One year after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the ugliness of humanity is fully on display. But instead of working to stop the war immediately, major powers in the world are directly or indirectly prolonging this man-made tragedy.
In total, as of the time of writing, the United States has committed more than $27.4 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the beginning of the current administration, and more than $26.7 billion since the beginning of Russia’s brutal invasion on February 24, 2022. President Joe Biden himself announced another half a billion dollars in military aid to Ukraine during his February 20 surprise visit to Kyiv. “To meet Ukraine’s evolving battlefield requirements, the United States will continue to work with its Allies and partners to provide Ukraine with key capabilities,” the U.S. Department of Defense declared when announcing the additional security aid. When appearing alongside Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv, Biden proudly stated that, “Together, we’ve committed nearly 700 tanks and thousands of armored vehicles. 1,000 artillery systems, more than 2 million rounds of artillery ammunition, more than 50 advanced launch rocket systems, anti-ship and air defense systems, all to defend Ukraine.”
At the same time, Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida said his country would be pledging another $5.5 billion in assistance, because of “strong concern that Ukraine may be tomorrow’s East Asia.”
Supporting Ukraine in its resistance against Russian invasion is the right thing to do. But is this the only thing the United States can do? Have the United States and other powers tried to end the war? Why has our society become so tolerant of this bloody war?
China, another major global power—which is reportedly considering supplying Russia with drones and artillery equipment—released its “Global Security Initiative Concept Paper” a few days before the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion. In this document, China touts the concept of “common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security,” and reiterates its commitments “to respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries” and “to taking the legitimate security concerns of all countries seriously.”
This is a paradoxical position: the first commitment appears to be supporting Ukraine, while the second supports Russia. Without specific, actionable measures to implement this supposed global security initiative, the document sounds hollow.
Yet the contradictory position may be the point, since the same dire situation that exists in Ukraine also exists in the Taiwan Strait. It’s in everyone’s interest not to turn Taiwan into another Ukraine. Yet the United States and China seem to be heading towards the exact same kind of showdown.
Depending on who you ask, a U.S.-China war over Taiwan could break out in 2049, 2035, 2027, or as soon as 2025—with that last one being based on the “gut feelings” of General Mike Minihan of the U.S. Air Mobility Command.
And how is the United States preparing for this potential scenario? By arming Taiwan.
Washington has never ceased arms sales to Taiwan after it switched official recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979, which is consistent with the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA). The TRA, passed by Congress and signed into law by President Jimmy Carter, states that the United States “shall provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive character.”
In recent years, the United States has sharply increased security and military support for Taiwan while China becomes more assertive. For instance, the Taiwan Enhanced Resilience Act, included in the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), authorizes appropriations for military grant assistance for Taiwan up to $2 billion per year from 2023 through 2027.
This so-called “porcupine strategy” is aimed at arming Taiwan so much that China would think twice before it launches an attack on Taiwan. The question is, with the People’s Liberation Army’s own modernization and Xi Jinping’s historical mission of realizing the “Chinese dream,” which includes China’s unification with Taiwan, will the porcupine strategy work? Or is it counterproductive, since Washington’s efforts to beef up Taiwan’s defense will only harden Beijing’s resolve to be better prepared for an eventual conflict?
U.S. diplomats and scholars used to be the most consistent and loudest supporters of cross-Taiwan Strait dialogue. Nowadays, nobody in Washington is promoting dialogue; everyone is busy predicting when the war with China will start—it is automatically presumed that such an outcome is a foregone conclusion.
The U.S. government tended to be vague about its long-term goal in Taiwan, and it was believed that Washington did not care about a particular outcome of cross-strait relations so long as the process is peaceful. Today, the United States does not seem to support cross-strait unification anymore, even if it is achieved peacefully. Indeed, Taiwan has become a more valuable strategic asset for both Washington and Beijing as U.S.-China rivalry intensifies.
As Washington continues to arm Taiwan and as Beijing ramps up military and diplomatic pressures on Taiwan, a U.S.-China military conflict seems highly likely.
No one benefits from wars, except greedy arms dealers. As great powers, the United States and China should ask themselves: what have we done to end or prevent wars?
Zhiqun Zhu is a professor of international relations and political science at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. He has written extensively on U.S.-China relations and East Asian political economy.