Friday, July 29, 2005

Welcome to Taiwan, COL Wilner

Previously, in our back and forth on China's ability to invade Taiwan, Michael Turton (of The View From Taiwan) identified friction between allies as a possible weakpoint in the defense of Taiwan:
In short, the US-Japan-Taiwan alliance is like the WWII ABCD alliance, one that looks great on paper, but whose mutual fighting qualities are likely to disintegrate under the pressure of serious warfare from a determined opponent.
I replied here, but the conclusion can be summed up as:
Should the militaries of those countries be working with one another to address those concerns in advance of such a conflict? They should and they are.
I offer this background because in the very near future Colonel Al Wilner (US Army) will be joining the staff of the American Institute Taiwan (AIT), America's de facto embassy Taiwan. The reason COL Wilner's arrival is important is the absence of the letters RET after his rank. COL Wilner is an active duty army officer--the first active duty officer to serve in AIT since in over a quarter century.

China is not happy. The China Daily said of the replacement of civilian contractors with non-uniformed active duty servicemen:
It is a betrayal of the US pledges in the 1978 documents forging Sino-US diplomatic ties.
An AIT spokesman spoke of the change when it first came to light:
"Historically, AIT has hired retired American military officers as contractors to coordinate defence assistance to Taiwan," said AIT spokeswoman Dana Smith.

"Non-uniformed, active-duty military and Department of Defense civilian personnel will now replace these contractors. They are being detailed to the American Institute in Taiwan as part of the normal rotation of personnel."

But Smith was swift to add that "our policy towards Taiwan has not changed."

"This is simply an effort to promote administrative efficiency in personnel matters, nothing more." (source, scroll down)
The administrative argument is hardly convincing. The US military could simply ask COL Wilner to leave the active army officially and could reinstate him with appropriate compensation in rank and grade at the end of his three year term. This was done years ago for those Flying Tigers who wished to rejoin the military after their service to the ROC military. I suspect this is the same system that has been used by AIT in the past to acquire 'retired military officers as contractors.' Another possibility would be switching COL Wilner from active duty to reserve (either active or inactive) during his stay in Taiwan. I am not advocating that any of those actions occur, but simply pointing out that if the problem was administrative it could be easily addressed without the need to deploy active duty officers. Additionally, COL Wilner is not the only active duty officer who will arrive at AIT.

The real impetus for the change can be found in a Taipei Times article, which quotes Jane's Defense Weekly:
Jane's says the change results from a bill passed by the US Congress in 2002, allowing for the posting of US military personnel to Taiwan if it is deemed to be "in the national interest of the US."

In light of the rise of China's ability to threaten America's ally in freedom, the ROC, the US government has recognized that closer military ties with the Republic are "in the national interest of the US." Therefore, let me be the first to welcome COL Al Wilner to Taiwan and thank him for bringing the militaries of the United States and the Republic of China closer together.