Taiwan" -- Washington Times, January 9, 2001
he takes office Jan. 20, President-elect George W. Bush
will have a lot of mopping up to do in the realm of foreign
policy. Perhaps the most incendiary issue confronting the
new administration is America's looming confrontation with
China over Taiwan.
While it is commonly assumed that the Korean peninsula
is the likeliest place for U.S. forces to be involved in
hostilities (at least in East Asia), the chances of war
in Taiwan are probably greater. This is true for several
For starters, North Korean military capabilities have been
degraded in many respects by the severe economic slide in
that country for nearly a decade. Though the North Korean
threat remains very real, North Korea is a failing power
and is probably less able to wage sustained combat operations
today than it was seven or eight years ago.
Second, deterrence works, and the United States has
in place a very powerful deterrent in Korea with 37,000
troops and an iron-clad security guarantee contained in
the U.S.-South Korean Mutual Defense Treaty.
This contrasts sharply with the developing situation
in the Taiwan Strait.
Unlike North Korea, Communist China is a rising power, embarked
on a massive military buildup. For 11 years running, China's
military budget has increased by double digit percentages.
These bulging budgets, subsidized by trade dollars from
the United States and cheap loans from the World Bank, are
being used to procure a raft of advanced and dangerous weaponry.
One needs only to listen to Chinese officials or
read the Communist-controlled press for a day to know why
China was embarked on this threatening military spending
binge: the intimidation and ultimate subjugation of democratic
Just last month, Communist Chinese leader Jiang Zemin reportedly
stated: "It is imperative to step up preparations for
a military struggle so as to promote the early solution
of the Taiwan issue. To this end, it is necessary to vigorously
develop some 'trump card' weapons and equipment.
Make no mistake, China today is more able, and more
willing, to use force against Taiwan than it was 10 years
Unfortunately, that increased threat is not being
countered by an adequate deterrent. Unlike in Korea, there
are no U.S. troops on Taiwan, and there is no guarantee
that we will help defend the island, having abrogated our
defense treaty with Taiwan in 1980.
Furthermore, total U.S. force structure has been
decimated by the Clinton administration. Thus, any U.S.
forces dedicated to Taiwan in the event of hostilities will
take days to get there and will have to be robbed from other
missions, some of which (even in the Clinton era) involve
vital American interests.
The preparedness of Taiwan's defense forces is also
in doubt. Successive administrations have denied several
badly-needed defense requests from Taiwan, solely to appease
China. Moreover, it has now been more than 20 years since
Taiwan has engaged in a joint military exercise with another
country. Operating in such isolation, Taiwan's military
cannot avoid being behind the curve when it comes to modern
U.S. policy compounds Taiwan's problems by maintaining
several outmoded restrictions on military contacts between
No U.S. military officer above the rank of O-6 can
set foot on Taiwan. The United States routinely sells sophisticated
military equipment to Taiwan, but defense officials are
often prohibited from engaging in detailed discussions with
their Taiwan counterparts on how to use the equipment. When
the United States sent aircraft carriers to Taiwan during
the 1996 missile crisis, it was revealed that there are
no direct, secure communication links between our militaries.
Why not? Because to implement this common sense, life-saving
idea would be seen by the dictators in Beijing as an infringement
on the sacred "One China" policy.
A tyrannical aggressor engaged in a military buildup
and advertising his hostile intentions. A small democracy
under the gun. A complacent democratic power disarming,
in retreat and appeasing the tyrant.
All of this, if not corrected soon, is a classic
recipe for war.
Fortunately, Mr. Bush has signaled that he understands
the problem. He has rejected President Clinton's fatuous
notion of China as a strategic partner. Mr. Bush has pledged
to build missile defenses with our Asian allies. And importantly,
he has had the courage to think outside the box by supporting
the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act (TSEA).
I authored the TSEA, along with Sen. Robert Torricelli,
precisely to redress some of the aforementioned gaps in
our deterrent posture in Taiwan. The TSEA requires close
consultation with Congress on defense sales to Taiwan, upgraded
military ties with Taipei, the removal of restrictions on
U.S. military travel to Taiwan and the establishment of
better communications between our militaries.
Along with a restoration of overall U.S. military
power, early implementation of the provisions of the Taiwan
Security Enhancement Act by the Bush administration will
be vital in lowering the chances of American men and women
having to fight in the Taiwan Strait.
Helms, North Carolina Republican, is chairman of the Senate
International Relations Committee.