Video Above: Would a "No-Fly" Zone Create Massive World War III with Russia?
The Pentagon continues to take clear and decisive measures to ensure Russia’s invasion of Ukraine does not escalate into a WWIII kind of Russia-NATO confrontation, as evidenced by a number of key developments such as the reluctance to impose a no-fly zone, transfer Polish fighter planes or commit any actual “fighters” or forces on the ground.
For instance, DoD’s decision to avoid sending Patriot Missile batteries to Ukraine, given that it would require putting US personnel on the ground to train Ukrainians on the system. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby was clear that this decision was in large measure due to concerns about possible escalation which might accompany such a move.
What about Taiwan? Does the US operate with similar caution regarding a massive confrontation with China over its “one-China” policy? Certainly a large-scale war with China could, in conventional terms, be much more threatening and serious than any NATO-Russia confrontation.
However, when asked about Taiwan during his trip to Asia, President Biden made it clear that the US would defend the island nation militarily, saying “yes..that is the commitment we made.”
When asked about Biden’s remarks by a reporter at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was non-committal and clear not to speak for the President. Austin let Biden’s comments stand for themselves.
“Our One China policy has not changed. He reiterated that policy and our commitment to peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. He also highlighted our commitment under the Taiwan Relations Act to help provide Taiwan the means to defend itself. So again, our policy has not changed,” Austin said.
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Military action against a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, however, is a complicated and quite nuanced question, given that Taiwan is an island only 100 miles off the Chinese coast and surrounded by vast swaths of ocean.
Several of Taiwan’s key stated allies such as Japan and South Korea, can be up to 1,000 miles away depending upon a point of arrival. While South Korea operates a very large 2-million strong military, largely to protect the DMZ from a North Korean invasion, they are far away and would of course be quite challenged to attack and “extract” an occupying Chinese force from Taiwan should it be annexed.
Similar dynamic with Japan, as the country’s southern island chain can approach being within 500 miles or so of Taiwan, it would also seem quite difficult to mobilize and deploy elements of its 1-million strong force in time to deter a Chinese takeover of Taiwan.
The only possibility, which seems unlikely anytime soon, would be to preposition large amounts of Japanese and South Korean armored ground forces on the Island of Taiwan prior to any Chinese attack. Once an occupying Chinese land force were entrenched and in control of the island, sending millions of Japanese, Korean and US forces in for an amphibious “liberation” exercise would doubtless be extremely costly and high risk, given the size of the People’s Liberation Army and its arsenal.
Therefore, should the Pentagon receive early intelligence that a Chinese invasion may indeed be imminent, perhaps it might make sense for Japanese and Korean soldiers and ground forces to pre-position on the island for specific, clearly-stated defensive purposes only.
Could that prove to be a deterrent? Perhaps if presented or operated in close coordination with forward-positioned US Navy assets in position to respond. In fact, given the emphasis the US Navy puts on forward “presence” in the Pacific, it seems conceivable that a US-led coalition of allies could actually stop or destroy a Chinese amphibious attack on Taiwan before it could succeed.
However, such a prospect, while clearly realistic, would likely depend upon how many US Navy assets could be forward deployed, how many submarines could respond and the speed and scale with which ocean-launched US 5th-generation aircraft could get into the air in sufficient numbers to achieve air superiority.
Kris Osborn is the President of Warrior Maven - Center for Military Modernization and the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.