2022 Statistical Results

James Lee: Evidence Does Not Support the "Dual Deterrence" Argument for Strategic Ambiguity

The dispute over Taiwan has been at the forefront of geopolitics. With tensions between Washington and Beijing reaching levels not seen since the Cold War, there has been heightened concern that great power competition could escalate to great power conflict in the Taiwan Strait in the coming years. The most controversial aspect of U.S. policy is "strategic ambiguity," under which the United States does not say if, or under what conditions, it would intervene in the defense of Taiwan. One of the arguments defending strategic ambiguity rests on the concept of "dual deterrence."[1] According to this view, the lack of a clear U.S. commitment to Taiwan's defense deters Taiwan from unilaterally changing the status quo: because Taiwan is not certain about U.S. support, it is less likely to take actions that would trigger Beijing to use force. This argument rests on a number of key assumptions about the preferences of Taiwan's voters and how they perceive the conditions in U.S. policy. The American Portrait Survey, sponsored by the Institute of European and American Studies at Academia Sinica, has produced findings that challenge the conventional wisdom.

The survey results show that as many as 43% of respondents believe that the United States will intervene in Taiwan's defense even if Taiwan tries to unilaterally change the status quo. And yet there is still strong support for the status quo, with only around 6% favoring any immediate changes. Considered together, these findings suggest that it is not accurate to characterize U.S. strategic ambiguity as a deterrent against a unilateral declaration of independence by Taiwan. Rather, Taiwan itself is a stakeholder in the status quo, even though a significant proportion of the public considers U.S. support to be unconditional. This finding challenges the assumptions behind the "dual deterrence" argument. While there are other arguments in favor of strategic ambiguity, "dual deterrence" is based on an inaccurate understanding of the views of Taiwan's public on sovereignty and relations with the United States.

U.S./China Credibility

U.S. Taiwan Policy and the likelihood of using force to help Taiwan

U.S. Taiwan Policy and the likelihood of using force to help Taiwan (Grouped by U.S. credibility)

U.S./China Credibility (Grouped by position on the cross-strait relations)

U.S./China Credibility (Grouped by Taiwanese/Chinese identity)

U.S./China Credibility (Grouped by party identification)

U.S./China Credibility (Grouped by age)