Challenges in deterrence: How to avoid a conflict with China?

As relations between China and Taiwan get worse, the international community is looking for ways to keep them from fighting.

Some military experts say that there needs to be a strong response and more arms sent to Taiwan, while others say that this stance could, in a strange way, make war more likely. Let’s look at the problems with deterrence in the present world of politics.

The key to stopping someone

The word “deterrence” itself is one of the biggest problems the United States has when it comes to stopping its enemies. Merriam-Webster says that “deter” means “to stop, discourage, or stop someone from doing something.”

But we haven’t paid much attention to the first part of that definition and have mostly just focused on the last line. A wide range of political and economic tools can be used to get rid of an enemy, but “preventing action” has almost become synonymous with military tools only.

The irony of Taiwan being armed

Many experts say that the lack of resolve and arms sent to Ukraine before the Russian attack showed that the West couldn’t stop Putin. In the case of China and Taiwan, these people say that the best way to avoid a war is to act more aggressively toward Beijing and give Taipei heavy weapons as soon as possible. But the truth is almost the exact opposite, and if that way of thinking became US policy, it could increase Taiwan’s chances of war, not lower them.

The mistake of thinking

Some people say that Putin would not have invaded Ukraine in February 2022 if the United States had given Ukraine a lot of military weapons. These same experts think that the best way to stop China from taking over Taiwan is to fix what they say Ukraine did wrong and arm Taiwan quickly and strongly.

His point is clear: if Taiwan had enough help and weapons, China wouldn’t try to take over the island because Xi Jinping would think the military cost would be too high. But this point of view is wrong because it is based on the idea that sending more weapons to Ukraine earlier would not have stopped Putin.

Lessons in history

In fact, it’s more possible that Putin would have moved faster and done the opposite. The events of 2014, when Ukraine’s legally elected government was overthrown and replaced by a pro-Western leader, caused worry in the Kremlin.

The violence the Ukrainian army used against the people in the east of the country, who were rebelling against the new leader, started a civil war, and battle lines were made between the eastern and western parts of Ukraine. In this situation, the Russian army helped the Russian-speaking people fight against the government in Kyiv.

On the other hand, NATO has ignored Putin’s warnings since 2008 about how dangerous it would be for Ukraine to join the armed alliance of the West. The formal NATO statement in June 2021 reaffirmed the decision made at the Bucharest Summit in 2008 that Ukraine would join the Alliance.

Later that year, as Russian troops gathered on Ukraine’s borders, Putin said he wanted to make “concrete agreements” with NATO to stop Ukraine from joining the alliance. Putin’s words got a strong response from NATO leaders. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told Zelensky at a news conference that NATO was already training, advising, and giving equipment to the Ukrainian military.

This made it clear that the “nat-ization” of Ukraine was already happening. NATO’s defiant stance did not stop Putin from invading Ukraine. Instead, it made the attack more likely because Russia was afraid that NATO would eventually enter Ukraine.

Risks of giving more money to the military

There are reasons to think that the same thing could happen between China and Taiwan if the West tries to give Taiwan more military backing. In a bold move to show Beijing that it means business, the US has stepped up its work with Taiwan’s government. The US military force has grown by building more bases in Japan, Guam, the Philippines, and Palau.

The US Navy wants more money to improve its military power in the Indo-Pacific, and Congress is considering giving Taiwan many more weapons. All of these things are done to stop China from taking over Taiwan.

But these steps will likely have the reverse effect. Xi Jinping has also worked hard to build up the military to retake the island, and he has ensured that his army can beat the US Navy and Air Force if they get involved in a situation involving Taiwan. Putin built up his military to fight against NATO’s efforts to help Ukraine get stronger so it could join the alliance. Xi has been doing the same thing to prepare for war with the US military if it decides to fight for Taiwan.

How important is the diplomacy

If NATO had taken a more diplomatic approach before February 2022, it is likely that there would not have been a war and tens of thousands of Ukrainians would still be living today. Also, the war would be less likely if the US put at least as much political and military effort into its relationships with Beijing and Taipei.

China has seen how bad the war in Russia was and doesn’t want to deal with something similar any time soon. But it’s possible that Xi Jinping thinks the fear of an unspoken alliance between Taiwan and the U.S. is worse than the damage China would have to go through in a war to keep the U.S. away from its shores.

Washington needs to have foreign tools that go beyond threats and the use of military power. China is no longer an emerging country that the US military can use to scare people away. Instead of trying to give Taiwan real or de facto freedom, the goal should be to keep war from happening. “Strategic ambiguity” has helped keep the Taiwan Straits peaceful for decades. The United States has kept a strong economic pledge to Taipei and kept diplomatic ties at a low level, which hasn’t made China worry too much.


In the world we live in now, where violence is common, and perfection is impossible to reach, it is important to take sensible steps to keep China from starting a war and to urge Taiwan to find a way to live peacefully with China. It’s not about making Taiwan a part of China. Instead, it’s about trying to live together peacefully in a world that isn’t perfect.

Frequently Asked Questions about Deterrence and Challenges in Relations with China and Taiwan

1: Is giving China more military backing the best way to stop it from going to war with Taiwan?

No, not always. Some people say that giving Taiwan more military backing might scare China away, but there is a chance that this could make things worse instead of stop fighting.

2. Why is it important to deal with China and Taiwan in a civil way?

Diplomacy is a key part of keeping people from fighting and stopping fights from happening. Strong diplomatic ties and open communication can help people find peaceful answers and keep them from having to fight.

3. What does “strategic ambiguity” mean when it comes to ties between Taiwan and China?

The strategy of “strategic ambiguity” is to keep things unclear about Taiwan’s independence intentionally. Instead of wanting full freedom, it wants to keep the Taiwan Strait peaceful and stable.

4. How can the United States and other countries help stop a war between China and Taiwan?

In addition to military actions, it is important to strengthen diplomatic ties, support dialogue, and look for peaceful solutions. Stability in the area can be helped by getting economically involved and supporting Taiwan without getting into a direct conflict with China.

5. What part does the rest of the world play in keeping China and Taiwan from fighting?
The work of the world community greatly helps peace and stability in the area. Supporting diplomacy, mediating disagreements, and supporting respect for international law are all important ways for China and Taiwan to avoid fighting and keep their relationship stable.