Ukraine conflict: US sharpens focus on bolstering Taiwan asymmetric capability

by Jon Grevatt

The utility of “unit-level tactical fires” weapons such as Javelin anti-tank systems has been highlighted by the US as important in its efforts to support Taiwan's asymmetric capabilities. (US Army)

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has intensified US efforts to ensure it is supporting Taiwan's requirement to acquire ‘asymmetric' capabilities to respond to any similar military offensive by China.

US government officials have told Janes that military sales to Taiwan in recent years have increasingly been focused on building the island's asymmetric capability and that war in Ukraine has highlighted the value of such assistance.

Other senior US government officials underscored in a recent Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing the requirement for Washington to further strengthen its asymmetric support of Taiwan, which Beijing views as a province and not as a sovereign state.

A spokesperson for the US Department of Defense (DoD) told Janes that the US is increasingly concerned about China's “destabilising” and growing military activities near Taiwan. These include near-daily Chinese military aircraft incursions into Taiwan-claimed airspace and the Chinese navy's now constant presence close to the island.

The spokesperson said the US commitment to supporting Taiwan is “rock-solid”, in line with the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) 1979, through which Washington is committed to provide the island with defensive equipment.

“We have also been clear that, in accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act, the United States would regard any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means a threat to the peace and security of the Western Pacific, and of grave concern to the United States,” said the spokesperson.

The DoD spokesperson also made reference to China's “tacit support” for Russia's war in Ukraine and its potentially wide implications. On 14 March it was reported that China was preparing to provide support to Russia in its war in Ukraine. “We have been clear that [China's] tacit support for Russian aggression is alarming and represents a serious security concern for Europe,” said the DoD spokesperson.

A spokesperson from the US Department of State told Janes that under the TRA the US has authorised, since 2017, about USD18 billion in Foreign Military Sales to Taiwan and Direct Commercial Sales of USD2.3 billion. The spokesperson added that such sales have included asymmetric capabilities.

“The United States also supports Taiwan with training and encourages its innovative and asymmetric security posture,” the spokesperson said. This support also involves “continual dialogue” about how the US can provide Taiwan to develop “self-defence capability”.

Comparing Russia's invasion in Ukraine with any Chinese offensive against Taiwan, the US State Department spokesperson said, “These are very different contingencies, though the utility of unit-level tactical fires such as Stinger [manportable air-defence systems] and Javelin [anti-tank systems] is obvious. We've also seen the immense value that our alliances and partnerships bring to bear, and which magnify and multiply our global security capabilities.”

In comments to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on 10 March, Jessica Lewis, the US State Department's assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, said Russia's invasion of Ukraine has highlighted the importance to the US of providing more asymmetric capabilities to Taiwan to help the island prepare for a potential invasion from China.

Defining asymmetric capability, Lewis said, “It needs to be cost-effective, mobile, resilient, and decentralised defensive systems. We have seen these used to great effect in Ukraine. We are looking [at] ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) systems, short-range air-defence systems, naval sea mines, and coastal defence and cruise missiles.”

Mara Karlin, US assistant secretary of defence for strategy, plans, and capabilities, added that the US and Taiwan have been holding “very regular consultations” to assess the island's defence requirements.

Karlin added in the hearing, “I think the situation we're seeing in Ukraine right now is a very worthwhile case study for [Taiwan]... about why Taiwan needs to do all it can to build asymmetric capabilities, to get its population ready, so that it can be ready as quickly as possible should China choose to violate its sovereignty.”

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has intensified US efforts to ensure it is supporting Taiwan's requirem...

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