Crisis Deterrence in the Taiwan Strait

Douglas McCready Chaplain (Colonel)


For more than 50 years, Taiwan's unresolved international status has been the cause of repeated crises in East Asia. While the parties involved could be willing to live with the status quo, the domestic political transformation of Taiwan has called the status quo into question. China, Taiwan, the United States, and Japan have national interests in how the conflict is resolved, and these interests will be difficult to reconcile. By conventional measures, China cannot gain Taiwan by force before the end of this decade. Chinese leaders believe that, by using asymmetrical means, they will be able to overcome the military advantage of the United States and Taiwan. While the United States will be able to delay Chinese action against Taiwan, it is unlikely to be successful at long-term deterrence. Deterrence, as used against the Soviet Union during the Cold War, will not be effective with China without significant modification. The cultural divide affects not only deterrence theory, but also how China and the United States understand and communicate with each other. Crisis deterrence in the Taiwan Strait is unlikely to succeed due to conflicting national interests and several crucial mutual misperceptions.