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[转载]“跟台湾说再见”(Say Goodbye to Taiwan)

已有 7249 次阅读 2014-3-5 02:07 |个人分类:感言社会|系统分类:海外观察|关键词:台湾| 台湾 |文章来源:转载

John J. Mearsheimer is the R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago. He serves on the Advisory Council of The National Interest. This article is adapted from a speech he gave in Taipei on December 7, 2013, to the Taiwanese Association of International Relations. An updated edition of his book The Tragedy of Great Power Politics will be published in April by W. W. Norton.


Say Goodbye to Taiwan

吴钊燮:弃台论坏士气 忧两岸军力失衡持续扫描二维码访问中评社微信
http://www.CRNTT.com   2014-03-06 12:08:14


吴钊燮称弃台论打击台湾士气,但更担忧两岸军力失衡持续,抬高弃台论声音。 中评社记者 余东辉摄


中评社华盛顿3月5日电(记者 余东晖)民进党驻美代表吴钊燮5日在此间承认,美国出现的各种“弃台论”,尤其是最近著名学者称“跟台湾说再见”,会打击台湾士气,但他更担忧的是两岸军力不平衡状况持续下去,“弃台论”声音会抬高。他呼吁台湾要有实际行动强化自我防卫。

  正在美国访问的吴钊燮和民进党国际部主任刘世忠当天在此间举行媒体吹风会,说明此次来美与美行政部门和智库专家沟通交流刚发布的“国防政策蓝皮书”第五号报告的心得。

  吴钊燮说,长期以来美国担心台湾防务力量越来越衰落,华府似乎有一股声音,要放弃台湾,或者说台湾撑不住了,甚至最近有著名学者称“跟台湾说再见”,这些会打击台湾士气。面对这种情形,民进党花气力搞“国防政策蓝皮书”,让美方看到民进党对强化台湾自我防卫的关心和决心,总体说此次交流的美国专家学者多持正面态度,认为民进党关注安全防务问题令人鼓舞。

  吴钊燮透露,美方专家提出了一些尚未包含在“蓝皮书”里的建议,将在今后的“蓝皮书”报告中涉及,包括台湾应加强陆基防空、使用水雷遏阻舰船靠近、提供小型舰船协助、资讯战、空中预警、巡逻船与遥控船、诱饵欺敌战术、更多短程飞弹等等。

  据介绍,民进党“国防政策蓝皮书”将有16个报告,目前已经出第五个,主题是“2025年中国对台军事威胁评估”。这份报告是由民进党组织专家学者讨论,参考美方学者意见,还有2049项目的美方学者为报告撰写文章,此外有20多位来自不同军种的台湾退役将领参与讨论,提出建议。

  中评社记者问民进党对美国著名学者米尔斯海默“跟台湾说再见”的看法,吴钊燮说,这只是美方各种放弃台湾声音中的一个,不是主流,非常少数,“偶尔碰到的这种观点不足以让我担心,我担心的是这个趋势如果拉长,提供这些看法的学者重要性不断提高,甚至有些之前在政府部门服务,退下来后提出类似观点”。

  吴钊燮表示,台湾不可能放弃自己,台湾要保卫自己,就要拿出实际作为,“蓝皮书”就是必要的作为。


刘世忠称美国人对民进党信心有所增强 中评社记者 余东辉摄
 
  刘世忠认为,米尔斯海默是现实主义派,主张从力量平衡的角度看谁的拳头大,而现实主义与自由主义的抗辩已很多年。米尔斯海默提出的三个政策选项,台湾自制核武器和走香港模式行不通,强化传统武器与民进党的主张有异曲同工之处,但又有所不同,需要细化。

  刘世忠称,台湾的安全不能靠别人,两岸关系虽然现在和平,但如果马英九一味诉诸其历史的政治定位,不惜做出不应有的让步,伤害台湾的长期利益,则不要等美国“跟台湾说再见”,而是台湾自己“跟美国说再见”。

  对于中评社记者提出的如果民进党执政,实施“蓝皮书”的战略,能在多大程度上扭转两岸军力不平衡的趋势,吴钊燮表示,两岸军力不平衡是已经存在的事实,要思考不平衡持续下去,对台湾来说绝对不利,会有更多人觉得台湾不值得继续保护和关心下去。他认为,台湾无法跟中国大陆比军事投资,这不是台湾要追求的目标,台湾的军事预算安排要考虑如何让对岸攻打台湾时没那么轻易地拿下。

  刘世忠说,做“蓝皮书”不见得有选票,但要变成能说服选民的东西,最后在2016年展示给民进党的候选人,成为民进党的“国防政策”,并说服美国人:民进党有强化台湾自我防卫的决心。

  刘世忠表示,过去民进党来华府,通常是被动等待美国人发问,然后回答,而过去半年多,民进党都是有备而来,带着话题来与美国人沟通说明,姑且不论双方是否彼此同意对方观点,以他个人感觉,民进党不断知会美国人,美国人对民进党的信心有所加强。


民进党在华府向媒体简报与美方沟通“国防政策蓝皮书”。 中评社记者 余东辉摄


“弃台论”再起 美国著名学者:告别台湾扫描二维码访问中评社微信
http://www.CRNTT.com   2014-03-03 00:19:11


米尔斯海默称,随着中国崛起,美国终将放弃台湾 资料相
  中评社华盛顿3月2日电(记者 余东晖)过去几年“弃台论”时有所闻,最近又有新的“弃台论”冒出,这回是号称美国国际关系“现实主义大师”米尔斯海默(John Mearsheimer)说的:“如果中国继续其引人注目的崛起,台湾似乎注定成为中国的一部分”,美国终究只好“告别台湾”。

  不管是觉得美国更需要中国,不能因为台湾问题而阻碍美中建立大国关系,还是觉得两岸和平发展,台湾不再需要美国,“弃台论”兴起的大背景是中国迅速崛起。此番芝加哥大学教授米尔斯海默更是直接论述中国崛起对台湾前途的影响。

  这篇日前发表在“国家利益”网站的长文题为“跟台湾说再见”(Say Goodbye to Taiwan),开篇即发问:中国持续崛起对台湾的意涵是什么?台湾将面临的真正困境将在几十年后出现,当中国比今天要强大得多的时候。

       不愿美中战争 美终将弃台

  13年前以《进攻现实主义:大国政治的悲剧》而闻名的米尔斯海默说,他坚定地相信,中国继续崛起对台湾有巨大的后果,不仅中国几十年后将比今天更强大,也仍将坚持台湾要成为中国的一部分,还将像美国主导西半球那样主导亚洲。美国将不遗余力地遏制中国实力增长。接踵而至的安全竞争,不管结果如何,都不利于台湾。时间不在台湾一边。

  米尔斯海默认为,多数台湾人希望的理想世界是台湾获得法理上的独立,但台湾在可预见的将来不会获得正式的独立,主要是中国不会容忍那种结果,因此台湾所能希望的最好状况是维持现状。对台湾来说最坏的可能结果是在北京决定的条件下统一,也许坏处最小的结果是台湾获得可观的自治,就像今天的香港那样。关键问题在于,面对崛起的中国,台湾能否避免统一,而保持事实上独立的现状。他分析,对中国来说最好的可能结果是令台湾成为中国一部分,而且从长期来说一定会更加有力地追求这个目标。

  米尔斯海默指出,华盛顿没有盟约义务在台湾遭受攻击时来保卫台湾,但美国有强烈的动因使台湾成为其制衡中国联盟中的重要一员,希望台湾的资产放在自己的战略制衡一边,而美国对台湾的承诺也关乎美国在本地区的可靠性。然而也有理由想到美台的这种关系长远看不可持续:在下个十年的某个时候,美国将不可能帮助台湾防御攻击;台湾离中国大陆那么近,离美国这么远;为台湾而战,美国决策者担心核升级,一定不愿意在中国大陆发动针对中国军队的重大攻击。美国聪明的策略是不要试图将核威慑延伸到台湾,因为台湾不是日本或韩国。
 

米尔斯海默认为,美国可能终将放弃(forsake)台湾的第二个理由是:这是一个特别危险的冲突点,很容易引发不符合美国利益的中美战争。美国决策者理解台湾的命运是所有中国人的重大关切,如果看似美国在阻止中国统一,他们将极为愤怒,如果美台组成密切的军事联盟就是如此,而中国民族主义一定是导致危机的驱动力,战争因此变得更加可能。

  米尔斯海默说,冷战中也没有一个超级大国间的冲突点像台湾在中美安全竞争中那么危险。考虑到引发战争的危险性,考虑到美国终将无法防卫台湾,美国决策者有合理的机会终将得出结论,放弃台湾在战略上说得通,允许中国强迫台湾接受统一。

  于是米尔斯海默的结论是:美国可能在未来几十年对待台湾就像是某种精神分裂者(schizophrenic)。一方面,它有强劲的动因使台湾成为旨在遏制中国的制衡联盟的一部分;另一方面,有很多理由相信随着时间推移,与台湾维持密切关系利益将被可能的代价超过,代价可能还很大。当然从近期看,美国会保护台湾并将之作为战略资产,但这种关系能持续多久是个问题。

       台政策选项少 走香港战略

  对于台湾方面采取的政策,米尔斯海默认为,未来台湾的首要目标没有疑问是保持其独立性,这在下一个十年不难达到,但此后台湾的战略形势将显着恶化,主要是因为中国将快速逼近一个节点,即便美国军事帮助保卫台湾,中国也能将台湾拿下。这种情况下,台湾有3个选项:一,发展自己的核威慑力;二,传统威慑力;三,“香港战略”,台湾接受失去独立性,成为中国一部分的现实。

  米尔斯海默分析,从第一个选项看,北京和华盛顿一定都反对台湾自制核武器,美国人不愿意自己置于台湾引发一场可能导致美遭受大规模核攻击的境地中,台湾追求核武器似乎亦已太迟。从第二个选项看,传统威慑力的“风险战略”也有许多问题,美国会否以很大代价且冒着会输的结果,去跟台湾并肩作战?台湾自己是否想要在本土进行死亡和毁灭代价很大的战争?追求这个选项要与中国进行持续的军备竞赛。总之“达摩克利斯剑”一直悬在台湾头上。
 

对于第三个选项,米尔斯海默认为,到下一个十年之前,这个选项都不受欢迎,但在未来如果中国变得如此强大而能够相对轻松地征服台湾时,这个选项可能变得更吸引人,即台湾放弃维持现实的独立而追求“香港战略”最行得通,虽然对台湾来说不吸引人,但修昔底德说过,在国际政治中,“强者为所欲为,弱者逆来顺受”(the stong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must)。

  米尔斯海默说,很明显台湾会否被迫放弃独立性很大程度上取决于中国未来几十年军力变得有多强大。台湾一定会尽其所能争取时间,维持政治现状,但如果中国继续令人瞩目的崛起,台湾似乎注定要成为中国的一部分。他分析,在若干情况下台湾能避免这种情形,特别是中国经济增长显着放缓,北京面临内部严重政治问题,中国无法追求区域霸权,但台湾无法施加影响使得这种假想变成现实。

  米尔斯海默最后说:“一个强大的中国对台湾不只是一个问题,是一个梦魇。”



Say Goodbye to Taiwan


WHAT ARE the implications for Taiwan of China’s continued rise? Not today. Not next year. No, the real dilemma Taiwan will confront looms in the decades ahead, when China, whose continued economic growth seems likely although not a sure thing, is far more powerful than it is today.











Contemporary China does not possess significant military power; its military forces are inferior, and not by a small margin, to those of the United States. Beijing would be making a huge mistake to pick a fight with the American military nowadays. China, in other words, is constrained by the present global balance of power, which is clearly stacked in America’s favor.

But power is rarely static. The real question that is often overlooked is what happens in a future world in which the balance of power has shifted sharply against Taiwan and the United States, in which China controls much more relative power than it does today, and in which China is in roughly the same economic and military league as the United States. In essence: a world in which China is much less constrained than it is today. That world may seem forbidding, even ominous, but it is one that may be coming.

It is my firm conviction that the continuing rise of China will have huge consequences for Taiwan, almost all of which will be bad. Not only will China be much more powerful than it is today, but it will also remain deeply committed to making Taiwan part of China. Moreover, China will try to dominate Asia the way the United States dominates the Western Hemisphere, which means it will seek to reduce, if not eliminate, the American military presence in Asia. The United States, of course, will resist mightily, and go to great lengths to contain China’s growing power. The ensuing security competition will not be good for Taiwan, no matter how it turns out in the end. Time is not on Taiwan’s side. Herewith, a guide to what is likely to ensue between the United States, China and Taiwan.

IN AN ideal world, most Taiwanese would like their country to gain de jure independence and become a legitimate sovereign state in the international system. This outcome is especially attractive because a strong Taiwanese identity—separate from a Chinese identity—has blossomed in Taiwan over the past sixty-five years. Many of those people who identify themselves as Taiwanese would like their own nation-state, and they have little interest in being a province of mainland China.

According to National Chengchi University’s Election Study Center, in 1992, 17.6 percent of the people living in Taiwan identified as Taiwanese only. By June 2013, that number was 57.5 percent, a clear majority. Only 3.6 percent of those surveyed identified as Chinese only. Furthermore, the 2011 Taiwan National Security Survey found that if one assumes China would not attack Taiwan if it declared its independence, 80.2 percent of Taiwanese would in fact opt for independence. Another recent poll found that about 80 percent of Taiwanese view Taiwan and China as different countries.

However, Taiwan is not going to gain formal independence in the foreseeable future, mainly because China would not tolerate that outcome. In fact, China has made it clear that it would go to war against Taiwan if the island declares its independence. The antisecession law, which China passed in 2005, says explicitly that “the state shall employ nonpeaceful means and other necessary measures” if Taiwan moves toward de jure independence. It is also worth noting that the United States does not recognize Taiwan as a sovereign country, and according to President Obama, Washington “fully supports a one-China policy.”

Thus, the best situation Taiwan can hope for in the foreseeable future is maintenance of the status quo, which means de facto independence. In fact, over 90 percent of the Taiwanese surveyed this past June by the Election Study Center favored maintaining the status quo indefinitely or until some later date.

The worst possible outcome is unification with China under terms dictated by Beijing. Of course, unification could happen in a variety of ways, some of which are better than others. Probably the least bad outcome would be one in which Taiwan ended up with considerable autonomy, much like Hong Kong enjoys today. Chinese leaders refer to this solution as “one country, two systems.” Still, it has little appeal to most Taiwanese. As Yuan-kang Wang reports: “An overwhelming majority of Taiwan’s public opposes unification, even under favorable circumstances. If anything, longitudinal data reveal a decline in public support of unification.”

In short, for Taiwan, de facto independence is much preferable to becoming part of China, regardless of what the final political arrangements look like. The critical question for Taiwan, however, is whether it can avoid unification and maintain de facto independence in the face of a rising China.

WHAT ABOUT China? How does it think about Taiwan? Two different logics, one revolving around nationalism and the other around security, shape its views concerning Taiwan. Both logics, however, lead to the same endgame: the unification of China and Taiwan.


The nationalism story is straightforward and uncontroversial. China is deeply committed to making Taiwan part of China. For China’s elites, as well as its public, Taiwan can never become a sovereign state. It is sacred territory that has been part of China since ancient times, but was taken away by the hated Japanese in 1895—when China was weak and vulnerable. It must once again become an integral part of China. As Hu Jintao said in 2007 at the Seventeenth Party Congress: “The two sides of the Straits are bound to be reunified in the course of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”

The unification of China and Taiwan is one of the core elements of Chinese national identity. There is simply no compromising on this issue. Indeed, the legitimacy of the Chinese regime is bound up with making sure Taiwan does not become a sovereign state and that it eventually becomes an integral part of China.

Chinese leaders insist that Taiwan must be brought back into the fold sooner rather than later and that hopefully it can be done peacefully. At the same time, they have made it clear that force is an option if they have no other recourse.

The security story is a different one, and it is inextricably bound up with the rise of China. Specifically, it revolves around a straightforward but profound question: How is China likely to behave in Asia over time, as it grows increasingly powerful? The answer to this question obviously has huge consequences for Taiwan.

The only way to predict how a rising China is likely to behave toward its neighbors as well as the United States is with a theory of great-power politics. The main reason for relying on theory is that we have no facts about the future, because it has not happened yet. Thomas Hobbes put the point well: “The present only has a being in nature; things past have a being in the memory only; but things to come have no being at all.” Thus, we have no choice but to rely on theories to determine what is likely to transpire in world politics.

My own realist theory of international relations says that the structure of the international system forces countries concerned about their security to compete with each other for power. The ultimate goal of every major state is to maximize its share of world power and eventually dominate the system. In practical terms, this means that the most powerful states seek to establish hegemony in their region of the world, while making sure that no rival great power dominates another region.

To be more specific, the international system has three defining characteristics. First, the main actors are states that operate in anarchy, which simply means that there is no higher authority above them. Second, all great powers have some offensive military capability, which means they have the wherewithal to hurt each other. Third, no state can know the intentions of other states with certainty, especially their future intentions. It is simply impossible, for example, to know what Germany’s or Japan’s intentions will be toward their neighbors in 2025.

In a world where other states might have malign intentions as well as significant offensive capabilities, states tend to fear each other. That fear is compounded by the fact that in an anarchic system there is no night watchman for states to call if trouble comes knocking at their door. Therefore, states recognize that the best way to survive in such a system is to be as powerful as possible relative to potential rivals. The mightier a state is, the less likely it is that another state will attack it. No Americans, for example, worry that Canada or Mexico will attack the United States, because neither of those countries is strong enough to contemplate a fight with Uncle Sam.

But great powers do not merely strive to be the strongest great power, although that is a welcome outcome. Their ultimate aim is to be the hegemon—which means being the only great power in the system.

What exactly does it mean to be a hegemon in the modern world? It is almost impossible for any state to achieve global hegemony, because it is too hard to sustain power around the globe and project it onto the territory of distant great powers. The best outcome a state can hope for is to be a regional hegemon, to dominate one’s own geographical area. The United States has been a regional hegemon in the Western Hemisphere since about 1900. Although the United States is clearly the most powerful state on the planet today, it is not a global hegemon.

States that gain regional hegemony have a further aim: they seek to prevent great powers in other regions from duplicating their feat. Regional hegemons, in other words, do not want peer competitors. Instead, they want to keep other regions divided among several great powers, so that those states will compete with each other and be unable to focus their attention and resources on them. In sum, the ideal situation for any great power is to be the only regional hegemon in the world. The United States enjoys that exalted position today.

What does this theory say about how China is likely to behave as it rises in the years ahead? Put simply, China will try to dominate Asia the way the United States dominates the Western Hemisphere. It will try to become a regional hegemon. In particular, China will seek to maximize the power gap between itself and its neighbors, especially India, Japan and Russia. China will want to make sure it is so powerful that no state in Asia has the wherewithal to threaten it.

It is unlikely that China will pursue military superiority so it can go on a rampage and conquer other Asian countries, although that is always possible. Instead, it is more likely that it will want to dictate the boundaries of acceptable behavior to neighboring countries, much the way the United States lets other states in the Americas know that it is the boss.


An increasingly powerful China is also likely to attempt to push the United States out of Asia, much the way the United States pushed the European great powers out of the Western Hemisphere in the nineteenth century. We should expect China to come up with its own version of the Monroe Doctrine, as Japan did in the 1930s.

These policy goals make good strategic sense for China. Beijing should want a militarily weak Japan and Russia as its neighbors, just as the United States prefers a militarily weak Canada and Mexico on its borders. What state in its right mind would want other powerful states located in its region? All Chinese surely remember what happened in the previous two centuries when Japan was powerful and China was weak.

Furthermore, why would a powerful China accept U.S. military forces operating in its backyard? American policy makers, after all, go ballistic when other great powers send military forces into the Western Hemisphere. Those foreign forces are invariably seen as a potential threat to American security. The same logic should apply to China. Why would China feel safe with U.S. forces deployed on its doorstep? Following the logic of the Monroe Doctrine, would China’s security not be better served by pushing the American military out of Asia?

Why should we expect China to act any differently than the United States did? Are Chinese leaders more principled than American leaders? More ethical? Are they less nationalistic? Less concerned about their survival? They are none of these things, of course, which is why China is likely to imitate the United States and try to become a regional hegemon.

WHAT ARE the implications of this security story for Taiwan? The answer is that there is a powerful strategic rationale for China—at the very least—to try to sever Taiwan’s close ties with the United States and neutralize Taiwan. However, the best possible outcome for China, which it will surely pursue with increasing vigor over time, would be to make Taiwan part of China.

Unification would work to China’s strategic advantage in two important ways. First, Beijing would absorb Taiwan’s economic and military resources, thus shifting the balance of power in Asia even further in China’s direction. Second, Taiwan is effectively a giant aircraft carrier sitting off China’s coast; acquiring that aircraft carrier would enhance China’s ability to project military power into the western Pacific Ocean.

In short, we see that nationalism as well as realist logic give China powerful incentives to put an end to Taiwan’s de facto independence and make it part of a unified China. This is clearly bad news for Taiwan, especially since the balance of power in Asia is shifting in China’s favor, and it will not be long before Taiwan cannot defend itself against China. Thus, the obvious question is whether the United States can provide security for Taiwan in the face of a rising China. In other words, can Taiwan depend on the United States for its security?

LET US now consider America’s goals in Asia and how they relate to Taiwan. Regional hegemons go to great lengths to stop other great powers from becoming hegemons in their region of the world. The best outcome for any great power is to be the sole regional hegemon in the system. It is apparent from the historical record that the United States operates according to this logic. It does not tolerate peer competitors.

During the twentieth century, there were four great powers that had the capability to make a run at regional hegemony: Imperial Germany from 1900 to 1918, Imperial Japan between 1931 and 1945, Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945 and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Not surprisingly, each tried to match what the United States had achieved in the Western Hemisphere.

How did the United States react? In each case, it played a key role in defeating and dismantling those aspiring hegemons.

The United States entered World War I in April 1917 when Imperial Germany looked like it might win the war and rule Europe. American troops played a critical role in tipping the balance against the Kaiserreich, which collapsed in November 1918. In the early 1940s, President Franklin Roosevelt went to great lengths to maneuver the United States into World War II to thwart Japan’s ambitions in Asia and Germany’s ambitions in Europe. The United States came into the war in December 1941, and helped destroy both Axis powers. Since 1945, American policy makers have gone to considerable lengths to put limits on German and Japanese military power. Finally, during the Cold War, the United States steadfastly worked to prevent the Soviet Union from dominating Eurasia and then helped relegate it to the scrap heap of history in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Shortly after the Cold War ended, the George H. W. Bush administration’s controversial “Defense Planning Guidance” of 1992 was leaked to the press. It boldly stated that the United States was now the most powerful state in the world by far and it planned to remain in that exalted position. In other words, the United States would not tolerate a peer competitor.

That same message was repeated in the famous 2002 National Security Strategy issued by the George W. Bush administration. There was much criticism of that document, especially its claims about “preemptive” war. But hardly a word of protest was raised about the assertion that the United States should check rising powers and maintain its commanding position in the global balance of power.

The bottom line is that the United States—for sound strategic reasons—worked hard for more than a century to gain hegemony in the Western Hemisphere. Since achieving regional dominance, it has gone to great lengths to prevent other great powers from controlling either Asia or Europe.


Thus, there is little doubt as to how American policy makers will react if China attempts to dominate Asia. The United States can be expected to go to great lengths to contain China and ultimately weaken it to the point where it is no longer capable of ruling the roost in Asia. In essence, the United States is likely to behave toward China much the way it acted toward the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

China’s neighbors are certain to fear its rise as well, and they too will do whatever they can to prevent it from achieving regional hegemony. Indeed, there is already substantial evidence that countries like India, Japan and Russia as well as smaller powers like Singapore, South Korea and Vietnam are worried about China’s ascendancy and are looking for ways to contain it. In the end, they will join an American-led balancing coalition to check China’s rise, much the way Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and even China joined forces with the United States to contain the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

How does Taiwan fit into this story? The United States has a rich history of close relations with Taiwan since the early days of the Cold War, when the Nationalist forces under Chiang Kai-shek retreated to the island from the Chinese mainland. However, Washington is not obliged by treaty to come to the defense of Taiwan if it is attacked by China or anyone else.

Regardless, the United States will have powerful incentives to make Taiwan an important player in its anti-China balancing coalition. First, as noted, Taiwan has significant economic and military resources and it is effectively a giant aircraft carrier that can be used to help control the waters close to China’s all-important eastern coast. The United States will surely want Taiwan’s assets on its side of the strategic balance, not on China’s side.

Second, America’s commitment to Taiwan is inextricably bound up with U.S. credibility in the region, which matters greatly to policy makers in Washington. Because the United States is located roughly six thousand miles from East Asia, it has to work hard to convince its Asian allies—especially Japan and South Korea—that it will back them up in the event they are threatened by China or North Korea. Importantly, it has to convince Seoul and Tokyo that they can rely on the American nuclear umbrella to protect them. This is the thorny problem of extended deterrence, which the United States and its allies wrestled with throughout the Cold War.

If the United States were to sever its military ties with Taiwan or fail to defend it in a crisis with China, that would surely send a strong signal to America’s other allies in the region that they cannot rely on the United States for protection. Policy makers in Washington will go to great lengths to avoid that outcome and instead maintain America’s reputation as a reliable partner. This means they will be inclined to back Taiwan no matter what.

While the United States has good reasons to want Taiwan as part of the balancing coalition it will build against China, there are also reasons to think this relationship is not sustainable over the long term. For starters, at some point in the next decade or so it will become impossible for the United States to help Taiwan defend itself against a Chinese attack. Remember that we are talking about a China with much more military capability than it has today.

In addition, geography works in China’s favor in a major way, simply because Taiwan is so close to the Chinese mainland and so far away from the United States. When it comes to a competition between China and the United States over projecting military power into Taiwan, China wins hands down. Furthermore, in a fight over Taiwan, American policy makers would surely be reluctant to launch major attacks against Chinese forces on the mainland, for fear they might precipitate nuclear escalation. This reticence would also work to China’s advantage.

One might argue that there is a simple way to deal with the fact that Taiwan will not have an effective conventional deterrent against China in the not-too-distant future: put America’s nuclear umbrella over Taiwan. This approach will not solve the problem, however, because the United States is not going to escalate to the nuclear level if Taiwan is being overrun by China. The stakes are not high enough to risk a general thermonuclear war. Taiwan is not Japan or even South Korea. Thus, the smart strategy for America is to not even try to extend its nuclear deterrent over Taiwan.

There is a second reason the United States might eventually forsake Taiwan: it is an especially dangerous flashpoint, which could easily precipitate a Sino-American war that is not in America’s interest. U.S. policy makers understand that the fate of Taiwan is a matter of great concern to Chinese of all persuasions and that they will be extremely angry if it looks like the United States is preventing unification. But that is exactly what Washington will be doing if it forms a close military alliance with Taiwan, and that point will not be lost on the Chinese people.

It is important to note in this regard that Chinese nationalism, which is a potent force, emphasizes how great powers like the United States humiliated China in the past when it was weak and appropriated Chinese territory like Hong Kong and Taiwan. Thus, it is not difficult to imagine crises breaking out over Taiwan or scenarios in which a crisis escalates into a shooting war. After all, Chinese nationalism will surely be a force for trouble in those crises, and China will at some point have the military wherewithal to conquer Taiwan, which will make war even more likely.


There was no flashpoint between the superpowers during the Cold War that was as dangerous as Taiwan will be in a Sino-American security competition. Some commentators liken Berlin in the Cold War to Taiwan, but Berlin was not sacred territory for the Soviet Union and it was actually of little strategic importance for either side. Taiwan is different. Given how dangerous it is for precipitating a war and given the fact that the United States will eventually reach the point where it cannot defend Taiwan, there is a reasonable chance that American policy makers will eventually conclude that it makes good strategic sense to abandon Taiwan and allow China to coerce it into accepting unification.

All of this is to say that the United States is likely to be somewhat schizophrenic about Taiwan in the decades ahead. On one hand, it has powerful incentives to make it part of a balancing coalition aimed at containing China. On the other hand, there are good reasons to think that with the passage of time the benefits of maintaining close ties with Taiwan will be outweighed by the potential costs, which are likely to be huge. Of course, in the near term, the United States will protect Taiwan and treat it as a strategic asset. But how long that relationship lasts is an open question.

SO FAR, the discussion about Taiwan’s future has focused almost exclusively on how the United States is likely to act toward Taiwan. However, what happens to Taiwan in the face of China’s rise also depends greatly on what policies Taiwan’s leaders and its people choose to pursue over time. There is little doubt that Taiwan’s overriding goal in the years ahead will be to preserve its independence from China. That aim should not be too difficult to achieve for the next decade, mainly because Taiwan is almost certain to maintain close relations with the United States, which will have powerful incentives as well as the capability to protect Taiwan. But after that point Taiwan’s strategic situation is likely to deteriorate in significant ways, mainly because China will be rapidly approaching the point where it can conquer Taiwan even if the American military helps defend the island. And, as noted, it is not clear that the United States will be there for Taiwan over the long term.

In the face of this grim future, Taiwan has three options. First, it can develop its own nuclear deterrent. Nuclear weapons are the ultimate deterrent, and there is no question that a Taiwanese nuclear arsenal would markedly reduce the likelihood of a Chinese attack against Taiwan.

Taiwan pursued this option in the 1970s, when it feared American abandonment in the wake of the Vietnam War. The United States, however, stopped Taiwan’s nuclear-weapons program in its tracks. And then Taiwan tried to develop a bomb secretly in the 1980s, but again the United States found out and forced Taipei to shut the program down. It is unfortunate for Taiwan that it failed to build a bomb, because its prospects for maintaining its independence would be much improved if it had its own nuclear arsenal.

No doubt Taiwan still has time to acquire a nuclear deterrent before the balance of power in Asia shifts decisively against it. But the problem with this suggestion is that both Beijing and Washington are sure to oppose Taiwan going nuclear. The United States would oppose Taiwanese nuclear weapons, not only because they would encourage Japan and South Korea to follow suit, but also because American policy makers abhor the idea of an ally being in a position to start a nuclear war that might ultimately involve the United States. To put it bluntly, no American wants to be in a situation where Taiwan can precipitate a conflict that might result in a massive nuclear attack on the United States.

China will adamantly oppose Taiwan obtaining a nuclear deterrent, in large part because Beijing surely understands that it would make it difficult—maybe even impossible—to conquer Taiwan. What’s more, China will recognize that Taiwanese nuclear weapons would facilitate nuclear proliferation in East Asia, which would not only limit China’s ability to throw its weight around in that region, but also would increase the likelihood that any conventional war that breaks out would escalate to the nuclear level. For these reasons, China is likely to make it manifestly clear that if Taiwan decides to pursue nuclear weapons, it will strike its nuclear facilities, and maybe even launch a war to conquer the island. In short, it appears that it is too late for Taiwan to pursue the nuclear option.

Taiwan’s second option is conventional deterrence. How could Taiwan make deterrence work without nuclear weapons in a world where China has clear-cut military superiority over the combined forces of Taiwan and the United States? The key to success is not to be able to defeat the Chinese military—that is impossible—but instead to make China pay a huge price to achieve victory. In other words, the aim is to make China fight a protracted and bloody war to conquer Taiwan. Yes, Beijing would prevail in the end, but it would be a Pyrrhic victory. This strategy would be even more effective if Taiwan could promise China that the resistance would continue even after its forces were defeated on the battlefield. The threat that Taiwan might turn into another Sinkiang or Tibet would foster deterrence for sure.


This option is akin to Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz’s famous “risk strategy,” which Imperial Germany adopted in the decade before World War I. Tirpitz accepted the fact that Germany could not build a navy powerful enough to defeat the mighty Royal Navy in battle. He reasoned, however, that Berlin could build a navy that was strong enough to inflict so much damage on the Royal Navy that it would cause London to fear a fight with Germany and thus be deterred. Moreover, Tirpitz reasoned that this “risk fleet” might even give Germany diplomatic leverage it could use against Britain.

There are a number of problems with this form of conventional deterrence, which raise serious doubts about whether it can work for Taiwan over the long haul. For starters, the strategy depends on the United States fighting side by side with Taiwan. But it is difficult to imagine American policy makers purposely choosing to fight a war in which the U.S. military is not only going to lose, but is also going to pay a huge price in the process. It is not even clear that Taiwan would want to fight such a war, because it would be fought mainly on Taiwanese territory—not Chinese territory—and there would be death and destruction everywhere. And Taiwan would lose in the end anyway.

Furthermore, pursuing this option would mean that Taiwan would be constantly in an arms race with China, which would help fuel an intense and dangerous security competition between them. The sword of Damocles, in other words, would always be hanging over Taiwan.

Finally, although it is difficult to predict just how dominant China will become in the distant future, it is possible that it will eventually become so powerful that Taiwan will be unable to put up major resistance against a Chinese onslaught. This would certainly be true if America’s commitment to defend Taiwan weakens as China morphs into a superpower.

Taiwan’s third option is to pursue what I will call the “Hong Kong strategy.” In this case, Taiwan accepts the fact that it is doomed to lose its independence and become part of China. It then works hard to make sure that the transition is peaceful and that it gains as much autonomy as possible from Beijing. This option is unpalatable today and will remain so for at least the next decade. But it is likely to become more attractive in the distant future if China becomes so powerful that it can conquer Taiwan with relative ease.

So where does this leave Taiwan? The nuclear option is not feasible, as neither China nor the United States would accept a nuclear-armed Taiwan. Conventional deterrence in the form of a “risk strategy” is far from ideal, but it makes sense as long as China is not so dominant that it can subordinate Taiwan without difficulty. Of course, for that strategy to work, the United States must remain committed to the defense of Taiwan, which is not guaranteed over the long term.

Once China becomes a superpower, it probably makes the most sense for Taiwan to give up hope of maintaining its de facto independence and instead pursue the “Hong Kong strategy.” This is definitely not an attractive option, but as Thucydides argued long ago, in international politics “the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.”

By now, it should be glaringly apparent that whether Taiwan is forced to give up its independence largely depends on how formidable China’s military becomes in the decades ahead. Taiwan will surely do everything it can to buy time and maintain the political status quo. But if China continues its impressive rise, Taiwan appears destined to become part of China.

THERE IS one set of circumstances under which Taiwan can avoid this scenario. Specifically, all Taiwanese should hope there is a drastic slowdown in Chinese economic growth in the years ahead and that Beijing also has serious political problems on the home front that work to keep it focused inward. If that happens, China will not be in a position to pursue regional hegemony and the United States will be able to protect Taiwan from China, as it does now. In essence, the best way for Taiwan to maintain de facto independence is for China to be economically and militarily weak. Unfortunately for Taiwan, it has no way of influencing events so that this outcome actually becomes reality.

When China started its impressive growth in the 1980s, most Americans and Asians thought this was wonderful news, because all of the ensuing trade and other forms of economic intercourse would make everyone richer and happier. China, according to the reigning wisdom, would become a responsible stakeholder in the international community, and its neighbors would have little to worry about. Many Taiwanese shared this optimistic outlook, and some still do.

They are wrong. By trading with China and helping it grow into an economic powerhouse, Taiwan has helped create a burgeoning Goliath with revisionist goals that include ending Taiwan’s independence and making it an integral part of China. In sum, a powerful China isn’t just a problem for Taiwan. It is a nightmare.

John J. Mearsheimer is the R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago. He serves on the Advisory Council of The National Interest. This article is adapted from a speech he gave in Taipei on December 7, 2013, to the Taiwanese Association of International Relations. An updated edition of his book The Tragedy of Great Power Politics will be published in April by W. W. Norton.






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