Wall Street Journal
March 15, 2001
U.S. Senate report just out recommends selling Aegis destroyers
to Taiwan, as well as other sophisticated
weapons systems. China is already getting a campaign into
gear to lobby against the sale, and if the White House does
decide to go ahead next month, it's sure to make relations
with Beijing stormy for a spell. However, that in itself
is no argument against the sale. The Bush administration
would do well to set out a marker that it won't continue
its predecessor's practice of placating China.
However, the arms-for-Taiwan
issue is more complex than that. There's the danger that
the decision will be oversimplified by some U.S. conservatives
down to an either-or proposition: Either America sells the
island democracy the best that money can buy, or sells it
down the river to the Chinese. In fact, what the U.S. needs
to do is to sell Taiwan arms that it can use effectively
-- and it also needs to shore up the island's defenses in
more intangible ways. Moreover, steering this correct, middle
way could give China incentives to stick to peaceful means
for seeking reunification.
military currently has an edge over the People's Liberation
Army in both weapons and training. There are 100 miles of
sea separating the two sides, and China doesn't yet have
the means to gain air superiority, let alone land a Normandy-scale
invasion force. But it is working on these problems, and
sometime in the next decade it could begin to pose a true
challenge to Taiwan. In the meantime, it has the
option of wrecking the island's economy by launching missile
attacks or mounting a naval blockade.
U.S. has an obligation under the Taiwan
Relations Act to provide adequate weapons so the island
can defend itself. Two of the key Chinese threats are ballistic
missiles and submarines. For both, the U.S. should sell
more of the weapons Taiwan
needs to neutralize the Chinese threat.
PLA has about 250 relatively inaccurate missiles stationed
along the coast opposite Taiwan,
and it is adding more at a rate of more than 50 a year.
These could be used against Taiwan's airfields as part of
an all-out attack, or they could be targeted at cities as
a form of psychological warfare. The U.S. has already provided
some lower-tier missile defense by selling the second-generation
Patriot and transferring technology for Taiwan's own Sky
Bow, in return for Taiwan abandoning efforts to develop
ballistic missiles. The U.S. should now offer Taiwan
the third-generation of Patriots.
Russian-built Kilo-class submarines are patrolling the Taiwan Strait, and the island's defenses
against this threat are limited. The U.S. should not only
sell Taiwan antisubmarine planes, but
it should allow other countries to sell diesel subs to Taiwan.
This has been ruled out in the past because subs are classed
as offensive weapons, a distinction that has never made
the best weaponry in the world won't matter without first-rate
armed forces to use them. And here Taiwan
could also use some help. Right now, it is largely a conscript
army led by mainlanders who fled to Taiwan
with Chiang Kai-shek. New President Chen Shui-bian, a native
Taiwanese, has the delicate job of localizing the military
and updating its doctrines. For this important task he could
use increased contact with U.S. forces.
the U.S. and other countries switched diplomatic recognition
to Beijing, military-to-military links were cut back drastically.
Taiwan has been isolated for so long
that it missed out on many advances that would allow it
to use its forces to greater effect. For instance, rivalries
between the air force, navy and army mean that it hasn't
perfected joint-force operations. Command and control is
another weak spot. And there is a shortage of well-trained
officers who could operate sophisticated weapons systems
like the Aegis.
Chen, who as a legislator served on the defense committee
and has studied the subject, has already begun to chip away
at these problems. He changed the island's defense strategy
from engaging Chinese forces on the beaches to fighting
them at sea and in the air. This will reverse the overemphasis
on the army, a legacy of the days of Generalissimo Chiang,
when the Kuomintang maintained massive land forces for the
hoped-for invasion of the mainland.
question then is whether Taiwan
is ready to spend a huge proportion of its acquisitions
budget in coming years on Aegis destroyers. They could play
a useful role in missile defense, because they are capable
of tracking and intercepting multiple missiles. But on the
negative side, integrating these high-tech systems would
require tremendous resources, and protecting them after
they take up their role in the Taiwan Strait will pose more challenges.
idea might be for the Bush administration to postpone a
decision on Aegis. It could tell the Chinese it will watch
the buildup of missiles on the Fujian coast and predicate
future sales on the state of the military balance. Aegis
would be sold if it appears China wants to use missiles
to overwhelm Taiwanese defenses. This would give China an
incentive not to give free rein to the PLA hardliners who
are driving this arms race. Of course, such an ultimatum
would rely on U.S. credibility, which has been run down
by the Clinton administration. But this would be a chance
for President Bush to rebuild that credibility in the face
of Chinese bluster.
U.S. cannot afford to let a newly democratic Taiwan
be bullied into any settlement with China that its people
do not accept. Preserving Taiwan's political options means
bolstering its defenses as long as China refuses to renounce
the use of force. Hardware is important to that task, but
software is just as critical. President Chen Shui-bian has
shown himself to be a moderate and responsible partner for
the U.S. in this effort. Only by opening new ties between
the two militaries can Taiwan be prepared for the high-tech
weaponry that it may need to acquire in the years ahead.
-- From The Asian Wall Street