I have frequently heard it said that Taiwan doesn't need the expensive weapons in the special appropriations bill or any expensive weapons and the only reason Taiwan is considering buying them is because of pressure from America. This is very dangerous thinking.Over at The View From Taiwan, Michael Turton seems to be falling victim to the same idea mentioned above. In a recent post of his, he says that the recent Pentagon report:
appears at least in part to promote the sale of militarily useless but politically necessary weapons to TaiwanAfter a comment from me, he further elaborated on the point in a well-researched post entitled "The Arms Package for Taiwan: Protection Money?".
In this post, I intend to show that these weapons are not "militarily useless" and thus undermine the argument that purchasing these weapons serves the interests of American arms manufacturers, not that of the people of Taiwan.
What Does 18b USD Buy You?
As Turton's post points out, the arms offered to Taiwan included more than what is currently included in Taiwan's special appropriation bill. The appropriations being kept from a vote by the Pan Blues includes eight diesel submarines, six PAC-3 Patriot missile systems, and twelve P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft. For the sake of brevity, I will confine my comments on this arms package to the elements currently under consideration.
Are the submarines expensive? Yes. But when no country that currently produces submarines will sell to you, what do you expect? America is bending over backward to find these submarines and will likely have to recreate the capability to produce diesel subs just for these eight submarines. Starting from scratch doesn't come cheap.
Does the ROC Need Submarines and ASW Aircraft?
In short, the answer is yes. Turton incorrectly characterizes submarines as
anti-shipping weapons that are unnecessary for the defense of Taiwan.This is simply not the case. During both world wars, submarines were primarily used to attack surface ships (especially merchant vessels), but a lot has changed in the last fifty years. The best weapon ever found for anti-submarine warfare (ASW) is the submarine. Granted airplanes, destroyers, and submarines each have vital roles to play in ASW, ideally the roles are well-coordinated between the different platforms. As one essay on ASW points out:
ASW is a multi-platform mission area performed by multi-mission platforms.Having said that, the submarine is a vital component of that mission. The article points out, there is a
fairly natural division of labor based on the strengths and weaknesses of each ASW platform. Thus, submarines went forward into contested waters where other ASW platforms could not operate, maritime patrol aircraft used their speed to prosecute long range contacts generated by underwater surveillance systems, and surface combatants utilized their endurance to provide a local screen for battle groups and convoys. [emphasis added]I certainly feel that in a war between China and Taiwan the strait would be 'contested waters.' Considering Taiwan's submarine force (to use the term loosely) is antiquated, these submarines are needed if Taiwan is to have any hope of combating China's growing fleet of submarines or to hope to control the strait in general. In addition to ASW, submarines are valuable in sinking enemy surface ships including troop transports or landing craft (in case China were to try an invasion). Basically submarines would be vital to defending Taiwan against a blockade or an invasion by the mainland--the two biggest military threats Taiwan faces.
Does the ROC Need More Patriot Anti-Missile Systems?
Once again the answer is affirmative. According to last week's Pentagon report on China's military:
China's SRBM force totals some 650-730 missiles, increasing at a rate of 75 to 120 missiles per year. (29)Turton acknowledges the threat but characterizes the PAC-3 systems as insufficient in quantity. I agree that Taiwan needs more and that is exactly the purpose of this arms sale, to increase the number of Patriot systems available to defend the island. If Taiwan were to buy 16 Patriot systems instead of 6, I would also support that sale. Taiwan's current anti-missile systems would be easily overwhelmed by the number of missiles that China has to throw at the island. Taiwan needs more. I can't understand how saying that six isn't enough is an argument against buying those six. If the argument is to drop one (or more) submarine from the package and add one more PAC-3 system, then okay, but I feel that Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense is the best qualified to decide those needs (with the advice and consent of the United States*).
If Taiwan needs submarines, ASW aircraft, and Patriot missiles, then why do half of the people of Taiwan not favor their purchase by means of a special appropriation? This question has always intrigued me. I would argue that the reason is three-fold:
- Economics - Taiwan is running a deficit and many do not favor increased military spending on that ground.
- A misperception of the threat Taiwan faces. Many Taiwanese are blinded by their political ideology to the point where they don't appreciate that a country of a billion people is constantly threatening to kill them.
- A media that is heavily bifurcated to provide readers/viewers with exactly what the political parties want them to hear. Those watching KMT TV will certainly never hear anything good about an arms deal the KMT doesn't support, for example. (Yes, I know that the parties were forced to divest themselves of all media ownership a couple years back, but I would argue nothing changed.)
I am currently reading Kenneth Pollack's Persian Puzzle. One would not expect much from such a text to be applicable to modern Taiwanese-American relations, but one paragraph struck me as relevant:
This raises another factor in this ferocious anti-Americanism, namely the displacement of anger at the shah onto the United States as his ally or colonial 'master.' Many Iranians were deeply unhappy that the shah was squandering money on military equipment and foreign policy adventures that they assumed were being dictated by Washington. They accepted without question the notion that the shah could not be making such decisions for himself and that the United States wanted him to buy vast quantities of its weapons [p.125]I will be the first one to point out that Chen Shui-bian is not the shah and an Islamist revolution is low on the list of threats to Taiwanese stability, but the comparison does have one salient point: misperceptions about the motivating factors in arms purchases from the United States can contribute to the rise of anti-Americanism in the purchasing country.
I think it is very important that the people of Taiwan know that those in America who want them to purchase these weapons have no power over Chen Shui-bian or the Pan Greens to force them to do anything against their will and encourage Taiwan to purchase these weapons based on the threat presented them, not the interests of American arms manufacturers.
As Turton pointed out, an influential branch of the defense-industrial complex is against the sale of submarines to Taiwan because it doesn't want America to return to producing diesel submarines. This just goes to reinforce the idea that it is this sale is about deaths not dollars. A more potent ROC military is the best deterrence to the use of force by the PRC, it is that simple.
*Note that I use 'consent' to mean that America, as Taiwan's primary arms supplier, must be willing to sell whatever platform Taiwan seeks in order for them to buy it. I do not seek to imply, as some seem to think, that America can order Taiwan to purchase whatever weapon system America decides Taiwan needs.
Update: At the time of original posting, I couldn't find supporting evidence for my claim that
The best weapon ever found for anti-submarine warfare (ASW) is the submarine.A faithful reader, however, sent me supporting evidence from the New London (CT) Day, which quotes Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) as saying:
The best anti-submarine weapon is another submarine.I can't find the original article online to cite, but it was published 28 July, entitled "Hunter Says China Bolsters Case To Keep Sub Base Open," and written by Anthony Cronin.
Additionally, quoting from an article by Lyle Goldstein and William Murray in International Security (Spring 2004) named "Undersea Dragons: China's Maturing Submarine Force" (8USD download):
Many regard submarines as the best ASW platform.