June 30: Taiwan’s 2021 Quadrennial Defense Review and the Direction of Taiwan’s Defense Strategy

June 30: Taiwan’s 2021 Quadrennial Defense Review and the Direction of Taiwan’s Defense Strategy

Wednesday, June 30, 2021 from 9:00AM-10:30AM (ET)

Webcast Only

Event Description:

The Global Taiwan Institute (GTI) is pleased to invite you to a virtual seminar on Taiwan’s 2021 Quadrennial Defense Review and the direction of Taiwan’s defense strategy. On March 25 of this year, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) released the latest edition of its Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). Published against a backdrop of escalating cross-Strait tensions, the QDR provides unique insights into Taipei’s strategic calculus and policy priorities as it seeks to counter the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and safeguard its national sovereignty. As Taiwan contends with an increasingly aggressive PRC and the “complex and precarious” regional environment that it has imposed, the policy approaches outlined in this iteration of the QDR could have significant implications, both domestically and internationally. How does this edition of the QDR compare with past editions? What are the MND’s key priorities, and how have they changed over the past four years? What does the 2021 QDR suggest about the future of Taiwan’s defense structure? This seminar will address these questions and work to place this edition of the QDR within the context of Taiwan’s long-term defensive strategy.

Panelists will include: Eric Chan, an adjunct fellow at GTI and senior Korea/China strategist at the US Air Force’s Checkmate Directorate; Michael Hunzeker, an assistant professor at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government; and Fu Mei, the director of the Taiwan Security Analysis Center. The event will be moderated by GTI deputy director John Dotson.

The event webcast will be broadcast live on our website and YouTube on Wednesday, June 30 at 9 AM (ET). Questions for the author may either be sent by e-mail to contact@globaltaiwan.org or through the chat function on the YouTube page. 

The Panelists:

Eric Chan is an adjunct fellow at GTI. He is the senior Korea/China strategist at the US Air Force’s Checkmate Directorate, where he provides USAF and Department of Defense leadership with expertise on DPRK/PRC military capabilities, political leadership, strategic culture, and Great Power competition. Chan was previously the China, Korea, Philippines, and Vietnam Country Director at the Secretary of the Air Force, International Affairs. In this role, Chan was responsible for USAF engagement with the Chinese Air Force, and for directing engagement/Foreign Military Sales with key allies and partners, with a portfolio in excess of $100 million. Chan has also served as an analyst in Headquarters Air Force, A10 (Strategic Deterrence and Nuclear Integration), providing expertise on PRC nuclear doctrine. Chan has published widely on Chinese influence operations/information warfare, Taiwan military reform, military diplomacy with the PLA, and the strategic balance in East Asia. He has written for publications including the USAF Journal of Indo-Pacific AffairsThe Diplomat, and War on the Rocks.

Michael Hunzeker is an assistant professor at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government, where he is also the associate director of the Center for Security Policy Studies. His work on conventional deterrence, war termination, military adaptation and simulation design has appeared or is forthcoming in Security Studies, the Journal of Strategic StudiesPS: Politics and Political ScienceParameters, the RUSI Journal and the Strategic Studies Institute. Michael is a Marine Corps veteran and holds an A.B. from the University of California, Berkeley as well as a Ph.D., M.P.A., and M.A. from Princeton University.

Fu Mei is the director of the Taiwan Security Analysis Center (TAISAC), a research and consulting practice with focus on Taiwan military and security issues, based in New York. He received a Political Science degree from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

The Moderator: 

John Dotson
 is the deputy director at GTI. Dotson has performed extensive writing and research on a range of political and national security issues related to U.S. policy in East Asia, to include Chinese propaganda and influence efforts, military-civil fusion efforts within the People’s Liberation Army, and patterns in military coercion efforts directed against Taiwan. Dotson holds an M.A. in National Security Studies from the U.S. Naval War College, and a Master of International Public Policy from Johns Hopkins-SAIS.

Event summary:

On June 30, 2021, the Global Taiwan Institute (GTI) held a virtual seminar moderated by GTI Deputy Director John Dotson to discuss Taiwan’s most recent Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) and its implications for Taiwan’s defense strategy. Panelists Eric Chan, an adjunct fellow at GTI; Dr. Michael Hunzeker, an assistant professor at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government; and Fu Mei, the director of the Taiwan Security Analysis Center (TAISAC), conducted a robust and wide-ranging conversation on the status of the Overall Defense Concept (ODC), the need for asymmetry, and the constraints of time and budget on Taiwan’s defense aspirations.

To kick off the discussion, Chan gave an optimistic perspective on the recent QDR, noting that Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) is clearly putting thought into the changing status of US-China competition. Chan highlighted several significant changes compared to previous QDRs: the prioritization of preserving democracy over national sovereignty, the Tsai Administration’s new defense concept, and the increased focus on conscript training, grey zone warfare, and cognitive warfare. He also saw Taiwan’s new willingness to discuss long-range strike capabilities as a positive sign that the MND is now more confident in talking about sensitive issues that were avoided by previous administrations. However, Chan cautioned that the success of such initiatives will depend on how well these new ideas are administered.

By contrast, Hunzeker provided a more pessimistic view on the new QDR. He was concerned that the new review gives very little priority to asymmetric approaches in warfare. This signals that the Overall Defense Concept (ODC)—a strategy focused on asymmetrical capabilities—seems to have been completely abandoned, without any new coherent and practical strategy taking its place. According to Hunzeker, the recent QDR comes across as a grab bag of ideas and wishful thinking, because many of the aspirations raised in the review—such as controlling sea lines of communication—are not currently affordable or feasible. Some ideas, such as developing long-range strike capabilities, hold promise, but need to be incorporated into an overarching strategy. On the positive side of things, Hunzeker lauded the QDR’s commitment to making military service more rewarding and prestigious, and agreed that doing so will improve the quality of Taiwan’s forces.

Mei concurred with Hunzeker that despite the QDR’s lip service to asymmetry, the report shows a clear preference for traditional capabilities. Mei saw this as a product of internal bureaucratic and political dynamics. Many of the primary facets of the ODC—force preservation, the littoral battle, and the beachhead battle—have been deemphasized in the new QDR or left out entirely. Mei argued that while there is no coherent strategic concept explained in the review, the MND does seem to be developing one. However, the ministry is still hesitant to publicly reveal it due to concerns about how the US will react. Based on this, Mei concluded that the ODC will no longer be relevant in Taiwan’s defense policy unless the US is more consistent and urgent in its advocacy for asymmetrical capabilities.

Next, the panelists responded to a number of questions from the audience. On the topic of why Taiwan has moved away from the ODC, Mei explained that political calculus makes the ODC unpopular, as it is easier for the general public to understand the defense value of buying big ticket items rather than stocking up on less impressive, but more practical, smaller-scale weapons systems. Hunzeker argued that the MND’s new catchphrase “resolute defense, multi-domain deterrence,” while more politically palatable, is impractical because it fails to recognize the security significance of the beachhead battle and promises to defend everything rather than focusing on key areas. In response to a question about military service reform, Chan strongly advocated for improvements to service culture that make conscripts feel like they are defending their homeland rather than being used as menial labor. Building on this, Mei and Hunzeker discussed the difficulties of maintaining an effective reserve force, as well as the need for more involved training. Long-range strike capability was a major development in the new QDR, so the panelists also tackled the question of its utility. The speakers all agreed that long-range strikes could have some effective use in asymmetrical warfare. However, such strikes require an enormous investment of money, time, and manpower, as well as an advanced intelligence and reconnaissance network, and can be politically challenging to navigate.

This summary was written by GTI Summer 2021 Intern Margaux Garcia.

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