Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Ted Galen Carpenter on US and Taiwan Defense Policy

Last year Ted Galen Carpenter of the Cato Institute published a book discussing why we shouldn't defend Taiwan. This year he's back to work on the issue of defending Taiwan, this time complaining in the Asian Wall Street Journal that Taiwan is free riding on the US defense network:

The Taiwan legislature's reluctance to pass a "special defense budget" to pay for U.S. weapons systems looks set to continue as the island's presidential campaign heats up. That leaves America in the unenviable position of having an implicit commitment to defend a fellow democracy that doesn't seem especially interested in defending itself.

First, the good thing: Carpenter understands the difference between Blue and Green and their respective positions on the defense purchase:

Though Mr. Chen's administration has repeatedly scaled back the deal, reducing it in stages to a mere $10.3 billion, from $18.5 billion, prospects for its passage have barely budged. So far, the Pan Blue coalition has blocked a vote on the measure more than 60 times. It took until December of last year for the majority to agree even to send the proposal for consideration in the budgetary committee. U.S. President George Bush grew so disgusted with Taipei's behavior last month that he personally overruled a Pentagon arms proposal for the island unless and until the special defense budget is approved.

Then Carpenter veers into the mad mad media world, going to blame President Chen for being, you know, "provocative." Mad Chen, the Crazed Independence Radical, strikes again!

A very disturbing dynamic is developing in Taiwan. On the one hand, Mr. Chen's government seems determined to consolidate Taiwan's separate political status -- even if that means taking measures Beijing regards as highly provocative. The latest incidents include, for instance, Taipei's decision to rename various state corporations to substitute "Taiwan" for "China." Yet even as Taipei adopts ever more assertive policies toward the mainland, it underinvests in defense. Its spending on essential matters like procurement, operations, training, and personnel has shrunk, in real terms, by more than 50% since 1993, and continues to contract at an alarming rate. Taiwan's regular defense budget has plunged to an anemic 2.2% of its annual GDP.

Chen cannot help but be provocative, because being provoked is a choice China makes. Writing like this makes China the helpless victim of Chen's actions, rather than a calculated actor making use of all its agency in international arenas to lead, and to mislead.

Further, as I and others have stated (see Mark Harrison's commentary below this one), name rectification is a normal and inevitable step in the democratic evolution of the island. Taiwan is simply restoring the name "Taiwan" to items that were originally named "Taiwan" in many cases, like the shipbuilding and posts.

Thus, in the rhetorical world Carpenter builds, Taiwan is being "provocative" on one hand while cutting defense spending on the other:

From America's standpoint, Taiwan's political leaders are creating the worst possible combination: the DPP's provocative cross-straits policy with the KMT's irresponsible policy on defense spending. That is a blueprint for trouble. China has already deployed nearly 1,000 ballistic missiles across the Taiwan Strait, and Beijing's military modernization program appears heavily oriented toward credibly threatening military action against Taiwan. A bold cross-straits policy, coupled with inadequate defense spending, virtually invites a Chinese challenge.

At least this time around he mentioned the missiles China points at Taiwan. Carpenter does not face the strong role of the US in creating this mess by jacking up the price of the submarines and refusing to give Taiwan any co-production role (getting all historical and suchlike, I must remind that the KMT is on Taiwan because of our intervention). In Carpenter's rhetorical world, it is all Taiwan's fault, a sad trait shared by many observers in the US, and a position China wants observers to take. Too bad Carpenter buys right into it.

Chen's actions are not "a blueprint for trouble." China makes noise whenever Taiwan takes any action in the international sphere. Readers may recall that the National Unification Council (NUC), which Chen froze last year to international farce dismay, was opposed by China when it was erected. There is no way Taiwan can exercise its democracy -- indeed, make almost any autonomous international decision -- without peeving China...and it should be noted, China gets "provoked" because "being provoked" is how China achieves leverage over Taiwan -- bullying the international community into complicity in suppressing Taiwan's democratic development and international space. Hence it pays China to get "provoked."

Rhetorical blindness finally overtakes Carpenter at the end:

It is even worse to incur such risks on behalf of a client state that is not willing to make a meaningful defense effort.

As Mark Stokes, who used to run the Pentagon's Taiwan policy, said last year, in Taiwan there are pilots prepared to board aircraft for suicide missions against China should war arise (and all honor to them, for they are men). There are people on Taiwan who spend their whole professional life preparing to die for this island. But Carpenter surely does not mean to denigrate them, so what can he be talking about? Because Carpenter cannot be talking about the Taiwan I live on. As the Congressional Research Service observes:

As for U.S. arms transfers to Taiwan, they have been significant despite the absence of diplomatic relations or a treaty alliance. The value of deliveries of U.S. defense articles and services to Taiwan totaled $7.7 billion in the 1997-2000 period and $4 billion in 2001-2004. Among worldwide customers, Taiwan ranked 2nd (behind Saudi Arabia) in 1997-2000 and 4th (behind Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Japan) in 2001-2004. In 2004 alone, Taiwan ranked 5th among worldwide recipients, receiving $1.1 billion in U.S. defense articles and services. Values for U.S. agreements with and deliveries to Taiwan are summarized below.

1997-2000 period 2001-2004 period 2004
U.S. Agreements $1,900 million $1,200 million $590 million
U.S. Deliveries $7,700 million $4,000 million $1,100 million

From worldwide sources, including the United States, Taiwan received $13.9 billion in arms deliveries in the eight-year period from 1998 to 2005. Taiwan ranked 3rd (behind Saudi Arabia and China) among leading recipients that are developing countries. Of that total, Taiwan received $9.8 billion in arms in 1998-2001 and $4.1 billion in 2002-2005. In 2005 alone, Taiwan ranked 6th and received $1.3 billion in arms deliveries, while the PRC ranked 5th and received arms valued at $1.4 billion. As an indication of future arms acquisitions, Taiwan’s arms agreements in 2002- 2005 totaled $4.9 billion. The value of Taiwan’s arms agreements in 2005 alone did not place it among the top ten recipients that are developing countries.

What does Taiwan have to do to get Carpenter's approval? Here are the budget numbers from the CRS report:

Note that the budget is pretty much the same every year. This means that in real terms expenditure is falling. One might argue that viewing in dollar terms is unfair -- in 1994 $250 billion NT$ got you almost $10 billion greenbacks, now it gets you just under $8 -- but recall that Taiwan's overseas weapons purchases are dollar-denominated and so the exchange rate gives a meaningful indication of the island's falling purchasing power. Except --wait -- weapons procurements are typically funded out of Special Budgets which amount to another US$22.6 billion over 1994-2003, spending that went for purchases of fighters and military housing.

There is no question that the island's defense budget must rise. There is also no question that forcing Taiwan to purchase submarines at three times the world rate while not giving the island any co-production is short-sighted and counterproductive -- and a poor use of limited and precious defense dollars. It is not for nothing that many observers are recommending that Taiwan build its own submarines -- weapons, it should be noted, that the US refused Taiwan for two decades, because they have no obvious defensive function! In other words, Carpenter excoriates the island for not wanting to purchase weapons the US said it didn't need for better part of two decades. The gods of history love irony....

And more irony: since Taiwan won't buy subs, the President has indicated that he doesn't want to sell it fighters. Surely a more reasonable US position to take is to sell the island fighters, the one weapon it really needs, while pressuring it to purchase the other weapons using less dangerous leverage. It is one thing to say: you're not doing enough to defend yourself. It is quite another to say: you have to defend yourself in exactly the way we tell you to....

Thus, Taiwan is too making a "meaningful defense effort." It is one of the largest arms importers in the world. It is revamping its military organization, procuring radar, command and control, and land warfare systems. It may not be up to the levels that Carpenter would like to see, but no one can deny that Taiwan puts quite a bit of emphasis on defense.

Carpenter finishes:

America is in an unrewarding and potentially dangerous position. Washington must make it clear to all political players in Taiwan, especially the Pan Blue leaders, that free riding on America's military might cannot continue.

Yes, perhaps America is in an unrewarding and potentially dangerous position. If so, it has only itself to blame for this mess -- rational pricing, a friendly co-production strategy, some patient commitment to the democracy side in the island's politics, constant pressure on the pro-China parties -- and all of this might have been avoided. (I am delighted that Carpenter calls for some sharp policy directed at the pan-Blue leaders -- here the US has not yet realized that effort on the pan-Blues must be direct and sustained, not fitful and clumsily aimed at "Taiwan.")

Withal, it must be said: it is high time US opinion leaders focused on a major cause of the problem: the United States. Sort out our own behavior, and Taipei will perforce follow.


Jason said...

Muchos Orz, Michael. Couldn't have said it better myself.

Anonymous said...

Seems to me the DPP and the MND could have handled things better over the years on this - especially going the route of jamming it all into a special budget which strikes me as a tempting political target. Also the US needed to better manage its own expectations as to how hard it would be to push the requisite funding through the LY. Yes the blues have played a huge spoiling role too. No glory to anyone...

Michael Turton said...

Yes, no glory here for anyone (but wasn't the Defense minister who stuck it all in a special budget a Blue?). But my main point is that I am sick to death of US observers pretending this is a Taiwan problem only. I'm off to shoot off a commentary to WaPo on this.


channing said...

I agree that there is no glory on any side of the Pacific Ocean and on any side of Taiwan's spectrum:

-The US teetering between supporting Taiwan and pleasing China
-China's missiles, record of military intimidation / political isolation
-DPP's uselessly naive rhetoric against China despite the obvious military and political disadvantage of Taiwan
-KMT's watering down of the defense bill--come on, spend some of it already and get the short-term politics over with...

Michael, I'm quite sure the US knows well the driving forces behind this crisis. I have friends in various institutions slaving away 40+ hrs a week at analyzing the latest politics across the Taiwan Strait. I think the upper govt. just can't decide how to approach the two sides and therefore sends a bunch of mixed signals.

Anonymous said...

Hey Michael this is Walter, I am sick to death also of U.S. misperception regarding Taiwan. I think the Wu appointment by President Chen was a very positive step in reinforcing Taiwan's point of view. Is there any possible way you could somehow turn your blog into a news post or something? Your blogs are very factual and has clever analysis. If your blogs were, say, on a more public level where more Americans and other peoples interested in Taiwan could read them, I'm sure that somehow the American perception would change regarding Taiwan.

My point is there really needs to be a HUGE emphasis on promoting Taiwan throughout the international arena and particularly in the U.S.

Red Fox said...

Raise the defense budget to something like 3.5% over the next eight years. Please.

Anonymous said...

Anyone know is there any estimation of how long Taiwan can last against China alone even with the new weaponries? I thought US only give Taiwan maximum of two weeks if only conventional weapon were used.

eighty said...
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eighty said...
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eighty said...

Im not advocating Authoritarian rule. A dictatorship is wrong under all circumstances. What I was pointing out on A new Taiwan Dictatorship is many things the DPP proposes are massive overhaul projects and cant be accomplished with half of Taiwan hating the other half now.

I would leave well enough alone in Taiwan and play a smart bitch that czy's up to China but never puts out! The only way to put down an an enemy bigger than your mouth is to befiend it and slowly pick at it when their not looking.

Anonymous said...

Why can't both the green and blue camps understand that they will both lose to the PRC eventually if they don't resolve their differences enough to allow real cooperation?I really don't understand.