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Friday, January 29, 2010

To arms, to arms!

"It's better to help arm Taiwan than to defend it" is the headline for a somewhat odd opinion piece by one Doug Bandow (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doug_Bandow) of the Cato Institute (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cato_Institute), by way of today's Japan Times ジャパンタイムズ http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/eo20100128db.html:

"The Obama administration is preparing a new arms package for Taiwan. Ironically, selling weapons to T'aipei (Taihoku) 台北 may be the best way for Washington to get out from the middle of one of the world's potentially most volatile relationships, between China and Taiwan. Relations between China and Taiwan are improving. Yet the former continues to point more than 1,300 missiles at the latter. The threat of military force remains a backdrop to expanding economic and tourist contacts across the Taiwan Strait 台湾海峡. The U.S. is positioned uneasily in between. Formally committed to the principle of one China and providing weapons to Taiwan for its defense, Washington cannot easily square the circle. As China grows in economic strength and international influence, pressure will grow on America's relationship with T'aipei."

According to the 1972 Shanghai Communique, the U.S. recognizes the One China 一つの中国 principle, but in language that implies that Washington merely acknowledges that China claims Taiwan as part of its territory, without actually endorsing China's position (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One-China_policy). The Taiwan Relations Act 台湾関係法 of 1979 requires the U.S. "to provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive character", and "to maintain the capacity of the United States to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social or economic system, of the people on Taiwan", but does not formally bind American military forces to come to the defense of Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taiwan_relations_act).

"(President) Ma (Ying-jeou) (Ba Eikyū) 馬英九 has downplayed Taiwan's quest for a separate international identity and promoted ties with China. Yet the underlying substantive issues remain unchanged. China sees only one outcome, whether the result of negotiation or ultimatum: Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan. In contrast, President Ma, no less than his predecessor, opposes submitting Taiwan to rule by China."

That last sentence is debatable considering the Kuomintang's 中国国民党 rush to sign an ECFA (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economic_Cooperation_Framework_Agreement) with China in order to more closely bind the two economies together, and thus act to contain the influence of pro-independence forces. It seems many Western commentators accept Ma's proclamations on the defense of Taiwan's sovereignty at face value, without examining what has actually been taking place on the ground (and behind closed doors).

"At some point China's patience is likely to fade. Continuing arms sales may be the best hope of forestalling conflict. During the Cold War no one doubted Washington's will and ability to prevent China from attempting to conquer or intimidate Taiwan. Neither is certain any longer. Go to war with China and the 21st century looks a lot uglier, even if the U.S. handily wins round one. And round one no longer would be a slam dunk. While China cannot for the foreseeable future match American military power, it can create a substantial deterrent capability, sharply raising the potential cost of U.S. intervention. Beijing's increasing ability to sink U.S. carriers with submarines and missiles alone would force any president to hesitate sending the 7th Fleet 第七艦隊 into the Taiwan Strait for battle. As protecting Taiwan goes from being a guaranteed freebie to a potential catastrophe, T'aipei will no longer be able to rely upon America. Taiwan has been a good friend for many years, but few U.S. presidents would decide to protect T'aipei if doing so put Los Angeles and maybe New York at risk."

Bandow adapts an age-old concern regarding the American nuclear umbrella - namely, would the U.S. sacrifice New York for the sake of London, Tōkyō 東京 etc.? He thinks that arms sales are an easy out, that somehow providing weapons for Taiwan will mean the U.S. won't have to face the possibility of having its deterrence "bluff" (if it is, in fact, a poker move) called. Of course, one could easily argue the opposite position - selling weapons could serve to ratchet up tensions and make the likelihood of conflict all the more greater (though this writer personally doesn't take that point of view).

"...the Bush administration showed its pique with former President Chen Shui-bian (Chin Suihen) 陳水扁 by freezing arms sales to T'aipei. The result was to accelerate the already disturbing erosion of Taiwan's defensive capabilities. Taiwanese weakness could be dangerous. Should China grow impatient — and believe that victory would be swift and bloodless — the temptation to act could prove overwhelming. Of course, even fulfilling Taiwan's 'wish list' would not enable the island state to defeat China in a full-scale war. But T'aipei needs sufficiency rather than equality — a military capable of making any attempt at coercion more costly than the likely benefits of victory...there should be no American retreat from the principle of selling T'aipei the weapons that it needs for its defense. The Taiwanese have built a free and democratic society. They deserve access to the tools that will enable them to defend that society."

Here, Bandow seems unaware that there was a long-standing American arms package on offer from the Bush administration that was held hostage in the legislature by the then-opposition KMT - the very same folks who are now running the show, and claiming to put Taiwan's defensive needs first!

"...the best strategy for ensuring a peaceful resolution of T'aipei's status is a robust Taiwanese defensive capability. Selling arms is a far better option than intervening militarily in any conflict. To presume that China, with far more at stake than America, will forever back down would be a wild gamble. Whether Chinese concerns are driven more by nationalist passions or geostrategic concerns, the more direct Washington's involvement, the more dangerous Beijing's likely response. And there would be no greater calamity than a war between the U.S. and China. The U.S. should not be expected to risk major war with nuclear powers to protect other states, however friendly or democratic. But Washington can help other nations defend themselves. Selling weapons to Taiwan would empower the island state without inserting the U.S. into any cross-strait crossfire."

Actually, Washington was expected to risk a major war with a nuclear power during the Cold War (NATO vs. the Warsaw Pact), and it still is when it comes to the mutual security treaties with Japan 安保条約, and to a lesser extent, South Korea. Arms sales or not, it's difficult to imagine the U.S. managing to stay out of the way should fighting break out between China and Taiwan. Bandow also completely overlooks the other major player in the region, Japan.

It's hard to disagree with Bandow's conclusion that Taiwan needs to have the means to defend itself, and that it's up the American government to help. Still, he should have done some research into the motives behind the policies currently being pursued by the Ma administration. A weapons package may look attractive, but all that sexy hardware could be just for show if the Taiwanese government doesn't really intend to put up much, if any, of a fight.

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