The Stability of Deterrence in the Taiwan Strait

September 1, 2001 Topic: DefenseMilitary StrategySecurity Regions: Asia Tags: Cold WarIslamismWar In Afghanistan

The Stability of Deterrence in the Taiwan Strait

Mini Teaser: The Bush Administration should take to heart the lesson learned by its predecessors: leave well enough alone in the Taiwan Strait.

by Author(s): Robert S. Ross

AS STURDY as the status quo in cross-strait relations is, it can be disrupted by unwise diplomacy that threatens the status of the 1979 U.S.-China strategic understanding. The policy changes emerging in the new administration have the potential to harm the interests of both the United States and Taiwan. Such policies will increase suspicion of the United States in Beijing and strengthen the hands of politicians who oppose Chinese cooperation with the United States.

That would be unfortunate. U.S. interest in cooperation with China is not limited to managing the Taiwan issue and avoiding war. U.S.-China cooperation contributes to stability on the Korean peninsula by enhancing Chinese incentives to constrain North Korean ballistic missile proliferation and nuclear weapons development, and by encouraging Pyongyang to pursue dialogue and peaceful unification with Seoul. It also contributes to stability in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf by encouraging China not to proliferate weapons and delivery systems to regional antagonists. It enables the United States to take advantage of China's market to enhance U.S. economic growth and the competitiveness of key U.S. industries. And it enables the United States to encourage political reform in China through economic, cultural and educational exchanges. Increased tension over Taiwan jeopardizes all of these interests without contributing to stability. Moreover, the greatest cost of conflict would be borne by Taiwan. Its security, prosperity and democracy would all be at risk should U.S.-China relations deteriorate seriously.

Rather than repeat the mistakes and subsequent retrenchments of past administrations, the Bush Administration should adopt the novel course of maintaining continuity with the China policy of its predecessors. It is still not too late.

Robert S. Ross is professor of political science at Boston College, an associate at the John King Fairbank Center for East Asian Research, Harvard University, and co-editor of Reexamining the Cold War: U.S.-China Diplomacy, 1954-1973 (Harvard University Press, forthcoming).

Essay Types: Essay