Wall Street Journal
March 16, 2001
President Bush's unabashed
commitment to missile defense is already paying big dividends.
In a turn of events that seemed highly improbable just a
few months ago, much of Europe, Russia and now China have
toned down their protests and agreed to discuss the issue.
Indeed, Mr. Bush's missile defense initiative is sure to
be high on the list of talking points next week when China's
senior foreign policy official visits Washington.
A trusted partner
But Mr. Bush isn't the only
one here who deserves credit. Beijing abruptly changed its
tune on missile defense just days after the release of a
Senate report recommending the sale of Aegis destroyers
and other advanced weapons systems to Taiwan.
Make no mistake, China's leaders still consider Mr. Bush's
theater and national missile defense programs a threat.
But they are more than willing to trade on an issue that
ultimately they have no control over to block the immediate
sale of sophisticated weaponry to Taiwan.
If the White House decides
to go ahead with the sale it's sure to make relations with
Beijing stormy for a spell. That in itself is no argument
against the sale. Indeed, the Bush Administration would
do well to set out a marker that it won't continue its predecessor's
practice of placating China. The 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
The Chinese military has about
250 relatively inaccurate missiles stationed along the coast
opposite Taiwan, and it is adding to that
number 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. Mr. Bush
should now offer Taiwan the third generation of Patriots.
China's 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
But 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.
When the U.S. and other countries switched diplomatic recognition
to Beijing, military-to-military links were cut drastically.
has been isolated for so long that it missed out on many
advances that would allow it to use its forces to greater
The 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.
One 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 Chinese military hard-liners who are driving the
Beiing-Taipei 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 offer a chance for
President Bush to rebuild that credibility in the face of
The 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.