- Washington Post Editorial
April 10, 2000
solution to the conflict over Taiwan is possible unless
China is deterred from attempting to take the democratic
island by force. One critical element in deterring China
is the United States' implicit commitment to defend Taiwan
from aggression. Another is Taiwan's own capacity to blunt
the various military means--missile attack, submarine blockade,
outright invasion--that China might employ against the island.
On that score, a new Pentagon study, described in The Post
by Thomas E. Ricks, is alarming. Taiwan's navy, air force
and army are poorly organized, inadequately trained and
have failed to keep pace with the information revolution.
A key reason for Taiwan's military deterioration, the study
argues, is its diplomatic isolation. This is another way
of saying that, thanks to successive U.S. administrations'
solicitude toward China, Taiwan has lost high-level contact
with the U.S. military, which alone possesses the cutting-edge
know-how Taiwan needs.
still classified, the Pentagon report apparently is consistent
with the public assessments of most analysts who have studied
Taiwan's forces. The question is what the United States
should do. One response is embodied in the Taiwan Security
Enhancement Act (TSEA), passed by the House in February,
which would require the Pentagon to step up military-to-military
contacts with the Taiwanese. And with a late-April informal
deadline for deciding which weapons to sell Taiwan looming,
some in Congress want to send Taiwan advanced U.S. hardware
such as the Aegis cruiser, which bristles with the latest
anti-missile radar technology. Not surprisingly, Beijing
says that either passage of TSEA or the sale of Aegis would
do grievous harm to Sino-U.S. relations.
the concerns embodied in TSEA are legitimate, there is little
chance the president would sign the measure even if it passed
the Senate. Nevertheless, the bill remains relevant as a
signal to the administration that its approach to Taiwan's
security is losing credibility. If it wishes to change that,
and thus to shore up the impression of U.S. resolve that
is so vital to peace between China and Taiwan, it should
implement some of the changes TSEA calls for -- which are
implicitly backed by the Pentagon report--such as greater
access to U.S. information and military education for Taiwanese
officers. Selling Taiwan the weapons systems it needs to
defend itself is important. But some of these weapons systems,
such as the Aegis cruisers, wouldn't arrive for at least
five years. Access to training and information could help
restore competence and confidence to Taiwan's forces quickly.
Clinton administration will object that China would be furious
at either arms sales or stepped-up military contacts--and
it probably would. But new military and political realities
are fast converging to make this argument increasingly untenable.
The administration needs to make some tough choices about
Taiwan's security; if it can't or won't act, then Congress