The Challenges of Deterrence in the Taiwan Strait

mastro testimony

Chairman Gallagher, Ranking Member Krishnamoorthi, and members of the Select Committee:

Thank you for the opportunity to present my views on how to enhance near-term deterrence and our our own resilience against the PRC’s attempts to take Taiwan by force. The growth in Chinese military capabilities is well-documented, so I will not take time to summarize it in this testimony. Moreover, this committee has demonstrated an understanding that there is a possibility that China will attempt to take Taiwan by force. My article, “The Taiwan Temptation,” provides more concrete evidence to that fact if it is of interest. Instead, in this testimony, I want to focus on the challenges we face in countering (and thus deterring) China, including some fallacies; my recommendations for how to mitigate US defense challenges in deterring China from attempting a fait accompli; and my four rules for deterrence.

China does not want to fight a protracted war against the United States at this stage of development. The only situation in which it will initiate a war over Taiwan is if the leadership believes it can move quickly and take the island before the United States has time to respond (I’ll address some caveats to this later on).

The main vulnerabilities the United States experiences in its military power in Asia stem from the fact that it is not a resident power in Asia and thus is attempting to project power across vast distances. The emerging U.S. way of war exhibits several dependencies that China’s A2AD strategy targets. First and foremost, the United States relies on other countries for base access, while China can rely on home bases. This is problematic for several reasons. The number of bases the United States has access to in the first island chain has atrophied since the end of the Cold War, while China has infinite possibilities for basing options on its massive soil. In practice, the result is that the United States has one air base, Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, within combat range of Taiwan, while China has thirty-nine. Each air base can only support so many aircraft (Kadena can house about eighty aircraft, only fifty-four of which are fighters. And even here, the U.S. Air Force has also started to pull many of these aging aircraft out of the base, replacing them only with a temporary unit of more modern F-22s), which translates into China being able to generate far more sorties than the United States.