The American Interestrnby Srdja TrifkovicrnThe Taiwanese Election:rnImplications for U.S. SecurityrnThe outcome of Taiwan’s presidentialrnelection in March is potentially the mostrnsignificant single event affecting Americanrnsecurity since the fall of the BerlinrnWall. Most analysts have failed to addressrnthe hindamental dilemma that Taiwanrnnow presents for the defense strategyrnof the United States. The issue is fairlyrnsimple: Are our overseas commitmentsrnpermanent and immutable, in whichrncase the future of this country and the restrnof the world is at the mercy of some distantrnland’s electoral whims; or shouldrnthose commitments be reexamined inrnthe light of changing political circumstancesrnabroad?rnFor over 50 years, Taiwan was ridedrnby the Chinese nationalist Kuomintangrn(KMT), which retreated there in 1949 afterrnChiang Kai-shek was defeated by MaornTse-tung’s Communists in the civil war.rnThe KMT old guard regarded the islandrnas an integral part of China, and forrndecades it clamped down on any displayrnof Taiwanese particularism, let alone separatism.rnBy the early 1970’s, the claim of “thernRepublic of China” to represent the onlyrnlegitimate Chinese government was nornlonger taken seriously by the rest of thernworld, and most Taiwanese appearedrnmore interested in economic prosperityrnthan in forcing the issue of their island’srnambiguous status. Until three monthsrnago, however, Chiang’s successors inrnTaipei could agree with Mao’s successorsrnin Peking on one critical issue: that reunificationrnwas desirable and inevitable.rnThis accord provided the basis for an uneasyrnbut manageable status quo.rnFor decades, the U.S. security guaranteernto Taiwan was implicitly based on thisrnkey premise. But last March, the separatistrnDemocratic Progressive Party (DPP),rnsupported mostly by the native Taiwanese,rnwon the presidential election (albeitrnwith only 39.3 percent of the vote, due tornan internal split within the KMT), andrnthe equation is qualitatively differentrnnow. Although the new president, ChenrnShui-bian, has toned down his pro-independencernrhetoric, Peking is deeply andrnunderstandably imhappy with this outcome.rnFrom the mainland Chinesernpoint of view, the KMT Chinese nationalistsrnwere schismatics —but the DPPrnseparatists are heretics.rnThis outcome comes at a time whenrnthe Clinton administration’s inconsistentrnpolicies toward both Taipei and Peking—rnand especially its decision to sell sophisticatedrnweaponry to Taiwan—have effectivelyrndemolished the Chinese-Americanrndetente built by Nixon and Kissinger inrnthe early 1970’s. The incoherence of thernClinton/Gore team’s China strategy emboldenedrnthe outgoing KMT governmentrnto risk confrontation with the mainland.rnIn addition, it has encouragedrnTaiwanese separatists to conclude thatrnthey would remain under an Americanrnsecurity umbrella even if their actionsrnpresent an intolerable challenge tornPeking.rnAmerica’s allies in the region are veryrnworried. Their fears were summarizedrnby the Korea Times on March 20:rnGiven, on the one hand, the entrenchedrnAmerican mindset and itsrnpattern of behavior with an ever escalatingrnair of invincibility and selfrighteousness,rnand, China, on thernother hand, with its increasing irritationrnand frustration over Taiwan,rnreinforced by its growing economicrnpower and nationalistic redemption,rna war between the two will notrnbe avoidable.rnOther Asian countries understand that,rnwhile the United States has no vital interestrninvolved in Taiwan, Peking does.rnThis is an issue over which China willrnfight: If it is seen to waver on Taiwan,rnits hold over Sinkiang, Tibet, or evenrnManchuria may become tenuous, and itsrnstatus as a great power compromised.rnChina’s determination is reflected inrnits pressure on its neighbors to scale downrntheir relations with Taipei. Significandy,rnAmerica’s allies along the Pacific Rimrnhave responded. Japan, South Korea,rnand the Philippines have all given discreternnotification to Washington thatrntheir “mutual defense” treaties with thernUnited States do not cover contingenciesrnin the Taiwan Strait.rnIn the next stage, the Chinese mayrnpresent the United States with a clear-cutrnquestion: Would you be prepared to go tornwar against us if we act to prevent Taiwanrnfrom proclaiming independence? If thernUnited States does not ponder this questionrnsoon it will paint itself into a cornerrnand reduce its options to the choice betweenrna humiliating retreat or an unpredictablernmilitary escalation that couldrnlead to nuclear war. If that happens, notrna single country in East Asia will side withrnAmerica. Tokyo would declare neutrality,rnirrevocably altering the regional balance.rnAs the Korean editorialist concludes:rn[W]ithout good relations with China,rnthe U.S. position will inevitablyrnsuffer a downward slide, and withoutrnresolving the thorny issue ofrnTaiwan, there will never be goodrnrelations with Beijing.. .. Perhapsrnthe U.S. leaders ought to re-readrnthe golden advice of the FoundingrnFathers concerning the nation’srnconduct of foreign relations…rnIndeed, permanent American securityrnguarantees to distant countries are a badrnidea in principle. The fact that we don’trnlike the murderous commies who stillrnrun the show in Peking is simply irrelevantrnhere: Risking an all-out war with thernmost populous country in the world —rnand a nuclear power capable of obliteratingrna few American cities — over the wayrnone of its provinces is governed is plainlyrnludicrous. Persisting with the risk, evenrnwhen the new rulers of that provincernwant to turn it into a new country, is irresponsiblernand potentially disastrous.rnThe security of the United States mustrnnot be made dependent on the outcomernof elections thousands of miles away.rnOnly by disentangling itself from itsrnmany passionate attachments around thernglobe—from the Middle East to Korea,rnfrom the Balkans to the Baltics —willrnAmerica regain its ability to define arnstrategic doctrine based on its genuinernnational interests. Then America may rediscoverrna foreign policy that balances rationalrnobjectives and the limited resourcesrnused in their pursuit. crnf