Saturday, January 28, 2006

Taiwan's Defense Needs

There has long been talk of exactly what weaponry Taiwan needs for its self-defense. Some outsiders view the Taiwanese government as one entity who isn't taking its own defense seriously, e.g., Ted Galen Carpenter. Others look deeper into the politics and weapon systems for explanation.

Party Politics
While observers disagree as to the rationale, the Blues clearly are obstructing the purchase of the arms offered Taiwan by the United States. The old refrain was that unless the (Green-led) government was planning to provoke China by declaring independence, only minimal defensive arms would be needed to defend the island because China isn't particularly threatening. Eventually this line of reasoning faded, and the Blues began to debate about the specific weapons.

The Arms Package
In 2001 the Bush administration offered to Taiwan diesel submarines, anti-submarine patrol aircraft, and Patriot missile batteries in response to a request from the earlier (KMT) Taiwanese leadership. Most controversial of the three pieces has been the submarines, as the United States doesn't have eight diesel submarines to offer or the facilities to produce such craft. Equally troubling, all three pieces of the arms package appear to be significantly overpriced. Due to international political constraints, Taiwan is prevented from much in the way of comparison shopping.

Are these weapons appropriate for Taiwan's needs or is Taiwan only considering their purchase as part of a protection scheme? The answer seems to be that the submarines would be nice if Taiwan had unlimited funds for defense but the money could be much more efficiently and effectively spent elsewhere (this argument has been made by Michael Turton with Admiral Eric McVadon and anonymous PACOM officers singing backup (after quite a bit of debate, I even came around to agree with the experts).

While naval mines and other weapons have been mentioned, the most common weapon system cited as a more productive use of Taiwanese defense dollars has been fighter aircraft. The blogosphere has been aflutter with news on this front in the last few days. Particularly interesting have been posts by Michael and Jason about Taiwan's stated interest in the Joint Strike Fighter or other aircraft with Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) capability.

Whatever becomes of this arms package, it is important to not judge the ROC military or the commitment of Taiwan to its own defense solely by this one package. As Gary Schmitt and Dan Blumenthal have pointed out, not wanting some overpriced submarines is not the same as free-riding or lacking commitment to one's own self-defense. The government is doing its best to whip up support for arms acquisitions after all even if it does seem to be taking a page from the duct-tape-as-a-defense-against-terrorism school of defense with proposals for a strategic quick-drying cement stockpile.