Taiwan, China, and America are heading toward a dangerous confrontation. They are sleepwalking, or, perhaps more accurately, staggering towards war. Any conflict would be terrible at best and most likely catastrophic, setting East Asia aflame, triggering decades of strife, roiling the global economy, and endangering the U.S. homeland.
China is spewing threats as Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen crosses the U.S. and meets with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Even though war rages in Europe, most American policymakers believe the People’s Republic of China poses a greater military challenge than does Russia. Indeed, the prospect of conflict with the PRC over Taiwan has become an increasingly popular topic in Washington.
There is overwhelming support for risking war with China, a rising, nuclear-armed power and potential peer competitor to the U.S. The only serious disagreement within the foreign policy blob is over secondary issues—for instance, should America make its commitment to Taipei unambiguous? With little thought, most policymakers are prepared to risk national suicide to protect Taiwan.
In a just world, the Taiwanese people would be free to decide their own future. However, it should surprise no one that the PRC government and public alike support reclaiming the island. Virtually every state in human history has resisted people’s efforts to secede and rule themselves. Including the U.S. For reasons of both history and nationalism, Americans famously waged war on their neighbors to preserve a continental union, resulting in some 750,000 deaths, the equivalent of about eight million today.
Beijing is not going to be dissuaded by words. Nor will it likely be deterred from pressing reunification by military threats. If Washington policymakers are determined to defend Taiwan, they must be prepared to back their promises with Americans’ lives.