Friday, March 23, 2007

Defense News: Arms purchase a "Shambles"

Defense News has an informative article out by the Taipei-based military commentator Wendell Minnick. The article contains a massive list of stuff Taiwan wants to purchase from the US, and is an excellent source for Taiwan's procurement plans. The problem is in the opening paragraphs:

A stalled 2001 U.S. arms offer from the Bush administration that included eight diesel electric submarines, six Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) air defense systems and 12 P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft is unlikely to be approved before Taiwan’s 2008 presidential election.

“The political infighting is a factor in future procurement, but after the 2008 election, some degree of normalcy is likely to be restored,” said a U.S. defense contractor in Taiwan. “However, regardless of who wins, procurement of billion-dollar systems from abroad likely would continue to be controversial.

“There is a theory that if the KMT [Kuomintang] wins in 2008, defense spending could increase and things could go back to the way they were in the 1980s, with the DPP [Democratic Progressive Party] opposing rises in defense spending at the expense of welfare and environmental spending,” he said.

The United States is now Taiwan’s sole military arms supplier. Sales of French fighters and frigates during the 1980s and 1990s have met with scandal and intense disapproval from Beijing, resulting in killing all future sales to Taiwan.

In many ways, Taiwan is becoming more like Japan and South Korea, requiring co-production and assembly in Taiwan.

"Japan is willing to pay double the cost for a system if it means creation of jobs and income domestically, and that is why it is able to gain legislative support for high levels of defense spending,” the U.S. defense contractor said.

Minnick is one of my favorite commentators on the island's political affairs, and I find the two major omissions of his article quite puzzling. First, the article constantly blames "the legislature" for blocking the package, without clearly explaining that the pro-China parties are blocking it, while the pro-Taiwan parties support it. Thus the reader misses the key to understanding why the package is held up.

Second, and more importantly, consistent with other presentations in American media, the Defense News article fails to mention the all-important US role in causing the legislative deadlock, instead treating the mess as purely a Taiwan problem. Taiwan's legislators have consistently indicated that they would prefer co-production. Thus Minnick's comment:

In many ways, Taiwan is becoming more like Japan and South Korea, requiring co-production and assembly in Taiwan.

As Minnick notes later in the article, Taiwan has long insisted on co-production of weapons -- they are not "becoming" anything. For whatever reason, Minnick fails to inform the reader that it was the US that blocked co-production, violating its own procurement regs, refusing even to license the plans for the submarines to Taiwan, though it was paying for them. Imagine how differently this article would read if it forthrightly acknowledged the US role in causing the crisis, and the KMT role in prolonging it.

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