Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Nelson Report: Why Bush Adm has Frozen Arms & Other Stuff

A recent Nelson Report discusses why the Bush Administration is screwing Taiwan:


Taiwan arms...even though seven notifications are pending and had been expected to be submitted to Congress last week, sources say it may not happen, as White House officials take seriously a case against them made by a defense expert.

"Perspective" tonite comes from the conclusion of an influential study of Taiwan's defense needs by Naval War College analyst Bill Murray which helps explain what's happening...or, rather, not happening.

TAIWAN arms...a Loyal Reader asked last week what's up with notifications which faced a deadline for submission to Congress. Today, it's clear the deadlines have been missed, and pro-Taiwan folks are expressing outrage.

Heritages' John Tkacik tells Defense News he fears that Beijing will just "pocket" the Bush Administration non-decisions and that the next US Administration will be stuck with the ability to sell even less, regardless.

Maybe that's what will happen, say our defense experts...John is talking mainly politics, geopolitics here...but the internal debate on what Taiwan really needs, especially given China's current build-ups and power projection capability intentions...that may help explain the Bush decision to "decide" by not deciding.

Also remember, as Defense News notes, the Taiwan politicians are themselves to blame, in that they indulged in domestic gamesmanship for most of the Bush Administration, and "missed the window" which might...might have produced a favorable decision on some of the systems now stuck in limbo.

But the main reason? Our understanding is that a hard-nosed critique of the Taiwan arms situation by the Naval War College expert William Murray has been very closely read by senior Bush Administration players in various appropriate agencies.

So while it may be psychologically comforting for some pro-Taiwan folks to blame it on State (for example) that's not the real situation, they argue.

For "Perspective" tonite we're providing selections from the 32-page Murray paper which has clearly been so influential. You can ask yourself how YOU would react, were you a decision-maker, knowing that he is not speaking from out in left-field...rather, he is voicing concerns long expressed by experts in and out of the US military itself:

"It is difficult to escape the conclusion that China either already has or shortly will have the ability to ground or destroy Taiwan's air force and eliminate the navy at a time of its own choosing. This prospect fundamentally alters Taiwan's defense needs and makes the intended acquisition from the United States of diesel submarines, P-3 aircraft, and PAC-3 interceptors ill advised.

Diesel submarines are poor antisubmarine platforms, since with their low speed and limited underwater endurance they simply cannot search quickly large volumes of ocean for quiet submarines. These physical restrictions also limit their versatility as antisurface platforms. They are, for all practical purposes, four-knot minefields. At a cost of over U.S. $1.5 billion each and with indeterminate delivery dates, conventional submarines also carry significant opportunity costs, as some in Taipei clearly recognize. Finally, submarines are no more likely than other naval ships tied up at exposed piers to survive the opening salvo of a war with China.

Taiwan's apparent decision to purchase up to twelve submarine-hunting P-3C aircraft is similarly brought into question. Although these planes can collect valuable information during peacetime and in crisis, in wartime they would be sitting ducks while on the ground (though hardened shelters might protect P-3s) and aloft would require uncontested air superiority to have any chance of accomplishing their mission.100 In any case, Taipei cannot protect its runways. Patriot surface-to-air missiles have some utility against short-range ballistic missiles, but China already has the means to defeat this expensive air-defense system.

The implication is that Taiwan would be far better served by hardening, and building redundancy into, its civil and military infrastructure and systems. In that way the island could reasonably hope to survive an initial precision bombardment, deny the PRC the uncontested use of the air, repel an invasion, and defy the effects of a blockade for an extended period. Many of these actions, in fact, would be consistent with recent efforts by Taiwan to improve its defenses. Others, however, would entail substantial shifts that some in Taiwan's navy and air force would doubtless oppose. Air force leaders would be understandably loath to admit that their fighters cannot defend Taiwan's skies; their navy counterparts might similarly resist suggestions that their fleet is acutely vulnerable in port. Both services' political champions would certainly challenge the implications of this article's analysis. So too would the arms manufacturers who stand to benefit from the sale of aircraft, ships, and supporting systems to Taiwan.

Yet under present conditions it is doubtful that the people and government of Taiwan could withstand a determined PRC assault for long. A hasty American military intervention would be Taiwan's only hope, but only at the risk of strategic miscalculation and nuclear escalation. A "porcupine" strategy - a Taiwan that was patently useless to attack - would obviate the need; it would also make a determined Taipei conspicuously able to deny the objective of a bombardment or defeat an invasion, thus deterring either scenario. Ability to resist a full-scale campaign - long-range precision bombardment, invasion, and blockade - for a substantial amount of time would allow its potential allies to shape their responses carefully. Above all, demonstrable Taiwanese resilience would diminish Beijing's prior confidence in success, strengthen cross-strait deterrence, and reduce the risk of the United States being dragged into a conflict with China.

Meanwhile, a porcupine strategy would restore the United States to unequivocal adherence to the Taiwan Relations Act, since Taiwan would be in the market only for defensive systems. Taiwan would find itself with a better defense for fewer dollars, and the United States would abide by the 17 August 1982 joint communique© declaring that it would "not exceed, either in qualitative or in quantitative terms, the level of those [arms] supplied in recent years...and that it intends gradually to reduce its sale of arms to Taiwan, leading, over a period of time, to a final resolution."102

Finally, and most important, a porcupine approach would shift the responsibility for Taiwan's defense to Taiwan, rendering U.S. intervention in a cross-strait battle a last resort instead of the first response. Many observers believe that Taiwan today relies unduly on a perceived American security guarantee and does not do enough to provide for its own defense. Yet since 2000 the Kuomintang and the Democratic People's Party have not framed a defense debate that could produce the open, honest appraisal that is desperately needed if domestic consensus on a viable defense is to be achieved. A Taiwan that China perceived could be attacked and damaged but not defeated, at least without unacceptably high costs and risks, would enjoy better relations with the United States and neutralize the threat posed by many of China's recently acquired military capabilities. Unfortunately, political gridlock in Taipei stands in the way of any such hopes. It is not that Taiwan does not do enough to construct a viable defense but that it is not doing the right things.

William S. Murray is associate research professor at the U.S. Naval War College, where his research focuses on China's navy. He conducted submarine deployments and qualified to command nuclear submarines prior to retiring from the U.S. Navy. He is the coeditor of and a contributing author to China's Future Nuclear Submarine Force and China's Energy Strategy: The Impact on Beijing' s Maritime Policies...


It's not a bright idea to base your policy decision on the opinion of a single expert, however intelligent. Especially when he is saying what you want to hear. UPDATE: Original article is here. Murray's assessment, little birdies say, appears to have been made without visiting Taiwan. I'll be talking about it in a post tomorrow.

Defense News reports:

The Chinese will pocket the Bush administration’s Taiwan arms halt as the baseline for approaching the next administration,” said Tkacik, now with the Heritage Foundation. “Beijing will make it very painful for the next administration to restart arms supplies to Taiwan, insisting that doing so would renege on Bush commitments, imaginary or otherwise.”

The package has been held up since December. It includes items promised by the Bush administration in 2001, plus newer items such as attack and utility helicopters.?

"All in all, Taiwan policy is in complete tatters," said Rupert Hammond-Chambers, president, U.S.-Taiwan Business Council. “The administration is blatantly gaming the system in a manner that runs contrary to U.S.-Taiwan interests.

“There are simply no other examples of a non-NATO or other security relationship having its congressional notifications stacked at [the U.S. Department of] State in this manner. They are doing so over a zero­sum attitude toward U.S.-China-Taiwan relations and the equities Mr. Bush believes will be hurt by following through on his 2001 commitment.”

And the CNA report connects the reluctance to sell the weapons to the financial situation:

Taiwan's plans to procure weapons systems from the United States remain unchanged, as the nation is resolved to defend itself militarily and needs to beef up its self-defense capability, Chang Shuo-wen, a ruling Kuomintang (KMT) legislative caucus whip said Sunday.

Taiwan has submitted its military procurement plans to the United States and it is now up to the Bush administration to decide what to do about Taiwan's requests, President Ma Ying-jeou said recently.

Taiwan is seeking to buy a weapons package of anti-tank missiles, Apache helicopters, Patriot PAC-3 missile batteries, diesel-electric submarines, P3C Orion anti-submarine aircraft, sea-launched Harpoon anti-ship missiles, and Black Eagle helicopters from the US.

The US Department of State told Taiwanese news media Friday that Taiwan's arms procurement package is still under inter-departmental screening by the George W. Bush administration.

Once a final decision is made on the arms procurement package, the executive branch would notify Congress immediately, the State Department said.

When asked whether the arms procurement proposal would be left up to the new US administration, a State Department official said that "there is no timetable for that matter."

Commenting on the uncertainties surrounding the arms deal, KMT Legislator Lin Yu-fang, who is the convener of the Legislative Yuan Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee, said there is no need for Taiwan to worry too much, given that Taiwan remains part of the strategic interests of the United States.

Washington would not like to see the Taiwan Strait become a waterway of China, as this would open a big hole in the US defense frontline in the West Pacific, he added.

Noting that the supply of defense weapons to Taiwan is part of the stipulations in the United States' Taiwan Relations Act, Lin expressed confidence that whoever is elected the next president of the US will not renege on the commitment.

Lin attributed the "bumpy ride" of Taiwan's arms procurement package partly to Washington's reliance on China's cooperation in US anti-terrorism efforts and in its spiraling financial and economic storms. For example, China currently holds between US$500 billion and US$950 billion worth of US Treasury bonds, he said.
We're in deep, deep trouble.


Anonymous said...

It's not clear which came first - The Bush administration trying to find the justification for a major cut back in support for Taiwan, then using a cut out to make the case; or Naval War College/Murray writing something up then it being adopted by the Bush administration, and Ma administration for that matter.

For a counter to the Naval War College/Murray article, see:


Andrew said...

I was wondering if Taiwan did go down the path of adopting a porcupine defence strategy would it be likely that the U.S. State department be fully supportive of this in providing Taiwan with the assets to fully realise this strategy. That means selling Taiwan premium "Army" systems such as Apache attack helicopters, Abrams Main Battle tanks, Black Hawk Helicopters, Bradley Fighting Vehicles and MLRS (Multi Launch Rocket Systems).

I think the real danger is that Taiwan will be talked into slashing its Air Force and Navy in accord with the porcupine strategy but will not enhance and strengthen its Army. As it is a lot of Taiwans Army equipment particularly its tanks are in need of replacement and its Vietnam era helicopters are labbelled flying coffins due to them being on their last legs.

If Taiwan is to pin its hope for defence on its Army then it vital that its Army is equiped to do the job. The real danger is that Taiwan may gut its Navy and Airforce and best left only with a mediocre Army. Which may be what Beijing wants as I imagine if Beijing succeeds in blocking Taiwan's purchases of Fighter Jets and Naval equipment it is unlikely that an emboldened Beijing will allow Taiwan to purchase premium Army equipment. Maybe Beijing dreams of Taiwans military being reduced to a Coast Guard/Gendarmerie of the "Taiwan region"

andy said...

Deep trouble? Not necessarily; true picture about now is folk on both sides of the strait be laughing all the way to the bank, and most definitely will NOT put the brakes on the current roll with an idiotic war.

Readin said...

The "porcupine strategy" sounds more like a "turtle strategy". It's all defensive. A "porcupine strategy" would have the attacker paying a heavy price for the attack.

Other than that, there is a lot of truth to Murray's analysis. Taiwan might be better served persuading China that an attempt to invade would not fail right away, but instead would fail over many years.

Macca said...

Sorry. Off topic.
Did you see this series off maps on the BBC about global wealth over the years?


The story contains this nugget: 'In 2015, the richest country in terms of GDP per person is expected to be Taiwan with the US in sixth.'

Always nice to be referred to as a country, but (even with PPP) they might be taking Ma's GDP growth predictions a little too seriously.

Feiren said...

This is extremely interesting...
The implication is that Taiwan would be far better served by hardening, and building redundancy into, its civil and military infrastructure and systems. In that way the island could reasonably hope to survive an initial precision bombardment, deny the PRC the uncontested use of the air, repel an invasion, and defy the effects of a blockade for an extended period.
...because it very closely echoes what the former head of Taiwan's airforce Li Gui-fa said in July when he publicly opposed purchase of the F16 and PAC-3s and called for the money to be invested in hardening Taiwan's existing defenses.

Raj said...

Problem is that the defensive strategy would allow China to blockade Taiwan and strangle it without risking any forces.

That would be game over.

Andrew said...

I hardly think the term "idiotic war" is justified as while there is increased commerce on both sides of the Taiwan strait it is by no means all sunshine and rainbows between Taipei and Beijing. Beijing is still giving no indication that it is relenting in its efforts of turning Taiwan into the "Taiwan Region" yes I know they may throw the suffix "autonomous" into the mix but just remember it will be autonomy with "Chinese characteristics". If you want to know what autonomy with Chinese characteristics means just look at Tibet, Xinjiang/East Turkestan or Inner Mongolia.

Anyway can someone tell me in this period of reconciliation and increased commercial activity exactly how many of the one thousand or so balistic and cruise missiles pointed at Taiwan is Beijing planning on putting away.

Finally it is blatantly obvious that Beijing is hell bent on undermining anything that Taiwan has that vaguely resembles statehood or soverignty. Just think how much easier with Taiwan stripped of its airforce will it be for Beijing violate and degrade any sense of Taiwan being able to enforce sovereign air space.

Raj said...

I'd also like to know how China would eliminate Patriot batteries.

With surface-launched missiles? Duh, guess not given that eliminating them is the Patriot's speciality?

With aircraft dropping bombs? Sure, and I guess that Taiwan's domestic SAMs (Sky Bow II and soon-to-be-deployed Sky Bow III) would turn themselves off and let the PLAAF walk straight in.

I've heard the nonsense about the P-3C Orions before (thank God the nofitications have already gone through on that). They cannot easily be destroyed on the ground if bases are properly protected. With what? Oh, I don't know - how about Patriot & Sky Bow missiles! And they do not need absolute air-superiority to be used in war.

First, they could be used on Taiwan's eastern coast to stop Chinese submarines blocking off shipping - well away from PLAAF/ROCAF dogfights.

Second, in a blockade situation China would not attack them unless they wanted to escalate the crisis into a full war. So they can deter Chinese threats for a blockade.

It's worth noting that the planned submarine purchase has nothing to do with patrolling the ocean - that's up to the USN and perhaps JMSDF. They'd be for coastal patrol only - i.e. stopping a blockade or attacking an invasion fleet. They might not be that fast, but the Chinese amphibious fleet is much slower.

It is true that Taiwan can and should spend more money on hardening bases, but that is no use if Taiwan has nothing to hit back with.


Personally I do not believe that this theory is the cause of the hold-up in notification because at least four of the packages are purely defensive - the Apache attack helicopters, Black Hawk transport helicopters, Javelin anti-tank missiles and radar upgrades (supposedly for the Hawkeyes). The first, third and fourth would support the "porcupine strategy", as it would give Taiwan an increased ability to deal with a ground invasion. The second is not just part of that but needed even more because of the current Huey fleet's age.

Even if the Patriots, submarines and submarine-launched Harpoon missiles are not necessary, the other notifications would have gone ahead. The US wouldn't freeze all of them to try to send Taiwan a message about needing to change its defence strategy. A recent report from the Taipei Times had an anonymous source that said the notifications were approved by the DoD and went up to the State Department - which makes sense given official comments saying that an "inter-agency process" or some such was on-going. To me that's code for DoD and State/Bush are not in agreement. Although Bush could tell State not to agree to them yet, it wouldn't make sense for the DoD to have approved them if it agreed with Murray - and I doubt Bush would agree with Murray and ignore the DoD's advice.

I think that we may see at least some out-of-session notifications, as apparently they can be made if the administration wants to agree to them. The main question is when.

Anonymous said...

Describing that kind of strategy as porcupine seems very misleading. It would seem what a porcupine does when attacked is to attack back... making the cost of an attack unbearable even if in the end you'd still nominally have "won".

Subs may be a waste of money, but how could the F16s be? Seriously, it is an awesome plane, and even more so at its current cost. They are so cost-effective and could help with both air superiority and air-ground/sea attack operations.

Cruise missiles are also a very cheap and effective weapon that would really make China think twice about any attack.

Also, the Falklands War I think even today still has some good lessons, especially given the technology the Chinese navy is currently using. The Exocet missile, a rather simple, but effective and deadly was able to score hits on British vessels, completely destroying one. To do this day, there still really is no good defense.

Any missile like that that skips water or dives under water prior to impact... you can't stop it... today, you could probably even have it guided by remote control with live video, making avoidance even more improbably.

Also, a full-scale invasion of Taiwan by China is by no means an easy task even if they had air superiority. Taiwan is an island! They can't drive over here. Even if Taiwan ended up without fighters, how are you going to fly over here with tons of SAM sites hidden in the hills and mountains all over Taiwan? It's a nightmare from an attacker's perspective.

Anonymous said...

The guaranteed way to unfreeze US arms sales to Taiwan is if Taiwan starts talking to Russia about arms deals and Taiwan restarts it suspended nuclear weapons program.

channing said...

Beijing won't be able to administer Taiwan like it does Xinjiang and Tibet. It has no military leverage over Taiwan at the moment, and I'm willing to wager that Beijing has no intention of creating such leverage in the foreseeable future.

It's likely we will see a continuation of Beijing's "soft power" as the main strategy with which to engage Taiwan.

Raj said...

To do this day, there still really is no good defense.

Actually there is - it's an urban myth that no one can stop a fast-moving anti-ship missile. But it's arguable whether China has such defences.

Thomas said...

"I'm willing to wager that Beijing has no intention of creating such leverage in the foreseeable future."

Channing, you are joking, right? The strategy combines military leverage WITH soft power. This is the essence of the "provoke China" thing. "Shh... don't provoke China. They could start a war." You can't start a war without the military back-up. And where do you think that back-up is coming from? The double-digit percentage increases in military spending.

Military leverage is vital for China.

I am so pessimistic about this whole thing. It all sucks.

channing said...

I'll retract my comment when I see PLA Navy ships approaching Taiwan, so for now my opinion stands.

Anonymous said...

Raj: Care to elaborate on your Exocet comment?

I think picking off fighters before they can launch is pretty unrealistic when they are going to be coming in very low, very fast. The missile doesn't rely on radar until the end either, so you're not going to pick up its radar signature until late.

Thomas said...

Channing, since when is an actual attack the only military leverage? Get real.