Why Colby is Wrong on Taiwan

In his recent Foreign Affairs article “America Must Prepare for a War Over Taiwan,” Elbridge Colby argues that the solution to sustaining stability in the Taiwan Strait is for the United States to greatly ramp up its defense spending in Asia in order to deter an otherwise likely Chinese attack on Taiwan and preserve peace in Asia.

Yet instead of preserving the peace, Colby’s approach would guarantee conflict, produce an open-ended U.S-China arms race, significantly increase the chance of further conflicts over Taiwan or other issues, and of course, destabilize the global economy.

Colby consistently fails to adopt any frame of analysis for the Taiwan issue other than a simplistic force-on-force approach. In doing so, he overestimates the capabilities of the Chinese military to take Taiwan and totally ignores the reality that even a militarily inferior Beijing will still employ force against the island if it believes that the United States were using its military might to back a clear bid by Taipei for independence.

As examined in my recent Quincy Institute study of U.S. threat inflation, the Chinese military has certainly greatly increased its capabilities relevant to Taiwan over the previous decades and poses an increasing threat. But it has not amassed anything approaching the level of superior force that would be required to confidently subdue Taiwan while deterring or defeating any U.S. intervention. The Chinese military still operates under a wide array of limitations in weapons, logistics, training, and experience that would make any full-scale resort to force a gigantic roll of the dice. Thus, continuing to sustain such a high risk for Beijing does not require a huge increase in U.S. defense spending, as Colby suggests.

Read the full piece in The National Interest.