Citing lessons of Ukraine, US hopes to turn Taiwan into a 'porcupine'

AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying, File

Yesterday Allahpundit mentioned that the US was nudging Taiwan toward a new military posture in light of the war in Ukraine. This afternoon the NY Times published a story about this shift. As the Times describes it, the US goal is to turn Taiwan into a “porcupine” to make it a less appealing target for mainland China.


U.S. officials are taking lessons learned from arming Ukraine to work with Taiwan in molding a stronger force that could repel a seaborne invasion by China, which has one of the world’s largest militaries.

The aim is to turn Taiwan into what some officials call a “porcupine”— a territory bristling with armaments and other forms of U.S.-led support that appears too painful to attack.

Taiwan has long had missiles that can hit China. But the American-made weapons that it has recently bought — mobile rocket platforms, F-16 fighter jets and anti-ship projectiles — are better suited for repelling an invading force. Some military analysts say Taiwan might buy sea mines and armed drones later. And as it has in Ukraine, the U.S. government could also supply intelligence to enhance the lethality of the weapons, even if it refrains from sending troops.

Taiwan’s foreign minister seems to be on board with the idea:

Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu tells NPR his government would use Ukraine’s techniques for fending off a much larger enemy. Taiwanese troops would do the fighting using international support, asymmetric warfare and mass mobilization of the population.

“Defending Taiwan is our own responsibility,” Wu said. “What we need is international support — speaking out to support us and to provide us with the necessary means for us to be able to defend ourselves.”…

“We are taking the war in Ukraine into a very serious internal discussions,” he said. “The Ukrainian people are very brave, and one of the tactics that has been successful so far is the asymmetric capability. And that is something that we are learning from and we want to discuss further with the United States.”


With President Biden seemingly putting an end to “strategic ambiguity” this week before having his comments walked back by the White House, you have to wonder if Taiwan or to the CCP really have a clear idea what would happen if an invasion was launched. The US position in Ukraine has been one of providing support, arms, intelligence and some training but not troops. Taiwan can probably count on at least that much help. But beyond that you get the impression Biden might take action the White House couldn’t easily walk back. And that means there’s a danger of backing Xi Jinping into a corner.

“Are we clear about what deters China and what provokes China?” said Bonnie S. Glaser, director of the Asia program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. “The answer to that is ‘no,’ and that’s dangerous territory.”

“We need to think long and hard on how to strengthen deterrence,” she said.

Would the US Navy, which is often in the South China Sea these days, leave the area or would the US support Taiwan more directly if China were to launch an invasion? In a way Biden’s lack of ambiguity has created a kind of strategic confusion that seems less stable. It’s hard to say if that helps or hurts Taiwan right now.


My own guess is that China isn’t really able to launch an invasion of Taiwan. And even if it was, they are no doubt carefully watching the outcome in Ukraine and learning that a superior military force doesn’t always equal a win, especially not when the country has a) a commitment to its own independence and b) wealthy friends willing to send lots of new equipment to use against you.

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