenged, though his interviewer James Bays, diplomatic editor at Al Jazeera, attempted to corner him on accusations stemming from Russia’s own bloody record in Chechnya in the 1990s and and 2000s and its ongoing military campaign in Syria, which Lavrov noted was at the “behest” of the Syrian government.
On the issue of the failed ceasefire vote at the UN Security Council, of which Russia is a permanent veto member, Lavrov said, “we strongly condemn the terrorist attack against Israel. At the same time we do not think it is acceptable to use this (terrorist) event for collective punishment of millions of Palestinian people.” Did he condemn the United States for vetoing the ceasefire measure? “It’s up to the regional countries and the other countries of the world to judge,” he declared.
When asked if there was a “stalemate” in the Russian war in Ukraine, and what the Russians may have gained from their invasion in 2022, he said simply, “it’s up to the Ukrainians to understand how deep a hole they are in and where the Americans have put them.”
On whether a ceasefire may be in the offing in that war Lavrov said, “a year and half ago (Zelensky) signed a decree prohibiting any negotiations with the Putin government. They had the chance in March and April 2022, very soon after the beginning of the special military operation, where in Istanbul the negotiators reached a deal with neutrality for Ukraine, no NATO, and security guarantees…it was canceled,” he added, because the Americans and Brits wanted to “exhaust (Ukrainians) more.”
Lavrov gleefully piggybacked on themes from an earlier forum panel on the Global South. He accused “the United States and its allies” of building “the model of globalization, which they thought would serve them well.” But now, Lavrov contends, the unaligned are using “the principles and instruments of globalization to beat the West on their own terms.” As for Russia, Lavrov deployed a little “cancel culture” of his own, cherry picking the high points of his country's history over the last 200 years to project a nation that he boasts will emerge unscathed by Western assaults today.
“In the beginning of the 19th century Napoleon (rose European armies) against Russia and we defeated him; in the 20th century Hitler did the same. We defeated him and became stronger after that as well,” he said. With the Ukraine war, the West will find “that Russia has already become much stronger than it was before this.”
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UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres speaks in opening session of the Doha Forum in Qatar, December 10. (vlahos)
DOHA, QATAR — The U.S. veto of the UN Security Council vote for a ceasefire in the war in Gaza is being met with widespread anger and frustration by the international community and especially in the Arab world, as reflected in opening remarks at the 21st Doha Forum in Qatar on Sunday.
Addressing the forum, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said the vote was “regrettable…that does not make it less necessary. I can promise that I will not give up.” He said since the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas in Israel and the ensuing Israeli retaliation in Gaza, “the Council’s authority and credibility were seriously undermined” by a succession of failed votes to respond to ongoing civilian carnage on the Strip.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, foreign minister of Qatar, said the current crisis and the U.S. reaction to it, including its thwarting of the ceasefire call (it was the only vote of disapproval; the UK abstained) was exposing the “great gap between East and West ... and double standards in the international community.” He pointed to those drawing attention to war crimes in “other contexts” (no doubt referring to Russia in Ukraine ) “hesitating to call for the end of these crimes in the Gaza strip.”
He repeatedly called for the creation of new multipolar world order that "respects justice and equality between the people where no people are more powerful than the other."
The U.S. said it did not approve the ceasefire resolution Friday because of the lack of condemnation of Hamas in the language, and that it not include a declaration of Israel’s right to defend itself. U.S. ambassador Robert Wood said halting Israel’s military action would “only plant the seeds for the next war.”
The result is that people here at the forum say they are more convinced than ever that U.S. policy is reflexively and intimately intertwined with Israel's activities in Gaza. As Mohammad Shtayyeh, prime minister of Palestine, charged, Washington has given the “greenest of green lights” to what Israel is doing on the ground. This was exacerbated this weekend with news that the Biden Administration is bypassing Congressional review to send 13,000 tank rounds to Israel. This, despite efforts by Democrats in his own party to condition the transfer of offensive weapons to prevent their use against civilians.
Meanwhile, humanitarian advocates repeatedly called the situation on the ground “unprecedented.” In an interview with Al Jazeera reporter Stefanie Dekker on the dais, Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, said his own organization is “on the brink of collapse.” They have lost 134 relief workers in Gaza since Israeli operations began. He described staff in silent stupefaction over the loss of homes, families. “There is no doubt a ceasefire is needed; we want to put an end to hell on earth right now in Gaza.”
Khaled Saffuri, executive director of the National Interest Foundation in Washington, told RS he was struck by the backlash against American brands in his own travels in Kuwait and Qatar over the last week, citing customer and restaurant boycotts of Coke, Pepsi, MacDonald’s, and Starbucks. “It’s horrible,” he said of the lopsided UN vote. “America is losing a lot in the Muslim world.”
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Journalists in the press room watch as Republican presidential candidate and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and fellow candidate and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy discuss an issue during the fourth Republican candidates' debate of the 2024 U.S. presidential campaign hosted by NewsNation at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, U.S., December 6, 2023. REUTERS/Alyssa Pointer
It's as if the Ukraine War has all but ended — at least for American politics.
If the Republican debates had occurred last year, they would have been consumed with talk over whether Vladimir Putin was readying to roll across Europe and how weak President Biden was for not giving Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky our best tanks, our most powerful fighter aircraft, the longest range missiles we had — maybe even access to nukes.
But Zelensky wasn’t anywhere near the debate stage in Alabama last night, his name not even invoked. Fitting, we guess, since the Senate failed to pass an aid package yesterday that would have sent another $60 billion to Ukraine. This, despite administration claims that the war effort is literally running out of money. Biden even took to the airwaves Wednesday to warn of a NATO war if the funding wasn’t approved.
Republicans have been souring on the aid for months now, which might account for Ukraine’s diminished importance in the conversation. It was outweighed last night by the conflict in Israel, which in itself only drew three questions: Do we send in special forces to get the eight remaining American hostages back from Hamas? What kind of punishment could be slapped on university presidents who allow “pro Hamas” protests on campus? And how do we “get” Iran for purportedly being behind it all?
Ukraine was wielded, albeit briefly, as a blunt instrument. At the very least it gave us the tiniest of glimpses into the competing world views of the hawks on the dais (Chris Christie and Nikki Haley) and their chief agitant, Vivek Ramaswamy.
Haley raised the issue (without being asked about it) by fitting it into her usual stream of Domino Theory conciousness:
“The problem is, you have to see that all of these are related. If you look at the fact Russia was losing that war with Ukraine, Putin had hit rock bottom, they had raised the draft age to 65. He was getting drones and missiles — drones from Iran, missiles from North Korea. And so what happened when he hit rock bottom, all of a sudden his other friend, Iran, Hamas goes and invades Israel and butchers those people on Putin's birthday. There is no one happier right now than Putin because all of the attention America had on Ukraine suddenly went to Israel. And that's what they were hoping is going to happen. We need to make sure that we have full clarity, that there is a reason again that Taiwanese want to help Ukrainians because they know if Ukraine wins China won't invade Taiwan. There's a reason the Ukrainians want to help Israelis because they know that if Iran wins, Russia wins. These are all connected. But what wins all of that is a strong America, not a weak America. And that's what Joe Biden has given us.”
Vivek Ramaswamy responds:
“I want to say one thing about that tie to Ukraine. Foreign policy experience is not the same as foreign policy wisdom. I was the first person to say we need a reasonable peace deal in Ukraine. Now a lot of the neocons are quietly coming along to that position with the exceptions of Nikki Haley and Joe Biden, who still support this, what I believe, is pointless war in Ukraine. …One thing that Joe Biden and Nikki Haley have in common is that neither of them could even state for you three provinces in eastern Ukraine that they want to send our troops to actually fight for. … So reject this myth that they've been selling you that somebody had a cup of coffee stint at the UN and then makes eight million bucks after has real foreign policy experience. It takes an outsider to see this through.”
To which Chris Christie retorted:
“Let me just say something here, you know, his (Ramaswamy’s) reasonable peace deal in Ukraine. He made it clear. Give them all the land they've already stolen. Promise Putin you'll never put Ukraine in Russia, and then trust Putin not to have a relationship with China.” (Christie then essentially calls Ramaswamy a liar for suggesting he never said that.)
"These people are lying. These are the same people who told you about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to justify that invasion didn't know the first thing about it if they send thousands of our sons and daughters to go die. The same people who told you the same in Afghanistan, where the Taliban is still in charge. Twenty years later, seven trillion of our national debt due to these toxic neocons. You can put lipstick on a Dick Cheney, it is still a fascist neocon today."
That was basically it. After $130 billion in U.S. taxpayer money since 2022, most of which we are being told has been spent in Ukraine. After hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians and Russians dead and maimed, Ukraine’s economy in such a state that the West has to prop it up, and NATO pledging more troops and weapons it doesn’t even seem to have, the issue was afforded a scant few minutes, and used only in the broadest of ways to pound each other. Gone was even the ghost of the old argument that the free world was at stake or that our obligation to Ukrainians was a moral imperative. It’s been reduced to a political cudgel, which is the first step to being memory holed in Washington. It happened to Iraq and Afghanistan in prior president debates 2012 and 2016.
The gist seems to be, maybe if we ignore it, it will just go away?