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To Protect Itself From the Mainland, Taiwan Must Trust Its People With Arms (Part 2)

Taiwan artillery unit conducts a live firing drill to deter a coastal landing force during the Han Guang exercise held on the island of Penghu county, Taiwan(Military News Agency via AP)

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You can read part one of this article here

With the events of the last few years, Taiwanese and American officials have been making changes to better protect the island from invasion. Arms purchases, such as the upgraded F-16V fighters, have continued or accelerated. 

But mentioned in part one of this article, equipment isn’t enough without training and maintenance. Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen has promised to increase military readiness and revealed that U.S. military trainers have been working with Taiwan’s military to develop better training for a battle against a much larger foe.

President Tsai has also promised enhanced training and preparedness for reserve forces starting next year, so improved training should filter into the larger reserve force.

If there’s enough time to implement these changes along with increased U.S. military aid that’s under debate in Congress, Taiwan’s force of almost four million personnel could become a lot more potent. 

Why It’s Not Enough

The reforms that were recently announced will take years to translate into training, knowledge and improved capability on the part of reservists, and still would only amount to about a third of the training National Guard personnel in the United States get.

Even if Taiwan were to train and equip its reserve forces to U.S. National Guard levels, there’s still the issue of organization. A military reserve that’s built around a traditional symmetrical military model simply cannot perform under the pressure that it’s likely to face under a People’s Liberation Army invasion. 

Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

Before the attacks, we can expect the PLA to continue their grey-zone warfare against the island, slowly ratcheting up intimidating military actions that fall just short of an actual attack that justifies a Taiwanese response. This continual “cry wolf” strategy will likely prevent the reserves from being called up and armed before an actual invasion occurs.

Taiwan would likely find that the initial air and missile attacks cripple their ability to even get to their armories (assuming they aren’t destroyed in the opening missile attack). Even if that problem were somehow solved, they’d still have only basic straight-line range training (often with only a few dozen rounds of live-fire experience) and be thrown into a complex urban environment with a rifle.

A J-20 stealth fighter jet of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

To prepare to go toe-to-toe with the PLA and limit collateral damage, Taiwan’s reserves need a serious overhaul, and not just a few more days or weeks of training. And that needs to happen fast.

Some in the U.S. and Taiwan Have A Better Idea

Recent U.S. bills that would provide more military aid for Taiwan require that the Taiwanese military undertake serious reforms, spend less money on big-ticket military hardware purchases, and prepare for asymmetric warfare. Some Taiwanese civilians are skeptical that their military represents the whole solution.

One group, the Forward Alliance, already trains large groups of civilians in first aid and survival skills, but its leader, Enoch Wu, told The Telegraph that he hopes the effort will lay the foundation for a future civil defense force. “We hope that this capability will deter war. Civil defence is a big part of that equation,” Wu told The Telegraph.

High quality firearms and defensive tactics training (often simulated with airsoft guns) is already available from at least one private Taiwanese entity, the Taiwan Military and Police Tactics Research and Development Association or TTRDA. The TTRDA doesn’t advocate for licensing the carry of weapons for arbitrary purposes as is done in nearly all of the United States. But it does seek to make training available and supports some limited expansion of Taiwan’s weapons licensing for national defense purposes.

According to TTRDA, no new laws would be needed, and such changes could happen administratively.

TTRDA already works with military and police personnel both from Taiwan and from other countries, and they’re ready to assist with any expanded programs the government may choose to offer if they can get over their mistrust of arms in the hands of the public. 

In other words, Taiwanese civilians and overseas supporters are not only willing, but ready to help get the island’s civilians up to speed and prepared to complicate and frustrate any invasion. More importantly, putting this work in might prevent one from even happening.

Some Americans Are Willing To Help

I’ve seen many online discussions where Americans ask whether Taiwan has a foreign legion they could join. There was also a recent letter to the editor of the Washington Post, where a retired U.S. Marine called for U.S. military personnel to directly defend the island. He closed by saying, “However, because I am advocating putting Marines in harm’s way, I cannot do this without accepting the same risk. I am a retired reserve Marine Corps colonel (four active, 28 reserve), and I will accept a recall to active duty to join the troops on one of the islands.”

Why are some of willing to help people we’ve never met? Mostly because we know that democracy and human rights are the rare exception, historically. If freedom falls often enough, the world could lose it, perhaps forever. We have to fight authoritarianism at every turn to prevent this from happening, and not selfishly wait until we’re fighting for our own homes. We know that, unlike Afghanistan, Taiwan’s people believe in and practice freedom and would make good use of our help.

As a member of the LGBT community, I can also see that Taiwan is an important island of freedom in a region that isn’t generally friendly to rights we take for granted now in Europe and North America. I also see that in China, efforts are underway to undermine and eliminate LGBT rights

I know not all Americans agree with me in this, but it’s just one example among many of Taiwan’s tolerance and freedom compared to Xi Jinping’s iron-fisted authoritarian approach that we can’t allow to spread globally. No one, from the most devout conservative Christian to the most socially liberal atheist is safe to be themselves if the CCP becomes the dominant world power. Freedom is freedom, and people like Xi Jinping don’t like it.

We can all hang together on this, or the CCP will eventually hang us separately.

Why An Armed American Civilian Presence Would Be Beneficial

While distrust of foreigners (I’ve experienced this in person in Taiwan) is understandable (we aren’t perfect), Taiwan’s government is throwing away a valuable opportunity by refusing the assistance of American veterans and trained civilians.

For one, the mere presence of large numbers of Americans who are ready to help repel a CCP invasion could itself prevent such an invasion. Chinese state-run media openly says that they think the United States will be unwilling to sacrifice American lives to protect the island from an invasion. A rapid increase in the number of Americans helping to protect it would put that appraisal of U.S. resolve in doubt. 

They also know that if large numbers of American civilians were to die, that could trigger more of a “Pearl Harbor” or “9/12” response than an “it’s not my problem” response among the American public. Killing Americans could help turn world opinion against the CCP. Facing the possibility of waking multiple sleeping giants shifts the calculus in Taiwan’s favor without firing a shot.

It’s also a fact that there’s just a lot more American gun and fighting expertise available than there is in Taiwan’s civilian population. Over the last few decades, the rapid expansion of concealed carry laws and greater interest in modern sporting rifles has led to an explosion of instructors, trained students, and general fighting knowledge.

Sadly, the average American CCW permit holder or hunter has more training and experience with firearms and defensive tactics than most Taiwanese reservists — and many regulars — and that’s before you count the many veterans (some of whom have seen combat) who would be willing to assist.

Finally, in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, many Americans are still working remotely and could continue to provide for themselves from anywhere with an internet connection. This means that there are many experienced veterans, retired and reserve police officers, part-time firearms instructors, hunters, and vetted firearms permit holders who could theoretically move to Taiwan and not put a strain on the island’s economy.

In fact, with the island’s generally low cost of living, their spending power would be an economic stimulus.

How Taiwan Can Help Encourage This

The Tsai administration should work to actively encourage American gun owners with clean backgrounds and training to move to the island and actively assist in the improvement of the island’s defense. Assistance with moving expenses, help with finding housing, language training (both in Mandarin and Taiwanese), and regular shuttle flights to and from the United States could all make it easier for Americans to volunteer.

(AP Photo/Andy Wong)

To attract Americans to do this will require at least some liberalization of the island’s gun laws. While it would be ideal for Taiwan to follow the example of almost half of the United States and allow permitless carry, I’m a realist and know that may be politically impossible in Taiwan at present.

Requiring some form of training, a background check, and education on basic language and Taiwan’s use of force laws could make it more palatable, though. Americans could apply for a special national defense carry permit at a TECRO office (basically a Taiwan embassy or consulate) and apply for any other help Taiwan might provide for this program.

Such a program, should, of course, be open to eligible Taiwanese citizens, as foreigners shouldn’t get any special rights that Taiwan’s own people don’t have any access to.

This would require some a lot of open-mindedness among Taiwanese officials, but it’s worth making the necessary adjustments to address an existential threat. It also shouldn’t be seen as Americanization as much as shedding the last vestiges of the White Terror. 

I hope that the decades of American support for Taiwan’s young democracy has earned us enough trust for us to have the honor of helping out.


To read part one, click here


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