Stopping a Taiwan Invasion

Stopping a Taiwan Invasion
(Dr. Stephen Bryen, May 23, 2022)

Transcript available below

About the speaker

Dr. Stephen Bryen is a leading expert in security strategy and technology. He has held senior positions in the Department of Defense, on Capitol Hill and as the President of a large multinational defense and technology company. Currently, Dr. Bryen is a Senior Fellow at the American Center for Democracy, the Center for Security Policy. He has served as a senior staff director of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as the Executive Director of a grassroots political organization, as the head of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, as the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Trade Security Policy, and as the founder and first director of the Defense Technology Security Administration. He is the author of Technology Security and National Power: Winners and Losers, and of three volumes of Essays in Technology, Security and Strategy. Dr. Bryen was twice awarded the Defense Department’s highest civilian honor, the Distinguished Service Medal.

He previously spoke at Westminster on the subject of: “Russia and Ukraine: What’s Next?

About the study

A Center for Security Policy specially organized Panel of Experts, all of whom have extensive experience in the Pacific and with the US Pacific command, believe the US can deter China from attacking Taiwan. The Panel’s work resulted in 34 Findings and Recommendations in the study Stopping a Taiwan Invasion. The proposals, if adopted, will discourage any attack from China and strengthen peace and security in the Pacific.

The Panel undertook the task of reviewing Pacific security in light of the constant threats to Taiwan coming from Beijing, the massing of air and naval power around the island, and “think tank” reports, now debunked by the Panel, that the US was weak and unable to maintain the balance of power around Taiwan, Japan, Korea and elsewhere in the Pacific.

The Findings and Recommendation are supported by a paper reviewing the disposition of US, allied and friendly forces in the region including US Air Force, US Navy, US Marines and US Army components.

Transcript

Introduction

Robert R. Reilly:

Hello and welcome to the Westminster Institute. I am Robert Reilly, its director. We are very happy today to welcome back to the Westminster Institute, Dr. Stephen Bryen, who is a Senior Fellow at the Center for Security Policy. He is a leading expert in security, strategy, and technology. He has held senior positions in the Department of Defense, on Capitol Hill, and as the president of a large multinational defense and technology company. He served as a senior staff director of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as head of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, and as Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Trade Security Policy, and as founder and director of the Defense Technology Security Administration.

Among other books, he is the author of Technology Security and National Power: Winners and Losers. Dr. Bryen was twice awarded the highest acknowledgement from the U.S. Department of Defense, receiving the Distinguished Service Medal. He is the chairman of the panel of experts for the study Stopping a Taiwan Invasion, which is the subject of our conversation today. Steve, welcome back.

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

Thank you. It is nice to be with you.

Robert R. Reilly:

This is a very extensive report with a truly impressive panel of senior retired generals, admirals, and other defense experts.

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

That is right.

Robert R. Reilly:

And you are the chairman of it.

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

I was the co-chairman of it. Lt. Gen. Earl Hailston, Marine general, was the co-chairman, so the two of us met over a period of I guess close to three months, usually using Zoom because these days that is much quicker. They are scattered around the country. It was much more convenient. And we spent hours and hours on our posture in the Pacific and specifically Taiwan, looking at that.

Robert R. Reilly:

And all of them had extensive experience?

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

All of them, yes, without exception. They all served in the Pacific as Commander of the Air Force in the Pacific, the Naval Commander in the Pacific, Marine commanders in the Pacific, Army general, Commander of the Army in Pacific, so they all have the extensive, on the ground, you know, or on the seas, I guess you could say, or in the air experience, deep experience in the region.

None of them are political. This is not a political study. We avoided that like the plague. The idea was not to do politics. The idea was to do international strategy and to try and understand whether or not it is possible to defend Taiwan. That was the great question. The background: I should talk a minute about the background.

Robert R. Reilly:

Please.

Are We Going to Lose?

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

There have been a number of studies done by some prestigious organizations like RAND, some done by the military services. Some of them are war games. Some of them are simulations. Some are just papers, but all of them seem to say, you know, if we fight in the Pacific, we are going to lose. That was the message.

And we started this saying, are we going to lose? Because if that is, you know, going to happen, you know the decision-making will be very negative. The U.S. will try and back away from any commitments, it will not do what is necessary, and the result is going to be a catastrophe, or is there an alternative to that? And, in fact, is that even true? Are we going to really lose or is that an exaggeration? So, we addressed that head-on because that was the mission.

And we tried to look at all the services, the Army, the Navy, the Marines, and the Air Force. Now, they are not all perfect. Nothing is perfect in this world, and the U.S. has let some of its major assets decline, considerably decline, either because we have been in too many wars and stuff is worn out, which is one of the reasons, or there has not been sufficient budget to buy new equipment, which is another reason.

But however you look at it, we have some deficits. But even with those deficits we wanted to know could we prevail in a conflict, or better yet, instead of say prevail, could we deter China from getting into a conflict? Because I think the game is the Chinese do not think Taiwan is their enemy, they think we are their enemy, to be honest. And they think that if we can be intimidated and we pull back, then China will command that whole what is called the first island chain in the Pacific, and will basically control Japan and South Korea, and everybody in Indonesia, and the Philippines, and Vietnam, all the way down to Australia if they can push us out. So, I think they want to push us out.

And then secondly, the Chinese are not exactly a pro-democracy crowd, as you probably know, and they deeply resent the democracies that are operating in places [nearby] like Japan and Taiwan. Taiwan, by the way, is a very vigorous democracy today, and liberal democracy they consider a threat to the Chinese approach to single party dictatorships, so that is their enemy plus us. And that is what they are trying to do and that is where we started.

Have We Been Deterred?

Robert R. Reilly:

Well, as is often said, the Chinese objective is victory without war, which would mean precisely intimidating us, deterring us, making us feel that it would be a fruitless endeavor to join in the defense of Taiwan. And you indicated with your opening remarks that to some extent they have succeeded in that so many people think such a war would be lost and the United States would be defeated in its effort to defend Taiwan, so have we already been deterred?

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

Have we, the U.S.?

Robert R. Reilly:

Yes.

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

I cannot say. [I am] not sure. I think that is still open to some question. Look, the Chinese are building up their military power with lots of sophisticated weapons. It looks very formidable, there is no doubt about that, and it is going to get more formidable, I mean unless something big happens in China we do not necessarily anticipate, an economic collapse or some internal conflict inside of China, which we cannot predict today.

But assuming that they are on the same trajectory, they are going to keep that buildup going and keep introducing new weapons, so we cannot stand still. You cannot deal with the situation by being static, you know. You have to be dynamic because they are dynamic, you know. They are on the make. They are a rising country from a military point of view, and you know we are a status quo country from a military point of view, but that does not mean that we cannot keep improving. So, I think that is the environment.

Robert R. Reilly:

Yes, and what your very impressive report lays out in about 80 pages seems to be what would need to be done on the part of the United States and its allies in the Pacific to deter China from such an invasion, or if it were to occur, to prevail in that conflict.

Mistaken Assumptions

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

We Would Act On Our Own

Well, before getting into the nitty-gritty parts, that brings up a crucial concept. All those studies that were done by the Pentagon, by the RAND [Corporation], and by think tanks around town, that sort of thing, all those studies presume a U.S. expeditionary force operating on its own. That is a fundamental assumption. That is a wrong assumption. Let us start there. If we are going to operate on our own, yes, we are going to lose, I agree. There is no doubt about it.

How do you coordinate with the Japanese? How do you coordinate with the Taiwanese? How do you coordinate with the Koreans or anybody else for that matter? If you are going to just come in there and try to save the day, you know, a kind of a lone ranger style, I guess, it is not going to work. It does not work that way, not anymore, I mean. Look at what is going on in Ukraine, where the Russians have been unable to coordinate their own forces let alone others.

So no, we have to be coordinated with our allies, and most importantly, we have to include Taiwan. You cannot neglect Taiwan. Taiwan is a strong, small (it is 26 million people, it is not that small), but geographically it is small. It is a small country with a strong army, a strong air force, not so strong navy but reasonably decent, but on the whole, they will fight. But they need to fight with us, not by themselves and that is [crucial].

Taiwan Can Hold Out

One of the Washington theories that you may have heard in the past [is], well, Taiwan probably can hold out for two weeks and then maybe we can come in and help them. Uh-uh, that is not strategy, that is a recipe for a defeat because, you know, to go against the entire weight of the Chinese military, the Army, the Navy, the missiles, everything, missile forces by themselves, two weeks is a long time, and anyway, they should not be fighting by themselves. I think the answer is they have to fight with us. They have to be trained by us. They have to coordinate with us. We have said you need a single coordinated command for Asia that includes Taiwan.

Robert R. Reilly:

That indeed is number two on the findings and recommendations of this study. If I could just read it…

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

Please.

Robert R. Reilly:

“To assure peace and stability the U.S. should take the lead in creating a common command for East Asia, one that includes allies, friends, and Taiwan.” That is actually a very provocative proposal.

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

Well, we were not trying to be provocative. We are trying to tell the truth.

Robert R. Reilly:

No, no, you are trying to tell the truth. One reaction to that requirement might be that instituting such a thing as a common command with Taiwan, and I presume Japan, maybe Australia would provoke the very conflict it is meant to deter because as soon as the Chinese see this, they might react, ‘we better do this before they get their act together.’

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

Well, you have to weigh that against if you do not do anything what it provokes. And you know every day the Chinese are now challenging Taiwan. They are flying fighters and bombers around the island. They are doing massive naval exercises, including with their new aircraft carrier. They are trying to keep us out of the Taiwan straits. I mean they are doing everything they can to push. I think that is a lot more dangerous than a common command system. I mean I do not see where the Chinese will [react]. No, they will not like it, and they will bitterly oppose it, but they cannot do anything about it.

Robert R. Reilly:

But absent that common command structure?

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

[We would have] real problems, real problems. That is it. And you know, you do not have to do it on the front page. You can do it in the middle of the newspaper, but you have got to do it. You have to set it up. Plus, you have to do the training. I mean one of the things in our recommendations is to really step up the training, particularly of Taiwan’s forces.

You know, Taiwan has been kept in a bubble as an isolated entity, not even a country. We do not consider it these days, at least officially, as a country. It is an entity. We do not have diplomatic relations. We have an embassy there, but you do not call it that, you know, and they are made up of retired, not active State Department people, because you cannot send active ones there.

This is nonsense.

So, we have created this hermetically sealed island, I guess you would call it, but that is not the way it has to be done. I mean it is an exaggeration even of the deal that goes back to Kissinger and Nixon and the Chinese, and then later the Taiwan Relations Act. There is nothing that says we have to do it that way, necessarily. We can do it any way we want to do it.

The derecognition of Taiwan, which is almost global now, is a very dangerous thing. The lack of our troops being able to train the Taiwanese on modern systems [is a] dangerous thing. The lack of coordination with their forces and our forces [is a] dangerous thing. How do you fly American fighter planes around Taiwan when there are Taiwanese fighter planes in the air at the same time? How do they talk to each other? How do they coordinate? How do they not shoot each other down?

I mean there are a lot of problems here that need to be worked out and have been neglected, neglected, and neglected, so you know what we are saying is do not [forget these things]. Before you spend a lot of money, let us get organized properly. By the way, saying that, Japan very much would welcome it. I mean everyone. The Japanese have turned around, I think, on the need for defense, for one thing. They are going to increase their defense budget very substantially in the near future, but also, I think, they have turned around on the need for coordinating the alliances and working with Taiwan because they see Taiwan as critical to their national security now.

Robert R. Reilly:

…which is why they occupied it for 50 years.

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

Well, they took it over in 1895.

Robert R. Reilly:

That is right.

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

They actually fought a war against the Taiwanese at the time, a short one, and then they occupied it for 50 years until the surrender of Japan in 1945. It was a very unusual occupation as far as I know about it. I have not studied it in depth. But talking to some Taiwanese people, they do not have negative memories of the Japanese so much, interestingly, and many of them were educated in Japan in those years. Now, most of them are now either dead or retired, but still the memories are not negative.

And the Japanese do not have negative attitudes about Taiwan at all. In fact, the emperor went to the nearest Japanese island to Taiwan, which is about 60 miles away and where you can actually see the mountains of Taiwan from that island, and as they say, the emperor waved at Taiwan. This is to send a message, you know, to send a message, we are with you, we are going to be here.

I think the mood has changed radically in that part of the world. It is do or die now. They are up against a big gorilla, and either they are going to do something about it, or they are going to get crushed. I think that is much more of a threat than having a common command.

Robert R. Reilly:

I do remember, by the way, clambering around the old Japanese concrete pillboxes in the mountains.

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

Oh, you do?

Robert R. Reilly:

In Taiwan, yeah, that was many years ago but there were traces of that occupation.

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

I am sure there were.

Robert R. Reilly:

So, in your estimation aside from its enormous impact on the United States, the loss of Taiwan would be of the most strategic consequence to Japan?

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

Immediately, yes, because they are so close.

Robert R. Reilly:

Do you want to spell that out a little?

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

Well, I mean I think, first of all, there are the sea passages out from China that we worry about, not just the Taiwan straits but there are two other straits that are how the Chinese navy has to come out into the Pacific, and that has to pass the Ryukyu Islands, which belong to Japan, which the Japanese are now starting to think about fortifying, which they had not before. And we are thinking about fortifying with them, which is a good thing because we have to show the Chinese that is there is no free lunch here. You are not going to just assert your power without any restrictions.

Secondly, the Chinese are claiming these islands as they are claiming Okinawa, saying, well, this is really Chinese, as they are claiming islands off of Indonesia, as they are claiming islands off of [other countries’ shores], and oil areas off of Vietnam, and so on.

Robert R. Reilly:

The infamous nine dash nine dash line?

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

[Yes], the nine dash nine dash line. So, they are definitely making a lot of claims, [putting] a lot of pressure on these countries. If they get Taiwan, they control the first island chain, plain and simple, and our guys in Okinawa will probably need to leave because they will be trapped, and I am not sure whether we will be able to keep our bases in Japan. I think there is a risk that the Japanese will say well the game is up, we better make accommodations with China, do what they want, get the Americans out.

Robert R. Reilly:

So, let us talk about who else whom else you would include in this common command structure, so Japan first and foremost.

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

Well, Japan first and foremost. Korea would be important, although the Koreans have their own problems, as you well know. I mean North Korea being right there, but Korea is actually in air miles closer to Taiwan than the main parts of the main island of Japan, so it is a very good jumping off place for us, for us to do operations, and it hands the Chinese a big problem, which is the part of the idea of our study.

Our idea in the study is to make as many potential stumbling blocks for the Chinese as possible so that they cannot just concentrate on Taiwan and think they are going to get away with it, that they have all these other things to deal with. And that is what we want them to believe, and we have to demonstrate that, of course.

So yes, Korea. I think Australia for sure. I doubt New Zealand will come in, but you never know. I mean New Zealand is a funny place. [It is] possible. They are part of the Five Eyes system, which is the intelligence sharing [arrangement] we have with Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Britain, and ourselves. That is five, I think, if I am counting right. So yeah, that is possible.

Robert R. Reilly:

Australia seems to be taking the threat very seriously.

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

I think they are, yes. And now just this past few days they had a serious incident with a Chinese spy ship that was hovering around their main submarine bases, which we also share with the Australians, trying to intercept communications, trying to understand vulnerabilities, that kind of thing. The Australians have protested to China, but that will do them no good, of course. The Chinese will say, you know, too bad, so they definitely are under pressure and they know it.

The Solomon Islands thing, by the way, is bad news for Australia and is bad news for New Zealand, and the New Zealanders who should have did not really fight very hard to prevent that.

Robert R. Reilly:

Australia has spoken out very strongly against the Solomon Islands agreement with the Chinese.

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

Yeah, after the fact.

Robert R. Reilly:

…after the fact, and I do not know the specifics of that agreement between the Solomon Islands and China, but one would suspect they would like to fortify it.

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

Yeah, everyone expects there to be military installations, but that is the bribe so to speak, you know.

Robert R. Reilly:

As you know, Steve, there has been a recent election in the Philippines and a member of the Marcos family is coming back in. How does the Philippines fit within your schema?

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

Well, it is very strategic location wise. The Marcos people are – I do not think there is going to be a big change in their policy, at least that is the speculation now. But we had been building up a better relationship there, and [we had had] some military exercises, and we actually helped provide additional security for them from China where they are being challenged, so it is possible that we [will continue our close relationship]. We think it is an important place, so is Vietnam, and the more we have diversified bases, depots, capabilities, communications hubs, whatever we can put in that region, the better.

Robert R. Reilly:

I do not recall Vietnam being mentioned in the paper.

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

Well, we did not mention it. Probably, we should have.

Robert R. Reilly:

And would Vietnam be included in the common command structure?

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

No, no, I think the common command structure has to be among close allies that are coordinating. They are not an ally, but they could become a resource.

Robert R. Reilly:

Well, they certainly historically have considered China an enemy, and of course fought a quite a war with China some years ago in which the Chinese were bloodied by the Vietnamese forces. I do remember some years ago [hearing a Chinese official speak, though I do not remember] whether it was a Chinese general, defense minister, [or someone else], speaking at a conference of Southeast Asian countries, and when one of them piped up, he responded to them, “You are a small country, and we are a big country.”

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

Well, it is not inaccurate.

Robert R. Reilly:

It is not inaccurate, but I recall the anecdote because I would think if your recommendations are followed, the first thing China would try to do – I mean it is busy trying to do these things already, but because of the consequences for China of a common command structure, they would obviously increase the vigor with which they pursue it. Just as the Soviet Union and Russia try to split up NATO, they would try to peel off the weak sisters in the relationship, probably with a bag of goodies in terms of economic aid, and then, of course, with the mailed fist, saying you are a small country and we are a big one.

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

The thing that complicates that is that in many cases they are after some of the resources of these countries like oil.

Robert R. Reilly:

Yes, of course.

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

…so they put that ahead of peeling them off, so to speak, or bribing them. They are putting a lot of pressure on them, and so it is not a black and white thing by any means. But sure, they will do whatever they can do.

Robert R. Reilly:

Does Indonesia fit within a common command structure?

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

Well, not in a common command yet. It fits into potential friend and ally, like Singapore, is also a country it is a tiny city-state, but it has a very good air force and a very good army.

Robert R. Reilly:

One of the things you mentioned in here, in fact, it is the fifth recommendation is what we would have to be able to do is, “gain, maintain, and sustain air superiority over both Taiwan and the Taiwan straits.”

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

Yes, right.

Robert R. Reilly:

That seems like a big order in terms of the improving Chinese capabilities and how far are we from doing precisely that, gaining, maintaining, and sustaining your superiority in that area. I think we are not in bad shape if we are coordinated. First of all, we have F-35s, our own and Japan has them. These are stealth aircraft. They have excellent weapons. They can coordinate a lot because of the new kinds of radars that they have and the electronics that they have, the computers that they are flying. Essentially, each one is a flying command post, and it can hand off targets. It can do all sorts of things that were simply impossible before, so we are strong in that.

We have the F-22, which absolutely the Chinese are fearful of, which is a pure stealth aircraft. We do not have a lot of them. We have enough for right now. We have the B-2 bomber, which is a stealth bomber, which we can fly from anywhere we want to, Guam or we can fly them into Japan and fly out of Japan. We can fly them out of Korea. I mean there are lots of places we can fly them from.

So, we have air power. Japan has air power. By the way, Taiwan has pretty good air power, and we are upgrading their old F-16s with new radars, new electronically scanned radars, and much improved cockpits and lots of other electronics, and they are going to be getting new F-16s, a new version of them soon. So I think the air power picture [is not bad]. By the way, I have not talked about Korea but Korea has a lot of its own, too.

So all in all, I think we have formidable capabilities that overmatch China even today, even today. And I think Chinese know that. The question is will we bring it to bear, you know? Is it a threat to China? Again, if we try to do it by ourselves, it is less of a threat than if we try to do it with our allies and friends, and anyway, we need their bases.

Robert R. Reilly:

It certainly seems if China could not maintain air superiority over the Taiwan straits, any attempt at invasion would be a miserable failure.

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

We thought that was sort of number one on the list.

Robert R. Reilly:

So that is why you have it up there.

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

Yeah, right, and number two is air defenses because we need to improve the air defenses. They are not as good as they should be, although the Aegis naval air defense system, which is on our destroyers and our cruisers, is excellent, we think, and poses [a threat to them]. It can do two things. It can knock out Chinese air power, but it can also knock out Chinese missiles, and especially the one the Chinese are counting on, called the DF-21D. They call it the carrier buster. They are going to shoot it at our carriers, maybe from a thousand miles away, and sink them. Well, if there is an Aegis cruiser next to our carrier, they are not going to do that I do not think because they will shoot them down.

So I think that all of these are factors in making it difficult if not impossible for China to prevail if we do it right, but we need to keep a strong naval presence in the region, which we are doing. Of course, we have a carrier task force based in Japan at Yokoyama. We are constantly moving ships in and out. We just went through the Taiwan straits, which was a Ticonderoga-class cruiser with Aegis. That angered the Chinese. They are complaining about it. Good. Let them complain. That is the kind of thing we want them to see and feel.

Robert R. Reilly:

Before we go on to the navy, Steve, several times in this paper you repeat that the United States Air Force today is the smallest and oldest it has ever been.

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

That is right, and it is true because a lot of the equipment, not so much the F-35s because they have not really been used in combat, but the F-16s and the F-15s have been heavily used in Iraq and Afghanistan and worn out.

Robert R. Reilly:

I think you say that the average age of our aircraft is 30 years old.

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

About that. Well, if you consider the B-52 bomber…

Robert R. Reilly:

That is even older.

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

The grandchildren of the original pilots are flying them, so yeah, they are 50 years old. That is a lot.

Robert R. Reilly:

So how serious is it being taken in the United States in the Defense Department and in the defense budget that this is a crucial need if you are going to meet the requirement of maintaining air superiority over the Taiwan straits?

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

I think the budget is short. It falls short. Look, first they cut the number of F-35s they are going to buy in this coming fiscal year, which is bad news. [They] should not be cutting. They are talking about retiring F-22s, which they should not be talking about. We need them. We need them very much. They should be maintaining them and improving them. They do not want to invest in, of course, you know the A-10 story, trying to get rid of it, and yet it is a great ground attack airplane. Once you clear the skies away from Chinese aircraft, they could have a field day against Chinese ships. So yeah, I mean we have an aging air force and national guard airplanes are really old, so we have to do a lot of work to improve it. And the budget does not show that. In fact, if you take inflation into account, the budget is down four or five percent.

Robert R. Reilly:

You say the Aegis system is effective as…?

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

Everything I understand about it – and our naval experts, our admiral who looked at this believes it to be true – is that is that Aegis is our best air defense system that we have.

Robert R. Reilly:

Well, you remark in the study that along China’s coast across the Taiwan strait they have 1600 missiles and they have been adding to this number of missiles in a rather steady pace, so even if there is an effective air defense, there will not be enough of it. They can overwhelm [Taiwan].

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

Well, I mean but do not think about that. That says they have a free lunch, and they can shoot all those missiles off with impunity, but I mean if they are going to launch missiles, we are going to knock out their missile launching sites. We are going to reduce their capability. That does not mean we have enough air defenses, and certainly Taiwan does not.

In fact, I do not know if you know, but the Navy has proposed retiring the Ticonderoga class cruisers, starting now, seven, get rid of seven of them that are [in operation]. Actually, the one that just sailed through the Taiwan straits is on the list to be decommissioned, and this strikes us as crazy. And I have written separately, not in the study but separately, that if we do not want them, give them to the Japanese and to the Taiwanese. They will know what to do with them and you do not have to build them from scratch. They are there. Okay, they may need a little work, but that is a lot cheaper than trying to build because if you start to build a ship today with a sophisticated air defense system, that is five years or more before you will see one, and we need them now. So, they are trying to retire those, which is incomprehensible to me.

And then as far as the destroyers are concerned, [they] also have Aegis on them. These are called Arleigh Burke class destroyers. They have only put one in the budget, and they are willing to increase it by one. Well, that is not nearly enough. We need a lot more of them because that is the best air defense capability we have. Ground-based air defenses like Patriot and so on, I think, are of limited value. It is an old system. It has been upgraded many times, but we have watched it in Saudi Arabia, in the UAE, trying to shoot down Houthi missiles, which are not the latest and the greatest, and they have had difficulty so it seems to me that we cannot rely on that.

We need the Aegis very badly and we need something also called Aegis Assure. This is the same Aegis system, but on land. We are putting it in Poland and in Romania now. Actually, I think it is already installed to face the Russians. There is no reason why we should not be putting it in Taiwan, okay, also in Japan. And you know, at the end of the day, it is for our security as much as anyone else’s.

Robert R. Reilly:

You have several proposals in here, [and] the common command structure [would] include Taiwan.

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

That is right.

Robert R. Reilly:

And then the training of the Taiwanese military.

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

Can I say something about that?

Robert R. Reilly:

Please do.

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

I mean we have trained the Ukrainian forces.

Robert R. Reilly:

That was going to be my point.

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

I stole your stuff, but we thought, you know, train up the Ukrainians, give them a strategy, teach them how to use a lot of equipment, not big equipment but stuff they could do, and they have had a tremendous impact on the Russians.

Robert R. Reilly:

Indeed, one Ukrainian said about the Russian invasion, they are eight years too late.

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

I think that is correct.

Robert R. Reilly:

…because that is how long there have been Western military trainers in there, training them and upgrading their equipment. So that leads to my question pertaining to Taiwan. When you see there was not any imminent threat Russia was facing when it decided to invade Ukraine-

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

They thought there was.

Robert R. Reilly:

They thought there was because in November, there was a strategic partnership signed between the United States and Ukraine, which included that Ukraine will be a part of NATO. You have that in addition to Putin’s clear knowledge that the Ukrainian military was being upgraded every year if not every day. And presumably, because of that or at least one of the big reasons why he decided to go now rather than later, is that it would be harder later, so he decides to invade. It turns out to have been a very big miscalculation, but might China also reach that calculation if they see the Taiwanese military being physically upgraded, if the personnel are being improved in their training, and that therefore they are going to be facing a much tougher nut to crack, and they better crack it sooner rather than later?

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

Well, the counter argument to that is if you do nothing, they will go away? No, they will keep coming anyway, so I think you have no choice, you have to train. And you know, we have not really trained the Taiwanese. [We trained them] a little bit for pilots in the United States but only in the United States.

Is Taiwan Training Enough?

Robert R. Reilly:

What about the argument that the Taiwanese have not really trained themselves? They have a military service requirement of a what is it even a full 12 months?

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

I do not know if they even have conscription anymore.

Robert R. Reilly:

It is pretty spare, so there is no training in depth even by them.

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

I think the Taiwanese need a kick in the pants just like the Japanese have. Now they do not need it so much. I think they are coming around, but I think the Taiwanese have done what others have done. They have said, well, if the Americans are going to defend us, and we cannot win anyway, because your studies keep telling us that we are going to lose anyway, so why should we do anything? Let the Americans take care of it if they can. That is a terrible attitude, by the way, terrible attitude, big mistake. The Japanese are learning that is a big mistake.

Now, the Japanese have some historical reasons like the peace treaty they signed in 1945 that restricted the size of their military forces and made them into a homeland defense only, so I mean to some degree we did not want them to re-militarize. We were against it, and they lived off of that for a long time because then they said, well, we do not really need a defense budget because the Americans will take care of it. So they are on welfare, right? That is what you call welfare.

Robert R. Reilly:

Like Germany.

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

Yeah, very much like Germany, and now the Germans are starting to understand that maybe they took too much of their own risk. So the bottom line here is that I think all these guys have to shape up, but it will shape up better if we get in there and start training them because then I think they will understand what their deficits are. If their military guys are arguing we are okay, okay, the politicians will understand from what the Americans are telling them because they are there, they are not okay, they need to improve. And they do need to improve.

I visited a number of bases in Taiwan, also on Kinmen, Quemoy.

Robert R. Reilly:

Quemoy, Matsu?

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

Not Matsu, I have never been there, but I was in Kinmen, it is Kinmen province, which is right up against China, I guess four times, three or four times. I toured all [of] the [area]. Most of it is underground, by the way. That is right. It is highly fortified. But if you look at the equipment, it is 75 years old. It is old stuff. It really badly needs to be upgraded.

Robert R. Reilly:

[Like] M48A3 tanks, which we were using in the Korean War.

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

That is right, that is right. Well, they have tried to improve them, but you know you have seen what happened in Ukraine with tanks. Unless you have active protection systems on them, you can kiss them goodbye today because they are going to be knocked out by drones. They are going to be knocked out by anti-tank weapons.

The State of the U.S. Navy

Robert R. Reilly:

What about that? First of all, before we get to the question [that] I was just about to ask you, let us go a little more deeply into the U.S. Navy because you make that a serious part of this study because our navy is as small as it has ever been, I believe. And it is facing a much larger [opponent].

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

Well, it is quite small, yeah.

In fact, the Navy just came out and said, you know, we cannot fight two wars at the same time. We no longer have that capability, so if we are going to be in Europe, we are not going to be in the Pacific. [If] we are going to be in the Pacific, we are not going to [fight elsewhere]. You know, I think they are facing up to the reality that they do not have enough ships, they do not have enough sailors. That you cannot fix overnight, you know, that takes years to repair.

I remember when I was in the Pentagon, it was about 3,000 years ago, John Lehman became the Secretary of the Navy, and he said we are going to have a 600-ship navy. Well, we do not have that today. What have we got, 380 [ships], something like that, and a lot of them are, you know, not really ships? I mean not really fighting ships. They are oilers and supply ships, hospital ships. It goes on and on. I mean the fighting ships are fairly limited. We have 11 aircraft carriers in which six or seven of them can operate at any one time. The rest of them are in repair. One of them is in terrible shape right now. They have sailors committing suicide on these ships. Can you believe it?

Robert R. Reilly:

Well, I mean the operational tempo that the navy has to keep today [is causing these problems].

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

Yeah, because they are running this and this and this.

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

This is extremely punishing, and if they are short on manpower, one reason might be that no one wants to get into a meat grinder in terms of [the operational tempo].

Robert R. Reilly:

It is a shortage of manpower, wearing out the guys and ladies…

Robert R. Reilly:

…and the ships.

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

…and the ships. It is a lack of parts and spare parts, and a lot of equipment has deteriorated. It is bad conditions on many of these ships that they have not dealt with. There are a lot of, can we call them, infrastructure problems in the Navy and in the other services too that have been allowed to deteriorate I think way beyond where they should be.

Robert R. Reilly:

Well, in meeting these needs, Steve, we could recall the rapid pace at which the United States in World War II met the needs of the U.S. Navy, turning out a phenomenal number of ships, but that industrial base is gone to a large extent.

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

No, it has gone up to a period. We have, you know, one yard now that can build big ones like carriers. We have some smaller yards that can do smaller ships, but remember that in World War II, that was at ’38 or ’39, two years or three years before the war started, one of the few things Congress did, which was really incredible and it is very smart, was to finance building up the navy so by the time the war started, we were well ahead in terms of you know the new ships coming online. And yes, Pearl Harbor was a mess, but happily, they did not get our carriers because they were not there, and that was fortuitous. But I think bottom line was we were at least partly ready because of the wisdom of the Congress in, I believe it was ’39, in funding the Navy on a large scale.

Robert R. Reilly:

So the lack of the industrial infrastructure, and the lead time for building a major combatant ship-

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

Right, they will look for new ships if there is a conflict. It is not going to happen. The world has changed, but it has changed for almost all defense products. Raytheon, for example, saying if you want more Javelins or you want more Stingers, [it will take] two years maybe. I mean they do not have the [Javelins or the Stingers on hand]. They cannot surge. They do not have a surge capability. There have been lots of attempts to build the surge capability, but no one wanted to fund it over the last 30 years. I remember when I was in the Pentagon years ago. We talked about a surge capability and tried to convince Congress to allocate money for it. They were not interested so we do not have that, so whatever happens is going to happen fast, and it better happen fast because that is the only thing any kind of conflict we could sustain.

Chinese Carriers

Robert R. Reilly:

Let us talk about the carriers just for a minute. I remember talking with an admiral, a retired admiral, as these new Chinese capabilities were coming online with hypersonic missiles with the range you mentioned of a thousand miles. And when I said to him, well, how can the Navy protect itself and the carriers when the Chinese have these capabilities? He said, well, they just have to be further out, but at a certain point they get too far out to respond effectively. Now, with that remark let me at the same time say if carriers are so vulnerable, why the heck are the Chinese building them?

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

There used to be a joke about a certain foreign country, and they said, you know, how that country gets to see? It has glass bottoms on its ships so it can see the previous navy. You know, carriers for China are prestige, prestige.

Robert R. Reilly:

Yes.

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

It shows that they can power project. They can go around the world, and they can do things. Without them, they cannot, so that is why they have them. Are they vulnerable? Damn right they are, especially theirs are vulnerable.

Robert R. Reilly:

Why especially?

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

Because they do not really have the missile defenses around their carriers that we do. I think we are better at that. They will get there, but they do not have it yet. Hypersonics, I do not know yet. The Russians have fired a few of them in the Ukraine war. They do not seem to have made any particular difference, so I do not know if that is just an exhibition, you know, ‘we have them, we can shoot them,’ or whether they had some hopes that they would swing the war around. I doubt it, but we are going to have hypersonic weapons. We are working on them very hard, so are the Chinese, and the Russians are too, so they will be part of the scene. They are not right now. I think we are five to ten years away.

The Marines

Robert R. Reilly:

We have not touched upon the ground forces, the U.S. Army, the Marines.

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

Right. We have very good army capabilities and very, very good marine capabilities. One of the difficulties in my estimation, we have not put this in the book, but I think is what is the mission of the Marines? You know they are in the process of trying to change the nature of the U.S. Marines, and there are a lot of retired Marines, very serious, capable people who are very skeptical of the changes that are being proposed.

But one of the systems that the Marines have is this HIMARS artillery system, long-range artillery. It is a multiple launch rocket with a very, very high precision. That gives us a chance. And by the way, it is just as good at hitting ships at sea as it is hitting land targets, so if there is an attempted invasion, and if the Marines move the HIMARS over to the Japanese islands, which is, I think, in the offing. It is going to happen. Yonaguni is the island. Then I think the Chinese are going to have a problem, so that is positive. I think the Marines have a key role to play in them blunting an invasion, and the army too, but I think in the first instance, the Marines.

Robert R. Reilly:

With weapons such as those, it would not seem to be at all an insuperable problem to keep the Chinese hemmed in to that first island chain out of which they are trying to break, and obviously, which they would succeed in breaking out if they conquered Taiwan. But short of a successful conquest if, as you suggested, the Japanese militarize the Senkaku islands, that presents a real problem for China.

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

I think so. Plus they are quite mountainous, these islands, so it is not going to be easy to hit things there if that is your intent, so yeah, I mean I think that definitely putting assets on those islands air defenses, and strike forces is very important.

China’s Military Competence

Robert R. Reilly:

Now, one of the revelations of the war in Ukraine that surprised many of our senior military leaders was the ineptness of these Russian forces at coordination, interoperability, communications – especially communications – but they did not coordinate air and ground, and therefore lost quite a bit from that. And you wonder how that could be because their practice in having these enormous military maneuvers that we could never observe because they would not allow us to, but apparently this was not a regular part of their training.

I do not know if that would make us a little more optimistic about the problem that China is presenting in relation to Taiwan because that would have to be an inter-services coordination for them to pull that off successfully. And they have not had really any real-world operational experience in doing that.

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

The last time they fought a war was against Vietnam, and they lost it.

Robert R. Reilly:

And they lost it, right.

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

But that was a long time ago, you know, that was many years ago and they have vastly improved their capabilities since then, so I would not, you know, [draw conclusions from that]. I do not think you can draw any lessons from that. We do not know, I mean to put in the simplest terms, we do not know, but if the Russian example is of any relevance to China, they may have some serious vulnerabilities in terms of capabilities and communications, command and control. And if you can knock out their command and control, they may really be in trouble because they do not delegate down to the battalion level a lot of independence of movement and action, so it is all from the top down.

Robert R. Reilly:

Which is another problem the Russians experienced.

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

Very much so. That is why all these Russian generals are getting knocked off. [It is] because they have to get in front of the forces, and that is a very bad place to be to run a war unless you are Patton, but I did not see any Pattons there in Ukraine. So I think that is a very significant point.

The other thing about the Russians which surprised everybody is they apparently did not distribute secure communications capabilities to their troops, so they were using open radios and in many cases cell phones. In fact, yesterday I saw a remarkable map. The map was showing where all the Russian troops were by tracking the IDs of their cell phones, so they had all these cell phones that lit up, and you can see it all in eastern Ukraine and down into Mariupol, and across into Kherson, and it is all lit up. And you could figure out how many troops are there, which is crazy actually.

Corruption in Russia and China

Robert R. Reilly:

Well, another explanation for the poor performance of the Russian military is corruption. Now, we know in the past that corruption was a very serious problem in the Chinese military. That if you wanted to be a flag officer, [you had to pay].

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

Well, corruption is a big problem in China altogether.

Robert R. Reilly:

Yeah, but I mean you had to buy your position.

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

Yes.

Robert R. Reilly:

So, it did not necessarily relate to any military competence, but then once you got the position, let us say, you would farm it. You would get that money back and more. You know, that was a problem well before President Xi came into power, and of course, cleaning up corruption is the excuse he has used to remove political opponents.

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

That is right.

Robert R. Reilly:

But he is also, I think, serious about building up the Chinese military. Of course, Putin was serious about building up the Russian military and that did not work. Do you have any idea or did members of your panel address that subject?

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

We did not take that up because it is all speculation. I mean we do not know. I mean even now no one really knows if the problem [that] the Russians had was corruption, or a bad command system, or bad equipment. I mean there is a lot [there].

There is a story that says – it is not a story, actually, it is proven that a lot of the components that the Russians have inside their equipment come from the U.S., and the UK, and other countries because they do not make it. And most recently they are even yanking computers and equipment out of dishwashers, using them in the military for military purposes.

So, you know, one of the things that differs Russia from China very significantly is Russia does not have a commercial infrastructure of any significance compared to the United States or compared to China. China is a very big one. And these days our military here draws a significant part of its capabilities in terms of electronics, sensors, things of that sort from the commercial sector.

Robert R. Reilly:

…including from China.

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

Unfortunately, including from China, but also from Taiwan because Taiwan Semiconductor (TSMC) is providing some very important equipment to our military. But that is called globalization. But even if you put that over here, the fact is we still have a very deep infrastructure in this country, and people invest in it. In China, even Americans invest in Chinese [companies], you know. They have done it. I think they are getting a little bit kind of gun-shy now because of the Chinese economy and because of Chinese practices, but Russia more or less I mean chased them away, chased the Western capitalists away even after communism. [They] made it a kind of hostile place to operate, so the amount of investment in Russia is quite small, comparatively speaking, and nothing happened like what happened in China. There was no commercial takeoff like in China.

Taiwan as an Unsinkable Aircraft Carrier

Robert R. Reilly:

Now, why can’t we think of Taiwan as an unsinkable aircraft carrier?

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

We can except you have to remember that Taiwan is under a missile threat, so everyone believes that the first thing the Chinese will hit are the airfields. There are quite a few of them, but they will still try to hit them all. In fact, one of the things that we could do but we have not done is to take the version of the F-35, the stealth plane that can do vertical take-off, and provide them to Taiwan because then they cannot be targeted because they do not have to operate from an airfield or from a runway, and they can be hidden in different places. And I think that is quite an important idea. We should not really do it.

Taiwan’s Missile Capabilities

Robert R. Reilly:

What about Taiwan’s missile capabilities?

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

They have some of their indigenous capabilities. I do not know how good they are. I really do not [know], so I cannot really comment, but I mean they do not have anything comparable to what the United States can provide.

Robert R. Reilly:

Well, wouldn’t that considerably complicate the situation for China were they to have more modern missiles?

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

Yeah, well, I mean that is why you would want to give them all kinds of things like Harpoons. I just saw that the Harpoon deliveries to Taiwan have been delayed, and I do not know why. I honestly do not know why. I am not sure the Taiwanese know why, but that is the sort of thing you do not want delayed. You want to get those things. They are anti-ship missiles. They are good. I mean they are not the best, but they are good, and they can really be helpful, especially if the Chinese try anything because you can sync a lot of ships with them, and that is just the kind of thing that they really do need. HIMARS would be a very good system. The Taiwanese want them. Whether they will be able to get them or not I do not know, but that would help them.

In the past – I should say something about this because in the past the U.S. did not want to sell anything to Taiwan that could be used against China, against the mainland, which I thought was kind of a bad policy. One of the things that we did [was], for example, when we sold them the F-16s, we did not give them any ground attack capability that was anything worthwhile. When Taiwan decided to build its own indigenous fighter, it is called the FCK-1, we gave them engines that were not capable of really reaching China and coming back, so that they were very short, what we called short-legged.

They could only fly little circles around the island, so I mean we did things which were, I think, almost punitive in a way that we did not need to do. And of course, when you realize you have these limitations, it also is demoralizing, so one of the reasons maybe the Taiwanese sit on their hands is because I think that they are just not going to get the kind of systems and weapons they need.

What Taiwan Can Learn From Ukraine

Robert R. Reilly:

What should we learn from the way in which the war is being fought in Ukraine? What do you think the Chinese are learning? I mean the employment of the Turkish drones and other kinds of drones that have inflicted such damage on Russian armor and other vehicles, the anti-ship missiles the Ukrainians have used to take out a cruiser level command ship of the Russians in the Black Sea.

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

Ostensibly, yes.

Robert R. Reilly:

Ostensibly. What would you suggest the lessons of this might be for the defense of Taiwan?

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

Well, even before Ukraine, if you look at the Nagorno-Karabakh war, which is an even a better example, Turkish and the Israeli Harap stealthy drone smashed the Russian air defense systems, took them out, destroyed armor, convoys, artillery, emplacements, all that, mobile and fixed, so I mean it was quite impressive. Now, it was not the only reason that the war went against the Armenians. The Azerbaijanis fought hard, they did a good job, I think, but they also use these to tremendous effect, so we learned that already from Nagorno-Karabakh, that [those were] fairly decisive systems to use.

I think in Ukraine we have seen what can happen if you do not have active protection systems on your tanks, okay? We have seen what can happen if you do not have a way to defend against drones. See, Russians did not seem to have any. You know, it is very funny because if you remember when the Russians were in Afghanistan, the U.S. sold the mujahideen ground to air missiles called MANPADS, man carried ground-to-air missiles. They are actually called Stinger [missiles]. By the way, the same ones that the Ukrainians are using.

That was something like 36 years ago. The Russians had 36 years to prepare against [this] because they knew what they could do. They took a terrible beating. They were shooting down Russian helicopter gunships. They were shooting down Russian warplanes. They were shooting down Russian transports. That was 36 years ago, so you know, you would think that the Russian military would have said, hey, priority number one, we do not want to get caught with these damn missiles again. We have to find a way to defend. They did not. They did not at all. In fact, they are flying airplanes today that are almost completely unequipped with the right defensive systems. They do not have targeting pods

They do not even have GPS. The fact [is] that there was a report that one of the [aircraft that] crashed [was] one of the most modern [aircraft]. An Su-34 aircraft was shot down. When they saw the inside of the cockpit, the pilot had taped a commercial GPS onto the dashboard, if you want to call it that, inside the airplane so he would know where he was.

Robert R. Reilly:

Well, I do not think the Chinese have that problem.

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

No, I think the Chinese do good electronics. They know what they are doing. Although I am not sure how well they would do against drones, even though the Chinese build a hell of a lot of drones, military and commercial. In fact, they have 80-85 percent of the global commercial market for drones, small drones. These are quadcopters, you know, four propellers, which are also a problem because you could put a bomb on them. So, you would think they would try to have developed something to deal with that threat. There is no sign of that, actually, so maybe we would have an advantage.

Conclusion

Robert R. Reilly:

Steve, let me close by asking you how can people get ahold of the study?

Dr. Stephen Bryen:

Buy the book. The book is only on Amazon. You can get it on Amazon, it is there, it is cheap. We made it as cheap as we could. [It is] $3.99 for the printed version and I think it is $2.99 for the Kindle version, so it is not going to break your piggy bank. There is no inflation in this one. In fact, it is just about covering costs, and I also want to mention that all of the group, including myself, everybody involved worked as a volunteer. Nobody was paid one cent. No one benefits one cent from this effort. This is something we did because we thought it was important for our country and for peace and security in the Pacific.

Robert R. Reilly:

Excellent. Well, thank you for doing that and for being the co-chairman of this panel. This is an honor to produce this very effective, powerful study, how to prevent an invasion of Taiwan. I want to thank Dr. Stephen Bryen for joining us again to do a Westminster Institute program, and I encourage our audience to go to the Westminster Institute website to see what other programs we have on offer or to our YouTube channel where you will find two other talks on different subjects from Dr. Stephen Bryen, other programs as well about Ukraine, Russia, a number on the subject of China, Japan, Taiwan, and other subjects in the Middle East and elsewhere. Thank you for joining us today. I am Robert Reilly.

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