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Dominic Nicholls: The porcupine theory of Taiwanese defence

  • Dominic Nicholls. The Telegraph
  • Category: Headlines
  • Hits: 1962

As the world draws breath after the first six months of the war in Ukraine, another potential flashpoint demands attention: Taiwan.

Although the capital cities are 8,000 kilometres apart, Kyiv and Taipei share similar defence priorities and should learn from each other as they seek to fend off imperialist neighbours.

The war in Ukraine shows that we may be entering the era of porcupine tactics. If it is impossible to render one’s country impervious to the ambitions of bullies, perhaps, the argument goes, one has to raise the cost of any aggression to an unacceptable level. In short, promise the bully such a thorny reception that even if he is likely, eventually, to succeed, he decides to desist because the amount of pain he would have to endure to prevail is unacceptable.

To become a porcupine is a bold strategy and calls for a complete change of thinking as regards defence equipment, training and structures.

Instead of investing, as its is, in small quantities of high-spec military kit such as U.S. F-16 fighter jets and M1A2 Abrams tanks, perhaps Taiwan should be buying or making vast quantities of cheaper, less sophisticated equipment. As Ukraine’s stout defence of its territory has shown the world, relatively cheap anti-tank systems, such as the American Javelin or Anglo-Swedish NLAW easy-to-master surface-to-air missiles, can in the right hands and in sufficient quantities hold back an army the size of Russia’s.

Simple home-made devices such as “hedgehog” tank traps — strong metal bars welded in a pyramid shape — have been around for decades, but have been seen in Kyiv’s streets and on the beaches of Odesa, ready to lodge under tanks or rip the bellies of softer vehicles, rendering them useless.

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Dominic Nicholls. The Telegraph