Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Defense News publishes my letter

A couple of weeks ago longtime Asian military affairs observer Wendell Minnick had an article in Defense News (3/19) entitled "Taiwan Procurement a Shambles" discussing our favorite arms sales mess. I sent off a letter to DN, which was published on 3/26.

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Editor:

Wendell Minnick's Taiwan Procurement in Shambles (3/19), while an admirably informative article from the wish list perspective, neglects to inform the reader of facts vital to understanding why the legislature might deadlock on the purchase of US arms. Consequently, readers of the Defense News article acquire an erroneous understanding of the issues.

Minnick consistently blames "the legislature" for deadlocking on the issue, without telling us why the deadlock exists. There are two reasons for this.

First, it is the pro-China parties in the legislature, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and its allies, who are hanging up the weapons purchase, not the pro-Taiwan Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and its allies. The latter all support the purchase, but the pro-China parties have a majority in the legislature. Minnick nowhere makes this crucial political fact clear. The KMT is doing this partly because they are cooperating with China, which does not want the island to have weapons, partly because if purchased under the DPP government no money will flow into their pockets, and partly because it is one of the KMT's core strategies to paralyze the government to make the ruling party look bad and make it appear as if Taiwan cannot govern itself -- the arms purchase is just one of more than a dozen major pieces of legislation held up in the legislature, including the current government budget. This invites the world to approve of Chinese annexation of Taiwan as an act of discipline for a recalcitrant and immature child.

Second, Minnick neglects to inform the reader of the crucial role of the US in creating the legislative deadlock. Because the US navy does not want the US to have a conventional sub making capability -- it prefers nukes -- it has set the price of the subs at triple typical world prices, making it difficult for supporters in Taiwan to argue that the cost is not high. Minnick writes as if Taiwan is just starting to demand co-production on the deal -- "In many ways, Taiwan is becoming more like Japan and South Korea...." when in fact in 2002 a bipartisan group of more than 130 legislators signed a letter demanding co-production. It was the US that refused to give Taiwan co-production of even the smallest component, giving a powerful impetus to the current deadlock. The US representative office in Taiwan has also consistently refused to counter pro-China propaganda on the arms purchase, while at the same time a steady stream of US officials have arrived in Taipei with threats directed clumsily at "Taiwan" rather than accurately at the pro-China parties. Other US errors, too numerous to list, could also be cited. In that aspect, the Defense News article is sadly consistent with most presentations in the US media, which typically neglects US culpability in helping create the Taiwan mess.

The pro-Taiwan parties, led by the DPP, generally support the US and support the weapons purchase. It is important not to lose sight of that fact when assessing Taiwan's role and potential as a US ally in the Pacific, including this arms purchase debacle.
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16 comments:

walter said...

Yeah that's a good thing they did show your letter. It should be posted widely as it would give those "old guys in Congress" a hint as to what's going on here. Keep up the good work Michael Turton. Oh and by the way, I should be graduating hopefully next year. Can't wait to go to Japan!

Alright take it easy sir.

Anonymous said...

Nice.

v said...

clear and concise. congrats

Anonymous said...

Yes, agreed, keep up the great work Michael. Good on you for setting the facts right so many times for Taiwan!

-Amy

taipeimarc said...

Good article Michael. It fits in with your other must-read (if you want to understand Taiwan) piece: Understanding the Mess in Taiwan

Jerome Keating's latest article is also good: CKS's Pitiful Legacy and the Minions Who Try to Defend it

Anonymous said...

<<<<<<<
.... I sent off a letter to DN, which was published on 3/26.
>>>>>>>

What a wonderful letter, Michael! You've done more to further understanding of Taiwan's procurement obstacles than dozens of "veteran East Asia watchers" working the major media outlets.

Well done!

channing said...

I'm sure the concerned parties in the US government know the situation behind the blocking of the budget bill. After all, they have dozens of organizations closely scrutinizing the politics in Taiwan and China. But they still do not want to speak out against the KMT's actions by singling out the KMT specifically. I think they may be afraid of the potential for over-involvement in Taiwan's politics...what do you think?

Michael Turton said...

Channing --

I know there are some individuals in the government who have a pretty good handle on things, but stuff I have seen privately and even publicly convinces me that real understanding of Taiwan is not at all as common as we'd like to hope.

Several reasons -- lots of people get assigned to Taiwan and don't come to because they want to. Many experts, like the current head of the State department Taiwan desk, have no Taiwan background at all. Lots of their Taiwan contacts are KMT people who have a vested interest in distorting things, and of course, the DPP handles the relationship with the US very poorly. Etc etc etc.

Michael

Patrick Cowsill said...

I'm trying to figure out this quote. Obviously, I am missing something:

"Second, Minnick neglects to inform the reader of the crucial role of the US in creating the legislative deadlock. Because the US navy does not want the US to have a conventional sub making capability -- it prefers nukes -- it has set the price of the subs at triple typical world prices, making it difficult for supporters in Taiwan to argue that the cost is not high."

The sub deal continues to confuse me. I've heard Taiwan will buy diesel subs at 2.5 times the going rate from the States. The States, which doesn't even make diesel subs (I think), will go to Europe to pick them up. The subs are noisy and cannot stay down very long (especially when compared to a nuclear one).

This is what confuses me most:
1. How will diesel subs be useful against China (assuming that's why Taiwan wants them)? China has nuclear subs.
2. Why doesn't Taiwan buy the subs from a country that makes them for the going rate?

Michael Turton said...

Patrick:

Europe will not make subs for Taiwan because of China. The original idea was for the US to procure them on Taiwan's behalf, but nobody wants to incur China's wrath by making them. So the US will be forced to. Many in the US are saying Taiwan, which has been thoroughly screwed by the US, should go ahead and make them itself.

Diesel subs are cheap, usually quieter than nukes (search the net for AIP propulsion), and perfect for Taiwan's needs. Nukes are not necessarily better than diesels -- they are often larger and have trouble operating in the shallow waters of the Straits. The US prefers nukes because they have a long range operational capability that Taiwan will not need -- it's not like Taiwanese subs will be operating under the north pole or off of Novayla Zemlya.

Michael

HCC said...

Dear Mr. Turton:

I feel that I must object to certain comments in your article. In particular, your conclusion that the pan-blue parties are cooperating with PRC to prevent the Taiwanese military from acquiring essential equipment is, in my opinion, incorrect. For one, the pan-blue parties did okay the acquisition of many, many other items, such as: AAV7A1 amphibious assault vehicles, Kidd-class destroyers, early warning radars, C4ISR program (po-sheng), AMRAAM, SLAMRAAM (not to mention the F-16s, PATRIOT, Mirage, Lafayette, PFG-2s during the earlier generation). I would be hesitant to conclude that the pan-blue are purposefully preventing Taiwan from acquiring weapons, in light of the many other items that they did approve. The recent deadlock concerned primarily two items: diesel submarines and the PAC-3. The former was disputed for their price (as you acknowledged in the fourth paragraph of your article), and the latter for their reliability. (On the other hand, the $16 billion NTD budget for the F-16 fighters was, in fact, blocked off by a DPP legislator (沈發惠)).

Your other comment concerning the pan-blue parties’ strategy of “paralyzing the government” is equally troubling. For instance, during the seven years of the DPP administration, a total of 1,235 legislations were passed during the 13 legislative sessions (as of February 1, 2007), while only 8 resulted in a vote-off. On the other hand, only 736 legislations were passed during the previous 12 legislative sessions under the KMT administration. One could hardly conclude that the KMT has been purposefully paralyzing the government.

阿牛 said...

very nice letter. Excellent contribution.

Michael Turton said...

I feel that I must object to certain comments in your article. In particular, your conclusion that the pan-blue parties are cooperating with PRC to prevent the Taiwanese military from acquiring essential equipment is, in my opinion, incorrect. For one, the pan-blue parties did okay the acquisition of many, many other items, such as: AAV7A1 amphibious assault vehicles, Kidd-class destroyers, early warning radars, C4ISR program (po-sheng), AMRAAM, SLAMRAAM (not to mention the F-16s, PATRIOT, Mirage, Lafayette, PFG-2s during the earlier generation). I would be hesitant to conclude that the pan-blue are purposefully preventing Taiwan from acquiring weapons, in light of the many other items that they did approve. The recent deadlock concerned primarily two items: diesel submarines and the PAC-3. The former was disputed for their price (as you acknowledged in the fourth paragraph of your article), and the latter for their reliability. (On the other hand, the $16 billion NTD budget for the F-16 fighters was, in fact, blocked off by a DPP legislator (沈發惠)).

The weapons you speak of were all approved under the government of President Lee, during which the pro-China parties had not yet evolved a close cooperation with China that began after Wu Po-hsiung visited the mainland in 2000 and especially after the agreements just prior to the 2004 presidential election. The political situation is very different from the days when the pro-China parties thought they'd be running the show forever.

Further, money from those weapons programs went into pockets of the party in power; as you must be well aware, a $400 million bribe went to the KMT from the French for the Lafayettes alone. And of course, we had a pro-Taiwan president, Lee Teng-hui, controlling the legislature.

Your other comment concerning the pan-blue parties’ strategy of “paralyzing the government” is equally troubling. [snipped]
One could hardly conclude that the KMT has been purposefully paralyzing the government.


Statistics are like bikinis; they conceal the really important stuff. Blockage is occurring prior to the appearance of bills on the floor -- the arms bills was prevented from reaching the floor more than 60 times. Hence simply counting the number of bills passed misses the point. Completely. The government has no budget at the moment -- blocked not by vote but during preliminary review and during review of amendments. Also blocked are sunshine laws, key water infrastructure spending, etc. Most blocked prior to voting -- in other words, the really key stuff won't appear in your tally.

Michael

HCC said...

>>>The weapons you speak of were all approved under the government of President Lee...

(1): Mr. Turton, I understand your interest in military affairs and Taiwan’s defense matters, but I am nonetheless concerned about the accuracy of certain statements in your article. For instance, the budget for the Kidd class destroyers was passed in 2003 by the Legislative Yuan for $24.4 billion NTD. So were the budgets for the early warning radar, Bo-sheng (C4ISR), and the AAV7 (by the way, the DDP tried to exclude its budget of $6.1 billion NTD back when it was first introduced).

And those are just the foreign weapons procurements. The Legislative Yuan had also approved many domestic weapons plans and procurements. For instance: the “cloud leopard” armored vehicle in (2006), and Kuang Hua VI missile crafts (2006), to name a few.

The military makes substantial weapons procurement each year. The following is a brief chart of the figures in recent years:

2005: $71.6 billion NTD, with 7006 domestic procurement and 113 foreign procurements
2004: $85.5 billion NTD, with 7443 domestic procurements and 224 foreign procurements
2003: $147.4 billion NTD, with 10,767 domestic procurements and 209 foreign procurements
2002: $66.7 billion NTD, with 11349 domestic procurements and 314 foreign procurements
2001: $99.5 billion NTD, with 13,042 domestic procurements and 371 foreign procurements

All of the above procurements occurred during the DPP administration and with a pan-blue majority in congress. I am, however, reluctant to conclude from the above that the pan-blue is purposefully attempting to prevent Taiwan from acquiring the necessary equipment.

(2): In addition to the weapons procurement, the KMT has also agreed to increase the defense budget from the 2+% to 3% of the GDP. (The DPP administration, on the other hand, has steadily decreased defense spending annually throughout 2000-2006.)

(3): If, as you have acknowledged in your article, that the price of the diesel submarines was inflated, then, shouldn’t the congress refuse to approve an inflated budget? And, if the DPP was also aware of this, wouldn’t the DPP be derelict of its duties by remain silent in the face of an overpriced arms package?

(4): As mentioned above: a DPP legislator (沈發惠) single-handedly blocked off the $16 billion NTD budget for the new F-16 C/D fighters this year. Would you consider that an act of treason?

All I am trying to say is this: I can't say, in light of the evidence from above, that the pan-blue is purposefully working with PRC to undermine Taiwan's defenses.


>>>Blockage is occurring prior to the appearance of bills on the floor...

I am interested in addressing this issue. However, for the sake of avoiding further digression of the topic (military procurement) above, I would like to reserve the discussion of this matter for later if you do not mind.

Michael Turton said...

(1): Mr. Turton, I understand your interest in military affairs and Taiwan’s defense matters, but I am nonetheless concerned about the accuracy of certain statements in your article. For instance, the budget for the Kidd class destroyers was passed in 2003 by the Legislative Yuan for $24.4 billion NTD.

Just to talk about the Kidds, the budget was delayed for two years because the Blue team repeatedly deleted the Kidds from it. The PFP was initially opposed to getting any Kidds at all. When the Kidds were finally purchased, the Legislative Yuan refused to purchase all of the necessary weaponry that went with them. The budget was barely approved.

Other acquisitions were permitted because the bid process was rigged to send the funds to Blue companies -- like the KH-6 attack boats, which went to China Shipbuilding.

It's nice that the radars and AAV7 vehicles were approved, but not really important. Neither is much of a threat to the Chinese.

The real issue that shows the close relations between the pro-China parties and China is the flow of public and private visits. At the moment more than 3,000 retired Taiwan military officers live in China, and of course, the open visits by KMT officials such as Lien Chan, who is due to go again to China on April 26th.

That's the real issue, and where the cooperation is taking place. The Blues are pro-China parties. I hope your next comment will address these facts.

Michael

HCC said...

During Chiang Kai-shek’s reign, the military budget accounted for 90% of government expenditure at one time. Would you consider Mr. Chiang to be a greater lover of Taiwan? Or, as indicated above, Mr. Chen Shui-bian reduced defense spending to less than 3% of the GDP under his administration. Would you consider that to be collaborating with the PRC? On top of that, the DPP also pushed for force reduction and streamlined the size of the military. The service term of the conscripts was reduced and will likely be reduced again by the end of Mr. Chen’s term. Various observers have expressed concerns of the impacts (of force and service reduction) onto the military, but would you characterize that as treasonous?

The pan-blue blocked the arms package in the committee for some sixty plus times, and some called that an act of treason. But if this package was, as you mentioned, overpriced, then what do you say to the legislators who pushed for an inflated package for some sixty plus times?

(What do you say to the former U.S.S.R. generals who pushed to increase military spending to match Reagan’s Star War program? Would the Russians consider them to be patriotic? What if that resulted in the bankruptcy and collapse of their country?)

Or, I think the control of airspace is no less important than control of the sea for Taiwan. So what do you say to the DPP legislator who blocked the F-16 C/D program? Is that any more or less harmful to Taiwan’s defenses (compared to the submarines)?

Or what do you say to Lien Chan’s visit to PRC? Richard Nixon visited PRC thirty years prior, and gradually normalized relations in the height of the cold war. Was that an act of treason? Jimmy Carter visited North Korea in 1994 and reduced tensions between the U.S. and DPRK. Is he a turncoat?

And so, what do you say to Mr. Chen Shui-bian, who modified his inaugural speech based on a note he received from leaders of the CCP, and said that his (Mr. Chen) greatest wish is to sit down with them, shake hands, and reconcile their differences? Or to his predecessor, Mr. Lee Tung-hui, who maintained underground messengers with the CCP throughout his administration, and expressed his wish to visit the route of the Confucius (located in the heart of the PRC)?

And what about Lien? His visit was approved by nearly 60% of the Taiwanese, and in fact received blessings from Mr. Chen Shui-bien himself. His trip, in the end, resulted in the reduction of tensions and the possibility of violent confrontations in the Taiwan strait. So do we call him a traitor?

Or what do you say about his party, the KMT? That’s the party that maintained the longest period of violent confrontation with the CCP. Many CCP members died in the hands of the KMT, and many KMT members died in the hands of the CCP. Their conflict lasted decades, resulted in many bloody wars, and the death of tens of millions (the DPP has yet to lose a member to the CCP). If the KMT and the CCP are able to forego their differences, who’s to say that the DPP won’t be able to follow suit in the future? Who’s to say that everyone won’t realize how silly his differences really were one day, or Mr. Su Tseng-chang (or Mr. Frank Hsieh) won’t shake the hand of Mr. Hu Jin-tao (or Mr. Wen Jia-bao) in our lifetime?

So what do you say to the Taiwanese who moved to PRC? How do you change the world’s most populous country and the largest remaining communist (kind of) regime? If you can’t beat it in a war, how about trying something different? How about sending waves and waves of the Taiwanese, who are experienced in the democratic and economic miracle in Taiwan, have them bring in the concepts of freedom and democracy, and subvert the enemy from within? In my opinion, democratize PRC is Taiwan’s best long-term defense. The CCP should be more afraid of the influx of this wave of democracy than Taiwan, right? (And yes, it may or may not work, but why don’t we at least let them give it a try? That’s at least cheaper than the diesel submarines).

There has been too much war and confrontation across the Taiwan strait in the past century and too few cool heads. I would very much like the people on both sides to each give peace a chance. I do believe that the arms purchase is necessary to ensure that day arrives, and, trust me, I don’t agree with the pan-blue camp all the time. But that’s how a democracy works. It can be very slow, raucous, and you have to endure the nonsense from the other side as well as your own. But I just can’t say that a particular political party (which was democratically elected by the people of Taiwan) is purposefully collaborating with the enemy. That is too easy and too convenient. It also ignores the other side of the story: the side from those who disagreed with us. But if we spend some time to try to comprehend the other voice, maybe one day we will come to understand that “they” really aren’t that much different from “us.” And hopefully the democratic experiment will finally succeed in this island then.

A few loose ends:
(1): Regarding the Kidds: By “necessary weaponry,” I assume you meant the SM2-Block 3? The rest of the missiles are scheduled to arrive this year. They were late for a few years but I don’t think there was any harm.

(2): The early warning radar is key to Taiwan’s defenses, in my opinion. They provide early detection to PLA’s ballistic missiles, which have been given significant political meanings.

(3): China Shipbuilding (or CSBC) is a state-owned enterprise. The government owns 98% of its shares and appoints the directors to the board.