‘AMBIGUOUS STRATEGIC AMBIGUITY’: At last night’s CNN town hall event, President Joe Biden committed the same misstep for which he lambasted President George W. Bush in 2001. Biden answered a straightforward question, “Are you saying that the United States would come to Taiwan's defense if China attacked?” with an unambiguous answer, “Yes. Yes, we have a commitment to do that.”

Except that is not the policy of the United States, and in fact, according to the White House and Biden’s nominee to be ambassador to China, it’s not Biden’s policy either.

Here’s what Biden, then the senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote in a May 2001 Washington Post op-ed about Bush’s similar diplomatic faux pas.

“Where once the United States had a policy of ‘strategic ambiguity’ — under which we reserved the right to use force to defend Taiwan but kept mum about the circumstances in which we might, or might not, intervene in a war across the Taiwan Strait — we now appear to have a policy of ambiguous strategic ambiguity … [Bush’s] inattention to detail has damaged U.S. credibility with our allies and sown confusion throughout the Pacific Rim. Words matter.”

THEN CAME THE WALKBACK: “The president was not announcing any change in our policy, and there is no change in our policy,” a White House spokesperson said afterward of Biden’s off-the-cuff comment. “The U.S. defense relationship with Taiwan is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act. We will uphold our commitment under the act, we will continue to support Taiwan's self-defense, and we will continue to oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo.”

It was the same kind of clarification that the White House issued in 2001 when Bush said the U.S. would do "whatever it took" to help Taiwan defend itself, including the full force of the American military.


‘A TOUGH NUT TO CRACK’: At his confirmation hearing this week, Nicholas Burns, Biden’s pick to be U.S. ambassador to China, argued that the strategic ambiguity strategy is “time-tested,” and that it remains “the smartest and most effective way” to deter aggressive actions by China.

Burns said the key to deterring China from trying to take Taiwan by force is to further bolster the island nation’s ability to repel an amphibious invasion while maintaining a robust U.S. and allied presence in the Indo-Pacific region.

“I think the most important thing we can do is maintain the American military position in Japan, in the Republic of Korea, and that first island chain, but also add to our Andersen Air Force Base in Guam. And to be an effective deterrent to keep the peace,” Burns told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday.

“Our responsibility is to make Taiwan a tough nut to crack, help it increase its asymmetric defenses through the Taiwan Relations Act,” said Burns. “We have enormous latitude — Congress and the executive branch under the Taiwan Relations Act — to deepen our security, assistance to Taiwan.”

“I think a lot of experts believe that Taiwan needs a greater asymmetric defense capacity, needs to spend money in that to repel ... the threat of an amphibious invasion or an airborne invasion, whatever the Chinese are thinking of,” Burns said, noting China’s actions have been more aggressive of late, including sending some 150 warplanes into Taiwan's Air Identification Zone.

“The Chinese,” he said, “clearly are in a different path than they were 30 or 20 years ago.”


Good Friday morning and welcome to Jamie McIntyre’s Daily on Defense, written and compiled by Washington Examiner National Security Senior Writer Jamie McIntyre (@jamiejmcintyre) and edited by Victor I. Nava. Email here with tips, suggestions, calendar items, and anything else. Sign up or read current and back issues at DailyonDefense.com. If signing up doesn’t work, shoot us an email and we’ll add you to our list. And be sure to follow us on Twitter: @dailyondefense.


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HAPPENING TODAY: As this newsletter is hitting your email inbox this morning, NATO is wrapping up its two-day meeting of allied defense ministers in Brussels, and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is taking reporters' questions.

The ministers have approved an updated strategy for deterring Russia called the "Concept for Deterrence and Defense in the Euro-Atlantic Area,” which is in response to what Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called “the growing threat from Russia’s missile systems.”

“We will not mirror Russia’s destabilizing behavior, and we have no intention to deploy new land-based nuclear missiles in Europe,” Stoltenberg said.

Instead, he said, “Ministers endorsed a new overarching plan to defend our alliance in crisis and conflict, to make sure that we continue to have the right forces at the right place, at the right time.”

While details of the strategy are classified, Stoltenberg said it included significant improvements to NATO’s air and missile defenses, more fifth-generation jets such as the F-35, and improving the readiness and effectiveness of NATO’s nuclear deterrent.

CLIMATE CHANGE AS NATIONAL SECURITY THREAT: The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has released its first-ever National Intelligence Estimate on climate change, which represents the consensus view of all 18 intelligence community elements that climate change poses a significant threat to U.S. national security.

“We assess that climate change will increasingly exacerbate risks to US national security interests as the physical impacts increase and geopolitical tensions mount about how to respond to the challenge,” the NIE concludes. “Intensifying physical effects will exacerbate geopolitical flashpoints, particularly after 2030, and key countries and regions will face increasing risks of instability and need for humanitarian assistance.”

The report offers three “key judgments”:

  1. Geopolitical tensions are likely to grow as countries increasingly argue about how to accelerate the reductions in net greenhouse gas emissions that will be needed to meet the Paris Agreement goals. 
  2. The increasing physical effects of climate change are likely to exacerbate cross-border geopolitical flashpoints as states take steps to secure their interests. 
  3. Scientific forecasts indicate that intensifying physical effects of climate change out to 2040 and beyond will be most acutely felt in developing countries, which we assess are also the least able to adapt to such changes.

The report, and a companion report on the effects of climate change on migration, “reinforce the president’s commitment to evidence-based decisions guided by the best available science and data,” the White House said in a statement.

INHOFE NOT ASSUAGED BY AFGHANISTAN BRIEFING: The Senate Armed Services Committee was given a classified briefing yesterday on security in Afghanistan by Biden administration officials that left ranking Republican Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe fuming.

“Today’s briefing confirmed yet again what we’ve known all along: the United States is now less safe than before President Biden’s disastrous decision to unconditionally and entirely withdraw from Afghanistan,” Inhofe said in a statement. “It’s also clear that without a U.S. diplomatic or military presence on the ground, we are in a worse place to understand and track the terrorist threats coming from Afghanistan.”

“Next week, the Senate Armed Services Committee will hear from Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl, where I hope he’ll tell us how the Biden administration intends to deal with the serious national security consequences of our departure from Afghanistan,” Inhofe said.

“The 2020 Doha agreement laid out clear conditions the Taliban had to meet before the withdrawal of U.S. troops. General Milley told us last month six of the seven required conditions weren’t met, but President Biden ignored those conditions — and also the advice of his military advisers — and withdrew U.S. forces anyway.”

SASC NOMS ADVANCE: The Senate Armed Services Committee has voted and sent to the floor 38 pending military promotions in the Army, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Space Force, as well as the following civilian nominations:

  • Gabriel Camarillo to be undersecretary of the Army.
  • Rachel Jacobson to be assistant secretary of the Army for energy, installations, and environment.
  • Alex Wagner to be assistant secretary of the Air Force for manpower and reserve affairs.
  • Andrew Hunter to be assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology, and logistics.
  • David Honey to be deputy undersecretary of defense for research and engineering.
  • Corey Hinderstein to be deputy administrator for defense nuclear nonproliferation, National Nuclear Security Administration.

HYPERSONIC TESTS: The Navy and the Army have jointly conducted tests of hypersonic technology using what’s known as sounding rockets launched from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

According to a press release, the rockets carried hypersonic experiments designed to test “advanced hypersonic technologies, capabilities, and prototype systems in a realistic operating environment.”

“This test is a vital step in the development of a Navy-designed common hypersonic missile, consisting of a Common Hypersonic Glide Body and booster, which will be fielded by both the Navy and Army with individual weapon systems and launchers tailored for launch from sea or land,” the release said.


The Rundown

Washington Examiner: Biden pledges to defend Taiwan, White House says no change in policy

Washington Examiner: ‘Vile’: China threatens European Union over vote in support of Taiwan

Washington Examiner: UN nuclear watchdog calls for censure of Iran over violations

Washington Examiner: Military conducts tests to further hypersonic missile development

Washington Examiner: Colin Powell, 1937-2021

Washington Examiner: Remembering a 'reluctant warrior'

Washington Examiner: Veterans Affairs begins actions against unvaccinated employees

Washington Examiner: Thousands of Afghan evacuees leave US military bases for new homes

Washington Examiner: Army begins hiring additional criminal investigators to improve case load

Washington Examiner: Video: Marine veteran disarms gun-wielding suspect at Arizona gas station

Reuters: Putin Says Western Military Backing Of Ukraine Threatens Russia

Reuters: With Xi-Biden meeting, U.S. aims to show responsible handling of China ties

Reuters: Britain Warns China Against Dangerous Military Moves Around Taiwan

The Drive: Unwanted Global Hawk Drones Are Being Transformed To Support Hypersonic Missile Tests

Washington Post: South Korea successfully launches its first rocket, fails to place test satellite

Air Force Times: Investigation finds faulty power supply part caused KC-135 nosedives

Stars and Stripes: U.S. Army Is Testing Israel’s Iron Dome Missile-Defense System On Guam

Air Force Magazine: Air Force Asks Boeing for E-7A Wedgetail Data for E-3 Sentry Replacement

Military Times: New Military COVID-19 Deaths Come Down Slightly As Cases Drop Nationwide

Federal News Network: DoD civilians will be suspended without pay and then fired if they do not get vaccinated

Defense News: ‘Uncharted Waters:’ With No Hyten Successor In Sight, DoD Prepares To Delegate Vice Chair Jobs

Marine Corps Times: How The Family Of An Interpreter Turned U.S. Marine Escaped Afghanistan

19fortyfive.com: Don't Get Hyper over China's New Hypersonic Missile Test

19fortyfive.com: Coming Soon: An Air Force for The Taliban?

19fortyfive.com: Why Should American Soldiers Die for Taiwan?



9 a.m. — Center for Strategic and International Studies virtual discussion: “U.S.-China Economic Competition,” with Deputy National Security Adviser Daleep Singh; Anne Stevenson-Yang, co-founder and research director at J Capital Research; David Bank, senior adviser at the Cohen Group; Alexander Titus, head of healthcare and life sciences strategy for the global public sector at Google Cloud; and Remco Zwetsloot, research fellow at the Center for Security and Emerging Technology. https://www.csis.org/events/discussion-us-china-economic-competition

10 a.m. — Atlantic Council virtual discussion: “Women, Peace, and Security 2030: Integrating lessons learned from Afghanistan, with former NATO Special Representative for Women, Peace, and Security Clare Hutchinson. https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/event/women-peace-and-security

3 p.m. — Heritage Foundation virtual discussion: “Japan's Growing Role in Indo-Pacific Security,” with former national security adviser retired Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, Japan chair at the Hudson Institute; Jeffrey Hornung, political scientist at the RAND Corporation; and Bruce Klingner, senior research fellow for Northeast Asia at Heritage. https://www.heritage.org/asia/event/japans-growing-role-indo-pacific-security


10 a.m. 300 First St. S.E. — Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies in-person Aerospace Nation breakfast event with Gen. Mark Kelly, commander, Air Combat Command; and retired Lt. Gen. David Deptula, dean, Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies. RSVP: awaldo@afa.org


10 a.m. — The Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies releases a new research study: “The Future Fighter Force Our Nation Requires: Building a Bridge,” by Heather Penney, senior resident fellow. https://mitchellaerospacepower.org/


11 a.m. 2118 Rayburn — House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness hearing: “Depot Modernization and Optimization, with Steven Morani, acting assistant secretary of defense for sustainment; Karen Saunders, acting assistant secretary of the Army acquisition, logistics, and technology; Frederick Stefany, acting assistant secretary of the Navy, research, development, and acquisition; and Darlene Costello, Acting assistant secretary of the Air Force, acquisition, technology, and logistics. https://armedservices.house.gov/hearings


9 a.m. The InterContinental - Wharf, Washington, D.C. — Aspen Security Forum Day 1, with Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley; Gen. Paul Nakasone, commander, U.S. Cyber Command and director, National Security Agency; Condoleezza Rice, former Secretary of State; Kathleen Sebelius, former Secretary of Health and Human Services; Ng Eng Hen, Minister of Defense of Singapore; Philippe Etienne, Ambassador of France to the U.S.; Emily Haber, Ambassador of Germany to the U.S.; and others. https://www.aspensecurityforum.org/


“I truly believe that China today led by the Communist Party and propelled by Xi Jinping's hyper nationalism is unlike any challenge we have faced as a nation before. For decades, we've failed to comprehensively address China's growing reach from its predatory economic behavior and aggressive efforts to coerce its neighbors in the maritime domain, it's dangerous flexing of military muscle against Taiwan, or the crushing of the religious and cultural autonomy of Tibet, and its campaign of genocide against the Uighur people, as well as the imposition of a chilling system of digital authoritarianism to suppress and oppress its own people. China today is more active and more emboldened than ever before.”

New Jersey Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.