Hoover Institution (Stanford, CA) — Through sustained airspace violations, darkening rhetoric, and outright threats of force, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is making it known the world over that it wishes to annex Taiwan, possibly by force.

In response, Hoover distinguished visiting fellow Matt Pottinger organized the production of The Boiling Moat: Urgent Steps to Defend Taiwan to articulate why the global community of democracies must come together to help Taiwan harden and bolster its defenses.

On May 30, the Hoover projects on China’s Global Sharp Power (CGSP) and Taiwan in the Indo-Pacific Region hosted a discussion on how the United States and its allies can boost the readiness of Taiwan’s military and signal to Beijing that its people are ready and willing to sustain a prolonged fight to safeguard its democracy.

Several of the authors who contributed chapters to The Boiling Moat joined Pottinger to speak of the urgent need to take military, economic, and diplomatic steps to deter China from engaging in a blockade or invasion.

Across 13 chapters, the book outlines what the costs would be to Taiwan and the United States if the island nation were invaded or blockaded, how to retool and beef up Taiwan’s military, and what regional partners such as Japan and Australia, and even nonregional ones such as the European Union nations, need to do to help deter China and prepare for its potential moves on Taiwan.

“I don’t think there is a book that I will be involved in, even in the glancing way that I have been involved, that is more important and more sobering than this book,” Hoover CGSP cochair Larry Diamond said of its release.

Pottinger said that many US leaders are stuck in an appeasement period similar to that of the 1930s, before World War II, not able to articulate the true intentions of our rivals.

“We’re unwilling to come to terms with the nature of our aggressor, we’re making excuses for our aggressor,” Pottinger said.

It’s a notion he echoed on a recent episode of GoodFellows with Niall Ferguson, John Cochrane, and H.R. McMaster. In both appearances, he said the PRC’s strategy is to prod and try to cross the outermost lines of our norms, to see if and how we in the West react.

Attendees at the book launch heard how an invasion or a blockade of Taiwan would disrupt global trade, weaken US deterrence around the world, and certainly extinguish representative democracy for the 26 million inhabitants of Taiwan.

One estimate of the impact of an invasion of Taiwan indicated its anticipated effect on the US supply of higher-order semiconductors, resulting in a potential loss of 5-10 percent of US GDP in a period of one year. In comparison, the US economy lost 8 per cent of GDP between December 1941 and December 1942, the first full year of its participation in the Second World War. 

At the book launch, Pottinger spoke of a tour by Israel Defense Forces generals of Taiwan, and the difference of concerns between them and senior Taiwanese officers.

“Taiwan’s joint staff, they wanted to talk about [acquiring] hardware—David’s Sling and Iron Dome,” Pottinger said. “On the Israeli side, they wanted to talk about how the reserves are set up in Taiwan. [Taiwan] has a massive reserve force that doesn’t train frequently or realistically.”

The problems with Taiwan’s military go well beyond reservists who train infrequently. Boiling Moat chapter coauthor Michael Hunzeker said that most of Taiwan’s frontline army units are only at about 60 percent combat strength, rendering them ineffective in the event of a full-scale PRC invasion.

“There is no silver bullet, no special weapons system,” he said, adding a whole host of changes are needed within Taiwan’s military. “This is about top-down change.”

From a doctrinal perspective, Hunzeker said the Taiwanese Joint Staff is still preparing for a “short, sharp fight” instead of the prolonged war of attrition that would likely occur in a war with China. He said Taiwan’s government and military leadership and the public need a change of attitude when it comes to the threat of the PRC.

“First, we do need to convince Taiwan’s military to prepare for rapid mobilization under duress, under fire. And then we need to prepare the whole Taiwanese population for a prolonged fight.”

But Pottinger said the steps outlined in the book are feasible, and he believes Taiwan can effectively deter the PRC.

“We’re talking about technologies that already have been proven. We’re optimistic that we can deter XI Jinping.”

To order a copy of The Boiling Moat, click here.

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