Biden once again gave some ill-advised answers on Taiwan in an interview with 60 Minutes:
"But would U.S. forces defend the island?" Pelley asked.
"Yes, if in fact there was an unprecedented attack," Mr. Biden said.
"So unlike Ukraine, to be clear, sir," Pelley said, "U.S. forces, U.S. men and women would defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion?"
"Yes," the president said.
This is the fourth time that the president has wrongly said or implied that the U.S. has a security commitment to defend Taiwan. By itself, it would be an unfortunate mistake, but it is part of a pattern of gradually eroding the status quo over Taiwan in what seems to be an arbitrary and careless way on the assumption that the U.S. can get away with making unilateral changes without serious consequences. The danger of repeatedly stating a willingness to go to war over Taiwan is that the Chinese government may conclude that it needs to take more aggressive measures in response, and by severely undermining the status quo that has kept the peace for decades the president is making war more likely.
This would be unwise at the best of times, and it is even more so when the U.S. is in such a poor position to make good on the president’s invented commitment. The U.S. is already overstretched as it is, and an additional security commitment that could involve the U.S. in a major war puts the U.S. in the bad position of making a promise it can’t honor. The hawkish solution to close the gap is to throw even more money at the Pentagon and to engage in a massive military buildup, but the better solution is not to overreach with unnecessary security guarantees in the first place.
The U.S. is not obliged to fight for Taiwan, and U.S. officials should not act and talk as if it is. The president has no authority to take the U.S. to war on his own, and unless U.S. territories or forces came under attack as part of a Chinese invasion he could not legally send them into an ongoing conflict without Congressional authorization. The decision of whether the U.S. should fight for Taiwan is not the president’s alone, and we should not tolerate a warped understanding of war powers that pretends that it is. Choosing to fight China for a non-ally ought to be unthinkable, but if it is going to be considered as an option it has to be debated and voted on by the people’s representatives. Maybe Congress would vote overwhelmingly in favor of such a motion, and maybe they wouldn’t, but it is unconscionable that a decision of this magnitude would be left to any one person.
Just as worrying as Biden’s willingness to commit to a war with China over Taiwan were his remarks about Taiwanese independence. Biden said:
We agree with what we signed onto a long time ago. And that there’s one China policy, and Taiwan makes their own judgments about their independence. We are not moving – we’re not encouraging their being independent. We’re not – that – that’s their decision.
As Jessica Chen Weiss explainedlast night, the president both repeated a commitment to defend Taiwan and misstated the U.S. position on Taiwanese independence:
@POTUS’ comments are dangerous, even if not an official change in policy (per @WhiteHouse clarification). More explicit here than in previous gaffes is the suggestion that the US would send troops to fight for Taiwan, regardless of what Taiwan does.
Not supporting Taiwan independence is longstanding US policy. But this new combo (a pledge to send troops + decisions about independence are Taiwan’s) suggests an unconditional commitment, one that will strengthen perceptions that the U.S. is issuing Taiwan a blank check.
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Daniel Larison is a weekly columnist for Antiwar.com and maintains his own site at Eunomia. He is former senior editor at The American Conservative. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.