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Preparing Taiwan for the Fight: US Quietly Fortifying Its Island Ally

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The United States, in a strategic move that is garnering increasing attention, is arming Taiwan to the teeth, signaling a robust commitment to its long-standing ally in the face of a growing threat from China.

Recently, when US President Joe Biden approved an $80 million grant to Taiwan for the acquisition of American military equipment, it might have seemed like a modest sum in the grand scheme of international relations. After all, Taiwan already has more than $14 billion worth of US military equipment on order. However, this time, something crucial has changed.

What sets this $80 million grant apart is that it doesn’t come as a loan; it comes from American taxpayers. Remarkably, for the first time in over four decades, the US is utilizing its own funds to provide weapons to a place it officially doesn’t diplomatically recognize as a sovereign state. This unprecedented move is part of a program known as foreign military finance (FMF), which, until recently, exclusively benefited countries or organizations acknowledged by the United Nations – and Taiwan is not among them.

For years, the US has maintained a delicate balance, selling just enough weapons to Taiwan to defend itself against a potential Chinese attack while avoiding destabilizing relations with Beijing. This diplomatic tightrope walk was known as “strategic ambiguity.” However, the military landscape across the Taiwan Strait has undergone a seismic shift in the last decade, tipping significantly in favor of China. As a result, Washington’s approach has been evolving, even though it insists that its policy has not fundamentally changed.

In Taipei, the shift in America’s stance towards Taiwan is unmistakable. Washington is now pushing Taiwan to bolster its military capacity urgently, signaling a message of strategic clarity to Beijing that they stand together. According to Wang Ting-yu, a legislator with close ties to Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen, this $80 million grant is just the beginning. In July, President Biden approved the sale of military services and equipment worth $500 million to Taiwan, highlighting the growing support.

Additionally, Taiwan is making unprecedented moves, such as preparing to send two battalions of ground troops to the US for training – a practice that has not occurred since the 1970s. The real significance, however, lies in the financial commitment, potentially amounting to $10 billion over the next five years. Unlike conventional deals involving military equipment, FMF allows the US to send weapons directly from its own stockpile, bypassing lengthy approval processes.

While Ukraine has faced challenges in receiving military aid due to a divided Congress, Taiwan enjoys broader bipartisan support. The recent conflicts in Gaza and Ukraine have strained America’s arms supply, including that to Taiwan, but the urgency of the situation is clear.

When questioned about how US funds will be used, Taiwanese authorities remain tight-lipped, but experts suggest a focus on critical equipment like Javelin and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles. Taiwan urgently needs these highly effective weapons, as seen in Ukraine, where demand has outstripped supply.

The sobering reality is that Taiwan is woefully underprepared for a potential Chinese attack. It possesses outdated battle tanks, inadequate modern missile systems, and an army command structure, tactics, and doctrine that have remained stagnant for half a century. Many front-line units operate with just 60% of the required manpower. Additionally, Taiwan’s counter-intelligence operations in China are reportedly non-existent, and its military conscription system is deeply flawed.

Recognizing the urgency, the US has begun retraining Taiwan’s army, which has long prioritized its navy and air force, believing that an invasion of the island would be too risky for China. However, China’s rapid military buildup, including the world’s largest navy and a superior air force, has rendered this strategy obsolete.

Now, Taiwan is shifting toward a “fortress Taiwan” strategy, focusing on ground troops, infantry, and artillery to repel potential invaders. But this transition depends on its outdated army, which remains entrenched in outdated military doctrine.

The world’s geopolitical landscape has shifted dramatically, with China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea and East China Sea alarming neighboring nations. This has prompted a reconfiguration of alliances in the region, from the Quad to Aukus, strengthening defense cooperation.

In Washington, a spirited debate rages over how far the US should go in supporting Taiwan. While some argue that a public commitment could provoke Beijing, others emphasize the necessity of arming Taiwan robustly while maintaining strategic ambiguity.

As the geopolitical chessboard continues to evolve, one thing is clear: the United States is quietly but resolutely preparing Taiwan for a fight, underscoring the island’s significance and commitment to its defense in a changing world order.

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