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Issues & Insights Vol. 21, CR 3 — US-Taiwan Deterrence and Defense Dialogue: Dealing with Increased Chinese Aggressiveness

Written By

  • Ralph A. Cossa President Emeritus and WSD-Handa Chair in Peace Studies



Taiwan needs much stronger friendships and more support, particularly from the United States, to counter Chinese moves and enhance deterrence of, and its defense potential against, Beijing. This is urgent because Taiwan no longer holds the qualitative advantage it once had over China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

The United States supports a strong, resilient, and democratic Taiwan capable of maintaining its autonomy and ability to counter coercion and defend itself from any source, especially from China. Absent this, Washington’s widely shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific would be permanently undermined.

It is clear, therefore, that the United States and Taiwan should step up their joint work and strengthen their security relationship, and it is critical that they do so expeditiously. At the same time, from a US perspective, it is important not to embolden Taipei or exceedingly raise its expectations about the US role to deter and defend against Beijing. While Washington has an interest in strengthening the island’s deterrence and defense potential vis-à-vis Beijing, it also does not want to encourage Taipei to become belligerent toward Beijing. Engagement, therefore, involves striking a tough balance, and many topics to that effect remain difficult—and much too sensitive—to address and discuss at the official level, particularly when it comes to deterrence and defense questions.

To this end, the Pacific Forum, in partnership with the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) and in cooperation with the Institute for National Defense and Security Research (INDSR), organized the inaugural Track 2[1]  US-Taiwan Deterrence and Defense Dialogue. The dialogue aimed to: initiate a discussion between the United States and Taiwan on deterrence and defense, and produce actionable and operationally relevant recommendations for policy; and to build a community of senior and young, up-and-coming officials and strategists well-versed in these issues both in the United States and Taiwan.

On Aug. 31-Sept. 1, 2021, more than 80 scholars, experts, and former and current government officials (the latter in their private capacities) from the United States and Taiwan convened for the inaugural Track 2 US-Taiwan Deterrence and Defense Dialogue in a hybrid format[2] (in Honolulu, and with participants joining virtually) to examine growing Chinese assertiveness vis-a-vis Taiwan and its impact on Taiwan’s security and Taiwan-US relations. Topics for discussion included US and Taiwan comparative threat assessments focused on the near-, mid-, and long-term threat posed by China toward Taiwan; Taiwanese and US defense policy plans, goals, and priorities; an examination of the whole spectrum of US strategic and conventional deterrence and defense, from gray-zone challenges to high-end contingencies; domestic attitudes in Taiwan and the United States and their impact on national decision-making; and the prospects for future cooperation aimed at strengthening deterrence without undermining the prospects for cross-Strait stability. The dialogue’s agenda underwent extensive pre-dialogue “socialization” with key stakeholders from both the United States and Taiwan to ensure that topics for discussions and eventual actionable recommendations generated were relevant to the national security interests and priorities of both countries.

The discussions, held under the Chatham House rule, were candid and cordial with the common purpose of improving Taiwan-US defense cooperation and enhancing Taiwan’s ability to defend itself. Disagreements existed on a number of issues both within and between the two delegations but the discussion, while frank and direct, was respectful and insightful. The recommendations contained in this report, unless otherwise specifically noted, were generated by the discussions as interpreted by this author. Both the agenda and participant list are included in the appendix; all participants attended in their private capacity.

The statements made and views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of the Pacific Forum, the project sponsor, or the dialogue participants’ respective organizations and affiliations. For questions, please email [email protected].

[1] Track 2 dialogues are conferences and workshops that bring together subject-matter experts, academics, policy analysts and, on certain occasions, unofficial representatives from governments, to discuss thematic issues and generate insights and nonbinding recommendations. Participants in track 2 dialogues are invited in their private capacity.

[2] In keeping with State of Hawaii COVID protocols, two back-to-back conference rooms were set up and video linked, each containing no more than 10 participants at any one time; the remaining participants, both in Honolulu and elsewhere, participated via WebEx, in strict compliance with State of Hawaii safety regulations.

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