The United States Congress should hold a debate on the possibility of formally announcing military support for Taiwan in the event it is invaded by the Chinese regime, according to Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.)
Luria said that ending the United States’ policy of so-called strategic ambiguity, wherein the nation neither openly confirms nor denies it will militarily defend Taiwan, was vital to deterring a Chinese invasion of the island.
“I think that our current policy of strategic ambiguity is, it’s time to change that,” Luria said. “I think that we need to provide strategic clarity. We need to be very clear and unambiguous and say that the United States will react in order to maintain the status quo.”
Luria made the comments during a recent webinar of U.S. seapower hosted by Washington-based think tank Hudson Institute,
Luria is the vice-chair of the House Armed Services Committee and served as a commander in the U.S. Navy. She said that providing strategic clarity, formally saying the United States will or will not defend Taiwan from invasion, was necessary to address the urgency of the situation in the Indo-Pacific.
Such a declaration, she said, would also require the United States to position its forces in the region and direct its allies in facilitating the defense of the island—something Luria believes is impossible with the current state of legal and political affairs.
“With our current presence, with our current legal and political statements of ambiguity, I think the Chinese see this as a very clear window where they can act and they’re building a fleet to do that,” Luria said.
President Has ‘No Authority’ to Defend Taiwan
Luria said that a key reason Congress needed to convene on the issue of defending Taiwan was that the president does not actually have authority to declare war on China in the event it does invade.
“The president essentially has no authority to react right now in order to defend Taiwan,” Luria said.
She explained that, although the Taiwan Relations Act contains provisions allowing the United States to furnish Taiwan with military technologies with which it can defend itself, it does not include any mutual security agreements.
Relatedly, the War Powers Act bars the president from deploying forces where hostilities are likely to occur unless consent is given by Congress.
This means, in effect, that if the Chinese regime were to invade Taiwan tomorrow, President Joe Biden would have no legal authority to order a military intervention to stop it until Congress voted on the issue.
“We as Congress have a role,” Luria said. “We need to have a debate and we need to be very clear and unambiguous. I think that we should say that we will come to the defense of Taiwan in order to maintain the status quo.”
Such an effort, Luria said, would ensure that the president has the authority he needs when he needs it, and would also do more to deter Beijing from invading in the first place.
To that end, she said that she would like to see the president make a similar commitment to that made by President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, who oversaw the development of a 600-ship Navy following a reduction of forces in the wake of the Vietnam War.
US Needs a More Effective Deterrence
Luria’s remarks come nearly a year after then-Adm. Phil Davidson said that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) would be ready to invade Taiwan in six years, and amid increasing warnings that Beijing is truncating its timeline for just such an invasion.
Luria said that the “Davidson window” of invasion by 2027 was confirmed by an academic who advised CCP leader Xi Jinping as being under consideration by the regime’s military.
Meanwhile, increasing demands have depleted the U.S. Navy’s fleet readiness, and tight budgets for new ship development continue to constrain the Navy’s ability to build next-generation vessels required for great power competition.
Luria said that the state of affairs was owed in part to a lack of cohesive strategy concerning how to integrate maritime forces with broader U.S. goals.
“I’ve been clear that I feel there is a lack of a maritime strategy,” Luria said. “I think it’s very important to understand what the strategy is. Where do we need our forces? What type of forces do we need? We’ve gone years without a 30-year shipbuilding plan.”
“The truth is that you have to actually have the deterrence,” Luria said. “You have to have the forces.”
To that end, the United States’ naval forces total under 300 vessels. The Chinese regime’s, meanwhile, number over 360.
The numerical discrepancy is more severe when one considers the strategic situation of the Indo-Pacific. The United States has only about 60 ships in the region. The entirety of the CCP’s maritime militia is located near China’s shores, however, which could bring the effective number of Chinese maritime forces to more than 600.
To help mitigate the current poverty of maritime strategy, Luria recommended that the lead commander in the Pacific, Adm. John Aquilino, directly and regularly advise the president on the matter.
“This is our number one defense issue,” Luria said. “The sense of urgency that you get from the commander in the theater … the level of urgency, concern, and investment in this, we could clearly see that go up.”
To that end, Luria urged people to consider the ramifications of a world in which the United States did not commit to the defense of Taiwan.
“If you think about what happens if China invaded Taiwan, what follows from that?” Luria said. “I think that that’s not acceptable to any Americans or any of our allies.”
“There’s really a bigger question,” Luria said. “The bigger question is: What is our role in deterrence? In the sense of, is the United States going to react?”