PacNet #24 – How to help Korea-Japan rapprochement endure

It is newsworthy on its own that conservative South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol flew to Tokyo to meet with Prime Minister Kishida Fumio last week. Yoon’s predecessor, the progressive Moon Jae-in, demonstrated little interest official meetings with his Japanese counterparts across his five years as president, one of the few things he had in common with his conservative forbearer Park Geun-hye. Park, whose political opponents were quick to label her the daughter of a Japanese-trained military strongman, also avoided meetings with Abe Shinzo without an American mediator present. Instead, she focused her efforts on Chinese leader Xi Jinping, in a vain hope that he would play a proactive role in inter-Korean reconciliation. As the PRC’s bilateral trade with South Korea has come to dwarf exchanges between South Korea and Japan, so have its diplomatic interactions with Seoul’s leadership compared to Japan’s.

For those concerned about regional security, especially North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile arsenals and, increasingly, the PRC’s revisionist aims for the Indo-Pacific, the tensions between Japan and South Korea have long been a source of frustration. Their lack of cooperation hinders intelligence sharing, and prevents a united front against malign North Korean and PRC actions as Pyongyang and Beijing know they can use historical issues to drive a wedge between Washington’s two Northeast Asian allies.

Yet bad security policy has proven to be good politics in both countries. It’s only with recent developments—Beijing’s sanctions against South Korea over missile defense, its lack of transparency over COVID, its acts of cultural chauvinism at Korea’s expense—that South Koreans’ assessments of the PRC began to sink even lower than that of Japan. Even that is a phenomenon largely attributable to the younger generations in Korea, particularly 20- and 30-somethings who do not remember their country’s period of military dictatorship, spearheaded as it was by individuals who drew inspiration from Japan’s Meiji Restoration and who took aid from Japan in exchange for normalization. The generation beyond that, however, which resisted the military dictatorship, has generally been skeptical of deals with Japan—going all the way back to the 1965 normalization treaty—and are still disproportionately influential in Korean politics.

Add to that the fact even the younger, more anti-PRC generation isn’t particularly pro-Japan (as reactions to Yoon’s recent moves have revealed) and that Japanese politicians aren’t above downplaying their country’s historical record and pressing claims to territory South Korea administers, and it becomes clear why closer security ties between the two have remained a fantasy confined to the imaginations of American diplomats and generals.

At least, that’s what we thought. In recent weeks, Yoon’s government has announced a deal with Japan over the contentious issue of wartime forced labor. This resulted in enthusiastic—perhaps excessively so—reactions from partners of the two countries, including the United States. Then Yoon traveled to Tokyo—the first summit between Korean and Japanese heads of state in 12 years—and toasted with Kishida. Then Japan announced that it would lift its export restrictions on South Korea, a major step (albeit one confirming that the restrictions, announced in 2019 as tensions over the wartime labor began rising, were always politically motivated).

That these are serious steps toward rapprochement is beyond question. What is more debatable is how long-lasting they will be. Yoon’s steps have already been denounced by the Japan skeptics in the opposition party, who still have an overwhelming majority in the National Assembly. As noted above, even the younger generation that distrusts the PRC does not support Yoon’s forced-labor deal. Comparisons are already being made to the 2015 US-brokered deal in which Tokyo compensated the “Comfort Women”—wartime victims of Imperial Japanese sexual slavery—as a deal a conservative administration has struck without the majority support of the public, and which a progressive successor could easily undo. After all, the tensions with Japan that defined Moon’s administration did not begin with the forced laborers issue or Japan’s export whitelist, but escalated before that, when Moon annulled the Comfort Women deal.

The maverick Yoon, however, has some advantages that Park Geun-hye did not. He is not beholden to the legacy of the Park family—as head of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office, his most famous case is probably Park herself—nor to the legacy of Japanese colonization. His popularity, while never particularly high, may have already reached its nadir in late 2022. Yoon is also, unlike Park in 2015, less than a year into his presidency, with much time left for this supposed “betrayal” to fade from voters’ minds. Yoon, though less confrontational toward Beijing than some in the Anglosphere had hoped, is still far less accommodating of the PRC than Moon (or Park) and might yet cause a sharp shift in Northeast Asian security dynamics by moving closer to Tokyo.

The results, however, are not entirely up to him.

If Seoul’s partners and allies, concerned about the PRC and North Korea’s intentions for the region, want to see a South Korea that’s more active in the region, they need to encourage more activity following this development. The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue should, if it’s not going to make Seoul a fifth member, deepen and normalize their cooperation with it, either by itself or in a Quad-Plus format with other partners. Japan, which has not always been encouraging of South Korean participation in international forums such as the G7, should support Seoul as it seeks to embrace its “middle power” status, including increased engagement with ASEAN and the Pacific Islands, places where America’s partners are essential to US efforts to counter PRC influence.

While Japan’s leadership should not resort to censorship, it also does not behoove Tokyo’s efforts to strengthen bilateral ties when domestic politicians and political movements fan anti-Korean sentiment and receive little pushback.

The United States can also play a role that extends beyond words of affirmation—and can do so by taking some long-overdue steps. Both Korean and Japanese  manufacturers  have  cried  foul  over  2022 US Congressional legislation, which seeks to reshore American manufacturing but has had the side effect of nullifying tax credits and subsidies for foreign manufacturers, even those who, like Korean and Japanese companies, seek to build on the US mainland. Such manufacturers should have been rewarded regardless of Korea-Japan ties; that their relations are improving is as good a time as any to take such a step. Now would also be a good time to take steps toward a unified plan of action making countries, such as South Korea, less vulnerable to Beijing’s economic coercion.

Any deal between South Korea and Japan is more likely to endure the more Koreans see it as benefitting them. Yoon, whatever else one thinks of him, is taking a bold step in defiance of precedent and public opinion, but should not be the only one taking such steps. 

Rob York ( is Director for Regional Affairs at Pacific Forum and editor of Comparative Connections: A Triannual E-journal of Bilateral Relations in the Indo-Pacific.

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged.

PacNet #23 – Japan’s new strategic policy: Three overlooked takeaways

Japan has signaled its intent to strengthen its national security and defense posture significantly in an increasingly volatile Indo-Pacific. When he met President Joe Biden in January 2023, Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio, referring to Japan’s new National Security Strategy, declared he would “fundamentally reinforce our defense capabilities.” This includes raising the Japanese defense budget to approximately 2% of GDP by 2027. This will gratify many in Washington who share a determination to strengthen the alliance militarily and bolster combined deterrence postures.

Kishida’s remarks came a month after the release of the new National Security Strategy, accompanied by the National Defense Strategy (renaming the prior National Defense Program Guidelines) and Defense Build-Up Program (formerly Medium-Term Defense Program).

Together these documents together present a grim picture of the security situation Tokyo and its US ally face. The NSS states that “Japan’s security environment is as severe and complex as it has ever been since the end of World War II.” Russian aggression in Ukraine, Chinese assertiveness in the East and South China Seas and across the Taiwan Strait, and North Korea’s nuclear missile ambitions top the list of dangers. The NSS identifies them as countries that seek to “revise the existing international order.” In the context of strategic competition, the NSS states the boundaries between peace and war have become blurred through “gray zone” activities, malicious operations in the cyber and information spaces, the use of economic statecraft, and a vigorous technological arms race.

The NSS (along with NDS and DBP) represents a highly coordinated response on Japan’s part. They have been dubbed “historic,” a “paradigm shift,” and a “revolution” by some analysts, while some have offered more skeptical appraisals on their actual implementation. Heretofore debates have primarily centered on defense budget increases and acquisition of counter-strike capabilities.

But there are three other key leitmotivs of the documents that have not attracted as much comment.

First, the NSS unabashedly foregrounds “universal values” as a “national interest” and “fundamental principle” of its strategy. While many observers have questioned the sustainability of the former prime minister (and current vice president of the Liberal Democratic Party) Aso Taro’s “values-oriented diplomacy” since his time as party leader, it appears to be back with a vengeance. The NSS speaks of “upholding universal values such as freedom, democracy, respect for fundamental human rights, and the rule of law.” It excoriates states that do not share such values and points to their malignant actions to undermine a “free, open, and stable international order.” Japan’s commitment to project its Free and Open Indo-Pacific “vision” thus frames the almost Manichean contest between liberal democracies and authoritarian states as “a historical inflection point.” Japan now states it “will maintain and protect universal values.” For a country that long eschewed taking ideological leadership and intrusive democracy promotion, this emphatic statement is quite a departure.

Second, Japan’s new security strategy emphasises its “holistic” approach. This is evident in its “integrated” approach to strategy—where it will lever all aspects of its “comprehensive national power” (a term originally invented by the Chinese) to achieve its strategic objectives. It will employ diplomacy, defense capabilities, economic strengths, technological prowess, and intelligence assets in service of an integrated strategic approach. It seeks to create a “comprehensive defense architecture” by increasing coordination across organizational sectors such as the Japan Coast Guard and Maritime Self Defense Force, for example. The documents are replete with references to “cross-governmental” and “whole-of government” coordination, and “cross-community collaboration” (in advanced technology and R&D), indicating desire to break down institutional “siloing” that could impede a joined-up approach to the implementation of strategy.

This “integration” includes the military domain, where Japan continues to build a “Multi-Domain Defense Force” by marrying the “traditional” land-sea-air domains with the space, cyber, and electromagnetic domains. Integration also extends to allies and partners, with greater efforts to harmonize US and Japanese forces, since “No country can protect its security alone.” This includes bilateral integration with the United States through the Alliance Coordination Mechanism and Flexible Deterrent Options. The former focuses on information sharing, improving common situational awareness and coordinating responses from peacetime to conflict contingencies. The latter is designed to coordinate combined responses to deterring Chinese coercive activities within the maritime domain through military signalling and escalation control. Greater interoperability with close strategic partners, such as Australia and the United Kingdom, through Reciprocal Access Agreements, which provide legal and logistical frameworks  necessary to facilitate overseas training and military operations in one another’s countries, are a means toward improving inter-military coordination and force interoperability. This will result in a “multi-layered network” knitting together Japan’s regional ally and “like-minded” partners (e.g. Australia, India), in conjunction with “minilateral” mechanisms such as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue and Trilateral Strategic Dialogue. Japan is thus transcending its role as a single bilateral “spoke” of the US-led “hub-and-spoke” alliance system to become a subsidiary “hub” itself.

Japan is now acting to become accountable for its own national defense, eventually assuming responsibility for dealing with any invasion more independently (by 2027). This does not portend a move to complete national defense “autonomy” and a decoupling from the US alliance, but rather a determination to progressively assume of the primary burden for self-defense of its national territory.  Though it will rely on its US ally for some time, this will be a major step, prospectively freeing up US forces based in Japan for other activities. The DBP also indicates that “Such a defense capability must come with high readiness and response capability.” To achieve this, the increased defense budget will need to be allocated accordingly to acquire counter-strike capabilities that can deter or defeat an enemy invasion, supported by a robust defense industrial base (a “virtually integral part of defense capability”), and a hardening of its defense facilities, with ample stocks of fuel and munitions. As well as providing for the defense of Japanese territory, this makes a greater contribution to the alliance considering the diminishing resources (and increasing obsolescence) of the US’ force posture.

Third, combined with greater responsibility for its own national defense is the emphasis on streamlining the “responsiveness” of its defense architecture. This is part to the overarching recognition that “a strategy that integrates its national responses at a higher level” is required. The 2016 Peace and Security Legislation set the groundwork for this by freeing Japan of some of the former constraints upon it activities and permitting more collaboration with allies and partners. If deterrence fails, responsiveness of government and defense apparatus will be at a premium. To improve reaction times, decision-making procedures will become more “seamless,” contingency plans drawn up, and the mobility and readiness of rapid reaction forces improved (“mobile deployment capabilities,” per the NDS). This builds upon the earlier establishment of a National Security Council (in 2013) and centralization of decision-making in the Prime Minister’s Office, initiated under Abe Shinzo. This extends to inter-service crisis response coordination between the Self Defense Forces, police, and Japan Coast Guard, for example.

Japan’s new strategic approach is perhaps best seen as an apotheosis of the determined efforts put in motion during the premiership of the late PM Abe, and a validation of these. This trajectory has been pursued by his successor Kishida, first in his “vision for peace” address to the Shangri-La Dialogue in June 2022. Unified by a clear statement of national objectives, including universal values and a commitment to uphold a rules-based order, Japan is investing heavily in marshalling the requisite resources to back this (“pragmatic realism”), drawn from the whole spectrum of the comprehensive national power it possesses. This is a recognition that strategic competition occurs across all domains, and it has become a national security imperative for Japan to improve its ability to deter and defend against attacks on its national territory, whilst assuming a greater burden within the US-Japan alliance. The ambitions of the national security documents, by their own admission are “unprecedented in terms of size and content.” Nevertheless, they signal Japan’s “steadfast resolve” to achieve them.

Time will tell if they are successfully implemented, or if they can be realized within the urgent timeframe available before a potential conflict breaks out.

Thomas Wilkins ( is an Adjunct Senior Fellow (non-resident), Pacific Forum, Senior Fellow, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, and Associate Professor, University of Sydney.

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged.

Photo: Prime Minister Kishida Fumio commemorates the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the Maritime Self-Defense Force on Nov. 6 by Pool via Reuters. 

PacNet #22 – The refresh of the Integrated Review: Putting Britain at the heart of the Atlantic-Pacific world

On Monday, His Majesty’s (HM) Government released the refresh of the Integrated Review (IRR), the re-appraisal of the wide-ranging foreign and defense policy appraisal ordered by Boris Johnson when he became prime minister. His successor, Liz Truss, commissioned the refresh during her brief stint in 10 Downing Street, and incumbent Rishi Sunak continued it. The worsening geopolitical situation, especially Russia’s attempt to seize Ukraine by force but also the People’s Republic of China’s attempts to change the international order, motivated the refresh.

The worsening geopolitical environment

Like the Integrated Review of March 2021, the IRR establishes the parameters for British global engagement in an era of “systemic competition,” described as “the dominant geopolitical trend and the main driver of the deteriorating security environment.” However, unlike the Integrated Review, the IRR defines systemic competition as the “growing convergence of authoritarian states” to the extent that they are “working together to undermine the international system or remake it in their image.” In addition, the IRR sees the competition of the late 2010s and early 2020s deteriorating into an outright struggle:

Since…[2021], Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, weaponisation of energy and food supplies and irresponsible nuclear rhetoric, combined with China’s more aggressive stance in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait, are threatening to create a world defined by danger, disorder and division—and an international order more favourable to authoritarianism.

Key threats and challenges

In keeping with the growing emphasis on interstate rivalry and geopolitical confrontation, gone are the days when British security strategies emphasized terrorism or failed states as the principal threat to the United Kingdom and its allies and partners. This is not to say that HM Government discounts such threats. Instead, they are deprioritized in relation to the more significant threat from large or aggressive authoritarian states.

Unsurprisingly, given the character of the kleptocratic regime in the Kremlin and its ongoing offensive against Ukraine, Russia is characterized in the IRR similarly to the Integrated Review, i.e., as a “direct” and “acute” threat to British interests. There is no shadow of doubt that HM Government sees Russia as the most immediate threat to the United Kingdom and its allies and partners, particularly in the Euro-Atlantic. The British stance towards Russia has even hardened since 2021. While the United Kingdom is open to cooperation with the Kremlin, Russia has to cease to be a rogue state. Until then, HM Government plans to treat Vladimir Putin’s regime as a hostile opponent, if not an outright enemy.

The IRR goes further than the Integrated Review in reframing the PRC. While the Integrated Review described the PRC as a “systemic competitor,” the IRR calls the PRC an “epoch-defining systemic challenge.” An entire box is devoted to the nature of the threat the PRC—under the control of the Chinese Communist Party—poses to the British state and the international order more generally:

The CCP is increasingly explicit in its aim to shape a China-centric international order more favourable to its authoritarian system, and pursuing this ambition through a wide-ranging strategy—shaping global governance, in ways that undermine individual rights and freedoms, and pursuing coercive practices. China’s deepening partnership with Russia and Russia’s growing cooperation with Iran in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine are two developments of particular concern.

This language may not satisfy more pugnacious parliamentarians in Westminster but represents a considerable hardening in how HM Government sees the PRC. The IRR strongly confirms Sunak’s assertion that the United Kingdom considers the “golden era” proclaimed in 2015 by then-Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne to be over.

Towards a new British geostrategy?

Regarding geography, the IRR explains that both the Euro-Atlantic and Indo-Pacific theaters matter to the United Kingdom, with the former taking priority but the latter becoming increasingly important. The IRR confirms that the “tilt” to the Indo-Pacific, outlined in the Integrated Review of 2021, is complete and that the United Kingdom will prioritize establishing a more solid “footing” in the region. The Indo-Pacific is no longer a novelty but a pillar of British foreign policy. The IRR goes further than any recent British or foreign strategy by viewing the Euro-Atlantic and the Indo-Pacific as a single geostrategic space.

The IRR marks an ongoing evolution in British grand strategy, much like the Integrated Review it updates; not only does it confirm the return of belief in the importance of national sovereignty and resilience, but it also represents a movement away from post-Cold War neoliberal mantras, such as limiting the power of the state and forging a “rules-based international system.” Building on the Integrated Review of 2021, the IRR confirms that the United Kingdom will no longer seek to uphold this fraying system but push back against systemic rivals’ hegemonic regional or global designs. HM Government’s objective is to use British power to keep the international order of tomorrow free and open.

Unsurprisingly, then, the IRR emphasizes the importance of shaping the international environment through “balancing, competing and cooperating across the main arenas of systemic competition” while “working with all who support an open and stable international order and the protection of global public goods.” The IRR positions the United Kingdom as a committed multilateralist but one that will not hesitate to bypass existing structures or create new ones to thwart expansionist autocracy. It also calls for new instruments of economic statecraft and tighter cooperation with Japan, Canada, South Korea, and Australia to craft a favorable economic order.

Given the extent of the threat from Russia and the PRC, the IRR also emphasizes a posture of effective deterrence. This posture will attempt to “bring together the wider levers of state power to increase the costs of aggression by hostile actors above and below the threshold of armed conflict.” Plainly, the United Kingdom will use its naval and armed forces more dynamically to constrain hostile actors, just as it will forward deploy assets in its growing array of military facilities—with new bases opened over the past five years in Bahrain, Oman, and Norway and a reciprocal access agreement signed with Japan—to reassure partners and deter aggressors. In particular, HM Government intends to “contain and challenge Russia’s ability and intent to disrupt UK, Euro-Atlantic and wider international security.”

Finally, the United Kingdom plans to generate strategic advantage by capitalizing on national strengths. This may sound pedestrian: all countries work to enhance their strengths. Instead, it is an admission that British power has never resulted from the country’s size, but from the economic and political structures and instruments the British people have created to protect and extend their interests. As in the past, HM Government will have to work harder to uphold British influence in a world of systemic confrontation by leveraging areas where the country excels, such as maritime industries and science and technology.


With the Integrated Review of 2021, British foreign policy was already on a more robust trajectory. This review shifted and energized the United Kingdom’s strategic posture, which has continued to toughen despite the country’s domestic political changes. Consequently, Britain has racked up an impressive list of foreign policy successes, from co-creating AUKUS and deepening relations with Japan and ASEAN in the Indo-Pacific to leading the way in assisting Ukraine and containing Russia in the Euro-Atlantic, especially in Northern and Eastern Europe. The United Kingdom has also boosted defense spending: the IRR specified a £5 billion hike for the nuclear enterprise and new munitions, while Jeremy Hunt, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, added an additional £6 billion in his spending review three days later. With these actions and increases in defense investment, HM Government has confirmed its “tilt” to the Indo-Pacific and re-emphasized its centrality to the defense of Europe. Global Britain and European Britain are not mutually exclusive.

But it is with AUKUS that the United Kingdom has shown the extent of its determination to prevent authoritarian powers from establishing hierarchical forms of international order. It is no surprise that the publication of the IRR and the confirmation of AUKUS occurred on the same day. AUKUS, perhaps the most significant minilateral arrangement to materialize in a generation, confirms Britain’s emergence as an Indo-Pacific power and the region’s connectivity with the Euro-Atlantic. HM Government’s participation in AUKUS demonstrates the emergence of the Atlantic-Pacific and the United Kingdom’s willingness to share sensitive strategic technology—in this case, designs for nuclear-powered attack submarines—with close allies and partners to actively constrain the PRC. The United Kingdom remains a vital ally and partner in pursuit of a free and open Atlantic-Pacific.

James Rogers ( is Co-founder and Director of Research at the Council on Geostrategy, a think tank founded in March 2021 to help make Britain and other free and open countries more united, stronger, and greener.

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged.

Photo: Rishi Sunak arriving the US for the AUKUS summit by Stefan Rousseau at PA Wire.

PacNet #17 – The World After Taiwan’s Fall – PART TWO

This is Part Two of our two-part PacNet on our study “The World After Taiwan’s Fall,” which reviews the key findings and recommendations:

Finding: The only thing slightly worse than the United States intervening and failing to reverse a PRC invasion of Taiwan would be the United States not intervening. A failure to come to Taiwan’s aid would be devastating to US credibility and could damage if not destroy the entire US alliance network. It would embolden the PRC, Russia, North Korea, and others to be more aggressive. If the United States tried but failed, all eyes would be on what Washington would do next. If the decision were to retreat to “Fortress America,” the damage to US and alliance credibility would again be devastating.

Recommendation: The United States should assume that it would be in its interests to respond—and win—should the PRC move to invade Taiwan. Because it should account for the possibility of a failed intervention, the United States should also reflect on its next moves to engage its allies and partners if China takes Taiwan. The United States should work with its allies and partners to help reverse the PRC fait accompli. It should thus rule out retreating to Fortress America.

Finding: There is uncertainty about Washington’s next move after Taiwan’s fall. While the Indian author was confident that the result would be a Fortress America approach, others were not so sure. Some argued that turning and running is not in America’s DNA. Others said it would be much more situation-dependent but believed the United States should work to restore the credibility of its alliances and continue to confront the PRC. To several authors, there would be a need to build an Asian equivalent to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to prevent PRC adventurism and ultimately retake Taiwan.

Recommendation: The United States should be clear that its allies, partners, and friends expect leadership from Washington, especially in difficult times. Even if retreating to Fortress America were not an option after Taiwan’s fall, failure to lean in and rebuild could sink the US leading role in the world. The United States should thus bring its allies and partners together to halt further adventurism and ultimately mount a counteroffensive against the PRC.

Finding: The PRC would become more aggressive toward its neighbors if it were successful in taking over Taiwan. A few, including our Japanese author, feared that Japan would be next. Others saw the South China Sea as a likely area for increased PRC assertiveness. The Indian author worried about a flare-up on the PRC-Indian border, while the Australian author saw an expansion of PRC influence in the South Pacific. The Korean author, while likewise worried about increased PRC assertiveness, was more concerned that the PRC would give a green light to North Korea to march south.

Recommendation: The United States should rally the region and the world to help prevent the PRC from taking Taiwan by showing how such a development would have a direct impact on many countries, exacerbating risks and threats that these countries deemed “more immediate” or “more urgent.” Rallying the region entails raising awareness of the costs and risks involved in a PRC win over Taiwan and urging every regional player to help build a stronger collective deterrence and defense architecture in the Indo-Pacific.

Finding: Taiwan is in a strategic location. Its military and intelligence capacity can help Japan and other East Asian countries to avoid the threat of PRC expansionism. If Taiwan fell to the PRC, Beijing would gain unique military bases and intelligence facilities and would have unencumbered access deep into the Pacific. Beijing would be able to hold US forces in Okinawa and Guam at risk and invade vast territories of Japan and the Philippines, while also strengthening its dominance in the South China Sea and Southeast Asia. Beijing could also deny the United States and its allies the ability to maintain a forward presence in the Pacific.

Recommendation: Rallying the region around the danger of a PRC takeover of Taiwan should emphasize the dangers that would come next: greater PRC dominance of the region and a PRC sphere of influence tightly controlled by Beijing.

Finding: Nuclear proliferation would likely follow the fall of Taiwan in parts of Asia because regional states would fear that they could be next on the PRC’s hit list and would have reasons to doubt the ability (even the willingness) of the United States to defend them. Japan, South Korea, and Australia would consider going nuclear, though all three would also want to maintain their alliance relationship with the United States. Of note, however: the US, Japanese, Australian, and South Korean authors all regarded proliferation by others as inevitable, while being more nuanced when it comes to proliferation by “their” country.

Recommendation: Today there are many good reasons to strengthen US extended deterrence because the balance of power is shifting fast in the PRC’s favor. In the event of a PRC military takeover of Taiwan, strengthening US extended deterrence would become an utmost priority.

Finding: Nuclear proliferation is unlikely to extend beyond Asia. The European author, for instance, suggested that proliferation would not happen in Europe after Taiwan’s fall to China. The nonproliferation norm is strong there and for that to happen, it would take both a complete loss of US credibility and a direct and perennial threat to Europe.

Recommendation: The United States should keep in mind that nuclear proliferation is primarily a response to local or regional issues. Resolving these issues is thus essential to stall, stop, or reverse proliferation. The United States should also not underestimate the power of nonproliferation norms and of its stabilizing role as a regional and global security guarantor. In addition to reinforcing its defense commitments to its allies and partners, the United States should thus seek to strengthen the nonproliferation regime.

Finding: Taiwan’s fall to China would likely break some US alliances and reshape strategic relations in the Indo-Pacific. One author assessed that the Philippines and Thailand would likely break their alliance relationships with the United States and surrender to PRC hegemony. In addition, others talked about the possible (and for some the likely) band-wagoning of many states towards the PRC as the new center of power. That would be likely if an “axis of authoritarian states” emerges, dominated by China and Russia, that has drawn the conclusion that nuclear coercion (or nuclear use) helps score geopolitical points.

Recommendation: In addition to strengthening its alliances and nuclear umbrella with its current allies, the United States should consider deploying it over other countries or, at minimum, engage in much closer security cooperation with them.

Finding: There is disagreement as to whether a region-wide nuclear sharing arrangement would be beneficial. Our Korean and Indian authors ruled out the option. The latter said that it is something that the United States can foster before there is an invasion, not after. The former, meanwhile, said that it is not an option, especially under the current administration. Others were not as blunt. Our US author explained that such an arrangement has potential with the United States, but not without. Others hoped to keep the United States in a regional-wide nuclear sharing arrangement but did not rule out arrangements without it.

Recommendation: The United States should conduct a wide-ranging research effort to reflect on the ends, ways, and means of concluding nuclear sharing arrangements with its Indo-Pacific allies. This effort should draw on the NATO experience but be tailored to the Indo-Pacific, and it should explore the potential benefits, costs, and risks that such arrangements would entail.

Finding: Even before the latest PRC show of force around Taiwan in August 2022 (when the PRC conducted military exercises around the Island), there was general agreement that the United States and its allies and partners should coordinate more closely to signal resolve and enhance collective deterrence and defense in the Indo-Pacific. Reflecting on the implications of a PRC military takeover of Taiwan has made this project even more of a priority.

Recommendation: The United States should double down on its defense arrangements and security assistance to threatened allies and partners, especially Taiwan. Practically, that means it should make its defense commitments clearer and take steps to develop and deploy with them new capabilities. While the differences between Ukraine and Taiwan are clear, there is a danger that the PRC might equate Washington’s and/or NATO’s reluctance to engage a nuclear-armed Russia directly, especially if Russia is issuing not-so-veiled nuclear threats, with a similar reluctance or refusal to confront a nuclear-armed PRC. The United States should thus strengthen deterrence, including nuclear deterrence, and reject any “sole purpose” or “no first use” statement.

Finding: Thinking about US policy vis-à-vis Taiwan is evolving. All but two authors argued in favor of abandoning strategic ambiguity today; the Japanese and Korean authors worried about the PRC’s reaction to an explicit policy change. However, they, and everyone else, saw the need for the United States to articulate and demonstrate its resolve and preparedness to respond more clearly to defend Taiwan. The bottom line: the PRC should not doubt that the United States will respond to an invasion of Taiwan.

Recommendation: The study’s conclusion is that the best US response to the fall of Taiwan would be a concerted effort with like-minded US friends and allies to prevent further PRC aggression, if not through an “Asian NATO” then through a reinvigoration of existing alliances and new defense arrangements. It thus makes sense for the United States to enhance Indo-Pacific deterrence now to dissuade the PRC from moving against Taiwan in the first place, or to ensure that such an effort would fail. Action must be coordinated with allies and partners that also have much to lose should Taiwan fall under Beijing’s control.

David Santoro ( is President and CEO of the Pacific Forum. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSantoro1.

Ralph Cossa ( is President Emeritus and WSD-Handa Chair in Peace Studies at Pacific Forum.

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged.

PacNet #16 – The World After Taiwan’s Fall – PART ONE

Let us start with our bottom line: a failure of the United States to come to Taiwan’s aid— politically, economically, and militarily—in the event of a takeover attempt by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) would devastate the Unites States’ credibility and defense commitments to its allies and partners, not just in the Indo-Pacific, but globally. If the United States tries but fails to prevent such a takeover, the impact could be equally devastating unless there is a concentrated, coordinated US attempt with likeminded allies and partners to halt further PRC aggression and eventually roll back Beijing’s ill-gotten gains.

This is not a hypothetical assessment. Taiwan has been increasingly under the threat of a military takeover by the PRC and, even today, is under attack politically, economically, psychologically, and through so-called “gray-zone” military actions short of actual combat. The US government, US allies, and others have begun to pay attention to this problem, yet to this day, they have not sufficiently appreciated the strategic implications that such a takeover would generate.

The study

To address this problem, the Pacific Forum has conducted a multi-authored study on “the World After Taiwan’s Fall” with the goal of raising awareness in Washington, key allied capitals, and beyond about the consequences of a PRC victory in a war over Taiwan and, more importantly, to drive them to take appropriate action to prevent it. The study, which provides six national perspectives on this question (a US, Australian, Japanese, Korean, Indian, and European perspective) and fed its findings and recommendations into the second round of the Pacific Forum-run Track-2 “US-Taiwan Deterrence and Defense Dialogue” (and sponsored by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency), outlines these strategic implications in two alternative scenarios. In the first scenario, the PRC attacks Taiwan and it falls with no outside assistance from the United States or others. In the other scenario, Taiwan falls to the PRC despite outside assistance (i.e., “a too little, too late” scenario).

The study’s main finding is that Taiwan’s fall would have devastating consequences for the United States and many countries in the region and beyond. Regardless of how it happens (without or despite US/allied intervention), Taiwan’s fall to the PRC would be earth shattering. The PRC could eclipse US power and influence in the region once and for all. Taiwan’s fall could lead to the advent of a Pax Sinica where Beijing and its allies would pursue their interests much more aggressively and with complete impunity. Nuclear proliferation in several parts of the Indo-Pacific could also be the net result of Taiwan’s fall, leading to much more dangerous regional and international security environments. To several authors, it would thus be necessary to build an Asian equivalent to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to prevent PRC adventurism and ultimately retake Taiwan.

Accordingly, the United States, its allies, and others should take major action—rapidly—to prevent such a development. In particular, the United States should lead an effort to strengthen collective deterrence and defense in the Indo-Pacific; this is especially important in the aftermath of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has shown territory takeovers still happen in the twenty-first century. The United States should also give serious consideration to establishing region-wide nuclear sharing arrangements; at a minimum, it should jumpstart research to examine the benefits, costs, and risks that such arrangements would bring to the Indo-Pacific security architecture, as well as assess the opportunities and challenges that such a development would present.

National perspectives on a PRC takeover of Taiwan

Each national perspective imagines broadly similar implications of a PRC takeover of Taiwan.

United States. Ian Easton’s chapter on the US perspective explained that Taiwan’s fall would be disastrous irrespective of how it happens because the Island is a leading democracy, has unique military and intelligence capabilities, plays a critical role in global high-tech supply chains, and benefits from a special geographic location in the heart of East Asia. Easton further contended that the outcome would be especially dire if Taiwan falls without the United States and others trying (even if they failed) to defend it. The result would be Taiwan’s destruction as a nation, the breakdown of the US alliance system, with some allies going nuclear and others falling into the PRC’s diplomatic orbit, plus increased PRC influence globally. Taiwan’s fall after an intense battle between the United States, its allies, and the PRC would not be as bad: Taiwanese resistance fighters would likely fight on, and the United States might be in a position to build a collective deterrence and defense system to keep the PRC in check. Still, the regional and global security orders would be shattered.

Australia. Malcolm Davis’ chapter on the Australian perspective painted a similarly dark picture. Regardless of how Taiwan’s fall happens, Davis explained that the PRC would be “much better placed to deny US forward presence, to weaken American geopolitical influence in Asia, and expand Beijing’s domination in the region.” He added that a US and allied failure to intervene would generate a “highly permissive environment for Beijing from which it could expand its influence and presence as well as coerce other opponents, notably Japan as well as Australia.” Meanwhile, in the event of a failed US/allied intervention, Davis contended that the outcome would be a substantial US defeat, which would reinforce the perception of US decline, or a protracted high intensity war with the PRC, and neither outcome would be good for Australia. Canberra, then, would have to recalibrate and fundamentally rethink its defense policy, its alliance with the United States, and its strategic relationships with other regional partners.

Japan. Matake Kamiya’s chapter on the Japanese perspective argued that Tokyo, too, would regard the Island’s fall to the PRC as deeply troubling. As Kamiya put it, “If China seizes Taiwan, the consequences—in political, military, economic, and even in terms of values and ideology—would have serious repercussions for Japan.” Kamiya considered that the outcome of Taiwan’s fall would be “equally bad” whether the fall takes place without or despite US/allied assistance. He pointed out that, in Japanese eyes, US credibility would be at stake if a PRC takeover takes place without US intervention and that the US ability to defend Japan effectively would be seriously questioned if there is a failed US intervention. Either way, serious problems would then likely emerge in the US-Japan alliance as a result.

South Korea. Duyeon Kim’s chapter on the Korean perspective echoed Kamiya’s on the Japanese perspective. Kim stressed that “the expected outcomes of Taiwan’s fall for Korea would be the same under the two scenarios—both equally bad in terms of South Korean perceptions and sentiments about the US security commitments to them and their interest in obtaining an independent nuclear deterrent.” Kim, however, did insist that much would depend on the degree to which South Koreans question US credibility and lose trust in Washington, as well as on the political party in power in Seoul, the state of the US-Korea alliance, the state of Korea-PRC relations, and North Korea’s nuclear capabilities and strategic calculus. Still, she argued that a determining factor would be President Xi Jinping’s worldview and the PRC’s economic situation. Either way, Kim stressed that a “constant outcome” could be an emboldened and more aggressive North Korea.

India. Jabin Jacob’s chapter on the Indian perspective argued that a PRC invasion of Taiwan would “change very little on the ground for India in terms of the bilateral [India-Taiwan] relationship itself…” Yet he explained that a PRC invasion of Taiwan would force India to refocus its national security policy squarely on the PRC, making it its primary threat. He added that India would also reconsider its relationship with the United States by distancing itself from Washington because a post-US world order would be in the making and, at the same time, seeking to extract concessions from Washington. More generally, Jacob stressed that Taiwan’s fall would have far-reaching (very negative) implications for India in its immediate neighborhood, in its wider Asian and Indian Ocean neighborhood, as well as at the international level.

Europe. Bruno Tertrais’ chapter on the European perspective began with a reminder that Europe has only recently begun to worry about the PRC and the possibility of a conflict over Taiwan and, as a result, views and perceptions on this matter vary widely. Still, Tertrais explained that Europeans agree that the economic and strategic consequences of Taiwan’s fall to the PRC would be problematic for Europe. Tertrais argued that a failed US/allied intervention would be “less damaging for Europe” because a failure to intervene risks inviting “renewed Russian aggressiveness.” In both cases, however, Tertrais explained that “the fall of Taiwan would be a wake-up call for Europe that it must act fast to be in a position to defend itself,” adding that several European countries would likely seek to strengthen their security and defense ties with several US Indo-Pacific allies.

This is Part One of a two-part PacNet. In Part Two, we will review in more depth some of the key findings and recommendations emanating from our study.

David Santoro ( is President and CEO of the Pacific Forum. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSantoro1.

Ralph Cossa ( is President Emeritus and WSD-Handa Chair in Peace Studies at Pacific Forum.

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged.

Issues & Insights Vol. 23, SR2 – The World After Taiwan’s Fall


Let us start with our bottom line: a failure of the United States to come to Taiwan’s aid—politically, economically, and militarily—would devastate the Unites States’ credibility and defense commitments to its allies and partners, not just in Asia, but globally. If the United States tries but fails to prevent a Chinese takeover of Taiwan, the impact could be equally devastating unless there is a concentrated, coordinated U.S. attempt with likeminded allies and partners to halt further Chinese aggression and eventually roll back Beijing’s ill-gotten gains.

This is not a hypothetical assessment. Taiwan has been increasingly under the threat of a military takeover by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and, even today, is under attack politically, economically, psychologically, and through so-called “gray zone” military actions short of actual combat. The U.S. government, U.S. allies, and others have begun to pay attention to this problem, yet to this day, they have not sufficiently appreciated the strategic implications that such a takeover would generate. To address this problem, the Pacific Forum has conducted a multi-authored study to raise awareness in Washington, key allied capitals, and beyond about the consequences of a Chinese victory in a war over Taiwan and, more importantly, to drive them to take appropriate action to prevent it.

The study, which provides six national perspectives on this question (a U.S., Australian, Japanese, Korean, Indian, and European perspective) and fed its findings and recommendations into the second round of the DTRA SI-STT-sponsored (and Pacific Forum-run) Track 2 “U.S.-Taiwan Deterrence and Defense Dialogue,”[1] outlines these strategic implications in two alternative scenarios. In the first scenario, China attacks Taiwan and it falls with no outside assistance from the United States or others. In the other scenario, Taiwan falls to China despite outside assistance (i.e., “a too little, too late” scenario).

Download the full volume here.

Table of Contents


David Santoro & Ralph Cossa

Chapter 1 | If Taiwan Falls: Future Scenarios and Implications for the United States

Ian Easton

Chapter 2 |  Chinese Victory over Taiwan – An Australian Perspective

Malcolm Davis

Chapter 3 | China’s Takeover of Taiwan Would Have a Negative Impact on Japan

Matake Kamiya

Chapter 4 | If Taiwan Falls to China: Implications for the Korean Peninsula

Duyeon Kim 

Chapter 5 | The Implications for India of a Successful Chinese Invasion of Taiwan

Jabin T. Jacob

Chapter 6 | The Consequences for Europe of a Successful Chinese Invasion of Taiwan

Bruno Tertrais


David Santoro & Ralph Cossa

PacNet #11 – What China’s challenge to NATO is, and what it isn’t

The following has been adapted from the introduction to the recent Issues & Insights volume, “Toward a Unified NATO Response to the People’s Republic of China.”

Following the Cold War’s end there were those who questioned NATO’s continued relevance. Such views may have found little currency among scholars of foreign policy and security, but among the general public it was not unheard of to wonder why, with the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact in 1991 its rival organization did not also become defunct, especially given the Russian Federation’s friendlier tilt in the decade that followed. On the part of the United States, by the 2010’s a fatigue had settled in among much of the populace over US foreign commitments, especially regarding partner countries not perceived as pulling their own weight. By the middle of that decade, that fatigue had begun to manifest itself in US election results.

Vladimir Putin’s Russia, and its brazen invasion of Ukraine last year may not have succeeded in bringing Ukraine to heel or establishing Moscow as a great military power again, but it did accomplish two other things. For one, it demonstrated for the world what the countries separated by the Atlantic could achieve—even indirectly—by helping partners (even non-NATO members) acquire the means to defend themselves. For another, and for all Putin’s claims to the contrary, it showed that nations near Russia’s western border have a very good reason for wanting NATO membership. Putin, more so than any mainstream American or continental European security scholar, has demonstrated the alliance’s continued relevance in providing for the security of countries that desire self-determination and alignment with the liberal, rules-based international order.

As it approaches its one-year anniversary the outcome of the Ukraine war is still far from clear, as is precisely how the alliance will respond to the challenge that looms beyond it: the People’s Republic of China, with its growing military might, and its economic influence. And there is broad agreement on the appropriateness of the term “challenge”—the US Department of Defense, which calls Russia an “acute threat,” uses the noun “pacing challenge” to describe Beijing. Meanwhile NATO’s 2022 Strategic Concept used the verb form, declaring the PRC’s “stated ambitions and coercive policies challenge our interests, security and values.” The forcefulness of these words should not have come as a surprise: US partners in the European Union have been every bit as outspoken about human rights in China as Washington has, as well as against its “malicious cyber activities.” Differences in priority remain, informed by economics, history, and geography (especially considering how much more imminent a threat Russia represents to Europe than the United States), but opinions on both sides of the Atlantic have shifted regarding the PRC, and for many of the same reasons.

That shift, and what policies should follow, is the subject of Pacific Forum’s edited volume “Toward a Unified NATO Response to the People’s Republic of China” and its accompanying webinar. With a grant from the NATO Public Diplomacy Division, Pacific Forum brought together three distinguished scholars—one to discuss the evolution of views toward the PRC in the United States over the past decade, one to chart the same change in Europe, and a third to discuss how the two sides should best work together in meeting this shared challenge.

Describing the US position, Bradley Jensen Murg argues that increasing American skepticism of Beijing’s intentions is not, as is frequently argued, a unipolar action driven by the insecurity of one great power being replaced by another. Instead, he argues that it is a multifaceted evolution driven by generational change, increased awareness of the PRC’s human rights record, and the failure of international institutions (such as the World Trade Organization) to contribute to PRC liberalization. He further notes that the United States’ views on Beijing are no international outlier but are broadly shared, especially in Europe.

Regarding the European perspective, David Camroux notes that the thinking shifted in the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis of 2008-09. Once a destination for European investment the PRC, thanks to its rapid recovery from the crisis and growing domestic capacity, increased its own financial presence on the European continent, arousing increasing concerns. Subsequent revelations about Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang and the suppression of Hong Kong’s protest movement further alienated Europe. He stresses, though, that Europe’s views will likely remain distinct from Washington’s to an extent—Europe does not consider Beijing a “hard security challenge” nor does it possess the hard security capabilities to meet them. Instead, it will continue minilateral engagement with regional powers such as Tokyo, Seoul, Delhi, and Canberra, to reduce dependency on the PRC in a non-confrontational way and avoid direct alignment with Washington in the emerging Great Power Competition.

Concluding the edited volume, Kelly Grieco notes the increasing comity in US and EU positions regarding the PRC, but states that, as the “North Atlantic Treaty Organization,” NATO faces practical limitations in terms of projecting power in the Indo-Pacific. Rather than working to confront Beijing militarily, European countries’ most beneficial contribution to NATO would be to increase their security commitments in Europe—thus reducing the burden faced by the United States there—and to use their “diplomatic clout and economic, financial, and technological resources to form an effective coalition to balance against [PRC] power and influence.”

Pacific Forum hopes that these scholarly insights will find a wide audience in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere, and that NATO will remain an effective partnership—not to defend Euro-American hegemony and primacy, but the values that underpin the rules-based order and its promise of a fairer, more prosperous global community. Pacific Forum also hopes that, amid their shared defense of rules and values, NATO and its partners will find avenues for some cooperation with China—at the governmental and people-to-people level—and that people from China continue to feel welcome to work, study, and live in the United States and Europe.

No one—American, European, Asian, or otherwise—should mistake our disputes with specific PRC policies and actions for antipathy toward the people of China.

Rob York ( is Director for Regional Affairs at Pacific Forum and editor of Comparative Connections: A Triannual E-journal of Bilateral Relations in the Indo-Pacific.

For more from this author, please see his recent chapter of Comparative Connections.

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged.

PacNet #9 – The US Coast Guard: Provide public goods for a free and open Indo-Pacific

Ask a member of any coast guard in the world for their organization’s mission statement, and each time you will get a different answer. Even more troubling, ask coast guard members within a single coast guard, and answers will be no less diverse. Part of this stems from the coast guard’s multi-mission nature. It also stems from debates regarding the geographic bounds of these missions, ranging from those constrained within an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) to blue water operations. Part of this also stems from the many organizations that can be labelled a “coast guard.”

Growing risks inherent in the renewed multi-polarity of the world require a more definitive answer. In this multi-polar environment, there has been a rise in gray zone activities, which increase the importance of coast guard capabilities to counter this problem. These capabilities, however, will not reach their full potential without an overall mission statement stating the purpose to which they will be leveraged.

The central mission for Coast Guards around the world should be the cooperative provision of public goods to uphold the rule of law. This leverages their multi-mission humanitarian nature, identifies their role in national security strategies, and drives cross-coast guard partnerships.

The impact of public goods on the character and definition of the rules-based order, a system now under significant challenge for the first time since the Cold War, is of critical importance. Successful provision of public goods can determine national choices. Public goods provision also focuses stakeholders on shared activity instead of reliance on dominant players. Their provision can decide the difference between acceptance of the rule of law, or acceptance of the rule of a dominant hegemon.

Potential strategies deployed by the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (“Quad”) powers—Japan, the United States, India, Australia—to support the free and open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) provide opportunities to examine this mission for global coast guards. The FOIP is a cooperative approach to defend the rule of law. Coast guard engagements across the Quad members offer potential to advance this goal, but not without agreement on their overarching mission priority.

Competing public goods providers

The cooperative underpinning of the FOIP strategy was a feature from the very beginning.   Japan’s free and open Indo-Pacific strategy was introduced in 2016 by Prime Minister Abe Shinzo as a vehicle to cooperatively “meet challenges to the maritime rules based order.” The United States saw it in a similar vein, “to engage like-minded nations in economic, security, and political governance partnerships.” The Quad Joint Leaders statement issued in May 2022 echoed these sentiments, describing governance as a central public good.

China has also noted needs in this area, stating that “accompanying traditional challenges are the long-term “insufficient supply” of regional marine governance public products such as “marine environmental protection, channel safety, maritime search and rescue, and fishery resource protection.” It argues for a hub-and-spokes model with some nations taking a more dominant role, noting “in maintaining world peace and development, major countries have a special responsibility to play an exemplary role in providing international public goods and providing positive energy for global governance.” Beijing sees itself as the potential leading provider of these public goods, particularly in the maritime domain, arguing China is the primary “defender of the international order, a contributor to global governance and a provider of international public goods.”

A rules-based order requires not just the existence of rules, but also their egalitarian application and enforcement. This enforcement is important for the preservation of the order, but is also a critical source of legitimacy for the regimes themselves (irrespective of their style or theory of governance, some academics argue). Many countries in the Indo-Pacific lack state capacity to enforce a maritime rules-based order. These may therefore default either to provision of enforcement goods (and their concomitant rules, whether applied equally or not) by one dominant regional hegemon (i.e. the Chinese hub-and-spoke model with a focus on centralization and bilateralism), or one where they partner with like-minded nations (such as the Quad, and/or other regional groupings).

Cooperative provision of public goods, working in partnership with domestic governments, enhances domestic regime legitimacy and strengthens the rules being enforced. China understands the importance of partnership within the narrative and has begun using these terms extensively in diplomatic speeches and media. The United States has also significantly increased its focus on partnerships in the Indo-Pacific.

When it comes to their status as providers of public goods, Quad powers possess significant narrative advantages. “Centralization” and “control” are key watchwords for policy in authoritarian systems, not “distributed responsibility” and “capacity-building.” This has the potential to hamstring authoritarian regimes across a range of policy areas, but specifically in narratives around partnership-driven, rules-based orders. That contrast is highlighted in the way the United States Coast Guard (USCG) and Japan Coast Guard (JCG) interact, with a strong history of joint operations that has been extended through recent bilateral agreements such as SAPPHIRE (Solid Alliance for Peace and Prosperity with Humanity and Integrity on the Rule-of-Law Based Engagement—joint counter-narcotics exercises between the Japan and United States coast guards). This partnership extends to other activities such as joint drug interdiction and illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing patrols; and to multilateral activities with other regional powers inclusive of the Philippines and Vietnam.

The USCG has a wider array of partnerships across more mission types than any other US service or department. The International Port Security Program (IPSP) encourages and promotes best practices to enhance global supply chain integrity. Ship rider agreements, which permit the USCG to act on the behalf of a signatory country to observe and board vessels suspected of violating laws and regulations, are increasingly popular with states seeking deeper partnership with the United States. The 2023 US Coast Guard budget funds additional deployments of National Security Cutters and deployable specialized forces that support partner nation law enforcement. This is a broad base of initiatives and partnerships on which to build.

The absence of overarching strategy

The nature of strategy development within the USCG, however, inhibits its ability to lead a partnership-driven public goods provision strategy designed to strengthen the existing rules-based order.

The service has well-developed, long-range planning tools and programs inclusive of the launch and development of Project Evergreen, charged with building strategic foresight across the USCG. Its approach since its founding in 2003, however, suffers from two issues consistently. First, many of the USCG’s issue-specific strategies, including Arctic, its Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated fishing (IUUF), and its Cybersecurity strategies provide detailed analysis of the issues at hand, but fail to place those issues into the context of the service’s overall mission. Second, broader strategies, such as the recently released 2022-2026 Coast Guard Strategic Plan, focus on tactics to address current implementation shortfalls. The 2022-2026 Strategic Plan’s three pillars (workforce, competitive edge, and mission excellence) are not linked to strategic objectives (such as, perhaps, cooperative provision of public goods to uphold the rule of law). This fixation on work plans and tasks, divorced from an overarching definition the service’s strategic objectives, leads to a myopic view of operations and holds the service back from achieving wider effects.

Provision of public goods, including the impartial enforcement of governance, underpin a world based on the rule of law. A global society pursuing public goods provision leverages the power of networks, where each connection strengthens the next. It does so in a way that centralized authoritarian systems cannot replicate given that they are not built for shared, reciprocal responsibilities.

The humanitarian multi-mission nature of coast guards make them ideal candidates to lead in this space. This should begin with the US’—and its Quad partners’—coast guards placing the collaborative provision of public goods at the core of their mission, as a first step to defend the rules based order in a multi-polar world.

James R. Sullivan ( is a Non-Resident WSD-Handa Fellow at Pacific Forum.

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged.

Photo: Members of the Japan Coast Guard pose for a picture with crew members of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Oliver Henry off Guam, June 7, 2022 (9 June 2022, U.S. Coast Guard Forces Micronesia/Sector Guam) 

PacNet #8 – Dealing with Increased Chinese Aggressiveness – PART TWO

The following are some of the key findings and recommendations from the August 2022 US-Taiwan Deterrence and Defense Dialogue. PacNet 7 provided a summary of the dialogue. The full report, with expanded key findings and recommendations can be found here.

Responding to PRC Pressure

Finding: PRC pressure on Taiwan—economically, politically, and especially militarily—has increased considerably over the past year. The early August 2022 PLA military exercise around Taiwan appears aimed at further creating a “new normal” that will reduce warning times should Beijing invade.

Recommendation: The United States should reject the “new normal” characterization, brand Chinese actions as unilateral, destabilizing changes to the status quo, and press Beijing to honor cross-Strait arrangements that have preserved stability and helped prevent accidents in the past.

Recommendation: The U.S. Navy should continue to transit the Taiwan Strait regularly.

Finding: PLA activities appear aimed, in part, at developing the capability to blockade Taiwan. The PRC has demonstrated increased willingness to take risks while stirring up Chinese nationalism.

Recommendation: The United States should make clear that attempts to blockade Taiwan are not “gray zone” actions but acts of war that are likely to force a U.S. response.

Recommendation: The United States should assist Taiwan in making its ports and airfields more survivable; both should develop plans to combat a Chinese embargo or respond to missile and air assaults or mining operations against Taiwan ports and airfields.

Finding: PRC gray zone pressure against Taiwan will steadily increase. A failure to respond to these provocations will send the wrong signal to Beijing.

Recommendation: The U.S. and Taiwan militaries should individually develop and then coordinate plans to respond to continued PRC provocations.

Helping Taiwan Defend Itself/Clarifying U.S. Defense Policy

Finding: Taiwan’s military is not capable of defending itself against an all-out PLA assault without outside assistance. A lack of clarity regarding the extent of outside support complicates Taiwan defense planning and acquisitions. So does the lack of a common view of the battlefield and a lack of awareness in one another’s plans.

Recommendation: The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) should hold private “roles and missions” discussions with Taiwan defense planners to help Taiwan better understand the types of capabilities the United States could bring to bear in the event of a PLA attack.

Recommendation: DoD planners should assist Taiwan in developing a common operational picture of the battlefield and encourage Taiwan to produce its own National Security Strategy.

Finding: The Russian invasion of Ukraine was a wake up call. As a result, Taiwan is placing increased emphasis on asymmetrical warfare and the development of homeland/territorial defense capabilities.

Recommendation: The United States should assist Taiwan in the development of its homeland/territorial defense capabilities and where they fit in the national defense structure, and should assist Taiwan’s interaction with other nations.

Recommendation: The United States and Taiwan should review Ukraine lessons, focusing on how Ukraine has thus far successfully held its own against the Russian military, identifying what has and has not worked and what could be improved.

Finding: U.S. arms sales to Taiwan have increased but Washington should do more to help prepare Taiwan to defend itself. Procurement lag times remain a serious problem. Time to prepare remains but the window is closing. Many participants worried that experts are underestimating  PLA capabilities or that PLA risk-taking tendencies could led to an inadvertent or accidental incident that could escalate.

Recommendation: The United States should “fast track” arms sales to Taiwan and examine prepositioning and coproduction alternatives to respond should Beijing attack. Taiwan should focus on “large numbers of small things” to enhance its asymmetric capabilities.

Finding: Taiwanese participants sought clarity as to the details of the U.S. concept of “integrated deterrence” and its application to Taiwan.

Recommendation: The DoD and/or State Department should better explain the concept of integrated deterrence and its implications for Taiwan.

Finding: U.S. officials have been increasingly clear in expressing U.S. commitment to help Taiwan defend itself while still maintaining strategic ambiguity. A more nuanced view calls for strategic ambiguity at the policy level but strategic clarity at the operational level. Some allies are concerned about Chinese reaction to any announced U.S. policy change.

Recommendation: The United States should focus on how to bring strategic clarity at the operational level, as academics debate the benefits and risks of embracing strategic clarity.

Recommendation: The United States should consult closely with allies and partners before making policy pronouncements, to better understand their concerns and give advance warning.

Enhancing Deterrence

Finding: Beijing will most likely have factored a U.S. response into any decision to attack Taiwan.

Recommendation: The deterrence discussion should focus on how Washington and Taipei can increase the costs associated with a Chinese invasion, since the capability to respond is at least as important as the perceived willingness to do so. Beijing must be aware of what we are doing.

Recommendation: The U.S. Government and think tanks should better assess Chinese strengths and weaknesses vis-à-vis Taiwan with an eye toward countering the strengths and exploiting the weaknesses.

Recommendation: The United States should assess the impact of its Taiwan-related actions and policy decisions on Taiwan security interests, since Beijing tends to respond to U.S. actions they perceive as “hostile” to Taiwan’s detriment.

Finding: The U.S. desire to strengthen extended deterrence while decreasing the role of nuclear weapons appears contradictory to many Taiwan participants. The role/impact of Russian nuclear threats on the U.S./NATO decision to avoid direct engagement with Russia in Ukraine is also troubling.

Recommendation: The United States should further clarify the role of nuclear weapons within the broader concept of extended deterrence.

Recommendation: The United States should explain precisely how nuclear weapons fit in the new integrated deterrence concept and dispel the idea that efforts to integrate deterrence may reduce the importance of extended deterrence, especially extended nuclear deterrence.

Finding: The greatest concern associated with the PRC’s nuclear build-up is nuclear blackmail aimed at discouraging Washington from getting involved in a Taiwan Strait confrontation. Taiwanese are concerned about crisis escalation, but worry more about the PRC deterring the United States.

Recommendation: The United States should conduct joint assessments with Taiwan about the implications of the PRC’s nuclear-build-up.

Recommendation: The United States and Taiwan (as well as U.S. regional allies) should identify ways to respond to Beijing’s unprecedented build-up by looking at conventional options as well as through nuclear-sharing arrangements in the Indo-Pacific. Such arrangements could help strengthen strategic deterrence and help reduce proliferation incentives.

Increasing Public/Allied Awareness

Finding: The Russian invasion of Ukraine has increased Taiwan public awareness of the similar threat posed by the PRC but has also negatively affected Taiwan public perceptions of U.S. willingness to come to Taiwan’s aid. In contrast, the war in Ukraine has increased U.S. willingness to help defend Taiwan.

Recommendation: U.S. officials should put greater emphasis on articulating the differences between Ukraine and Taiwan and publicize U.S. polling that reinforces growing awareness of the PRC threat and the need to respond. Greater public awareness of the consequences should the PRC invade and occupy Taiwan could further strengthen resolve.

Recommendation: Washington and Taipei should better assess and understand the impact of Chinese disinformation and develop information plans to counter these attacks.

Finding: Ukrainian lessons learned have thus far focused on the war’s impact on Taiwan threat perceptions and defense preparations, less on lessons that the United States has learned, and even less on lessons Beijing has learned and how it is responding.

Recommendation: U.S. experts should assess emerging lessons learned for Taiwan and U.S. defense strategy and preparedness and the prospects of two simultaneous major conflicts.

Recommendation: U.S. experts should assess the lessons Beijing is learning from the Western response to the Russian invasion and any corrective actions the PRC is taking in response.

Finding: U.S. allies and partners have an important role to play in deterring a PRC invasion of Taiwan.

Recommendation: The United States and its partners should continue stressing the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait in official joint and multilateral statements.

Recommendation: The DoD should develop joint contingency plans with affected allies on how best to counter PRC military action against Taiwan, specifically including a blockade, to be better prepared to respond. Public information campaigns should articulate the implications and/or consequences of a successful Chinese invasion.

Finding: Taiwan is already under attack politically, economically, psychologically, and through more aggressive gray zone operations. This multidimensional threat requires a multidimensional response. Chinese behavior is a global problem that demands a global response.

Recommendation: The United States should be more proactive and less reactive in responding to PRC aggressive behavior toward Taiwan, including through political and diplomatic efforts.

Recommendation: The United States should implement an aggressive information campaign to counter PRC disinformation and exploit Chinese nationalism, with focus on what the Chinese people stand to lose if war breaks out across the Straits. Attacking the CCP’s legitimacy is a good place to start.

Recommendation: The U.S. Government should coordinate closely with allies in responding to both the cross-Strait and global political, economic, and military challenge posed by PRC. The PRC remains the “pacing threat” and should remain the focus of U.S. national security policy.

Recommendation: Given Taiwan’s “comprehensive vulnerabilities,” the U.S. Government should sponsor research aimed at recognizing non-military security-related vulnerabilities to reduce Taiwan’s susceptibility to economic coercion in peacetime and especially during times of conflict.

Recommendation: The U.S. and Taiwan governments and militaries must prepare for the worst-case all-out invasion scenario. Both should improve strategic communication and more clearly articulate the military, political, and economic costs associated with any PRC kinetic action.

Recommendation: The United States needs to better prepare for cross-Strait military contingencies, with the aim of increasing the “risk” factor in any PRC “risk-reward” calculus.

Recommendation: The United States should continue its firm support for greater Taiwan involvement in international organizations and initiatives and explore the prospects for Taiwan involvement in bilateral and multilateral military exercises. More pushback is also needed against Chinese efforts to limit Taiwan’s international space.

Recommendation: Americans need to be assured that Taiwan retains the will and ability to defend itself and Taiwanese need reaffirmation of America’s “rock solid” support. Both must develop effective measure to fortify integrated deterrence.

Ralph Cossa ( is President Emeritus and WSD-Handa Chair in Peace Studies

For more from this author, visit his recent chapter of Comparative Connections.

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged.

PacNet #7 – Dealing with Increased Chinese Aggressiveness – PART ONE

The following are some of the key findings and recommendations from the August 2022 US-Taiwan Deterrence and Defense Dialogue. PacNet 7 provides a summary of the dialogue. The full report, with expanded key findings and recommendations can be found here.

Taiwan is under attack by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) politically, economically, psychologically, and militarily—the latter through more aggressive Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) gray zone military operations short of actual direct conflict. This multidimensional threat requires a multidimensional response in ways that complement and enhance military deterrence. PRC behavior represents a global—and not just a Taiwan or US—problem which demands a global response.

PRC pressure on Taiwan has increased considerably over the past year, even before Beijing used the visit by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as an excuse to ramp up pressure. The August 2022 PLA military exercise around Taiwan appears aimed at creating a “new normal” that could reduce warning times should Beijing invade. However, such PRC actions are not “normal.” They are unilateral, destabilizing, and, in some instances, illegal changes to the status quo.

Such Chinese pressure tactics, combined with the “wake up call” provided by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, have sensitized the citizens and governments of Taiwan, the United States, and beyond to the growing possibility—if not probability—of a PRC invasion and have increased public perceptions about the need and willingness to defend Taiwan democracy.

Both the United States and Taiwan have taken measures in the last year to deter or, at the very least, better prepare to respond to Chinese kinetic action against Taiwan. But both should do more—individually, together, and in cooperation with other like-minded states—to increase the risks or costs associated with any contemplated PLA military action against Taiwan.

The above were among the main conclusions when a group of American and Taiwanese scholars, experts, and former and current government officials (the latter in their private capacities as observers) convened in Honolulu for the second Track 2 US-Taiwan Deterrence and Defense Dialogue. The Pacific Forum hosted the dialogue, with sponsorship by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) and in partnership with Taiwan’s Institute for National Defense and Security Research (INDSR). This PacNet provides a summary of dialogue discussion. A full report, including expanded dialogue results can be found here. Part two of this PacNet will provide an abbreviated version of the key findings and recommendations.

The dialogue addressed a range of key strategic issues pertinent to the bilateral security relationship. The objective was to produce actionable and operationally relevant recommendations aimed at improving and enhancing the security relationship. The August 2022 dialogue built upon the recommendations from the 2021 inaugural dialogue with a greater sense of urgency as a result of both Beijing’s increasingly aggressive actions toward Taiwan and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which demonstrated that naked aggression is no longer unthinkable.

The dialogue addressed the following topics: current/looming cross-Strait challenges and increasing risks of conflict; Taiwanese defense goals and priorities and the extent of planning for worst case contingencies; US defense policy goals, priorities, and motivations related to cross-Strait conflict; domestic attitudes in Taiwan and the United States and how they relate to cross-Strait defense preparations; current deterrence-related policy and capabilities and how best to enhance them to decrease the likelihood of Beijing taking military action against Taiwan; and options to counter coercion that would complement and enhance military deterrence. The focus was on defense and deterrence measures both partners could take, together and separately, to raise the costs and risks and thus lower the odds of Chinese military action.

There was a great convergence of views among American and Taiwanese participants as to the urgency of the challenge and the need for effective countermeasures now to deter further PRC aggression and assist Taiwan in resisting current coercion tactics, even as both prepare for a possible direct conflict with the PRC.

Major points of agreement

The potential for conflict across the Taiwan Strait is growing more serious by the day. Even if Beijing does not intend to attack in the near term, its pressure tactics aimed at demoralizing Taiwan could spiral out of control and escalate in the event of an accident, given Beijing’s increased recklessness. Differences exist about current Chinese capabilities to successfully invade. But, even if the PLA is unprepared to invade today, other events could prompt an earlier than anticipated invasion.

While the United States (but not Taiwan alone) enjoys qualitative and some quantitative advantages over the PRC, Beijing is determined to close these gaps and is steadily improving and modernizing its forces and capabilities. The window of deterrence is closing for Washington and Taipei as the window of opportunity is opening for Beijing.

Taipei recognizes and accepts that responsibility for defending itself rests with Taiwan, and the government has taken significant steps in the past year to better prepare itself. Taiwan is placing increased emphasis on asymmetrical warfare and the development of homeland and territorial defense capabilities to improve Taiwan’s ability to resist an invasion. Nonetheless, Taiwan is not capable of defending itself against an all-out PLA assault without outside assistance; a lack of clarity regarding the nature and extent of outside support complicates Taiwan defense planning and acquisitions.

While voices calling for US strategic clarity have grown louder, any PRC decision to invade will likely have already factored in a US response. Taiwan’s willingness and capability to resist and America’s capability and readiness to defend will be the primary deterrents.

The PRC’s ongoing nuclear build-up is a great cause of concern, driven less by the threat of nuclear war (given US nuclear superiority) than by the possibility of nuclear blackmail aimed at discouraging Washington from getting involved in a Taiwan confrontation. Taiwanese are concerned about crisis escalation (especially to the nuclear level) but worry more about the PRC deterring the United States.

The United States, working closely with allies and other like-minded states, should thus be more proactive and less reactive in responding to increased PRC aggressive behavior. US officials should better assess Chinese strengths and weaknesses vis-à-vis Taiwan with an eye toward countering strengths and exploiting weaknesses, while also examining ways to broaden the challenge along multiple fronts in cooperation with various allies and partners.

While continued strong support for Ukraine is important to demonstrate Western resolve and prevent more Russian territorial gains, the PRC remains the “pacing challenge” and thus should remain the focus of US national security policy and defense procurement strategy.

At the end of the day, Taiwan should assure the United States that it has the will and ability to defend itself and the United States should assure Taiwan of its “rock solid” support. Both countries should develop effective measures to increase the risks to future PRC actions against Taiwan to fortify our integrated deterrence.

Ralph Cossa ( is President Emeritus and WSD-Handa Chair in Peace Studies.

For more from this author, visit his recent chapter of Comparative Connections.

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged.