Thursday, February 28, 2013

Collective Security, Collective Blame

Coming and Going
The always admirable James Holmes has a piece in The Diplomat this week that exemplifies one of the major problems with commentators on Taiwan: blaming Taiwan for its defense problems:
And second, the organizer exercised his prerogative as big kahuna of the event and posed the final question: aren't those of us who take Taipei to task for doing too little for the island's defense really objecting to the outcomes of the past two presidential elections, which installed a leadership committed to cross-strait rapprochement? Not really, quoth the Naval Diplomat. For one thing, military preparedness hasn't been a strong suit of either KMT or DPP governments in quite some time. It's hard to fault the electorate for bipartisan foibles. But at the same time — flipping the question around to U.S. politics — America is under no obligation to expend inordinate numbers of lives, ships and aircraft, and taxpayer dollars attempting to recoup bad strategic decisions on Taiwan's part. That's true whether those decisions were made democratically or not.

Which loops back around to my major theme for the Wilson Center gathering. Taiwan must do what it can to provide for its own defense while helping U.S. forces come to its rescue. Or, it can live with the consequences of inaction. Trusting to the goodwill of a big, nearby power that vows to snuff out your political existence would be a fateful choice — not one I would make.
It's useful to blame Taiwan, but let's face it:
  • The DPP government requested 66 F-16s. Both the Bush and Obama Administrations refused to sell them. The DPP government did accept other weapons packages from the US. If Taipei lacks fighters, it is because the US won't sell them. Not because we didn't ask. 
  • We don't have electric submarines because the US won't build them. Why? Well, the story circulating was that it was because the US navy is in love with nuclear subs and doesn't want Congress to find out how cheap and quiet electric boats are and thus, doesn't want the US to develop an electric boat building capacity. Which leads to my next point....
  • Down the memory hole: the Arms Freeze (read the whole post) during the Bush Administration, which evinced little concern about how such a freeze might affect Taiwan's defense posture in the years to come. 
  • One of the fundamentals of Taipei's defense problems is Europe. We've become so used to it that we no longer even think about it when we criticize Taipei, but the uselessness of Europe has been devastating for Taiwan -- we can't purchase European arms when the US is unwilling to sell and we can't play off sellers against one another to obtain better deals. Nor can we obtain items such as electric submarines which the US does not make. Oh well, at least Europe is still enforcing the arms embargo. For now. 
  • US analysts consistently supported the KMT and above all, twice supported the election of President Ma, whose policy is to put the island into China's orbit and to reduce the military. Ma promised that military expenditures would be 3% of GDP; none of Ma's US supporters have held him to this or criticized him for not reaching that level. When the KMT objected to the special weapons purchase and prevented it from the reaching the floor of the legislature over 60 times during the Chen Administration, the US response was not to mete out any punishment to the KMT. Behavior that is rewarded is repeated, Washington!
  • The internal contradictions of the US position: the DPP was crucified in the US Establishment media for "provoking Beijing." Hello! Arms sales "provoke" Beijing. If the US wants Taiwan to do more in its own defense, then it has to stop pressuring Taiwan to not "provoke Beijing." Not to mention stop internalizing Beijing's propaganda frame of "being provoked" as if it were an actual analytical standpoint. This only highlights how we need more pushback from Washington against Beijing's propaganda nonsense.  
  • The US has reduced mil-mil contacts with Taiwan as well as senior official visits. Since the US puts an apparent low value on Taiwan's defense needs.....
  • Finally, Taiwan has a significant defense industry that churns out a number of important systems, including cruise missiles, light armored vehicles, and fast attack vessels. If the US wants Taiwan to expand its munitions manufacturing base and production output, it might consider the purchase some finished systems from Taiwan, in addition to its usual purchases of parts and components from local OEM firms. That would be a big morale booster for the island's industry (external validation from the US is always A Big Deal) as well as provide capital that could underwrite expansion of production lines.
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