As Taiwan watches with horror that one tyrant at the helm of a nuclear armed behemoth, even a decaying and frail one, can do to the world, if Taiwan wants to credibly demonstrate that their defense of the island will be as devastating to its invaders as Ukraine has, it must make massive reconstructive reforms, not only militarily, but politically and socially.
Since the era of Mao, Chinese propaganda has made claims about its aim to “liberate Taiwan” in the spirit of Chinese unity. They have claimed that Taiwanese are actually Chinese, repeating the phrase “blood is thicker than water” ad nauseam, aiming to signal to Taiwan that partnering with the Americans and Japanese against a totalitarian state which happens to have two provinces which share some common ancestry with Taiwan is tantamount to race treason.
Thus, in repeated statements fifty, sixty, and seventy years after the Chinese Civil War, consistent with Mao’s notions of endless self-contradictions within Chinese communism, the PRC has made increasingly clear its intent to kill every man, woman and child on Taiwan to symbolically reclaim an island for the PRC as “China,” an island abandoned by the Manchu Qing Dynasty one hundred and thirty years ago – that human life is no cost when the pride of the Communist Party is at stake, and that their notions of “brotherhood” and “reunification” have been codewords for ethnic supremacy, subjugation under unitary authoritarian rule, and mass political genocide.
To make clear, flirtation with having talks with the PRC are naive. The PRC has made clear, most recently in Hong Kong, that whatever agreements it makes with “its people” are internal affairs, and are subject to abrogation at any time.
Thus, any treaty signed with the PRC would not be worth the paper it is printed on. There can be no guarantee of democracy, much less protection of political or human rights.
To the PRC, every “privilege” granted is revocable should the Chinese Communist Party deem it necessary in the future. By considering ceding even the most basic aspects of their sovereignty to the PRC, Taiwan or the ROC, regardless of what name it is called, is irredeemable, and whenever such an agreement is signed with the PRC, the leverage that the US has to assist Taiwan will be permanently forfeited. Therefore, it is treasonous to the foundations of the three principles of the Republic of China, an insulting smear on the sacrifices made by the ROC and Taiwan during the Chinese civil war, and a degrading act of capitulation to every hard fought ounce of freedom and the democratic rights fought for by the people who now live in Taiwan, to negotiate away even a speck of Taiwan’s sovereignty.
With the rise of China, besides fortifying every relationship in the region and maintaining the strongest possibly security alliance with the US possible, including seeking the transfer of nuclear weapons for deterrence, the US security establishment has begun making it clear that Taiwan must begin remilitarization, or face an immanent invasion.
Descreasing military expenditures and complacency have been described by the US Navy War College as the result of “a state of denial about the threat.”
Thus, resuming the course taken by Chiang Kai-Shek and his son to militarize and defend the island now seems more prudent. This will significantly increase the costs on China, both militarily and symbolically, should the CCP every become desperate enough to risk global war to capture Taiwan in some desperate face-saving attempt.
There are scholars have suggested that rapid changes in the calculus could cause China to immediately launch a preemptive strike. But this would also be highly dependent on the position of US assets in the area and the hawkishness of the Biden administration in recent months calls this defeatism into question.
Models have been described as creating a “porcupine state,” with more spines than flesh, so prickly and punishing that for what meat could be captured would never be worth the cost to acquire it. It calls for the deployment of ubiquitous and hopefully cheap access and area denial capabilities, and a heavily militarized and rearmed population that is both willing and physically and psychologically prepared to enact devastating costs on any power which threatens their democratic sovereignty.
There are three models often introduced as so-called porcupine states: Switzerland, Israel, and South Korea.
Switzerland, because of its highly armed population and deep sense of decentralized democratic control and national unity was deemed by the Nazi’s too costly to capture and was thus spared during World War I.
Israel and South Korea, as the Republic of Korea, are countries who since their reformation post-WWII have lived under the constant threat of invasion from their hostile neighbors who share land borders. Israel was invaded by its nearly all of its neighbors immediately after UN partitioning and formation in 1948, and then by coalitions again in 1967 and then again in 1973. South Korea was invaded by the North, assisted mostly by Chinese troops, in what has now become known as the Korean War. As a result, there is compulsory military service for all citizens in both states, with Korea requiring males to serve two years, and Israel requiring three for males, and two for females.
Psychologically, all of these states, because of their history of invasion and compulsory military service have inculcated martial defense into their very cultures.
Taiwan, historically as the Chiang Kai-Shek’s ROC followed a similar tradition for decades. Long terms of compulsory military service for males, a strong defense culture, and understanding of the threat of invasion meant that for decades, recapture of Taiwan was inconceivable for the PRC, regardless of US support and intervention.
Post-democratization, this culture has shifted and preparedness has unquestionably slipped. Openness and free-choice replaced fear of the PRC threat, and compulsory military service terms have dropped to only four months, as the perception of necessity of readiness have been replaced by consumer capitalism and individualism.
This need not be thrown out entirely, nor Taiwanese people sacrifice their very way of life for defense. However, preparedness must be ignored no longer, and costs must be borne to preserve democracy. The suggested remedies are as follows:
First, Taiwan must massively increase its military spending. It currently spends about 2.3% of its GDP on its military, significantly below South Korea, at 2.7% and Israel, at 5.3%, despite facing a much larger and more powerful threat than either of those two states. Taiwan is under threat from the single largest totalitarian state the world has ever seen, and thus ought to consistently outpace 5% of GDP more closely approaching 10% to ensure that the capacity gap does not grow. This means more than doubling its current spending, and thus tax increases.
This money should be used to massively increase the development of amphibious defense systems, including long range missiles designed at targeting enemy aircraft and ships, but also low tech and cheaper solutions such as sea mines spread across the length of the strait to deter amphibious invasions.
It should also be used to develop a domestic weapons manufacturing capacity capable of mass-producing firearms, which capable of being quickly distributed to civilians in the event of an invasion. To make the use of these arms more effective, it must increase the standards for its professional soldiers and increase their pay commensurately to restore the social position of the military in society, and ensure that its aging fleet of vehicles and weapons systems, once replaced have capable handlers.
Secondly, Taiwan must reinstate longer compulsory military or alternative service activity for its youth, but also extend this to females, like Israel. This not only provides the military and the civil service with a significant source of human capital, but also strengthens national pride and patriotism, and increases the social status and desirability of military jobs, both significant issues in Taiwan right now. Taiwan ought to study how South Korea and Israel have created such successful and broadly popular compulsory military programs and attempt to revamp its own system.
Third, Taiwan must create a civilian militia, not only to check the potential power of a growing unbridled military, but to ensure that if China is preparing to kill every man, woman, and child on Taiwan with the thousands of missiles they have pointed at the island, then every man woman and child can also be prepared to defend the island against a force of foreign invaders who wish to deprive them of their lives and their freedom and make governance of the island totally unfeasible. Civilian shelters which have fallen into disrepair must be restored and functional, and new civilian armories capable of quickly distributing large quantities of weapons to counter an invading force must be prepared.
These tools are not offensive, and of course can not be expected to guarantee the survival of Taiwan’s state or its people in the event of an invasion that is ultimately aimed to destroy it.
What they can do is massively alter the calculus of the potential gains from a Chinese invasion to ensure that China would face a devastating death toll should they choose to invade, even in the event that the US fails to defend the island. A prolonged offensive of civilian auxiliaries prepared to defend against invading troops also deals an incredible symbolic blow to the CCP, as images of women and children prepared to give their lives to prevent the conquer of their island will be seen as indefensible, not only to the international community, of which China cares little, but to the people of China who mistakenly see Taiwanese as yearning for “liberation” from their cross-strait brethren.
Taiwan is an island built by hardy farmers and fisherman who braved the seas of the strait to start a new life, soldiers fleeing communism, pirates who sought freedom from the Chinese emperors, Hakka seeking freedom from persecution, and aboriginals who for generations resisted colonization.
If the people of Taiwan still value their democracy and freedom more than cheap Chinese imports, and want to ensure that their culture and rights prevent being relegated to history books, they must be willing to shed blood and tears to defend the island.
China is not a country that negotiates, it takes. There are no compromises to be made, there is only complacency or victory. The choice won’t remain for much longer.