“Taiwan Seen Vulnerable to Attack”
By Thomas E. Ricks
Friday, March 31, 2000
is far more vulnerable to attack from China than is generally
recognized because its isolated military has fallen behind
technologically, according to a new and highly classified
40-page report points out "a host of problems" with the
Taiwanese military's ability to defend against airplanes,
ballistic missiles and cruise missiles, said a Clinton administration
official familiar with it. It concludes that Taiwan's military
capability has been weakened by the island's diplomatic
isolation, and faults the military for allowing poor security
at its bases, for tolerating bitter interservice rivalries,
and for failing to develop a professional corps of senior
enlisted troops to operate its weapons systems.
is no other military in the world that experiences the kind
of isolation Taiwan's does," the administration official
said in summarizing the report. "They don't train or have
contacts with anyone. And as warfare has become more complex,
it has become more difficult for them to handle all these
Pentagon report comes after a spell of unusually bellicose
Chinese rhetoric over the presidential election in Taiwan,
which concluded with the victory earlier this month of a
pro-independence candidate opposed by Beijing. By validating
reports of Taiwan's military inadequacy, the Pentagon view
could sway a decision by the Clinton administration, which
is wrestling with the nettlesome question of whether to
sell four sophisticated Aegis destroyers and other advanced
military gear to Taiwan, including long-range radar that
could look thousands of miles into the Chinese mainland.
administration is expected to make a decision on the sale
by the end of April, when a Taiwanese delegation is scheduled
to arrive here to discuss the requested arms. A senior Chinese
official warned earlier this month that a U.S. transfer
of high-tech military equipment to Taiwan would be considered
a hostile act and would be "the last straw" in U.S.-China
begin to tell you how tense and sensitive this is," the
administration official said in requesting anonymity.
drafting of this was an extraordinarily difficult process,
because it is such an extremely sensitive issue," echoed
a Pentagon official involved in producing the study.
report was produced by officers on the staff of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff and by officials in the policy formulation
office of the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Overall,
it outlines "not a very pleasant picture" of Taiwan's defenses,
the Clinton administration official said. He added: "These
guys don't know how to do a lot of this stuff."
Taiwan's armed forces essentially have sat out the
information revolution, the report argues, and so have failed
to assimilate several generations of advances in information
processing. While such advances have attracted public notice
in the military arena for leading to precision-guided munitions,
they also have led to less flashy but equally significant
increases in the ability of modern militaries to first detect
fast-moving and hidden targets, then transfer that information
to weapons systems and finally guide the fired weapon to
official at the Taiwan government office here declined to
comment on the report. The Taiwan government is believed
to be aware of the report's existence but is not thought
to have seen it yet. Senior Taiwanese officers have said
in recent interviews that they understand they have severe
weaknesses, and say that is why they want Aegis ships, which
feature a high-powered phased-array radar able to simultaneously
track and target hundreds of incoming missiles and aircraft.
"Antimissile defense and air defense is our highest priority,"
Adm. Lee Jye said last month.
some U.S. defense experts argue that the Aegis ships would
be too sophisticated for the Taiwanese military to use properly
and also would, at about $1 billion apiece, soak up funds
better spent on other gear. "The Aegis could help with sea-based
defense, but it doesn't speak to their core military problem
of island-wide air defense," said Michael Swaine, a specialist
in the Chinese military at Rand Corp. "What their situation
demands is a lot of software integration, especially linkages
between their army, navy and air force."
report is the first in a series of studies of the military
balance between Taiwan and China ordered by the Pentagon's
policy office. Generally, that office, which is dominated
by civilians, is seen as taking a harder line in favor of
Taiwan than does the uniformed U.S. military. The policy
officials argue that for the Clinton administration's policy
of engagement with China to succeed, it is necessary to
maintain the cross-strait military balance, ensuring that
neither is able to impose its will on the other. The new
report implicitly argues that that balance now may be tilting
too much in favor of Beijing.
Fisher and William Triplett, two China specialists associated
with conservative congressional Republicans, said they believe
the Pentagon is deliberately suppressing the report. "This
report is extremely significant," said Fisher.
Pentagon report was completed in January, but since then
has been labeled a "draft." Some congressional aides suspect
it has been kept in that form because it makes it easier
for the Pentagon to refuse to show it to them. The report
has been widely discussed in foreign policy circles, but
very few people actually have been permitted to read it.
spokesman Kenneth Bacon responded that the report isn't
being suppressed. In addition, he said, a planned briefing
to Taiwanese officials was postponed simply for logistical
reasons. "We always planned to brief the Taiwanese on the
contents of the assessment before releasing it to the appropriate
people in Congress," he said. He declined to discuss the
contents of the report, citing its classified nature.