During a trip to Asia President Joe Biden made a public statement that if China were to make a move on Taiwan that the United States would intervene militarily on the island nation’s behalf. This remark was wildly at odds with the stated policy of the US being strategic ambiguity. We have never come out and said that we would defend Taiwan, but we also have not said that we would not. Predictably, the White House communications team had to walk it back.
While ambiguity can be strategically beneficial, apparent confusion may invite a military move by the China Communist Party (CCP) to reunify the mainland with Taiwan by force. Chinese President Xi Jinping has publicly declared that the two countries must be unified which means that the CCP is only waiting for the right opportunity. Biden’s lack of apparent control over US policy may be the window of opportunity China is looking for. Each public statement that increases the confusion increases the likelihood of an invasion.
One only needs to look to Biden’s comments before the war in Ukraine for possible parallels. During a press conference in January, he made a remark that seemed to indicate there would only be limited consequences for Russia if they engaged in a minor incursion in Ukraine.
Many international observers interpreted this as giving Russia the green light for the invasion. Even if this were not true, it created enough confusion that it could be true. This easily could have muddied the waters for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision-making process on whether to proceed or not. If Biden would have had a firm consistent message that the United States would not tolerate the violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty we may very well not be in the present situation.
The war in Ukraine has resulted in a rethinking of the strategic ambiguity in favor of strategic clarity. Regardless of if this is a promising idea or not, whatever the stated aims of the United States are regarding the region must be made because of a consensus in the government. Right now, Biden’s gaffes are causing US policy to change from one trip to the next with possible dire consequences.