The Stone City

Words Made to Last

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Protecting Taiwan

"Now that," Case said to his glass, all his bitterness suddenly rising in him like bile, "that is so much bullshit."

My recent post, criticizing Glenn Reynolds for casually suggesting that America should perhaps arm Taiwan with nuclear weapons, has attracted sufficient comments that it is worth addressing them in a separate post.

One commenter suggested a historical parallel between Taiwan and pre-WWII Czechoslovakia; we will explore both this analogy, and that of post-WWII West Germany. First, a brief time line.

28 October 1918: With Austria-Hungary facing defeat and collapse, Czechoslovakia declares its independence. It is quickly recognized by the Allied powers.
13 March 1938: Germany annexes Austria.
30 September 1938: Chamberlain and accede to Hitler's demands at Munich.
15 March 1939: German army invades Czechoslovakia.

December 1946: American and British zones of occupied Germany are merged to form "Bizonia" [sic].
June 1948: German currency reform
June 1948 -- May 1949: Berlin blockade.
21 September 1949: Federal Republic of Germany formed at the invitation of the Western Allies.
1948 -- 1990: Cold war.

Of course, West Germany was not sold out. American forces remained as a tripwire, implementing Truman's postwar policy of containment of the Soviet empire. These forces, inadequate in themselves, were backed with a credible threat of the use of atomic weapons should they be overrun.

The analogous strategy with Taiwan should be obvious. No nuclear arming of proxies is required, just as Germany is to this day non-nuclear. But the first step to this kind of protection is official recognition that Taiwan is a nation. Shamefully, America still has given no such recognition, due to Chinese pressure. Compare this with the response, measured in days, to Czechoslovakia's independence in 1918.

It is likely that America, for its own part, has held off recognition in order to retain it as a bargaining chip against China. I think this is a losing strategy, since it gives China an incentive to prolong the crisis. This is the real coupling between Taiwan and North Korea.

My interlocutors suggest that we should arm a nation whose nationhood we do not recognize, as a blow in a war we will not admit is being fought. I will unambiguously support Taiwanese nationhood. I will support a U.S. presence there, in defense of that nationhood, commensurate with what we currently (and unnecessarily) maintain in South Korea.

And I will continue to maintain that Mr. Reynolds's suggestion is "suicidally stupid." It takes a special kind of insouciance to reach for nuclear weapons first, and diplomacy second. It's not only overkill, but ignores the obvious prerequisite -- the equivalent of attacking a fly with a machine gun, when you not only have a flyswatter but have to push it aside to get the gun.