February 9: A Book Talk with Elbridge Colby on “The Strategy of Denial: American Defense in an Age of Great Power Conflict”

February 9: A Book Talk with Elbridge Colby on “The Strategy of Denial: American Defense in an Age of Great Power Conflict”

Wednesday, February 9, 2022 from 9:00AM-10:00AM (ET)

Webcast Only

Event Description:

The Global Taiwan Institute (GTI) is pleased to invite you to a virtual conversation with Elbridge Colby on his new book, The Strategy of Denial: American Defense in an Age of Great Power Conflict. For over two decades following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States was largely unchallenged as a global leader. No longer faced with a great power rival, Washington was free to project its power and contribute to the spread of democratic governance and economic liberalism. However, this dynamic has shifted significantly in recent years, with the rise of the People’s Republic of China radically altering the global balance of power. Once again challenged by an imposing, authoritarian rival, the US must carefully consider its options as it navigates this new era of great power conflict. In The Strategy of Denial, Colby—the lead architect of the 2018 US National Defense Strategy—lays out how the US’ defense must change to address China’s growing power and ambition. In doing so, he offers a clear framework for what the US’ goals in confronting China must be, how its military strategy must change, and how it must prioritize these goals over its lesser interests.

This event will be moderated by GTI Executive Director Russell Hsiao.

The event webcast will be broadcast live on our website and YouTube on Wednesday, February 9 at 9 AM (ET). Register for the event here or via the RSVP button below. Questions for the panel may either be sent by e-mail to contact@globaltaiwan.org or through the chat function on the YouTube page. Questions submitted by registered audience members will be prioritized.

The Author:

Elbridge Colby is co-founder and principal of The Marathon Initiative, a policy initiative focused on developing strategies to prepare the United States for an era of sustained great power competition. Previously, Colby was from 2018-2019 the director of the Defense Program at the Center for a New American Security, where he led the Center’s work on defense issues. Before that, he served as the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Strategy and Force Development from 2017-2018. In that role, he served as the lead official in the development and rollout of the Department’s preeminent strategic planning guidance, the 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS). He also served as the primary Defense Department representative in the development of the 2017 National Security Strategy. A member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the International Institute of Strategic Studies, Colby is a graduate of Harvard College and Yale Law School.

The Moderator:

Russell Hsiao
is the executive director of GTI, senior fellow at The Jamestown Foundation, and adjunct fellow at Pacific Forum. He is a former Penn Kemble fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy and visiting scholar at the University of Tokyo’s Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia. He previously served as a senior research fellow at The Project 2049 Institute and National Security fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Prior to those positions he was the editor of China Brief at The Jamestown Foundation from October 2007- to July 2011 and a special associate in the International Cooperation Department at the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy. While in law school, he clerked within the Office of the Chairman at the Federal Communications Commission and the Interagency Trade Enforcement Center at the Office of the US Trade Representative. Hsiao received his J.D. and certificate from the Law and Technology Institute at the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law where he served as the editor-in-chief of the Catholic University’s Journal of Law and Technology. He received a BA in international studies from the American University’s School of International Service and the University Honors Program.

Event Summary:

On February 9, 2022, the Global Taiwan Institute (GTI) held a virtual book talk with Elbridge Colby, co-founder of The Marathon Initiative and architect of the 2018 National Defense Strategy, to discuss his book: The Strategy of Denial: American Defense in an Age of Great Power Conflict. The event was moderated by GTI Executive Director Russell Hsiao.

To begin, Colby described his motivation for writing the book. From his perspective, there is a lack of urgency in the United States regarding the military threat posed by China. This complacency is rooted in the United States’ outdated tendency to act as if it is still the post-Cold War global hegemon. Since the immediate target of China’s military is Taiwan, he sees discussions regarding the defense of Taiwan as being vital for confronting US complacency and developing an anti-hegemonic grouping in East Asia.

The discussion then shifted to the issue of American core interests. Colby was quick to state his disagreements with those who view the global expansion of democracy as a core interest, and instead argued that the United States’ is primarily focused on securing its freedoms and prosperity. Although the United States’ physical borders are not immediately threatened, China poses a threat through its growing international influence. As China continues its rise, it seeks to become the leading shaper of global norms. Such an outcome, Colby argued, would erode the United States’ freedoms and prosperity. 

Building on this, Colby addressed why he includes Taiwan in these core interests. First, he established that China is engaging in a focused and sequential pursuit of regional hegemony that prioritizes victories over one obstacle at a time. Currently, China’s primary obstacle is regional confidence in the United States’ ability to defend its allies and partners. A successful invasion of Taiwan would deal a significant blow to US credibility in East Asia and increase the likelihood of others acquiescing to China’s regional ambitions

At this point, Hsiao shifted the conversation to the issue of what an effective defense of Taiwan would entail. In response, Colby defined an effective defense as whatever it takes to prevent Taiwan from capitulating to China. Since Taiwan needs United States support to survive a Chinese invasion, Taiwan needs to increase the United States’ ability and resolve to do so. Given Taiwan’s lack of military strength, the best way it can encourage an American intervention is to allocate significant resources to dispersible assets. Colby further argued that he did not see Taiwan capitulating to China apart from a military contingency, so preparing an effective defense should be a higher priority than it currently is for Taiwan. 

Colby also discussed the current trajectories of Australia and Japan as potential contributors to an effective defense of Taiwan. Regarding Australia, Colby praised its current approach to China and its prioritization of military assets that make it better suited for collective defense efforts with the United States. On the other hand, Colby argued that while Japan is taking some positive steps to prepare for military contingencies with China, it needs to spend more to be an effective partner.

Hsiao then raised the issue of immediacy by mentioning an assessment by retired Commander of INDOPACOM Admiral Philip Davidson that China could invade by 2027. Colby agreed with Davidson’s proposed timeline by emphasizing China’s current military advantages, economic resilience, and diminishing window of success due to ongoing efforts by the US and its partners to strengthen their collective defense capabilities. 

During the Q&A period, Colby addressed questions relating to the growing relationship between Russia and China, how China should respond to his proposals, and his take on the “Arm Taiwan Act” proposed by Representative Mike Gallagher (R-WI) and Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO). 

This summary was written by GTI Spring 2022 Intern David Calhoun.

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