No Credible Military Defense of Taiwan: Oriana Skylar Mastro on the Munk Debates Podcast

The United States can no longer rely solely on its own military capability or influence to deter Chinese aggression against Taiwan, argues Oriana Skylar Mastro on a new episode of the Munk Debates podcast. Credible pushback can now only be achieved through international coalitions.
[Left] Graphic of missile, Taiwan flag, and China flag; [Right] Oriana Skylar Mastro Munk Debates

Can China’s aggression towards Taiwan be stopped? Oriana Skylar Mastro joins the Munk Debate podcast to argue affirmatively that Chinese military capability has advanced too far for the United States to credibly deter the PRC through military means alone. Michael Beckley, an associate professor of political science at Tufts University and visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, offers the rebuttal. The full debate is available below.

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Many of China’s military development goals were set with a target date of 2020, which means the PRC is currently in a strong place with its offensive and defensive capabilities. By Mastro’s measure, China now has the most advanced ballistic missile program in the world, including the United States. For Taiwan, this means the reality of an aggressive neighbor who possesses offensive weapons that are very difficult to defend against.

China also has geographic benefits when it comes to offensive maneuvering. If a hot conflict began, neither Taiwan nor the United States has a comparable network of sole-sovereign military bases in the area such as China’s. Not only does this mean China can utilize its air defense capabilities — again, now one of the strongest in the world, by Mastro’s account — but it can also support a robust blockade against Taiwan across the strait and devastate the island both militarily and economically.

As Mastro points out, “Taiwan’s economy completely depends on China, so if China decided to use economic coercion, which is defined as a type of aggression, the United States has absolutely no way of protecting Taiwan from any economic harm coming from the PRC.”

Because of this potential for combined military and economic aggression, Mastro pushed for urgency on deterrence in Taiwan. “The United States and international community do not have forever. The Chinese are not happy with maintaining the status quo, and they will soon believe they have the military capability to [take Taiwan].”

Rather than continuing to act alone, Mastro hopes the United States will lead out in organizing an international coalition that includes other regional partners such as Australia, Japan, and India as actively contributing participants. With the United States no longer seen as a monolith in Beijing, only broad, coordinated cooperation will provide effective deterrence and security for Taiwan.

On another podcast, Conversation Six, Mastro joins Abraham Denmark to discuss China's Taiwan strategy and what the United States can do to deter China from invading Taiwan. The threat of non-military intervention by the United States and its allies is the way forward, she says. "The US needs to do more in non-military realms," she argues.

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