Arming Taiwan: Impact on Asian SecurityPrintable Version
Friday, January 30, 2009
As part of the long running Asia Security Project, the Center for National Policy hosted a discussion entitled "Arming Taiwan: Impact on Asian Security." The event featured Shirley Kan, an Asia security expert in the Foreign Affairs, Defense and Trade division of the Congressional Research Service; and Rupert J. Hammond-Chambers, President of the US-Taiwan Business Council.
Ms. Kan began the discussion by emphasizing that the arms sale deal approved by President Bush in 2001 faced a number of unexpected delays all the way through 2007. Even following the election of Ma Ying-jeou as President in May 2008, an event that was expected to usher in a positive new era of US-Taiwan relations, the Bush administration did not submit a number of pending notifications to Congress until a day before the legislature was scheduled to adjourn. Under normal circumstances this would have left insufficient time, but the September 2008 financial crisis forced Congress to stay in session longer than anticipated, and Congress ultimately received six of the eight notifications (as required by the Taiwan Relations Act) about the pending arms sale. By not submitting all eight notifications however, the Bush administration unilaterally halved the proposed amount of arms to $6.5 billion, omitting requests for Black Hawk helicopters, modern submarine designs, and parts of the Patriot missile defense program. Ms. Kan argued that the Bush Administration's actions threw the Arms sale process into confusion, by ending the practice of Annual Arms Sales Talks, injecting uncertainty into the negotiating process, and calling into question the consistency and objectivity of the United States' policies towards Taiwan.
Ultimately, the United States needs to reexamine the premises on which it bases US-Taiwanese relations. Is the threat from the People's Republic of China as immediate and great as we originally assumed? Does Taiwan urgently need to upgrade its own defensive capabilities, or will such advancements only antagonize China even further? More importantly, is the United States still committed to maintaining a military balance in the Taiwan Strait? Ms. Kan concluded by paraphrasing the 2006 Congressional testimony of Admiral William J. Fallon: Although the United States is committed to defending Taiwan if there is military aggression from the PRC, it needs to see renewed investment by Taiwan in its own defense capabilities and greater transparency about its own defense needs.
Mr. Hammond-Chambers continued the discussion by outlining what he believes will be the policy objectives of the incoming Obama administration. First, Mr. Hammond-Chambers predicts a heavy emphasis on Sino-American economic and trade issues, which will eventually resolve itself into a more structured position on China's military modernization and its ramifications for US interests. Second, the Obama administration will attempt to focus on areas of Sino-Taiwanese cooperation, while focusing on possible areas of confidence building. Finally, the Obama administration will have to ask what are China's essential interests, "what [is China] prepared to do when the chips are down?"
Specifically, the Obama administration will have to address the issue of how to reconcile China's economic détente with Taiwan, with its increasingly rapid force modernization and aggressive military posture. Although Mr. Hammond-Chambers expressed optimism about Obama's Taiwan team, he emphasized the need to have a serious discussion on both the nature and extent of China's threat posture, and about America's own priorities regarding the security of the Taiwan Strait.
Mr. Hammond-Chambers concluded by stressing the importance of a negotiating process which is predictable, transparent, and matches available resources to sensible military needs. Whether the United States returns to the traditional arms sale negotiating process, or develops a new one based on its changing priorities, it must proceed in a way that builds renewed trust and consistency.
- The United States should continue its policy of fostering peaceful and productive relations between the PRC and Taiwan, while at the same time protecting Taiwan's capacity for self-defense.
- For its own part, the United States should work on clarifying its interests in the Taiwan Strait, and maintaining consistent policies for US-Taiwanese negotiations.
- Taiwan should recognize that it has a vital role to play in its own defense. Taiwanese force modernization should focus on strengthening air, sea, and anti-blockade capabilities, while making the transition to a smaller, highly trained, all-professional army.