The comparison to Cuba should give heart to Taiwan’s defenders while giving China pause. The likeness between Taiwan and Cuba is inexact, as all comparisons are. The most glaring difference: Cuba rambles on for some 700 miles between its western and eastern tips, while Taiwan runs only about 240 miles from north to south, its major axis. Acreage matters. And yet Taiwan has rugged and indented shorelines, mountainous topography, and a populace with intimate acquaintanceship with its strategic features. It has advantages of its own to offset geographic size. Its armed forces must turn them to maximum effect.
The Cuban example suggests how Taiwan’s defenders can overcome not just a blockade but an amphibious onslaught. Beijing needs to win in a hurry, denying the island and its protectors time to react in force. Taipei mainly needs to stall for time. It needs to prolong any cross-strait war, reminding the international community it is a fighter while allowing the United States and potentially other rescuers time to marshal a response, fight their way to the scene of combat, and make a difference. Studying the American Civil War could pay dividends for Taiwan as well as China, showing the island’s guardians how to make trouble for their archfoe through diplomacy, law, and military strategy.
And troublemaking is what it’s all about. Strategic guidance from Corbett: make things worse to make them better. Use every resource at your disposal to make maritime operations galling for China—and for everyone else—and you may endure.
James Holmes is J. C. Wylie Chair of Maritime Strategy at the Naval War College. The views voiced here are his alone.
This article was republished for reader interests.