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Taiwan should lead a security response mission to Haiti

AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph
Protesters sing an anti-government song in front of a barricade of burning tires during a protest against the government in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Friday, Nov. 18, 2022.

Haiti is falling apart, and no one has stepped up to demonstrate the leadership to help. With none of the likely suspects (the U.S., France, Canada and Brazil) willing to take this on, Taiwan should offer to step in and form a “Friends of Haiti Coalition” led by Taiwan’s “diplomatic allies” (those countries that recognize Taiwan over mainland China) plus support from the U.S. and others.

Haiti is one of Taiwan’s 14 diplomatic allies, and Taiwan could and should bear a uniquely significant burden, attracting a small yet symbolic participation from other Taiwan allies in the hemisphere and then ask for help from the U.S., Canada and others. In doing so, Taiwan would be assisting the U.S. and other friends of Taiwan with a problem no one else will take on.

Haiti has a long and complicated history with outside actors, including France, the United States and the United Nations (UN). Haitian slaves launched the first successful slave revolution in 1791 and won independence from France. The newly independent state was then required to pay cash reparations to its former slave masters, creating a burden that lasted well into the 20th century. From 1911 to 1915, seven Haitian presidents were ousted and killed, prompting the United States to formally occupy the country until 1934.

In the 1990s, the United States sent 20,000 troops alongside a parallel UN effort, but the effort collapsed when Haiti’s president was overthrown in a rebellion launched by a street gang. In response, the United States sent troops alongside Canada, France, and Chile. These troops were soon replaced by the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) until 2017. These multilateral efforts were marred by allegations of repression, sexual assault, and blamed for introducing a horrific cholera epidemic that killed thousands of Haitians.

Many people of goodwill say, “something must be done to help Haiti,” but with this tumultuous history, no one is stepping forward and likely will not unless things get even worse.

Taiwan should offer to form a “Friends of Haiti Coalition” and should send at least 1,000 troops and 100 police to lead it. Taiwan could also partially bankroll the participation of smaller, poorer partners including Paraguay, Guatemala, Honduras, Belize, Saint Vincent, Saint Kitts, and Saint Lucia, Taiwan’s other diplomatic allies in the Western Hemisphere. This group could work alongside the Haitian police, but not for them.

A good first step would be for Taiwan to call a meeting of all its allies in the Western Hemisphere in conjunction with Haiti. Taiwan could invite Canada, France, the U.S., Brazil and Argentina to attend such a meeting as well.

From there, Taiwan could ask the United States for intelligence and light support, including 50 to 100 advisors and soldiers. More specifically, the U.S. could provide French/Creole interpreters. Under such an arrangement Taiwan could call upon Canada, Brazil and Argentina and others at some level of support. Ideally other partners would match Taiwan’s 1,000-troop and 100-police commitment. The coalition would operate for a minimum of two years and a maximum of five, which is the “average” of a UN peacekeeping mission. The goal would be to restore security and pave the way for elections, which cannot even be contemplated at this time.

There are three arguments in favor of Taiwan stepping up.

First, Taiwan has been a long-term partner of Haiti. Largely, in exchange for Haiti actively supporting Taiwan’s sovereignty for over half a century, Taiwan has provided monetary resources and technical expertise for grassroots development projects. Haiti has remained steadfast, while other regional allies of Taiwan have shifted allegiances to the mainland in the last 20 years. At this time, foreign aid from Taiwan is not sufficient. Recognizing this fact, Taiwan has helped the Haitian police purchase bullet-proof vests and other personal protective equipment from Taiwanese manufacturers.

Second, a security response is in Taiwan’s strategic interest. The coalition would allow Taiwan’s military to practice troop interoperability working with police, air assets and army assets on an island. Sadly, there also likely will be opportunities for Taiwan to practice urban combat in some of Haiti’s most insecure areas. Amidst the specter of a potential Chinese invasion, where the Quad — U.S., Japan, Australia and India — may need to cooperate with Taiwan on urban warfare, this experience might reap dividends for the island’s survival. It would also allow Taiwan to practice its Command, Control and Communications (3C) and logistics.

Finally, forming a coalition would be a significant sign of Taiwan’s global burden sharing. It would create additional diplomatic space and legitimacy for Taiwan’s existence by demonstrating that the island can lead on a very difficult problem. China has continued to squeeze Taiwan’s diplomatic space, poaching eight diplomatic allies through economic and political pressure.

No one else is stepping up to help Haiti. Given this dilemma, it will be very difficult for anyone to object to Taiwan stepping forward and taking the lead.

Haiti would welcome this, too.

The U.S. could help, but is likely not going to step forward to lead unless Haiti falls apart even further. A multilateral security response would push back against these efforts by demonstrating the soft and hard power appeal of Taiwanese global leadership in contrast to Chinese aggression.

Daniel F. Runde is a senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). He is also the author of the recently published book “The American Imperative: Reclaiming Global Leadership Through Soft Power” (Bombardier Books, 2023).

Tags Diplomacy Haiti International relations Interoperability Leadership Military Police Taiwan

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