Thursday, June 23, 2011

Indefensible Defense Declines =UPDATED=

I caught this couple near NCKU in Tainan doing wedding photographs in the food stalls across from the university. Way cool idea. 

WSJ was channeling me this week in a great editorial on what the US should do about Taiwan arms sales, arguing that US promises to provide Taiwan with the weapons it needs are "unkept" and that the US is letting Beijing's tantrums determine American foreign policy.
The Chinese will no doubt complain loudly about any proposed change to the TRA, just as they do when even modest arms sales to Taiwan are approved. Beijing has suspended military-to-military ties with the U.S. twice in the last three years over such sales. But it is the U.S. that encourages such histrionics by reinforcing the impression that it will eventually allow its abandonment of Taiwan to become a fait accompli.

A better strategy would be to set a long-term objective for returning Taiwan to a viable position of being able to defend itself, so that it could negotiate with the mainland from a position of strength. This would require reaching a bipartisan consensus on a program of future sales that would come into effect as long as China's offensive buildup continues. Future Administrations could then minimize the politicking by hewing to this program.

We suspect that once Beijing was conditioned to understand that its threats to hold the entire bilateral relationship hostage to this one issue were no longer working, the outbursts would subside. Perhaps then more constructive negotiations between China and Taiwan would proceed.
Someone remarked this week (Bonnie Glaser, I think) that it really doesn't matter if the US sells upgrades for Taiwan's existing F-16 or a new batch of 66 F-16 C/D versions, China is going to complain just the same. Since China is always going to complain, the US should just go ahead and do what's necessary.

Of course, the flip side of a US push for arms for Taiwan would be the Ma Administration forcefully promoting Taiwan's defense. Oops! For the Ma Administration has been slowly rolling back the defense budget, as the story went this week....
The Ministry of National Defense’s budget this year is NT$297.2 billion (US$9.2 billion), about 2.2 percent of GDP, despite a pledge by President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to raise defense spending to 3 percent of GDP and calls from bipartisan -lawmakers to increase funding.


Some military officials are admitting that a delay in the 2015 deadline for an all-volunteer force is in the works because of financial difficulties.

“There are officials in the US who are questioning Taiwan’s own defense commitment. And an important indicator of that is the defense budget — a method to clearly show the US Taiwan’s determination,” Joseph Wu (吳釗燮), Taiwan’s former representative to the US, told the conference in Taipei organized by the Taiwan Brain Trust think tank. “America’s willingness to strengthen Taiwan security ties is related to our own [commitment].”

At stake in the reduced defense budget, which has gradually been rolled back to 2006 levels as both a percentage of government spending and the total sum since a high of NT$349.5 billion in 2008, are the continued sales of large arms packages from the US to Taiwan.
Yet another broken promise from Ma.

There was much speculation among pan-Greens that Ma is reducing the island's defenses in order to sell it out, but ofttimes such reductions have other, less nefarious bureaucratic and political origins.

Of course, the flip side of the Ma Administration actually getting serious about defense would be for officials and influential individuals in the US to develop a rational East Asian security policy, one that put the priority here in East Asia where the future is, and not in carrying out interminable, unwinnable wars in central Asia that are slowly breaking the US treasury and military while radicalizing an endless supply of recruits for the nation's enemies. Not to mention making new friends for Beijing while pacifying territories for the expansion of its influence. Brilliant moves...

This self-same week US and Japanese officials called for strong Asia-Pacific defense, as the Taipei Times reported:
Top US and Japanese defense and foreign affairs officials on Tuesday reaffirmed the US-Japan Alliance and called for peaceful resolution of disputes in the Taiwan Strait through dialogue, while admitting that plans to relocate US troops from a military base in Okinawa would miss their deadline.
From out here, the Obama Administration policy appears to be to gently shove Taiwan off into Beijing's arms, and then declaring that it will defend Japan -- presumably including the Senkakus, since the two nations have conducted military exercises there -- to the death.

In other words, US foreign policy at present appears to be to refuse to take seriously the defense of 23 million allies in a democracy that is a major trading nation, but to slaughter young men by the thousand over some uninhabited rocks in the desolate Pacific ocean.

This, Best Beloved, is what is known as a strong Asia-Pacific defense policy.

Meanwhile on that other flashpoint, the South China Sea, China once again warned the US to stay out of the South China Sea tussle, making veiled threats....
“Regarding the role of the United States in this, the United States is not a claimant state to the dispute,” the vice foreign minister, Cui Tiankai, told reporters on Wednesday. “So it is better for the United States to leave the dispute to be sorted out between the claimant states.”

Mr. Cui added, “I believe the individual countries are actually playing with fire, and I hope the fire will not be drawn to the United States.”
The NYTimes article pointed out that the US is committed by treaty to defending Philippines (the 1951 US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty) which includes any attack "on the island territories under its jurisdiction in the Pacific or on its armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific". I wonder what the lawyers in the Obama Administration are going to say about the Philippines' claims in the South China Sea when it comes time to make a decision on "island territories under its jurisdiction."

As I have noted before, Taiwan is intertwined with all of China's territorial expansion: if Taiwan is annexed to China, its South China Sea claims will be annexed to China as well -- as will Taiwan's airbase in the area.

The US needs to rethink its Asia security plan, and it needs to start by supplying Taiwan with a robust assortment of weaponry, impressing on the Ma Administration the need for an upgraded commitment to defense, and upgrading mil-mil contacts with the Taiwan military.

UPDATE: Bill Geertz at the Washington Times' Inside the Ring reports:
A senior Republican senator plans to hold up the nomination of William J. Burns to be the deputy secretary of state because of the Obama administration’s delay in bolstering Taiwan’s defenses, Senate aides told Inside the Ring.

Sen. John Cornyn will use his authority to block a full Senate vote on the nomination of Mr. Burns, currently undersecretary of state for political affairs, until the administration approves new sales of F-16 jets to Taiwan. Specifically, the senator wants the State Department to inform Taiwan it will accept a formal letter of request from the Taiwan government to buy 66 new F-16s model C/Ds made by Lockheed Martin.

Additionally, the Texas Republican wants the Pentagon to turn over a long-delayed report to Congress that defense officials say highlights the growing air power imbalance between Taiwan’s air force and China’s military across the 100-mile-wide Taiwan Strait. The report was due to Congress 16 months ago.

According to defense officials, both the F-16 sale and the air-power report are being blocked by White House National Security Council staff aide Evan Medeiros, who is part of a group of administration officials opposing the F-16 sale because they believe it will upset U.S.-China military exchanges.
...."because they believe it will upset US-China military exchanges." You can't be serious.

REFDenny Roy on Asia's top security threats.
Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums! Delenda est, baby.


Anonymous said...

The important question is, could the ROC still defend the island against the new upgraded Chinese military of 2011 (and on) even if it wanted to? I am skeptic.

Raj said...

Clever play by the senator. Question is, who will blink first?

Jon (台中) said...

You have a very reasoned and rational viewpoint on Taiwan defense issues.

But as Anon pointed out, even with those, it may be a bit difficult to defend the Isle. Frankly, Taiwan should be sold 3 or 4 nuclear weapons from the USA instead. It's cheaper to maintain and a much stronger deterrent. The US is looking to reduce it's total nuclear arms anyways. Politically incorrect but a win-win.

Would have to be covertly brought in though.

Dixteel said...

IMO Taiwan could defend itself. It is a question of will. With the current defense budget below 3% GDP and retired generals sleeping with China, you cannot defend shit. Taiwan should at least raise its defense budget around 4% GDP and do a clean house in the military and government agencies relating to national securities. Only after that can Taiwan really improve its defense capability.

Also Jon, although I don't mind if Taiwan gets a few nukes I don't think nukes are good deterrent because no one believes you will use it. Also, do you think China really cares if you drop a few nukes in China? Not really. Remember, CCP's main objective is always to solidifying its control. Nukes cannot help.

Anonymous said...

Doesn't really matter whether it's 2%, 3%, or more of GDP. If a full scale war happened, Taiwan would be dependent on help from the US regardless. Thus, reducing Taiwan''d defense spend is in Taiwan's best interests - it sends the international community the sign that Taiwan is dedicated to a path of peace.

Should the US decide not to get involved in event of a war, China would likely win in time anyway. It would mostly be a question of how long Taiwan could resist. If the end result is going to be the same, better to reduce the period of fighting and suffering that war will cause - a lower defense budget will help see that happen and ultimately keep more people alive. If the US decided to desert Taiwan, there's not really much Taiwan could do to hold off China in a long running conflict, so increased budget or more weapons aren't really necessary (unless Taiwan really wanted to kick up an arms race and spend 10-20% of GDP and develop nukes). Better to get an early negotiated settlement, avoid fighting and get the best terms possible for Taiwan.

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't any mil sales to Taiwan only be symbolic?

It would demonstrate the US commitment to the TRA and possibly confound China by sending mixed signals, to which China will predictably respond with severing mil/mil ties or whatever limited choices it has in this case.

But, in observing the patterns in these deals, I doubt the KMT is committed to taking up the offer, since I don't observe that it works in this government's favor to be antagonistic, or to take an adversarial posture against the powers across the straits.

Does it seem to others here that Taiwan tries not to take an openly antagonistic posture with any foreign power, instead preferring to make inroads in quiet and persistent ways that lead to profitability (of all kinds)?

If so, Taiwan may welcome the US saber-rattling support as an indication of Taiwan's influence or value (this surely makes the KMT look good), but may resist any calls to stand alongside them as an active aggressor.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone asked the obvious question?

Why doesn't Taiwan buy new planes from France? from Russia? from the UK, Germany, Israel, The Netherlands, India or Saudi Arabia?

Why this stupid dance with the US?

Anonymous said...

@ Anonymous with obvious question

If China can pressure the United Flippin' State of America into not selling arms to Taiwan, the chances that those other countries you listed would sell the arms is extremely low. Russia has always been on China's side, not Taiwan's, the EU has been less pro-Taiwan than the USA, Israel is in bed with Russia (my mother has said that there could be a silver lining there - if Russia buys Israel, Lebanon, and Iran there may be more peace in the Middle East), and China can bestow more favours on Saudi Arabia than Taiwan ever could (therefore it's not in their interests to sell weapons to Taiwan). The only country that you mentioned which I could conceive of ever selling arms to Taiwan is India. Which could actually happen, but the USA is a better option.

Of course, there are arms manufacturers in those countries which would sell to Taiwan for the right price, but buying from the USA is cheaper than paying the "right price" to those manufacturers.


MJ Klein said...

China is like a bad wife, that complains about everything. as long as she complains, you might as well go drinking.

Dixteel said...


Of course Taiwan's safety depends a lot on the US, but with that kind of attitude no one can help Taiwan. China will overrun Taiwan before the US can even react. Your "path of peace" is actually the path of coercion and war. By giving up, there will be no deterrent and at worst China will decide to invade if it thinks the time is right and the chance of winning is very high.

Saying less military spending means less casualty is also illogical. What you are saying is basically that there will be less casualties if Taiwan fights China with bows and arrows. That is ridiculous. Without proper equipment, soldiers become canon folders, and people will have no protection. How could that save lives? Unless, of course, you are talking about surrendering right away. But that is the last option, and should not be what a proper national defense policy strives for.

Remember also what happened in 228. Letting China taking over does not mean no casualties and no suffering.

Also too many people put too much emphasize on "symbolic" and political meaning of the military sales, and forget that there are actual practical military reasons for the equipment.

D said...

@Anon 8:24: You still have to be able to put up a fight. Throwing your hands in the air and leaving it to others isn't going to cut it.

Whether the F16 upgrades etc. are necessary to Taiwan's defense capability or just a) symbolic or b) gravy for the US military supply industry seems to be a question though.

Anonymous said...

MK - I really don't know what history book you're reading:

First, The US is not, to my knowledge, prevented from selling weapons to Taiwan. The US does or doesn't based on its own interests.

Second, Russia and China have a historically adversarial relationship - thus Russia has certainly not "always been on China's side." Their current relationship is fragile.

The ROC has already acquired weapons and planes from the The Netherlands, France, Germany and the US. So my original question stands: why doesn't Taiwan buy planes from these other countries?

Sorry, MK, I don't buy the "China pressure" line. Military industries don't really care about hurting the feelings of the Chinese people - they care about profits.

Anonymous said...

To anon with the obvious question:

Taiwan F-16 purchases have nothing to do with defense, it is paying tribute to the USA in the form of providing continued employment to soon to be laid off Lockheed Martin employees. The reason for paying protection money is you hope that a less objectionable gangster will protect you from a more objectionable gangster. The USA is currently the strongest and least objectionable gangster in the neighborhood, so Taiawan cannot consider "arms purchases" from any other source.

Anonymous said...

Taiwan was ready to go nuclear by the early 80s. Tsinghua University had been working on it since they relocated their nuke work from mainland China in 1949. Lee Teng Hui scrapped Taiwans' nuclear weapons program under intense USA pressure. Had LTH not kowtowed to the USA's self interest, Taiwan today would be in a completely different bargaining position vis a vis China.

Anonymous said...

I believe it was CCK who abandoned the nuclear program in 1986 amid US pressure and China's assertion that a nuclear Taiwan would be grounds for war.

Dixteel said...

To anon at 1:07 AM:

For the local state governor in the US the employments and economic might be something to talk about, but you think too highly of Taiwanese weapon purchase impact on the US economy. Taiwanese weapon purchase constitutes only 1% of the US weapon exports (far less than most of the other countries). Also, the manufacturers of F-16, General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin, have other major contracts such as F-35s and F-22s, the few F-16 C/D really do not mean much to them.