A Porcupine Doctrine Could Help Taiwan Fight Off China
Another possible flashpoint requires our attention while the world takes a breather following the first frenetic six months of the war in Ukraine: Taiwan. Pelosi's visit to Taiwan has angered the Chinese authorities, who have recently ramped up their aggressive patrolling and overflights of Taiwan's air defence zone while conducting frequent military drills. What plan does Taiwan have in place should China try to seize it by force?
The "porcupine doctrine" is an asymmetrical warfare tactic that emphasises bolstering a weak state's defences to exploit the enemy's weaknesses rather than taking on its strengths. It was first put forth in 2008 by US Naval War College research professor William S. Murray. Defences are being constructed such that Taiwan "might be attacked and damaged but not defeated, at least not at unacceptable costs and dangers." The porcupine strategy has three distinct defensive layers. To make sure the defence forces are completely prepared, intelligence and reconnaissance are important on the outer layer. Behind this are plans for maritime guerrilla warfare supported by US-supplied advanced planes. The island's topography and population make up the innermost layer. This doctrine's overarching goal is to endure and absorb an aerial assault well enough to plan a wall of fire that will stop the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) from effectively advancing. The second monitoring layer would make it challenging for China to land its troops on the island in the face of a guerrilla war at sea employing agile, missile-armed small ships, accompanied by helicopters and missile launchers. The outer surveillance layer would seek to prevent a surprise attack. The island's rugged landscape and urbanised atmosphere would provide defenders an advantage when it comes to slowing down an invasion, even if Chinese troops were already on Taiwanese soil.
The idea says that if making one's country completely immune to ambitious bullies is impractical, it may be preferable to increase the cost of any intrusion to a level that the aggressor will find intolerable. In other words, give the hunter such a difficult welcome that, even if the balance of military probabilities points to his eventual success, he decides against invading due to the suffering he will have to face. Being a porcupine is a risky tactic that necessitates a radical shift from traditional military thinking on defence resources, instruction, and structures.
A risk exists with a porcupine strategy, of course. It is intrinsically dangerous to focus on weapons that are less advanced than contemporary submarines, planes, and tanks. But if the amount of assistance for Ukraine is kept up, the West's supply of gifts will eventually run out. Will China look for a chance to strike before Taiwan can also receive top-notch equipment? China, meanwhile, will have learned two crucial lessons from the conflict in Ukraine. Firstly, the power of an international alliance. Naturally, military equipment is important, but Russia has been astounded by the success of the global coalition of political and economic goodwill for Ukraine. Second, and this is a key one, war is never as simple as the bully believes it will be. China's yearly defence expenditure of $230 billion (£189 billion) may eclipse Taiwan's $17 billion (£14 billion). That thought is made more pressing if, as Ukraine and Taiwan contend, one side is engaged in a struggle for survival.
Taiwan is vastly outclassed militarily by China. Beijing has been open about its aim to "reunite" the island with the mainland, by force or coercion if necessary, and has developed much more accurate and precise armament systems to target Taiwan over the past ten years. 2020 was probably chosen by Chinese leaders as a critical date for the PLA to acquire the necessary capabilities to invade Taiwan. The PLA has been methodically planning, preparing, and constructing the forces it thinks are necessary to attack the island for nearly 20 years in order to accomplish its goal. The necessary tools for an air and naval blockade, cyberattacks, and missile strikes against Taiwan have already been acquired by the PLA. The basic capability required to launch a high-risk invasion of Taiwan if instructed to do so by CCP officials is likely now or shortly to be present, according to PLA leaders.
Taiwan's defence spending has not changed quickly enough for it to arm itself in accordance with the porcupine strategy, despite the fact that it still formally adheres to the asymmetric warfare policy. Analysts observe that Russia keeps investing in pricey conventional weapons. The Taiwanese military has been "resisting steps to adopt a more asymmetric stance," lamented the security review panel. Of course, there are many who question how the US will support Taiwan in its war against China. Everything is dependent on how ferociously the Chinese act. When seen in this light, Pelosi may be correct when she asserts that Taiwan wouldn't be allowed to defend itself against Chinese assault.
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