Several things struck me. First, there is now a sizable backlash in Congress and in the media against the Obama position and this backlash is indirectly raising Taiwan's profile in the US. Too convenient by half -- far too many people waited until the decision was already imminent before speaking. Nevertheless, it is good to see Taiwan mentioned at the national level in the US, with potential Presidential candidate Mitt Romney got involved:
Political opponents quickly pounced on the decision. Republican Sen. John Cornyn from Texas, where the new F-16 planes would be built, declared it a "capitulation" to China that should be met with concern by U.S. allies everywhere. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney declared it a show of "weak leadership in foreign policy."People are always asking why we should press for stuff that is never going to be delivered. Mitt R gave us the answer: because by doing so, we raise Taiwan's profile and create space for other beneficial actions to take place. And you never know -- maybe the horse will learn to sing.
Second, the Far Eastern Sweet Potato described just how awesome the upgrade package really is, including weapons system previously denied Taiwan:
At first sight, the upgrade package is pretty impressive and includes some items that surprised quite a few analysts. It confirms, among other things, that Taiwan will be getting Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar — either Raytheon Corp’s Raytheon Advanced Combat Radar (RACR), or Northrop Grumman Corp’s Scalable Agile Beam Radar (SABR).The JDAMs allow fighters in the Strait to strike 500 miles (800 kms) into China, and had previously been withheld from Taiwan. The helmet mounted cueing systems means that pilots can direct attacks with a nod of their head, leaving their hands free to fly the plane.
The Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) also for the first time released GBU-31 and GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) laser-guided bombs, which the US had hitherto denied Taiwan, given their offensive nature. The GBU-54 laser-guided JDAM, the GBU-10 Enhanced PAVEWAY II and GBU-24 Enhanced PAVEWAY III are also reportedly options for Taiwan.
Added to CBU-105 Sensor Fused Weapons, AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, Embedded Global Positioning System Inertial Navigation Systems, the Terma ALQ-213 Electronic Warfare Management System and helmet-mounted cueing systems, the upgrade is pretty muscular.
Sounds great, he says, but it doesn't yet meet Taiwan's needs. But, as he points out, China bristles with surface to air missiles that can obviate the threat from the JDAMs, some so good they can kill Taiwan aircraft almost as soon as they have left the runway. The other problem is that Taiwan won't be the one to start hostilities, while China is likely to begin with a missile blitz that will severely damage Taiwan's ability to sortie airstrikes.
Third, even though the upgrade looks great on paper, there are other issues. Walter Lohman of Heritage remarked on Facebook that new fighters would probably have been delivered more quickly than the upgrades. It will be years until all 145 fighters are upgraded, by which time China will probably have teleportation and phaser technology. Rupert Hammond-Chambers of the US-Taiwan Business Council observed that:
The U.S.-Taiwan Business Council, whose members include arms maker Lockheed Martin, said the correct approach would be to have both programs running sequentially, so that new F-16 C/Ds would be delivered to Taiwan before it starts pulling front-line F-16 A/Bs out of operations. "As presently structured, Taiwan will actually see a reduction in the number of operational F-16s over the next 10 years," council president Rupert Hammond-Chambers said.Defense News reported that the Ministry of National Defense (MND) said the budget would take 12 years (!) to implement.
Fourth, the deal is widely read by observers to be an attempt to keep Beijing placated. Gerrit van der Wees of FAPA described it in a piece for The Diplomat as a lose-lose deal that simply annoys Beijing while failing to truly help Taipei. Paul Mozur and Jeremy Page in the WSJ take a similar line: the deal reflects the growing US feeling that defending Taiwan is becoming more difficult and costly. They also argue that...
A U.S. decision to sell Taiwan upgrades of old fighter jets, rather than new planes, reflects a fresh reality in the region: All sides are calculating that the island is increasingly indefensible to an attack by China, and are banking on closer economic ties as a path to resolving historic tensions.As if on cue, Robert Sutter, the longtime US government Taiwan specialist, sounded another warning in the Taipei Times today that Taiwanese simply do not understand Washington's declining support for Taiwan. He said that "...eroding US support was one of three sets of factors that would ultimately determine Taiwan’s future, along with China’s ever-growing strength and Taiwan’s inherent weakness." Unfortunately locals appear to have an almost mystical belief in US power while at the same time, a highly provincial point of view that lacks understanding of the behavior of foreign powers. Come to think of it, that describes just about everyone on earth.....
In other words, Sutter is saying that Taiwan is doomed. And for those of you who think that Taiwan should surrender now and get the best deal possible, wrong again. China can rewrite the deal Darth Vader style any time it likes once Taiwan is in its power ("I have altered the deal pray; I do not alter it any further"). The best choice is to stay out of Beijing's clutches as long as possible... because, dammit, the horse may learn to sing....
John Tkacik in the Washington Times describes the situation in DC from a thoroughly conservative perspective....
This is where bureaucratic “animosities” come in. President Obama’s top Asia advisers in the National Security Council (NSC), Daniel R. Russel and Evan S. Medeiros, are firmly pro-China, or at least do not believe anything - anything at all - is worth a confrontation with the Chinese. At the State Department, Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary for East Asia and the Pacific, and his team are firmly pro-everybody-else in Asia, or at least they do not see how the United States can sustain its core interests globally - human rights, democracy, freedom, fair trade, freedom of the seas and airspace, access to resources and a world safe from the rampant proliferation of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems - by abjuring its global leadership.It should be noted that, like Presidential policy teams before them, several individuals on Obama's staff have worked at consulting firms that do business in China. Both Tkacik in this piece and former AIT head Nat Bellocchi ripped the NSC official who phoned in the hatchet job on Tsai Ing-wen in FT last week.
Taiwan is not a small part of America’s security architecture. For 60 years, since 1951, the United States has maintained a robust defense and trade relationship with Taiwan that has been a key link in America’s network of security cooperation and alliances in the Western Pacific. The broad question debated in the Obama administration is whether the United States will withdraw from Asia in the face of China’s inexorable military rise. Mr. Obama’s NSC apparently thinks the United States should simply bow to Chinese expansion, while State and Defense see Taiwan as emblematic of America’s commitments to the rest of Asia, from Japan and Australia through Southeast Asia to India. When asked about the Obama administration’s reluctance to sell the new F-16C/Ds to Taiwan, State people caution that the administration has not ruled out consideration of new jets for Taiwan at some point.
Meanwhile, about the promise to sell F-16s at some unspecified later date, along with swampland in Florida and a lovely old bridge near NY city, Jens Kastner argued in an Asia Times piece that it could just happen. For one thing, as the 2012 election approaches Obama could simply reverse the decision if it becomes a major election issue. I don't get a sense that anyone seriously thinks it could occur. But then China is also transitioning leadership next year and may not want conflict with the US during that time. Further, we still have the F-16s as a way to punish China if it gets frisky in some other aspect of the China-US relationship or with US allies.
Global Security fielded a media report today that said the Pentagon is recommending that Taiwan get Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) jets such as the F-35 or the Harrier for use if/when China craters Taiwan's runways during a conflict, tacitly conceding that even new F-16s would be useless.
Looking at the deal from a local perspective.... a key point neglected in all media reports save Peter Lee's at Counterpunch (link below) is that the KMT Administration doesn't want F-16s. For years under the Chen Administration it blocked them from reaching the floor of the legislature -- 66 times. It blocked them when Ma Ying-jeou, now the President, was Chairman of the KMT and had promised the US that he would get the sale moving in the legislature. Surely analysts in the Obama Administration must know this, and they must also know that Taiwan's military budget remains stagnant and paying for new aircraft is really out of the question. Ma has also violated his pledge to get military spending up to 3% of GDP.
Hence, as one observer put it, this looks like a deal arranged in Taipei, Washington and Beijing to make everyone happy. So far China is making noise but nothing concrete has happened, as WaPo notes in its report. Yet Beijing warns that there will be fallout. Victory oft makes the winner more arrogant than wise.....
Meanwhile the Taiwan dollar had its biggest drop in a decade today on grim US economic news. Taiwan shares also fell. Boeing seeks half the Chinese plane market, and GM wants to cooperate on electric cars. These economic factors -- Taiwan is at the mercy of global economic trends, and the US is dependent on China's market -- are just as important in assessing the future of Taiwan as China's possession of hundreds of advanced fighters and a growing navy and missile force.
REFS: State Department Background Briefing. The always quality Peter Lee in Counterpunch with a very long review piece on the F-16s, mentioning what few commentators have -- that Ma does not appear to want the F-16s.
- From China Reform Monitor: "Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense (MND) is deploying a new missile system capable of hitting airports and harbors along China’s southeastern coast. Production of the “Wan Chien” or “Ten Thousand Swords” missile system will be installed on upgraded Ching-kuo Indigenous Defense Fighters produced between 2014 and 2018." (original story)
- China's navy is aimed at its South China Sea rivals, not the US, so it doesn't need a big navy.
- Blast from the past: 2006 FPIF piece arguing that Taiwan's case for independence is better than Beijing's for annexation.
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