, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Because semiconductors are already central to America’s security and prosperity and will only become more important with each passing day, wouldn’t it be great if the United States wasn’t so dependent on Taiwan for supplies – especially of cutting-edge chips – given that the island is located just 100 miles from China?

According to Seth Cropsey, one of America’s most respected military experts and a former national security official, the answer is “No” – because if the United States became much more self-sufficient in semiconductor manufacturing, it wouldn’t have to care so much about…Taiwan.

His January 26 Wall Street Journal article is a wonderful example of a syndrome I’ve long written about (most recently here in the Taiwan context) – the tendency of the U.S. foreign policy establishment, and too many U.S. leaders who have listened to its members’ advice, to use foreign policy measures to solve problems much better dealt with through domestic policy moves whenever possible.

The advantages of using domestic policy should be screamingly obvious. As I’ve also previously pointed out (most recently at length here), American policymakers will almost always have much more control over developments within our borders than without. And when it comes to Taiwan-like situations, rebuilding the nation’s capacity to manufacture semiconductors per se carries absolutely no risk of war with a nuclear-armed China.

What’s particularly bizarre about this Cropsey op-ed is that he completely overlooks two eminently reasonable arguments for concentrating tightly on Taiwan’s security, at least for the time being. The first is one I strongly agree with – regaining the semiconductor prowess the United States needs will take many years. So until then, it’s imperative – and in fact in my opinion vital – that America take whatever steps are needed to prevent China from taking over Taiwan, which it regards as a renegade province that it’s vowed to reabsorb by force if necessary. After all, it should be easy to see how Beijing either could win access to Taiwan’s crucial, world-leading production technology, or deny the United States (and the rest of the world) access to the huge volumes of chips that Taiwan’s factories turn out.

The second argument absent from his column – and which I don’t agree with – is that irrespective of the semiconductors, if China gained control over Taiwan, it would take a huge step toward becoming the kingpin of East Asia, perhaps the world’s most economically dynamic regions, and limit or cut off U.S. access to crucial markets and sea lanes.

I disagree for two reasons. First, leaving the semiconductors out of the picture, the chronic and huge trade deficits run up by the United States with the region show that doing business with East Asia has been a longtime major net loser for America’s domestic economy. Second, and also putting semiconductors aside, East Asia has relied for so long on amassing trade surpluses, especially with the United States, to achieve adequate growth that its countries (including China) simply can’t afford such decoupling.

As I just made clear, opponents of my position can cite valid concerns. But Cropsey never mentions them. Instead, he’s simply worried that the Biden administration’s focus on rebuilding America’s own semiconductor manufacturing mean that Washington “looks to be playing for time—not time to rearm and prepare for a fight, but to reduce Taiwan’s importance to the U.S.” and that this would harm U.S. interests because “An America that no longer needs Taiwanese semiconductors [would be able to]abandon its old friend.”

I admire Taiwan’s economic, technological, and political achievements as much as anyone. But even overlooking the enormous extent to which Taiwan’s massive investments in China’s technology industries (just like America’s) have shortsightedly helped create and magnify the very threat the island faces, the idea that honoring a friendship only for its own sake is remotely as important as minimizing the odds of a nuclear war is just loony. And nothing exempifies the nature of too much American foreign policy discussion for decades as well as a major newspaper’s belief that such arguments deserve to be taken seriously.