American civilian leadership tramples on US security interests for domestic political agenda
Published: Jul 26, 2022 01:32 AM
US Taiwan policy Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

US Taiwan policy Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

The Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, has been planning to visit Taiwan for some time now. Initially she had hoped to visit in April but was forced to postpone her visit because she tested positive for COVID-19. Pelosi is now again planning to visit Taiwan in August. But a strange thing happened on the way to the travel bureau—President Joe Biden, speaking to reporters, stated that "the military thinks it's not a good idea right now" for Pelosi to travel to Taiwan. 

It should be noted that the President is not the normal conduit of information between US military leadership and the Speaker of the House (who is second in the line of succession for the presidency and, as such, is kept well briefed.) Indeed, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff himself, General Mark Milley, was among the senior military officials who were briefing Pelosi on issues like China, Taiwan question, and the potential ramifications of a visit by what would be the highest-ranking US delegation ever to the island of 24 million people that stands at the center of US-Chinese tensions today. The fact that Joe Biden felt compelled to echo what the military had already told Pelosi underscores the reality that the Speaker of the House appears to be bound and determined to make the trip, regardless of the consequences. 

The military's job is the defense of the nation. To the extent that senior military leadership interfaces with the civilian leaders of the United States, it is for the purpose of providing professional advice on military matters. The military does not make policy, but rather implements it. However, as the ones who will be called upon to undertake the heavy lifting for any task set forth by their civilian masters, it is the responsibility of senior military officers, especially those who have been selected to serve as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to apprise those who make policy of the military consequences of that policy. It is clear from the stance taken by President Biden in echoing the warnings that had been provided by General Milley and others to Pelosi that the senior leadership of the US military believed that a Pelosi visit to Taiwan would trigger a Chinese response which the armed forces of the United States would not be in position to contain and/or defeat.

In short, Pelosi's planned trip to Taiwan would trigger a military clash with China that the US could not, at this point in time, win.

China has been warning senior US officials for some time now about the potential dire consequences of US words and deeds when it came to Taiwan question. While the US ostensibly has promulgated a policy—known as the "One China" policy—which recognizes that Taiwan is a part of China, one of the consequences of the heightened geopolitical tensions between the US and China is a growing shift in the tenor and tone of US statements regarding Taiwan, which have been interpreted by China as deliberately encouraging the concept of Taiwan independence.

While the official Chinese position is that it would prefer to pursue the peaceful unification of Taiwan with China, it will not hesitate to use "non-peaceful means" (i.e., by force) if Taiwan sought to become independent. This policy, and the consequences of continued American indifference to it, has been forcefully articulated by Chinese officials to the National Security Advisor (Jake Sullivan), the Secretary of State (Antony Blinken), and the Secretary of Defense (Lloyd Austin.) 

There can be no doubt that the senior policymakers and advisers in the Biden administration know and understand the Chinese position regarding the Taiwan question, and that the US military leadership has briefed these persons on the dire consequences which would accrue if the US were to act in a manner which disregarded China's stance. That Nancy Pelosi would consider a trip to Taiwan at such a sensitive time in US-Chinese relations underscores another reality about American civilian leadership—that they often make decisions on foreign and national security policy based upon domestic political considerations (i.e., being seen as standing up to China) with little regard to the real-world consequences of their actions, which in this case could mean triggering a war with China the US military is not prepared to fight, and cannot win.

The author is a former US Marine Corps intelligence officer. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn