First, as I detailed in these pages last year in a two-part series, if China were to launch a surprise attack against Taiwan – the most likely scenario – the United States would not be on a war footing and would stand very little chance of preventing Beijing from successfully capturing Taiwan. Though the cumulative global power comparison between the U.S. military and the Chinese military strongly favors America, the balance of power in the Taiwan Straits would significantly favor China. It would be foolish for Washington to fight a prepared Chinese military when the conditions wouldn’t favor a successful intervention.
But there is a second, possibly more important factor that must be considered: the president doesn’t have the authority to take the United States to war. Biden can’t, on his own, decide that the U.S. should go to war to defend Taiwan. As the Commander-in-Chief, he has authority to command forces in the field, but Article I, Section 8, Clause 11 of the Constitution expressly gives that power to Congress.
The 1973 War Powers Act clarifies that the president may only unilaterally use military force in the event of an “attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces” or such an attack is imminent. However much distasteful it may be to any American official, a Chinese attack on Taiwan would not meet that standard and thus is not within any president’s authority to unilaterally take such against the Chinese. That’s not suggest Washington should be a passive onlooker, however.
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