Thu, Mar 14, 2002 - Page 8 News List

US-Taiwan fundamentals strong

By Nat Bellocchi 白樂崎

The changeover in the organization of the Ministry of National Defense on Mar. 1 is a major step in both modernizing the military establishment and incorporating that important ministry into Tai-wan's democratic structure. The armed forces are now integrated into the government and into the society, at least in law.

Changing the mentality of the people, in the military and in society in general, may take more time. One hopes not too long, however, as the more favorable attitude of the US administration and the necessity for greater cooperation that comes with high-tech weaponry and new strate-gies, is an opportunity that must be seized now. Improvement in the command and control structure were necessary for the US side to live up to its commitment under the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) and for interoperability, should that need arise.

The changeover in the ministry was a culmination of much work that has taken place in Taiwan and in the Taiwan-US military relationship over a considerable amount of time. Most importantly, it was preceded by the passage of the necessary laws by the Legislative Yuan. In addition, on the US side, groups of technical personnel have come to Tai-wan to support the more sophisticated equip-ment that has been purchased. Others have come to study Taiwan's defensive needs required by either congressional mandate or by the requirements of the TRA.

There have also been academic seminars in Taiwan and visits by members of Congress or congressionally-sponsored commissions to study the state of Taiwan's military establishment and its needs for the future.

Some discern in these activities some major change in US policy. One should look at the changing circumstances, however. The scenario of thousands of troops from China landing on the shores of Taiwan has pretty much disappeared. Now it is missiles and blockades -- a different kind of war, a different kind of defense, a different kind of strategy -- that compels logical adjustments in the military relationship.

At the same time, the US continues to say that it will meet its commitment to permit Taiwan's access to the kinds of equipment needed to defend itself. (It also must continue to assess how these changes, not only in Taiwan but in China, Japan and East Asia generally, affect US security interests in the region). So closer coordination between the US and Taiwan's military does not have an ulterior motive, but is a natural development in helping to maintain the status quo in East Asia generally and in the Taiwan Strait in particular.

But there have been changes, of course, in both Taiwan and the US. These are not in the policies of broad macro dimensions, however. In Taiwan there has been progress in bringing academic and government security specialists into closer dialogue with the military establishment. A special adviser to the National Security Council has been named just for this purpose. In the Legislative Yuan, a retired admiral is one of the conveners of the Defense Committee. The interaction between civilian security and military officials has made some progress, though more is needed.

In the US, the president has made it clear that he takes the TRA and its commitments seriously. Much has been written in the media about his statements in Japan and China to this effect. These are statements made as much for China's ears as for Tai-wan's, to assure both sides there is no misunderstanding. But it also serves purposes at home. The Congress also must be assured that the US is following the law (the TRA), and the military must be clear about the same point. The recent testimony before Congress of the commander-in-chief of the US Pacific Command, Admiral Dennis Blair, shows they understand the message well.

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