The two-headed fight for Ukraine and Taiwan


A crisis could be imminent in Ukraine as Vladimir Putin assembles troops at the Russian border for a possible invasion. US policymakers have also started to focus on a potential conflict in Taiwan, a conflict that escalates more slowly. But American statesmen need to understand: these events cannot be viewed in isolation; they are connected and part of a larger political competition for Eurasia.

Whether Mr. Putin is seriously considering taking action against Ukraine is an open question. But Mr. Putin achieved three goals simply by posing a credible threat. First, it caught President Biden’s attention, and the two had teleconferences on December 7 and 30. Russia sees itself as a great power and wants to deal with other great powers directly, and not through the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, an appalling reminder of Russian weakness and Soviet collapse.

Second, Mr. Biden did not engage in a military deployment in support of Ukraine, instead emphasizing an economic response, such as sanctions, to a Russian offensive. This is a signal that Mr. Biden is reluctant to intervene militarily. Third, and most importantly, Mr. Putin mobilized the Russian military to allow near-immediate combat operations against Belarus, allowing it to swallow Minsk. Internationally, Mr. Putin still hopes to realize the Soviet dream of dismantling the European security system led by the United States. This is similar to its goal in the Middle East: to replace the United States as the main external force in the region.

Although separated by geography, Ukraine and Taiwan occupy similar positions in Russian and Chinese strategic experience and historical imagination. Capturing everyone is essential to all other strategic goals. For Russia, Ukraine’s capture would secure its grip on the Black Sea and open up further pressure points against vulnerable NATO members Romania and Bulgaria. For the Chinese Communist Party, seizing Taiwan would allow the country to break out of the first chain of islands and carry out offensive operations against Japan, the Philippines and even the American territories in the central Pacific.

Historically, the ruling oligarchy of post-Soviet Russia has cultivated intense grievances against independent Ukraine. It is a living reminder that the Slavic peoples do not need to live under one flag. Taiwan is proof that Chinese-speaking people are perfectly capable of governing themselves. The modern Communist Party grew out of a brutal revolutionary regime that ravaged the Chinese people, murdering millions of people because of its messianic ambitions and sheer incompetence. It is only by consuming Taiwan that China can confirm its superiority. Given the political capital that the Communist Party has invested in subjugating Taiwan, it may no longer have the means to defuse even if it wants to.

The most obvious obstacle to the Russian and Chinese escalation is the affiliation of Ukraine and Taiwan with the United States and its allies. Mr Putin understands that a spiraling conflict with NATO would overwhelm the Russian military. Unable to hide the death toll as he did in Syria, Libya and Ukraine in 2014, he would face national opposition. Mr. Putin has an interest in militarily isolating Ukraine and separating the NATO issue, only knocking when the time is right.

Likewise, a Sino-US conflict involving a broader Pacific coalition would prove dangerous to the survival of the Communist Party: a blockade against Chinese imports of resources from the Middle East could destroy the regime in weeks, if not months.

Yet a fait accompli against Taiwan is more viable than a similar strike against Ukraine. Russia’s likely strategic objective would be the capture of a land corridor between Donbass and Crimea. Yet in 2014, the Ukrainian armed forces, shaken by Russia’s annexation of Crimea and relying on the paramilitaries for additional fighting power, repelled a Russian offensive against Mariupol and pushed Russian and separatist forces back to their point. current salient.

Seven years of war have given the Ukrainian army valuable combat experience. Ukrainian society, even in the east, is increasingly hostile to Russia. The Ukrainian public seems ready to accept victims. While Russia may be able to strike deep into Ukrainian territory and put pressure on Kiev from the north as it enters the south, a Ukrainian political collapse is unlikely. And expect an insurgency against the Russian occupation. Ukraine’s willingness and ability to fight fiercely, as well as NATO’s potential intervention, helps deter Russian action.

In contrast, Taiwan is small and densely populated. Its army is not equipped to maintain air and sea control around the island, a prerequisite for defense against an amphibious invasion. And it is highly likely that the Communist Party has positioned intelligence assets on Taiwan, ready to sow discord in Taiwanese society and disrupt civilian communications. The question for the People’s Liberation Army is less whether it can take Taiwan, but whether it can succeed before a possible US and allied coalition can react.

With China and Russia in strategic cooperation, this is a very dangerous situation. The margin of force between potential enemies in the Western Pacific is much narrower than in Eastern Europe, given China’s increasingly competent military. Russia would not have to deploy large land or naval units in Asia-Pacific, nor to schedule its offensives with those of China. The Russian Pacific Fleet has enough submarines to bog down the Japanese and American units needed to defend Taiwan while protecting the Japanese islands. This would make China’s mission much more likely to be successful.

Roughly simultaneous offensive operations in two hemispheres would overload American and Allied resources. Taiwan must become able to defend itself. But more generally, the United States needs to start thinking about its strategic challenges globally, not in regional segments. It is a competition for Eurasia and therefore for the world.

Mr. Cropsey is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and director of the Hudson’s Center for American Seapower. He served as a naval officer and as assistant undersecretary of the navy.

Main Street: Critics warn that talk of military action will kill any hope of a diplomatic solution with Iran. But the opposite is closer to the truth. Images: AFP / Getty Images Composite: Mark Kelly

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