In retrospect, the Reagan Administration made one of its very rare foreign policy errors when it forced Taiwan to abandon its nuclear weapons program in 1988. If Taiwan today had the capacity to threaten devastating retaliation against Beijing for an invasion, we would not even be having this debate. Of course, it is well within the United States’ capacity simply to give or sell a deliverable device to Taipei, but it is unthinkable that the Biden Administration would plunge Asia into the kind of crisis that such an action would undoubtedly provoke from the People’s Republic of China.
The story of Taiwan’s nuclear weapons program is a long and complex one, full of sudden stops and starts (usually as a result of interventions from Washington rather than Beijing) and at one point in the late 1970s the Taiwanese were possibly around two years away from developing a testable weapon, although delivering a Bomb the 1,800 miles to Beijing seemed a very tall order for the technology of the day.
Far more often than the Left likes to admit, the USA’s intervention in the affairs of other countries has historically been to its benefit, but sadly that is not the case when it comes to the constant American interference in Taiwan’s perfectly legitimate right to defend itself in the only way that would genuinely deter the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) from realizing its three-quarter century-long dream of forcing Taiwan into the People’s Republic. China has no right to do so—the Kuomintang were as (il)legitimate a government of Formosa as the Red Chinese were in Beijing in 1949—but that in no way lessens its lust.
It is fascinating to see quite how many of the world’s most intractable problems essentially stem from the willingness in the late 1940s to see partition and population transfer as an acceptable long-term solution. The partitions of Palestine, Kashmir, and China in that period still bedevil international relations. In some places it worked, however brutally, such as in Poland–East Prussia and in some former Soviet republics, but in others, such as Myanmar, the pain of the 1947–49 period can still be felt by peoples such as the Rohingya. For the CCP, the Taiwan situation is still considered unfinished business, however outrageous that might be to the rest of a world that conforms to a rules-based international order.
The fact that Taiwan is still not allowed to be a member of the United Nations is an outrage, not least against common sense as it has operated as an independent country for almost three-quarters of a century. Whether the Biden Administration has the intestinal fortitude to deter further Chinese saber-rattling will be a key test of its mettle. Instead of the United States showing the foresight to allow Taiwan to build a nuclear device half a century ago—which it had the expertise, wealth, plutonium, facilities and (thanks to Canada) heavy-water nuclear “research” reactor to do—Washington insisted on her reactors coming under IAEA supervision. The Israelis never allowed their continued sovereign existence to be farmed out to the U.S., and neither should the Taiwanese have.