What Ukraine Means for Taiwan’s Security

What Ukraine Means for Taiwan’s Security
Photo Credit: Reuters / TPG Images

What you need to know

Although authoritarian states implement similar strategies against their military targets, there’s important distinctions worth keeping in mind when comparing the war in Ukraine to a potential cross-strait conflict.

The recent Russian invasion of Ukraine has justifiably made the international community anxious about the fate of small democracies around the world. Observers in China, Japan, Taiwan, and the United States are watching the situation in Ukraine and drawing parallels to the cross-strait crisis. China claims Taiwan as its own sovereign territory, with Chinese President Xi Jinping calling for “reunification by 2049,” the 100-year anniversary of the People’s Republic of China. President Xi has also refused to rule out the use of military force to unify Taiwan with the mainland. China seems to be making steps towards increasing military pressure on Taiwan through increasing its military spending and conducting air incursions into Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone. Despite parallels between the strategies and rhetoric of the aggressors, there are significant differences between Ukraine and Taiwan that influence the tactics used by their neighboring states.

In short, China will have a significantly harder time justifying an invasion of Taiwan and the international community’s response will be swifter and more severe in the event of such a war.


The geography of Ukraine and Taiwan are unchanging factors and will affect how war is conducted in the future. Ukraine represents the geopolitical divide between NATO and EU members with Russia and Belarus. The country has a border of approximately 7,000 km along Moldova, Romania (NATO), Hungary (NATO), Slovakia (NATO), Poland (NATO), Belarus, and Russia, making it an important defensive position.

Photo Credit: Reuters / TPG Images
Ukrainian service members walk near a school building destroyed by shelling, as Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues, in Zhytomyr, Ukraine March 4, 2022.

Ukraine’s long, shared border and flat terrain means that it is easy to traverse and control with ground forces. In 1812, Napoleon used the region’s flat terrain to attack Moscow through Belarus. Adolf Hitler would also attempt to attack Russia in 1941 through Operation Barbarossa. Barbarossa was largely a ground force operation and consisted of approximately three million men, 3,000 tanks, 7,000 artillery, and 2,500 aircraft. Although modern Russia can utilize airstrike capabilities and advanced weaponry, it will still largely rely on ground forces to take and buttress a Kremlin-occupied Ukraine against neighboring NATO members. Ukrainian membership in NATO would put Russia in a weaker security position and could prevent expansionist efforts in the future. 


Taiwan, like Ukraine, sits at a strategic crossroads in its respective region in the world. Taiwan is situated within the First Island Chain, connecting East and Southeast Asia. Taiwan’s position in the First Island Chain stands between Asian manufacturers with their overseas end markets. 

Taiwan consists of one main island and smaller surrounding islands. The bulk of Taiwan’s population resides in urban areas in the littorals to the West, while the Central and Eastern portions of the island consist of mountains and valleys that are difficult to traverse. There are only 14 invasion beaches, most of which are easy to defend in a beach-landing invasion scenario. Taiwan’s main island is located approximately 161 km East of mainland China, with the islands of Kinmen (6 km) and Matsu (9 km) significantly closer to the mainland. Taiwan officially has an Air Defense Identification Zone but in practice uses the Median Line and United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea to determine its airspace. Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) uses crossovers of the Median Line as criteria to dispatch a jet sortie response to Chinese PLA aircraft. The MND likely uses UNCLOS (12 km off the main island’s coast) as criteria to shoot down hostile aircraft.

Photo Credit: AP / TPG Images
A demonstrator holds a placard as she attends a demonstration outside Downing Street, in London, Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022.
Historical Challenges

A Taiwan invasion scenario would look much different from what we are currently seeing in Ukraine. Given Taiwan’s lack of land borders, an invading force would need to have robust air and naval capabilities. In addition to the high monetary cost, naval landings are also logistically difficult military feats. A historically similar example would be Germany’s attempts to use coercion and propaganda to get the United Kingdom out of the Second World War.

The United Kingdom declared war on Nazi Germany in September of 1939 and found itself on the receiving end of the Blitzkrieg (meaning “lightning war”), a firebombing campaign in which the German Luftwaffe bombed London and other strategic cities in the United Kingdom from September 1940 – May 1941. During the Blitzkrieg Campaign, Germany was able to inflict heavy damage on London but failed to meet its goal of destroying the UK’s morale and willingness to fight in the war. In addition to the firebombing campaign, Hitler also took steps towards invading the United Kingdom after the Battle of France. The German Navy and Army prepared the planned Operation Sea Lion (Unternehmen Seelöwe) by developing and preparing specialized transport vehicles to be used in a naval landing. 

Despite the English Channel only being 33 kilometers at its narrowest point, Operation Sea Lion was postponed indefinitely by the German High Command due to heavy losses to Luftwaffe aircraft. At this point, two initiatives failed due to the lack of German air power, leaving a naval landing infeasible. After coercion failed, Germany dropped propaganda leaflets detailing one of Hitler’s speeches called “A Last Appeal to Reason” addressed to the Reichstag on July 19, 1940. The leaflet, similar to the recent speech made by Russian President Vladimir Putin attempting to justify his invasion of Ukraine, highlights the German leadership’s victimhood mentality by simultaneously blaming their aggressive behavior on the victors of the first World War and calling for peace between Great Britain and Germany, stating “I can see no reason why this war must go on.” Like Russia, Nazi Germany expressed resentment at their perceived adversaries, attempted to use its military might to coerce political concessions, and only appealling to conflict resolution after losing the ability to achieve political goals using military power. 

Taiwan Invasion Scenario 

An invasion strategy against Taiwan may look similar to that of Nazi Germany had planned against the United Kingdom and Russia is now deploying against Ukraine. A hostile power using a victimhood narrative for political legitimacy and to justify the use of violence against civilian populations. Next, aerial bombardments against military installations to destroy defense capacity and against civilians to destroy morale. Finally, a large-scale effort to transport ground troops and vehicles to Taiwan’s main island for occupation. Whereas Russia is relying heavily on ground forces in Ukraine, China would likely rely primarily on air superiority in a war against Taiwan given geographical distance and the need to protect naval vessels from Taiwanese missiles, fighter jets, and submarines. 

Although authoritarian states implement similar strategies against their military targets, there’s important distinctions worth keeping in mind when comparing the war in Ukraine to a potential cross-strait conflict. The goal of such comparisons should be to resolve violent conflict proactively through diplomacy and security partnerships.

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TNL Editor: Bryan Chou, Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)

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