Below are Hudson Senior Fellow Luke Coffey's opening remarks from an Alexander Hamilton Society debate.
I would like to thank the Alexander Hamilton Society for hosting this timely event.
I want to begin by placing events in their proper context. Think about the world in February 2022 when Russia invaded Ukraine. Just six months earlier, images of Afghans falling from C-17s during America’s retreat from Kabul dominated the news. America’s defeat in Afghanistan emboldened our adversaries and created doubt with our friends. The road that led to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was paved on disaster in Kabul.
So in this context, let me start with a simple question: had the US done nothing meaningful to help Ukraine, or had Ukraine been overrun by Russia, do you think that Taiwan would be safer today?
This is why a Ukrainian victory is critically important for deterring future conflict in Taiwan. What America does in one part of the world often has an impact in other parts. As Prime Minister Kishida of Japan said, “The security of the Indo-Pacific region cannot be separated from European security.”
Russia is China’s junior partner on the global stage. A weakened Russia means a weaker China. It’s no coincidence that Prime Minister Kishida visited Ukraine at the same time President Xi visited Russia earlier this year. During this visit, Xi told Putin, “Now there are changes that haven’t happened in 100 years. When we are together, we drive these changes.” Putin agreed.
As China calculates what it will do against Taiwan, Beijing is watching how the West supports—or doesn’t support—Kyiv. A victorious Ukraine makes Taiwan safer. In Alex’s article in the National Interest this week, he mentions how China is surpassing the US in the air, sea, and space domains. I agree this is concerning. He writes how we need a so-called “strategy of denial” to prevent China from successfully invading Taiwan—in his words— “by quickly disabling or destroying hundreds of Chinese ships in the invasion fleet.” The weapons we have given to Ukraine cannot help us address the shortcomings in the air, sea, and space domains or play a role in destroying a Chinese invasion fleet.
The GMLRS rockets, the older AGM-88 and AGM-88E air to surface anti-radiation missiles, and AIM-7 and AIM-9M interceptors we are sending to Ukraine are either irrelevant to an Indo-Pacific fight or are expiring anyway. Nobody can seriously claim that the 10,000 javelins or the 2,000 stingers we have given to Ukraine are somehow the determining factor in whether we can deter a Chinese invasion of Taiwan—but they were the determining factor when pushing the Russians away from Kyiv in the beginning weeks of the war. The weapons of choice for the US in a China conflict will be torpedoes, the AGM-158 JASSM and the AGM-158C LRASM strike missiles, naval mines, and Tomahawk cruise missiles. None of these have been provided to Ukraine. And the weapons given to Ukraine are all being replaced by newer systems—better preparing us for the future.
When asked if the US can help Ukraine while deterring China, the commander of US Indo-Pacific Command recently said “I haven’t been impacted at this point as it applies to my deterrence mission, so I do believe we can do both. I believe we have to do both to maintain the peace.”
In addition to the direct benefit of deterring China, there are two other indirect reasons regarding Taiwan for why US support for Ukraine matters. First are the benefits to the US economy of a stable and secure Europe. We keep hearing about how Asia is the future. In many ways, I don’t doubt this. But right now, the European market matters greatly to America. Putin is trying to undermine the stability in Europe that has allowed for the economic prosperity that benefits the US. North America and Europe account for approximately 45 percent of the global economy. The US and Europe are each other’s largest export markets. Forty-five of the 50 states—including the largest Pacific state, California—export more to Europe than to China. This matters to the American heartland too. If you are a worker Arkansas, Kentucky, and Oklahoma your state exports five times more to Europe than it does to China. When we are building something to be exported, that is an American job. European stability, which Russia now threatens, brings untold benefits to the US economy and, by extension, to the American worker.
The other reason why we cannot leave Ukraine high and dry is because of the Russian threat in an era of great power competition. Listen to what I am about to say carefully: “Russia seeks to cripple the United States, shatter NATO, and fill the void left by America’s absence.” These are not my words. These words written by Alex in an article in the Small Wars Journal titled “The United States and Russia Are Already at War” in December 2016. Alex will say that was a long time ago and times have changed. To which I would say that anyone following these issues for a long time knows that China’s claim on Taiwan was just as forceful then as it is now.
Ukraine is dismantling the conventional armed forces of the Russian Federation—one of our top adversaries—at a rate many assumed to be unthinkable and at a financial cost many people thought was impossible. We are also learning lessons from Ukraine that will make us stronger in the Indo-Pacific. Major shortcomings in our defense industrial base are being rapidly addressed. The performance of American made military equipment gets a real-world combat test in a way not possible in a peacetime environment. We are learning what works with our kit, what doesn’t work, and how to make improvements. This prepares us for future warfare in a way otherwise not possible.
Because of Ukraine, countries in East Asia have stepped up to the plate too. As President Tsai said: “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was a wake-up call to us all.” Because of the lessons learned from supporting Ukraine, American weapons are now getting to Taiwan faster than originally planned. Had we not supported Ukraine, none of this would have happened.
Finally, I want to address a point that nobody wants to discuss when it comes to the Ukraine or Taiwan debate. Not only is Alex’s position wrong, but it is also politically dangerous. Those like Alex or Bridge Colby who—in good faith—argue for prioritizing Taiwan over Ukraine are used by the isolationists to advocate against all aid to Ukraine. Mark my words: this will come back to bite them. If China someday invades Taiwan, do you really think that these isolationists—the J.D. Vances or Josh Hawleys of the world—will suddenly support sending America’s sons and daughters to fight China over a country that the US does not even recognize as being independent? It would be quite the intellectual journey to go from opposition to sending just weapons to Ukraine to supporting the deployment of US troops to Taiwan.
Unlike Alex, I understand that we must do both. We must help Ukraine and deter China. I know that we can. Right now, US aid to Ukraine amounts to four-tenths of one percent of US GDP.
We can afford to help Ukraine and to deter China.
We can’t afford not to.
The road that led to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was paved on disaster in Kabul.
Let’s not allow the road leading to a Chinese invasion of Taiwan to be paved on defeat in Ukraine.