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Going to War Against China Over Taiwan Isn’t Biden’s Call to Make

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A Lockheed Martin Corp's F-35C Joint Strike Fighter is shown on the deck of the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier after making the plane's first ever carrier landing using its tailhook system, off the coast of California, November 3, 2014. REUTERS/Mike Blake (UNITED STATES - Tags: TRANSPORT MILITARY)/File Photo

At a press conference in Tokyo on Monday, President Biden told reporters that “yes” the United States would get involved militarily if China attacked Taiwan. “That’s the commitment we made,” Biden said. If the president doesn’t rethink his position, Congress must step in to assert its war-making powers, because going to war with China – when U.S. security is not threatened – would be a mistake with potentially catastrophic consequences for America.

Though the White House attempted to walk back his comments later in the day, that is the third time Biden has made such a statement, indicating he may actually intend to go to fight Beijing over Taiwan if China ever launches an attack. Two erstwhile Biden critics were quick to endorse the president’s statement, encouraging Biden to go further.

Sen. Tom Cotton, who has often clashed with Biden, said on Monday that the president was right and should eliminate the decades-long policy of strategic ambiguity and instead embrace “strategic clarity,” – meaning that the U.S. would defend Taiwan – claiming that “military strength is the best way to deter China.” Former four-star general Jack Keane was more direct, telling a Fox News audience that Chinese President Xi Jinping “needs to understand that we will, in fact, defend Taiwan.”

While it is entirely understandable that Biden, Cotton, and Keane would oppose, vigorously any move by Beijing to seize Taiwan by force, there is a question that must be answered before any consideration of using the U.S. Armed Forces in a war against another state: what is the compelling threat to American national security?

The Armed Forces aren’t simply a “tool” of statecraft, a means to obtain preferred outcomes. There’s a reason its called the Department of “Defense” – our military exists to defend America and our people, not use lethal force on anyone or any state that pursues policies we dislike (or even detest). Those who argue Biden should ditch the policy of strategic ambiguity and clearly state the U.S. would go to war with China if they attack Taiwan are failing to consider two profoundly important factors.

First, as I detailed in these pages last year in a two-part series, if China were to launch a surprise attack against Taiwan – the most likely scenario – the United States would not be on a war footing and would stand very little chance of preventing Beijing from successfully capturing Taiwan. Though the cumulative global power comparison between the U.S. military and the Chinese military strongly favors America, the balance of power in the Taiwan Straits would significantly favor China. It would be foolish for Washington to fight a prepared Chinese military when the conditions wouldn’t favor a successful intervention.

But there is a second, possibly more important factor that must be considered: the president doesn’t have the authority to take the United States to war. Biden can’t, on his own, decide that the U.S. should go to war to defend Taiwan. As the Commander-in-Chief, he has authority to command forces in the field, but Article I, Section 8, Clause 11 of the Constitution expressly gives that power to Congress.

The 1973 War Powers Act clarifies that the president may only unilaterally use military force in the event of an “attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces” or such an attack is imminent. However much distasteful it may be to any American official, a Chinese attack on Taiwan would not meet that standard and thus is not within any president’s authority to unilaterally take such against the Chinese. That’s not suggest Washington should be a passive onlooker, however.

There are many levers of power the United States could use to impose serious cost on Beijing, similar to those used against Russia’s aggression in Ukraine: hitting Beijing in the pocketbook could impose severe consequences for Xi. More pointedly, however, the White House and Congress could encourage Taipei to move more aggressively in providing for its defense.

We already have the Taiwan Relations Act in place to support Taipei’s self-defense capacity. But we should also insist they do all they can to provide their own security with the help we provide. That’s currently not the case. The Taiwanese government is presently spending a paltry 1.7% of GDP on its national defense, and some of its frontline combat units are only filled to 60% manning levels (owing to trouble recruiting sufficient numbers of troops).

It’s reasonable to ask: why should the United States risk going to war with nuclear-armed China on behalf of a nation that spends so little on its own defense?

There are many reasons it is in America’s interest that China and Taiwan not go to war, and we should be aggressive in seeking ways to avert it. But unless America’s national security is directly threatened by China, it is antithetical to America’s interests to engage in a fight that could go nuclear. Nothing is worth that.

Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Daniel L. Davis is a Senior Fellow for Defense Priorities and a former Lt. Col. in the U.S. Army who deployed into combat zones four times. He is the author of “The Eleventh Hour in 2020 America.” Follow him @DanielLDavis

Written By

Daniel L. Davis is a Senior Fellow for Defense Priorities and a former Lt. Col. in the U.S. Army who deployed into combat zones four times. He is the author of “The Eleventh Hour in 2020 America.” Follow him @DanielLDavis1.

16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. Jim Britbits

    May 23, 2022 at 8:50 pm

    How exactly did North Vietnam threaten the United States?

    How did Cuban soldiers in Granada threaten the United States?

    Taiwan is a strategic partner to the United States. What is wrong with supporting our allies?

    • Joe Siczpak

      May 24, 2022 at 2:52 pm

      A real ally would defend its allies; which ally of USA would defend USA?

  2. Andrew M Winter

    May 23, 2022 at 8:52 pm

    I think you have missed the part where signed treaties must be adhered to, and the Congress in confirming a treaty with this clause, “to maintain the capacity of the United States to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social or economic system, of the people on Taiwan.” means the US Congress has already consented to the use of force to defend Taiwan.

    https://www.ait.org.tw/our-relationship/policy-history/key-u-s-foreign-policy-documents-region/taiwan-relations-act/

    The War Powers act really doesn’t apply when it comes to keeping promises in treaties. If it did interfere, any treaty the US makes that promises military force in support wouldn’t be worth the paper it was written on.

    This is why the Democrat Congress’s decision to refuse to honor the US obligation to defend South Vietnam as set down in the Paris Peace Accords created that meme which says the most dangerous position to be in, geopolitically, is to be a friend of America.

    That lasting harm was the worst black eye ever delivered to America, and it was delivered by a feckless Democrat Party.

  3. Chip Henry

    May 23, 2022 at 10:13 pm

    Well, I don’t think I can agree with you on much of this. If Taiwan were to fall to China, Japan would be threatened. South Korea would be even more threatened. If at some later date China decided to push their 9- line further out, why would you not think they’d move in to take fishing grounds from those free countries just as they have done already to every small country within their reach?! They would. I’m going to just tell you, China will bully every country. It is ONLY the threat of overwhelming issues that could keep them at bay. We need to keep them contained until we get another Trump in office. That might mean Trump, Trump Jr, FL’s governor, etc. As long as they can get away with it, they’ll continue to push their boundaries. They have zero respect for any other nation’s freedom, and worse, they have a grand plan to eliminate freedom throughout the world for their further domination.
    It starts with Taiwan. We must defend them at any cost or our grandkids will struggle to maintain freedom, and very possibly fail, if we fail Taiwan.

    • Bihari Krishna Shrestha

      May 24, 2022 at 11:46 am

      Looking from the heights of the Himalayas in Nepal, America comes out as a very reckless country, willing to use its power recklessly too such as in Iraq that it invaded for the sake of fulfilling warmonger Bush’s thirst for blood.Or more recently, what the US did to Afghanistan after two full decades of occupation.But the problem with the US is that it is never ashamed of its ill-doings, also in Palestine. China is a much more considerate country. Taiwan has always been a part of China. You cannot befriend this rising superpower even as you try to dismember the country. Time for US to learn from its foolhardiness. After all, it has much to do putting its own house in order. Just look at Jan 6 Capitol insurrenction.

      • Joe Comment

        May 24, 2022 at 7:37 pm

        Bihari Krishna Shrestha: Read the UN debates before the Gulf War. “Thirst for blood” did not come up. The US ended its support for the Afghan government (not “occupation”), and what exactly do you think was wrong? The US is full of debates about things that you might consider “ill-doings,” so based on what do you claim it never reflects on them? Was Mainland China a considerate country when it supported the North Korean invasion of the south in 1950? Since 1949, the Mainland China political structure has never ruled Taiwan, and both sides have called themselves “China.” So it’s a lot more complicated than to pretend that Taiwan must belong to the Mainland. Why isn’t it the other way round, for example? Which was worse, the Jan 6 Capitol insurrection or the Mainland’s destruction of the opposition political parties and news media in Hong Kong?

        • Bihari Krishna Shrestha

          May 25, 2022 at 9:36 am

          Just a few points that merit your attention:
          Just because America in particular kept Taiwan from being integrated back to China since 1949, it does not constitute a sufficient ground for China to forfeit its sovereignty over that island territory. More importantly, America will get to live in greater peace and harmony with itself only with China as a friend and partner and not an enemy. And you do not befriend China by trying to dismember it at the same time. And of particular significance is the fact that China has the distinction of rescuing nearly a billion of its own people from acute poverty in record time in history. Such feats are not accomplished unless you have creative and accountable leaders governing your country. Therefore, if anything, China only deserves to be respected as a great country. After all, China would be superseding America economically too in a few decades’ time. America itself has come in for more distrust and ridicule around the world lately. While the rest of the world respect America for its rule of law, half of all Americans, Republicans, follow the mad man, Trump, and believe that his 2020 election was stolen and would go on to commit the Jan 6 insurgency. US withdrew from the nuclear deal with Iran and left Afghanistan without consulting its own Nato partners. While America loses thousands of lives to gun violence annually, it refuses to put some control on gun ownership. Similarly, while America is hailed for human rights commitment and equality before law, look at the worsening plight of the people of color even as America’s white turn out to be increasingly more racist. That is why in my earlier post, I said that there is much to do for Americans to put its own house in order before it regains its trust and prestige at the world stage.

    • Art Osten, Jr.

      May 25, 2022 at 8:16 pm

      We should make darn sure every member of Congress can be contacted regardless of where they are. There might not be time for them to gather in DC.

  4. Joe Comment

    May 24, 2022 at 12:25 am

    “Si vis pacem, para bellum.” Sometimes it’s necessary to shake your fist before making peace. China still can’t be sure exactly what the US would do in case of an invasion of Taiwan, but they can be sure that it will be serious.

  5. Scott keeler

    May 24, 2022 at 12:30 am

    There’s one compelling reason to stop China from taking Taiwan. Right now the best and state of the art SOC are produced there and only Samsung comes close, but they are still not up to Taiwan scaling or mask’s. China gaining that ability would hurt our Nation and the world since they would be the only game in town. And since alot of the smart phone production is also in china. That’s a real problem for us company’s think Apple who’s handsets are produced there while Taiwan produces the chips. And we don’t have production capabilities state side it can interfere with the military and weapons systems procurement. I could see China and Taiwan conflict being of strategic value to the USA.

  6. Error403

    May 24, 2022 at 3:04 am

    Biden hitler of america. Biden rose to power via rigged elections. Hitler came to power via alliance with right-winger parties. Both men identically possessed dreams of turning rival nations into failed states.

    Biden, like hitler, is recklessly hellbent on pursuing war, biden being up against nuke powers.

    Biden, like hitler, has no respect for laws. An outlaw, due to his becomimg pres by cheating, biden should have had expelled PRC diplomats and issued arrest warrant for xi for flooding US with opioids when trump was pres.

    Instead, biden like hitler, formed AUKUS and QUAD, similar to hitler’s tripartite military alliance, for WAR.

    BIDEN, HITLER OF AMERICA.
    Hitler, ww2. Biden, ww3.

  7. bb3

    May 24, 2022 at 6:14 am

    agree 100%

  8. PB

    May 24, 2022 at 6:49 am

    It appears Mr. Davis wants the US to become some sort of demilitarized Germany – a somewhat notable economic power without foreign influence. That in turn means throwing away the strength of the dollar, which would lead to the collapse of US lending policies, when the US would suddely have to pay back their debt in hard currency. I dont see any valid reason to throw away American superpower status for nothing in return.

  9. Robert Belding

    May 24, 2022 at 7:38 am

    There is much here that I am in agreement with. However, the geographic position of Taiwan, blocking off China from the open Pacific Ocean, is priceless if a conflict ever develops between the US and China, and China for several years now has been openly aggressive in the West Phillipine Sea. As in Britain’s situation with Poland in 1939, sometimes it is necessary to just say, “Stop!” in spite of compelling factors against this.

  10. Steven

    May 24, 2022 at 10:53 am

    What power Cyber Command?

  11. Neil

    May 25, 2022 at 8:12 pm

    I think some of you missed the point of the article. Davis, a military expert, said the United States won’t be able to stop the Chinese militarily from invading and occupying Taiwan. Just as it was with the North Vietnamese, the Taliban in Afganistan and now with Russia forces in Ukraine. At some point it will happen, in ten years or one hundred years, hopefully, it will all happen peacefully. These statements by Biden are primarily for domestic consumption. Zhongguo, the 3,000 year old country, isn’t even listening.

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