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Getting Taiwan Right: The House NDAA’s Language on Taiwan Must Remain

(US Capitol. Source: “iStock.”)

By: John Gastright, Eric Lee, and Colby Ferland |

The Project 2049 Institute applauds the House Armed Services Committee for passing its version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2023 (H.R.7900), specifically with language concerning Taiwan (Republic of China, ROC). Taiwan is a beacon of democratic values in the world and a critical U.S. partner in trade and regional security. As former Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo alluded, a Taiwan emergency is an American emergency. More broadly, it is in the national interest of the United States to promote regional peace and stability. To do so, America should better support Taiwan’s efforts against relentless coercion by the People’s Republic of China (PRC, China) under the rule of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Additionally, Washington should take steps to coordinate with Taipei in preparing for cross-Strait crisis scenarios. The House version of the NDAA includes elements on Taiwan that would achieve these objectives.

Arms sales, bilateral security dialogues, and specialized military training are some of the key aspects in the longstanding U.S.-Taiwan defense relationship. However, as we face an increasingly aggressive People’s Liberation Army (PLA), significant challenges remain when it comes to operating together. The United States and Taiwan do not have joint planning or large-scale combined exercises, and deconflicting during contingency has not been addressed. Taiwan is not allowed to participate in multilateral exercises, many of which the U.S. leads. Further, the U.S. military has more interaction with the PLA than it does with the ROC Armed Forces. We spend more time unilaterally identifying ways to not destroy Taiwan–as collateral damage–rather than training with Taiwan and cooperating on ways to deter and defeat a common adversary.

The House version of this year’s NDAA includes language that would begin to address some of these issues.[1] Section 1312 of this bill would invite Taiwan to the next Rim of the Pacific Exercise, a multilateral military exercise that provides visibility to participants on how others conduct military operations in the Indo-Pacific. Section 1313 would authorize the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command to carry out joint exercises with the ROC Armed Forces in multiple warfare domains and make extensive use of military common operations networks used by the U.S. and its allies. These initiatives would not only enhance Taiwan’s defense readiness by raising the level of their military training, but also begin filling a gap with bilateral operational challenges. Facing a common adversary, Taiwan’s readiness is U.S. readiness.

In addition, several items in the committee’s report on the NDAA would strengthen U.S. framing and understanding of the challenge in the Taiwan Strait.[2] Arms sales are the most visible representation of U.S. commitment to Taiwan. However, several potential sales to Taiwan have been denied by the U.S. government, and multiple approved transactions are experiencing delays. Failure to deliver on our defense commitments undermines the U.S. position and weakens Taiwan’s defense. The briefing on “Arms Deliveries to Threatened Democracies” would provide greater clarity to existing challenges related to foreign military sales (FMS) to Taiwan. As arms sales directly impact Taiwan’s operational readiness, a stalled and broken FMS process could indirectly support the hollowing out of Taiwan’s defense.

The briefing on “Taiwan Air and Missile Defense Capabilities” would provide a timely assessment to help the U.S. better understand Taiwan’s defensive capability and capacity against PLA air and missile threats, Taiwan’s efforts to improve its air defense capabilities, interoperability between U.S. and Taiwan air defense systems, and recommendations on how best to support Taiwan’s expeditious acquisition of air defense capabilities. As air and missile attacks remain a salient tool for the PLA in coercive and annihilative scenarios, Taiwan’s resiliency in this regard is critical.

Foreign military assistance remains one of the most powerful foreign policy tools the United States possesses, as demonstrated in the war in Ukraine. Ultimately, deterrence failed in Ukraine. But there were measures that effectively enhanced Ukraine’s ability to defend against Russian aggression. The report on “Lessons from Aggression Against Ukraine” would assess lessons learned from Ukraine that could be applied to Taiwan, as well as measures that could have assisted deterrence or further enhanced Ukraine’s defense capabilities. Facing the CCP’s increasing aggression against Taiwan, now is a critical time to evaluate Taiwan’s defense capabilities and assess ways to enhance deterrence in the Taiwan Strait.

Senior-level wargames and tabletop exercises mobilizing whole-of-government expertise are instructive for better shaping operations, force structure, planning, and coordination by testing policy innovations, introducing new technologies and capabilities, and challenging existing assumptions in the event of conflict with the PRC. As the CCP would likely employ coercive measures prior to and alongside an annihilative campaign, such simulations are critical to test military, diplomatic, and economic responses, as well as the domestic resiliency of the United States. As such, the Project 2049 Institute aligns with the House Armed Services Committee in supporting the Pentagon’s use of wargames and tabletop exercises. The briefing on “Strategic Competitor Wargames and Tabletop Exercises” would provide greater coordination between the Congress, the Department of Defense and relevant government agencies as well as the private sector to maximize the breadth of national power in potential crisis scenarios.

The House version of the NDAA takes an important step forward regarding U.S. support for Taiwan’s defense by calling for action that emulates an organized alliance management system. Much of the contemporary debate on the issue revolves around what Taiwan should do to enhance its defense, and how the U.S. should likewise prepare. The Project 2049 Institute is in firm belief that there should be much greater focus on what the U.S. government and military is doing in partnership with Taiwan to guarantee that lessons from Ukraine are being learned in a collaborative way so that Washington and Taipei can work efficiently to deter or, if necessary, defeat CCP aggression against Taiwan.

The United States places the onus on Taiwan to take urgent measures to defend itself against China. While it is important that Taiwan undertakes difficult reforms to enhance its defense, the United States should not wait and should not place preconditions on its willingness to take more urgent measures to support Taipei. Further, there is a limit to Taiwan’s unilateral deterrence capability, and likewise far more that the United States can do regarding CCP deterrence. War in the Taiwan Strait can be prevented. The House version of the NDAA’s inclusions for Taiwan appear to recognize this urgency, and the Project 2049 Institute is eager to see them enacted.


[1] “Text: H.R.7900,” Congress.gov, May 27, 2022, at https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/7900/text.

[2] “H. Rept. 117-397,part i,” Congress.gov, July 1, 2022, at https://www.congress.gov/congressional-report/117th-congress/house-report/397/1.