By Jimmy Quinn
One of the fiercest ongoing debates in the Beltway foreign-policy world is the overlap between weapons that the U.S. is sending Ukraine and those that Taiwan needs to build up “porcupine”-style defenses to fight off a Chinese invasion. That’s because the degree to which there is overlap could determine U.S. priorities for weapons deliveries, especially considering the ongoing strains on America’s defense-industrial base.
So, just how much overlap is there? Michael Allen and Conor Pfeiffer, of Beacon Global Strategies and the Forum for American Leadership, respectively, have written a primer on this for the Wall Street Journal, outlining areas of overlap between the two U.S. partners’ needs. They write that the overlap is not as significant as many might think and offer some thoughts on how to prioritize the delivery of systems sought by both:
Ukraine and Taiwan don’t need the same things. There is a large category of U.S. capabilities that are critical in the Pacific and that haven’t been provided to Ukraine. Taiwan is an island. To fight off a Chinese invasion it needs to develop its own undersea platforms and to field sea mines and fast-attack craft. For U.S. forces involved in a potential defense of Taiwan, the most critical capabilities would include bombers, attack submarines, hypersonic missiles and, especially, long-range antiship missiles. By the same token, many capabilities provided for Ukraine’s ground war, such as armored vehicles, counter-artillery radar, air-to-ground rockets and small arms, aren’t at the top of the list of what Taiwan needs from the U.S., according to numerous unclassified expert analyses. Aid to Taiwan and Ukraine isn’t zero-sum.
Where there is an overlap of preferred military capabilities, some prioritization is in order. The TOW antitank missiles, M1 Abrams tanks, and high-speed antiradiation missiles that Washington has supplied to Kyiv would have some applicability in the Pacific, but they are less critical to Taiwan in the short term. Ukraine, however, needs them right now. Similarly, weapons like the Harpoon antiship missile will be crucial to Taiwan’s air-sea battle. Taiwan has so far received Harpoons only from U.S. allies. The U.S. should move delivery of Taiwan’s pending Harpoon orders to the front of the line and, in the meantime, make transfers from its own stockpile of missiles slated for demilitarization or deep storage.
They also go on to address several other crucial systems in the piece, including Stingers, Javelins, HIMARS, and Patriot air-defense systems.
Outlining the similarities and differences between the lists of weapons requested by Taiwan and Ukraine is an important task, primarily because doing that helps to add context to the debate about U.S. priorities in Europe versus those in Asia. It offers perspective on whether, or just how much, continued U.S. assistance to Ukraine actually hinders efforts to build Taiwan’s capabilities.
The Pentagon might deliver a report on this potential overlap in the near future. The House passed its version of the National Defense Authorization Act last week, with a provision that requires the secretary of defense to compare weapons that Ukraine and Taiwan each need, as well as an assessment of the ability of U.S. supply chains to sustain the delivery of those systems. If that part of the bill, proposed by Representative Lisa McClain, remains in the legislation as it is reviewed by the Senate, the Pentagon would be required to deliver that report by sometime in 2024. It would be an important assessment, though delivered a full two years into the Russian invasion. But better late than never.