Academic journal article Air & Space Power Journal

Countering a Strategic Gambit: Keeping US Airpower Employable in a China-Taiwan Conflict

Academic journal article Air & Space Power Journal

Countering a Strategic Gambit: Keeping US Airpower Employable in a China-Taiwan Conflict

Article excerpt

Editorial Abstract:

The US ability to provide airpower to the Taiwan Strait area influences strategic decisions and discourages potential conflict. The author suggests that the United States use all instruments of national power in a Sun Tzu-like strategy to ensure its continued access to regional bases. Such a strategy should forestall conflict; failing that, US airpower would be positioned to help achieve desirable outcomes in case of conflict.

For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill. Thus, what is of importance in war is to attack the enemy's strategy.

-Sun Tzu

The Art of War

THE TAIWAN ISSUE remains a western Pacific flashpoint. The People's Republic of China (PRC) claims complete sovereignty over Taiwan and has promised to use force if peaceful means fail to keep Taiwan from pursuing independence. Taiwan, meanwhile, has witnessed a significant growth of proindependence forces in the last few years. The current Taiwanese ruling party's openly proindependence stance has challenged the PRC. Though cross-strait tensions have waxed and waned, the potential for conflict remains high. The United States has been involved in this situation since it began over 50 years ago and remains committed to both Taiwan's defense and finding a peaceful solution within the bounds of the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act.

By all measures, the PRC wishes to take Taiwan whole and intact. To this end, it will follow Sun Tzu's teachings to win without fighting, bringing every element of national power into full play. Chinese leaders see that a possible US intervention in a Taiwan Strait conflict will rely on a joint force dependent on naval power and airpower. In essence, the PRC has begun to shape the potential western Pacific battlespace using military, economic, and diplomatic means.1 Though the People's Liberation Army's (PLA) growing strength has captured many analysts' attention, the force will remain, at best, a regional power for the foreseeable future. In fact, its growing power could be more of a ruse than a main threat in this situation. The PLA's growing power should be neither underestimated nor ignored by US policy makers. Still, for at least the near term, China will compensate for its limited military strength by pursuing a strategy using its growing economic power and careful diplomatic pressure on western Pacific nations to limit the United States' ability to deploy and employ airpower to defend Taiwan. Like Sun Tzu's axiom, the PRC's asymmetric gambit could subdue American airpower without fighting, crippling possible Taiwan strategies.2 Ironically, the United States has seen a growing PRC economy and its recent, more kindly diplomacy as positive and hopeful leading indicators of further PRC market and democratic reforms. Hence, any credible, effective US response to these PRC initiatives must maintain the current cordial relationship with Beijing and encourage further PRC market reforms and more transparent governance while retaining military options guaranteeing Taiwan's already existing market economy and robust democracy.

The Ruse: The Growing PLA

As highlighted by the 2004 Pentagon report "on the current and future military strategy of the People's Republic of China,"3 American policy makers have focused on the PLA's growth. Certainly, the PRC military options (especially as they relate to a potential Taiwan Strait confrontation) have grown in recent years with vast improvements in its military power. As the PRC applies its expanding economic power to military improvements, the threat occurs when the immature capabilities of Chinese armed forces combine with other elements of national power to secure regional dominance. While the world has been transfixed on Chinese military growth, the PRC's diplomatic and economic power has shaped the western Pacific area.

The nation's air forces are in the midst of a transition from large, 1960s-technology-based units to smaller, more modern, and capable forces. …

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