The United States is reportedly planning to increase its military presence in Taiwan from nearly 40 to between 100 and 200 military personnel.
According to the first report by The Wall Street Journal last week, the additional troops will arrive in the coming months. The small number of U.S. forces in Taiwan has been growing steadily in recent years from less than two dozen at the start of 2021 to what could be nearly ten times as many by the middle of this year. News of the larger troop presence came on the heels of a high-level meeting between U.S. and Taiwanese officials in Washington last Tuesday. There are also separate reports that 500 Taiwanese troops will be sent to the United States for combat training.
While the total numbers involved are still small, these moves represent significant increases in cooperation between the two governments and could portend larger deployments in the future. As the Journal article states, the planned increase would be “the largest deployment of forces in decades by the U.S. on Taiwan.” The United States and Taiwan have had some military cooperation and unofficial ties despite the lack of formal relations between the two, but the difference now is that these ties are becoming stronger and more visible at the same time and therefore harder for the Chinese government to ignore.
The article suggested that the administration had been trying to keep the larger troop presence out of the public eye. According to the report, the training program is one that “the Pentagon has taken pains not to publicize,” but the public also has a right to know about decisions that the government is making that increase the direct U.S. commitment to Taiwan. If the Washington is going to deploy more troops to Taiwan than it has in decades, the public should be aware of it and Congress should be asking pointed questions about the potential implications of these decisions.
The increased troop presence is consistent with the Biden administration’s more overt signals of support for Taiwan over the last two years. The president himself has repeatedly said that U.S. troops would be sent to fight for Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack, and in so doing he has made a commitment that goes far beyond what the Washington is obligated to do. While administration officials have stuck to the line that there have been no changes to U.S. policy with respect to China and Taiwan, both their words and actions have been saying otherwise.
For its part, the Taiwanese government seems nervous enough about the reporting of the increase that it made a point of clarifying that U.S. troops are not permanently stationed there. It’s true that U.S. troops have been rotated in and out, but this distinction may be lost on the Chinese government when they see more American troops involved in training their Taiwanese counterparts. There needs to be greater clarity about the administration’s plans.
As the United States intensifies its efforts to support Taiwan, it risks further damaging the relationship with China and hamstringing its ability to advance U.S. interests on a wide range of other issues from arms control to climate change. There is also the danger that an increased U.S. military presence in Taiwan could trigger Chinese responses in the form of increased economic warfare and military exercises that would create additional headaches and costs for Taiwan. Combined with Speaker McCarthy’s expected visit to Taiwan in the spring, these moves may lead to another unnecessary confrontation. Insofar as they are perceived as further eroding U.S. commitments to a One China policy, these actions could make the overall situation less stable rather than more.
All of this is happening against a backdrop of generally heightened tensions and a U.S.-led military buildup in the region, including the expansion of the U.S. military presence in the Philippines. Despite brief hopes of a thaw in the relationship after the breakdown resulting from then-Speaker Pelosi’s visit to Taipei last summer, every attempt to repair ties has stalled before it could even begin. As we saw with the overreaction to the incident with the Chinese surveillance balloon and the decision to cancel Secretary Blinken’s visit to Beijing, accidents and mistakes that will sometimes happen with other major powers have become occasions for panic and alarmism rather than the manageable problems that they are.
Under these circumstances, there is a danger that previously routine activities that did not disrupt the bilateral relationship in the past will now be perceived as provocations and lead to strong responses from the other government. To the extent that every incident is treated as a “test” of resolve rather than an irritant to be smoothed over, it becomes practically impossible to stabilize, much less repair, what many would consider to be the most significant bilateral relationship in the world. The balloon incident showed how inadequate our governments’ preparations for crisis management are, and the instinct to cancel diplomatic meetings in response to an incident does not inspire confidence that a more serious clash could be safely navigated.
U.S.-Chinese relations are as bad as they have been since at least the early 1990s, and they are arguably worse than at any time since our governments normalized relations in 1979. During the long period of U.S.-China détente, there would be tensions and sharp disagreements between our governments as there always will be, but the desire on both sides to maintain a stable and productive relationship prevailed to make sure that these were only temporary setbacks. Today, détente has been replaced by a policy of actively pursuing rivalry and containment, which means that every incident will cause an already poor relationship to deteriorate further.
The latest source of tension is the U.S. charge that the Chinese government is considering providing lethal aid to Russia’s war in Ukraine, which Beijing has angrily denied. Washington and Beijing can’t move past the last breakdown in relations before the next problem crops up. The “great power competition” framing of the relationship means that the emphasis is always on point-scoring and one-upping the other side rather than de-escalation.
In general, the United States needs to work on reducing tensions with China, and that definitely means avoiding provocative actions in connection with Taiwan. Jessica Chen Weiss recently made the case for calming things down in an op-ed for The Washington Post: “In the current atmosphere of intense distrust, verbal assurances have to be accompanied by coordinated, reciprocal actions to reduce the risk of a catastrophic crisis.”
It is not enough simply to say that the United States doesn’t seek conflict or a new cold war. The United States has to back up those statements by exercising restraint in what it does and how it talks about the relationship with China. To prevent tensions over Taiwan from getting worse, Washington needs to worry less about building up its military strength in the region and instead focus on reassuring the Chinese government that it does not want to abandon the status quo that has kept the peace for more than 40 years.
Daniel Larison is a regular columnist at Responsible Statecraft, contributing editor at Antiwar.com, and a former senior editor at The American Conservative magazine. He has a Ph.D. in History from the University of Chicago. He writes regularly for his newsletter, Eunomia, on Substack.
Ukraine would consider inviting Russian officials to a peace summit to discuss Kyiv’s proposal for a negotiated end to the war, according to Andriy Yermak, the Ukrainian president’s chief of staff.
“There can be a situation in which we together invite representatives of the Russian Federation, where they will be presented with the plan in case whoever is representing the aggressor country at that time will want to genuinely end this war and return to a just peace,” Yermak said over the weekend, noting that one more round of talks without Russia will first be held in Switzerland.
The comment represents a subtle shift in Ukrainian messaging about talks. Kyiv has long argued that it would never negotiate with Russian President Vladimir Putin, yet there is no reason to believe Putin will leave power any time soon. That realization — along with Ukraine’s increasingly perilous position on the battlefield — may have helped force Kyiv to reconsider its hard line on talking with the widely reviled Russian leader.
Zelensky hinted at a potential mediator for talks following a visit this week to Saudi Arabia. The leader “noted in particular Saudi Arabia’s strivings to help in restoring a just peace in Ukraine,” according to a statement from Ukrainian officials. “Saudi Arabia’s leadership can help find a just solution.”
Russia, for its part, has signaled that it is open to peace talks of some sort, though both Kyiv and Moscow insist that any negotiations would have to be conducted on their terms. The gaps between the negotiating positions of the two countries remain substantial, with each laying claim to roughly 18% of the territory that made up pre-2014 Ukraine.
Ukraine’s shift is a sign of just how dire the situation is becoming for its armed forces, which recently made a hasty retreat from Avdiivka, a small but strategically important town near Donetsk. After months of wrangling, the U.S. Congress has still not approved new military aid for Ukraine, and Kyiv now says its troops are having to ration ammunition as their stockpiles dwindle.
Zelensky said Sunday that he expects Russia to mount a new offensive as soon as late May. It’s unclear whether Ukrainian troops are prepared to stop such a move.
Even the Black Sea corridor — a narrow strip of the waterway through which Ukraine exports much of its grain — could be under threat. “I think the route will be closed...because to defend it, it's also about some ammunition, some air defense, and some other systems” that are now in short supply, said Zelensky.
As storm clouds gather, it’s time to push for peace talks before Russia regains the upper hand, argue Anatol Lieven and George Beebe of the Quincy Institute, which publishes Responsible Statecraft.
“Complete victory for Ukraine is now an obvious impossibility,” Lieven and Beebe wrote this week. “Any end to the fighting will therefore end in some form of compromise, and the longer we wait, the worse the terms of that compromise will be for Ukraine, and the greater the dangers will be for our countries and the world.”
In other diplomatic news related to the war in Ukraine:
— Hungary finally signed off on Sweden’s bid to join NATO after the Swedish prime minister met with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Budapest, according to Deutsche Welle. What did Orban get for all the foot dragging? Apparently just four Swedish fighter jets of the same model that it has been purchasing for years. The prime minister blamed his party for the slow-rolling, saying in a radio interview prior to the parliamentary vote that he had persuaded his partisans to drop their opposition to Sweden’s accession.
— French President Emmanuel Macron sent allies scrambling Tuesday when he floated the idea of sending NATO troops to Ukraine, according to the BBC. Leaders from Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy, Poland, and other NATO states quickly swatted down the idea that the alliance (or any individual members thereof) would consider joining the war directly. Russia said direct conflict with NATO would be an “inevitability” if the bloc sent troops into Ukraine.
— On Wednesday, Zelensky attended a summit in Albania aimed at bolstering Balkan support for Ukraine’s fight against Russia, according to AP News. The Ukrainian leader said all states in the region are “worthy” of becoming members of NATO and the European Union, which “have provided Europe with the longest and most reliable era of security and economic development.”
— Western officials were in talks with the Kremlin for a prisoner swap involving Russian dissident Alexei Navalny prior to his death in a Russian prison camp in February, though no formal offer had yet been made, according to Politico. This account contrasts with the one given by Navalny’s allies, who claimed that Putin had killed the opposition leader in order to sabotage discussions that were nearing a deal. Navalny’s sudden death has led to speculation about whether Russian officials may have assassinated him, though no proof has yet surfaced to back up this claim. There is, however, little doubt that the broader deterioration of the dissident’s health was related to the harsh conditions he was held under.
U.S. State Department news:
In a Tuesday press conference, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said the situation on the frontlines in Ukraine is “extremely serious.” “We have seen Ukrainian frontline troops who don’t have the ammo they need to repel Russian aggression. They’re still fighting bravely. They’re still fighting courageously,” Miller said. “They still have armor and weapons and ammunition they can use, but they’re having to ration it now because the United States Congress has failed to act.”
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Janet Yellen, United States Secretary of the Treasury. (Reuters)
On Tuesday, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen strongly endorsed efforts to tap frozen Russian central bank assets in order to continue to fund Ukraine.
“There is a strong international law, economic and moral case for moving forward,” with giving the assets, which were frozen by international sanctions following Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, to Kyiv, she said to reporters before a G7 meeting in San Paulo.
Furthermore on Wednesday, White House national security communications adviser John Kirby urged the use of these assets to assist the Ukrainian military.
This adds momentum to increasing efforts on Capitol Hill to monetize the frozen assets to assist the beleaguered country, including through the “REPO Act,” a U.S. Senate bill which was criticized by Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) in a recent article here in Responsible Statecraft. As Paul pointed out, spending these assets would violate international law and norms by the outright seizure of sovereign Russian assets.
In the long term, this will do even more to undermine global faith in the U.S.-led and Western-centric international financial system. Doubts about the system and pressures to find an alternative are already heightened due to the freezing of Russian overseas financial holdings in the first place, as well as the frequent use of unilateral sanctions by the U.S. to impose its will and values on other countries.
The amount of money involved here is considerable. Over $300 billion in Russian assets was frozen, mostly held in European banks. For comparison, that’s about the same amount as the entirety of Western aid committed from all sources to Ukraine since the beginning of the war in 2022 — around $310 billion, including the recent $54 billion in 4-year assistance just approved by the EU.
Thus, converting all of the Russian assets to assistance for Ukraine could in theory fully finance a continuing war in Ukraine for years to come. As political support for open-ended Ukraine aid wanes in both the U.S. and Europe, large-scale use of this financing method also holds the promise of an administrative end-run around the political system.
But there are also considerable potential downsides, particularly in Europe. European financial institutions hold the overwhelming majority of frozen Russian assets, and any form of confiscation could be a major blow to confidence in these entities. In addition, European corporations have significant assets stranded in Russia which Moscow could seize in retaliation for the confiscation of its foreign assets.
Another major issue is that using assets to finance an ongoing conflict will forfeit their use as leverage in any peace settlement, and the rebuilding of Ukraine. The World Bank now estimates post-war rebuilding costs for Ukraine of nearly $500 billion. If the West can offer a compromise to Russia in which frozen assets are used to pay part of these costs, rather than demanding new Russian financing for massive reparations, this could be an important incentive for negotiations.
In contrast, monetizing the assets outside of a peace process could signal that the West intends to continue the conflict indefinitely.
In combination with aggressive new U.S. sanctions announced last week on Russia and on third party countries that continue to deal with Russia, the new push for confiscation of Russian assets is more evidence that the U.S. and EU intend to intensify the conflict with Moscow using administrative mechanisms that won’t rely on support from the political system or the people within them.
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Activist Layla Elabed speaks during an uncommitted vote election night gathering as Democrats and Republicans hold their Michigan presidential primary election, in Dearborn, Michigan, U.S. February 27, 2024. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook
A protest vote in Michigan against President Joe Biden’s handling of the war in Gaza dramatically exceeded expectations Tuesday, highlighting the possibility that his stance on the conflict could cost him the presidency in November.
More than 100,000 Michiganders voted “uncommitted” in yesterday’s presidential primary, earning 13.3% of the tally with most votes counted and blasting past organizers’ goal of 10,000 protest votes. Biden won the primary handily with 81% of the total tally.
The results suggest that Biden could lose Michigan in this year’s election if he continues to back Israel’s campaign to the hilt. In 2020, he won the state by 150,000 votes while polls predicted he would win by a much larger margin. This year, early polls show a slight lead for Trump in the battleground state, which he won in 2016 by fewer than 11,000 votes.
“The war on Gaza is a deep moral issue and the lack of attention and empathy for this perspective from the administration is breaking apart the fragile coalition we built to elect Joe Biden in 2020,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), a progressive leader who has called for a ceasefire in Gaza, as votes came in last night.
Biden still has “a little bit of time to change this dynamic,” Jayapal told CNN, but “it has to be a dramatic policy and rhetorical shift from the president on this issue and a new strategy to rebuild a real partnership with progressives in multiple communities who are absolutely key to winning the election.”
Rep. Ro Khanna, a prominent Biden ally, told Semafor the vote is a “wake-up call” for the White House on Gaza.
The “uncommitted” option won outright in Dearborn, a Detroit suburb with a famously large Arab American population. The protest vote also gained notable traction in college towns, signaling Biden’s weakness among young voters across the country. “Uncommitted” received at least 8% of votes in every county in Michigan with more than 95% of votes tallied.
The uncommitted campaign drew backing from prominent Democrats in Michigan, including Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and state Rep. Abraham Aiyash, who is the majority leader in the Michigan House. Former Reps. Andy Levin and Beto O’Rourke, who served as a representative from Texas, also lent their support to the effort.
“Our movement emerged victorious tonight and massively surpassed our expectations,” said Listen to Michigan, the organization behind the campaign, in a statement last night. “Tens of thousands of Michigan Democrats, many of whom [...] voted for Biden in 2020, are uncommitted to his re-election due to the war in Gaza.”
Biden did not make reference to the uncommitted movement in his victory speech, but reports indicate that his campaign is spooked by the effort. Prior to Tuesday’s vote, White House officials met with Arab and Muslim leaders in Michigan to try to assuage their concerns about the war, which has left about 30,000 Palestinians dead and many more injured. (More than 1,100 Israelis died during Hamas’s Oct. 7 attacks last year.)
The president argues that his support for Israel has made it possible for him to guide the direction of the war to the extent possible, though his critics note that, despite some symbolic and rhetorical moves, he has stopped far short of holding back U.S. weapons or supporting multilateral efforts to demand a ceasefire.
Campaigners now hope the “uncommitted” effort will spread to other states. Minnesota, which will hold its primaries next week, is an early target.
“If you think this will stop with Michigan you are either the president or paid to flatter him,” said Alex Sammon, a politics writer at Slate.
Meanwhile in the Republican primary, former President Donald Trump fended off a challenge from former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley. With 94% of votes in, Trump came away with 68% of the vote, while Haley scored around 27%.