Academic journal article Parameters

Taiwan

Academic journal article Parameters

Taiwan

Article excerpt

Of all the threats to security and US interests in Asia, the confrontation across the Taiwan Strait is surely the most perilous over the long run and has the greatest potential for erupting into a war between the United States and China. As Kurt Campbell and Derek Mitchell of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington wrote in the summer of 2001, "Perhaps nowhere else on the globe is the situation so seemingly intractable and the prospect of a major war involving the United States so real."'

Today, that outlook is even more dire as China, Taiwan, and the United States have hardened their positions, even if the rhetoric has been less harsh for the most part recently. China has new leaders who cannot afford to be less than adamant on the Taiwan question. Taiwanese leaders have been pushing their island further away from the mainland, drawing Chinese warnings that military force would be employed if Taiwan goes too far. The United States, under President Bush, has demanded that any settlement of the Taiwan question be peaceful and in accord with the wishes of the people of Taiwan. Beyond that, the Administration has repeatedly reminded the Chinese of US obligations under the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 to help Taiwan defend itself

All of this has reduced diplomatic maneuvering room and made for a situation in which a miscalculation could cause an eruption. Admiral Thomas B. Fargo, Commander of US Pacific Command, told a gathering last summer at the East-West Center, a research organization in Hawaii, that among the issues concerning him was "a miscalculation between strategic rivals, and I'm talking about China and Taiwan and India and Pakistan here." (2) Earlier, the Admiral told Congress that among the "fundamental challenges" he would confront was "the potential for accelerated military competition or, worse, gross miscalculation between India and Pakistan, China and Taiwan, or some other strategic rivals." (3) His predecessors, Admirals Dennis Blair and Joseph Prueher, are known to have been concerned about the same possibilities. (4)

This emphasis on Taiwan is not to play down the risk of hostilities elsewhere in Asia. In North Korea, the regime of the late Kim Ii Sung and his son, Kim Jong Ii, has a long history of duplicity that has earned Pyongyang a place in President Bush's "axis of evil." The North Koreans have broken at least four agreements on not producing nuclear arms and have moved ahead on a clandestine program to add those weapons to their arsenal of chemical and biological weapons. Their massed forces, replete with artillery, along the 4,000-meter-wide demilitarized zone dividing the peninsula have put the South Korean capital of Seoul in harm's way. Compounding the threat from North Korea is rising antiAmericanism in Seoul that jeopardizes the US alliance with South Korea. Deterrence on the Korean peninsula has worked, for the most part, for 50 years, but if it should fail, nearly every military observer in Asia agrees that the North Koreans would be roundly defeated, their capital overrun, and their regime consigned to th e ash bin of history. The casualties might be dreadful, but the combined power of the Republic of Korea and the United States would prevail.

In the South China Sea, though which passes half of the world's shipping-more than through the Panama and Suez canals combined--piracy in several straits, territorial disputes, and a Chinese claim to sovereignty over most of that sea are hazards to seaborne trade. Around the littoral of the sea, terror has spread to the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, and Thailand. US officials have said, however, there is no Afghanistan to give the terrorists haven. Moreover, several Southeast Asian governments have moved against the terrorists, and US forces in the southern Philippines have helped Filipino troops fight Muslim extremists. Clearly, the US Navy could keep those sea lanes open, but at a heavy cost in forces, time, and money. …

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