Over the last several years, the dual threats of accelerating Chinese gray zone warfare and the increased risks of an actual Taiwan invasion have caused US strategic planners to rethink how best to re-establish effective deterrence. The 2018 National Defense Strategy talked about the concept of great power competition, but through a relatively narrow, national aspect of “building military advantage” and “maintaining important regional balances of power.” Threats were defined in a “2+3” framework, with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Russia being the primary two issues for the Department of Defense (DoD), while North Korea, Iran, and violent extremist organizations constitute the secondary three issues.
The DoD is now developing a new concept, integrated deterrence, that will likely be a part of the 2022 National Defense Strategy. This concept was first publicly discussed by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in an April 30, 2021 speech, in which he briefly outlined a vision of how networks of technology, concepts, and capabilities could effectively deter an adversary. In the months since, other members of the DoD have provided more details on the concept, wherein networks of US allies and partners would be crucial in extending deterrence beyond traditional military strength alone. Moreover, both public discussion and administration actions (such as the recently-announced AUKUS pact and the revitalized “Quad”) indicate that this concept is primarily aimed at PRC deterrence, with the 2022 NDS likely prioritizing the PRC above all else.
This concept has significant implications for Taiwan, especially because DoD senior leaders are now openly connecting deterrence of the PRC not simply to a wide range of scenarios, but specifically to the defense of Taiwan. In this article, I will explore these implications and propose some methods by which Taiwan can work to realize shared security goals.
Tying Down Gulliver, Quickly
Integrated deterrence has dual implicit admissions. First, the growth of PRC military capabilities has outpaced American deterrent efforts to forestall an invasion. Moreover, the balance of future military technology development—hypersonic weapons, for instance—does not favor the United States in the short term. It is not for nothing that the AUKUS pact emphasizes “radical” technology-sharing and integration. This emphasis on sharing is all the more remarkable, as the US defense establishment has traditionally prioritized technological solutions, and thus values absolute technological superiority over adversaries and allies alike.
However, developing war-winning technologies takes significant time and effort, even in conjunction with partners. A number of wargames over the last few years have shown how the legacy US military would fail in a Taiwan invasion scenario. As a number of senior defense officials—ranging from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley, the previous INDOPACOM Commander Admiral Philip Davidson, and Taiwan Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng (邱國正)—have pointed out, the potential for an invasion will increase by the 2025-2027 timeframe. Recently developed US operational concepts, such as agile combat employment, are important but largely defensive in nature, trading aircraft sortie generation efficiency for survivability. Future concepts, melded with technologies not yet fully developed, point to more optimistic victory scenarios for the United States—but only in the 2030 timeframe. This points to a dangerous time gap of roughly 5-10 years, during which US military developments will be playing catch up just as PRC national strength and Xi Jinping’s (習近平) political power are peaking.
Thus, integrated deterrence means that the United States will rely more heavily on allies and partners to provide a regional mesh of deterrent power, essentially providing enhanced coordination to already ongoing regional efforts to balance Chinese military strength. Recent public discussion on the increased Japanese support for Taiwan, as well as Australia’s switch from littoral defense diesel submarines to nuclear submarines that can easily range to Taiwan, are examples of these regional initiatives. The implication for Taiwan is that it is critical to surge military power through 2030. Taiwan military acquisitions and reforms should prioritize gaining capability and capacity by 2025, with a limited number of operational goals against which to clearly measure combat readiness. Similarly, even if the United States and Taiwan cannot develop bilateral operational plans, discussions should be held so that both sides can at least have bilaterally informed operational plans with some level of deconfliction. The end goal of this surge would be to generate enough doubt within the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) leadership over the probability of success, and their ability to limit the extent of war, so that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will not take direct action during this decade of danger.
Flipping the Script on Cost Imposition
The second implicit admission of integrated deterrence is that prior deterrence aimed at maintaining a regional balance of power was not flexible enough to address PRC gray zone warfare. The United States has responded to this fairly slowly—in part because of a long-standing security focus on armed conflict, and because gray zone warfare costs to date have largely been shouldered by US allies and partners. Given that gray zone warfare is designed to get around traditional modes of deterrence, other, more indirect methods must be used. However, merely mitigating the costs on a bilateral level is not sufficient. If the United States is to rely on allies and partners in surging conventional deterrent power, then this means it will also need to impose heavy costs of its own on the PRC.
The United States has already begun carrying out such cost imposition through distributed, multilateral groupings designed to globally impede PRC coercive use of economic and military power. Over the last three months, it has demonstrated this through successes in developing the Quad, re-orienting NATO towards countering the PRC, the announcement of AUKUS, and revitalizing the US-Philippine alliance.
On a more Taiwan-specific scale, the United States has organized a joint US-Canada warship transit through the Taiwan Strait, while encouraging UK, French, and Australian efforts to do the same. US, UK, Japanese, Netherlands, New Zealand, and Canadian warships, including four aircraft carriers, have recently conducted anti-submarine warfare, air defense, and communication drills off the northern coast of Taiwan. This essentially distributes operational costs of competition across a variety of US allies and partners, while forcing the PRC, bereft of allies, to respond individually.
Taiwan can assist with this counter cost-imposition by pursuing a diplomatic strategy that focuses on people-to-people ties based on values. In particular, it should place a priority on nations and groupings with the economic heft and power to influence the CCP’s cost-benefit calculus of an invasion—European nations and Australia, for instance, rather than those in Latin America. Just as proponents of a Taiwan asymmetric military strategy call for a “large number of small things,” this can also apply to diplomatic initiatives. The point of this would not be to gain formal recognition, but rather to highlight the commonalities between democratic peoples under siege from an autocratic power. This would not only make turning a blind eye to CCP aggression politically unpalatable, but would also use the PRC’s economic strength against itself. For instance, the CCP’s response to Taiwan’s current values-based diplomacy in Europe has been typically ham-fisted, with threats of economic blackmail undermining years of united front work and billions in Belt and Road Initiative (BRI, formerly known as “One Belt, One Road,” 一帶一路) investment. Encouraging the Party to rant and throw good money after bad would impose serious long-term costs and make it easier for the United States to encourage further bandwagoning.
The US concept of integrated deterrence is a relatively risky national defense concept, as it involves intensive coordination and a certain level of trust across a variety of US allies and partners to create its envisioned mesh of deterrence. However, it is a necessary risk for the United States to take, as technological development and integration, as well as the necessary changes to operational concepts, do not match well against the coming period of maximal PRC power—and danger.
This has created a hugely favorable environment for Taiwan, both independently and cooperatively with the United States, to surge both military and diplomatic power in such a way as to create sustained strategic advantage. Given that the CCP has done its utmost to assist the US strategy (albeit unintentionally through abrasive diplomacy and unrestrained use of coercion), Taiwan can certainly do no less.
The main point: The new US strategic concept of integrated deterrence is designed to apply American global strengths as a security partner to deter the PRC from an invasion of Taiwan and to impose sustained costs on PRC gray-zone warfare. Taiwan can take a number of independent and cooperative steps to increase the effective execution of this concept.