Asian Wall Street Journal
Messages on Taiwan
China go to war to retake Taiwan? To answer that question,
it's not enough to say that Beijing would be hurting its
own interests if it attempted any such thing. China's leaders
have repeatedly indicated that they would sacrifice economic
and political ties with the rest of the world in order to
prevent the island from drifting away from the motherland
permanently. The estimated potential for the Taiwanese and
U.S. militaries to inflict a humiliating defeat on China
would be crucial to any Chinese decision to use force.
deterrent power is only part of the go-or-no go equation,
however. The Korean War, for example, began largely because
of a miscalculation that the U.S. would not come to the
aid of its ally. Therefore it's important not only to build
up military capabilities, but also for the U.S. to send
clear messages about its commitment to honor obligations.
why the U.S. decision not to sell Taiwan's navy several
Aegis destroyers -- each equipped with lower-tier missile
defenses and cruise missiles -- could turn out to be a bad
strategic decision, even if the military rationale was reasonable.
Coming as it does after a series of political moves to appease
China on the issue of Taiwan, it raises doubts about American
willingness to take even mild risks to defend a young democracy.
This will hurt morale in Taipei and increase the chances
of miscalculation in Beijing.
say at the outset that there is still time to rectify this
mistake, and the Pentagon has said it will study the need
for Aegis ships. This may be a politically palatable way
of preparing the ground for a sale next year. American military
experts do seem to be getting a good grip on the problem
of defending Taiwan, and a recent Pentagon report highlighted
many of the glaring weaknesses in the island's military.
The real question is whether the U.S. has the political
will to fix them.
the problem boils down to isolation. The Taiwanese brass
have not adopted the best practices deriving from what the
U.S. calls the "revolution in military affairs,"
because they haven't had access to the training and exchanges
given to other U.S. allies. Command and control is weak
and inter-service rivalry hampers joint operations. A large
conscript army saps resources which should go toward modernizing
the navy and air force as well as retaining competent technicians
and professional soldiers.
agree that Taiwan still has a technological edge over the
mainland militarily, but within 10 years that edge will
be gone unless U.S. policy changes now. China is developing
a blue-water navy which will be able to blockade Taiwan's
ports and bring the economy to its knees. It also has about
200 solid-fuel ballistic missiles deployed along the Strait,
and is producing 50-70 more every year. These could be used
to wipe out the island's airfields unless missile defense
should the U.S. do to prevent the risk of war from rising?
There is certainly room for disagreement about individual
weapon systems, especially when they are as costly and complex
as the Aegis ships. But the U.S. needs to address the dangers
of a missile attack or a naval blockade. That means committing
to sell the latest Patriot missile, the PAC-3, when it is
introduced. It also means providing the tools of antisubmarine
warfare like the P-3 Orion plane and persuading other countries
to sell diesel submarines to Taiwan.
most important material and psychological measure, however,
will be ending the isolation of the Taiwanese military.
Contact between U.S. officers and their Taiwanese counterparts
has been woefully inadequate considering that they might
one day have to work closely together. The U.S. House of
Representatives passed the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act
in order to correct this. The Chief of the U.S. Pacific
Command, Adm. Dennis Blair, has said that the Act doesn't
allow him to do anything more than is currently possible,
and it throws an unwelcome spotlight on the relationship.
But this suggests that the U.S. military has been lax in
using the available opportunities for exchanges.
brings us back to the problem of political will. Some officials
in the U.S. State Department and the White House seem to
think fulfilling U.S. obligations to help Taiwan defend
itself means being "provocative" toward China,
and therefore it shouldn't be attempted. Of course, it's
Chinese threats and missile deployments which are provocative,
and countering them with defensive weaponry is the only
response that Beijing will respect.
otherwise is to allow the risk of war to gradually increase.
Some generals in Beijing believe that if they are given
the resources to force Taiwan into submission, China could
ride out the storm of international protest over the following
decade. More rational leaders have so far prevailed because
they can point to the U.S. commitment to Taiwan's defense.
But if that commitment wavers, the calculus will change.
Korea should have taught the U.S. that the fastest way to
bring on a war is to lead a potential aggressor to miscalculate
the odds. But then maybe they don't read much history in
the U.S. White House.
The Asian Wall Street Journal