A new report analyzing a war game simulation conducted by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) warns that communist China could begin expanding the scope of its power in the South China Sea and subsequently the rest of the world by taking over a small island roughly 250 miles southwest of Taiwan.
The war game simulated China using military force to takeover Pratas Island and Dongsha Atoll, where roughly 500 Taiwanese soldiers are stationed.
This type of limited aggression could be a precursor to the seizure of other islands near Taiwan or an outright invasion of the democratically governed island as Beijing seeks to test and prod Washington’s resolve to defend Taiwan.
But once China has established its own military footprint on Dongsha and removed the Taiwanese troops, the US had no credible way to compel China to return the island to the control of Taipei, the report states. Economic sanctions took too long to produce effects and appeared too weak to influence China’s decision-making, while any military action risked an escalation to war, which both the US and Taiwan want to avoid if possible.
CNAS’s report, which was titled, “The Poison Frog Strategy,” warned that the U.S. and Taiwan needed to take immediate action to stop the threat from China before China has the opportunity to make the first move.
The report’s key takeaway and policy recommendation section stated in part:
Given the inherent difficulty of defending small, distant offshore islands like Dongsha, Taiwan and the United States should strive to turn them into what the players called “poison frogs.” This approach would make Chinese attempts to seize these islands so militarily, economically, and politically painful from the outset that the costs of coercion or aggression would be greater than the benefits. Militarily, this would entail local garrisons capable of preventing a bloodless fait accompli, thereby pushing China to escalate to the use of force. Taiwan should also be prepared to destroy critical infrastructure on such islands to deny its use to China. And Taiwan and the United States should be ready to exploit China’s belligerence and aggression in the information domain. This move could help galvanize a regional or international response to Chinese aggression that would underpin a strategy of economically and politically isolating and punishing China’s leadership for this behavior.
Much as poison frogs advertise the risk they pose to predators through bright colors, executing this strategy would require the United States and Taiwan to plan, coordinate, and above all communicate their deterrence policies in advance of a crisis rather than improvising a response after China has acted. In the game scenario, once China acted aggressively it was difficult for the United States, Taiwan, and the international community to push Beijing to reverse its actions without unacceptable escalation. Additionally, most non-military responses—such as economic sanctions or trade embargoes—took too long to implement and even longer to have any effect. This finding reinforces the need to debate, develop, and prepare coordinated policies well in advance of a potential crisis or conflict.
Four-star General John E. Hyten, the outgoing Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned this week that communist China’s military progression was “stunning” and that the U.S. must take immediate action to remain the world’s preeminent superpower.
Hyten’s remarks follow a warning from House Intelligence Ranking Member Devin Nunes (R-CA) this week that the Biden administration’s focus on “wokeness” was hampering the U.S.’s ability to deter threats and win wars.
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