I had thought the second Defense Industry Conference organized by the US-Taiwan Business Council in San Antonio, Texas just a little more than two weeks ago, would probably be an anti-climax. The first conference included the first public visit of Taiwan's minister of national defense to the US and participation by very senior US officials. It had acquired considerable international attention. The second conference did not have the same official level of participation by either side, and, therefore, was less of a media show than the first.
But in terms of substance, the second conference has generated much more attention on Taiwan's defense reform. The concern over the slow pace of reform in my view, is not just typical American impatience, or aggressive salesmanship by the US defense industry. It is the changing world of military technology and the changing relationships in the region.
The purpose behind the loosening of arms sales to Taiwan, especially by the George W. Bush administration, is twofold. One is a commitment in the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) established by Congress that the US must be prepared to help defend Taiwan if it decides to do so, and that the US should give Taipei what the US believe it should have to defend itself. The other is the modernization and building of missiles and the purchases of advanced military equipment by China.
This has naturally led to the need for training to handle new equipment and much more coordination between the military on both sides. It coincided with Taiwan's own objective of opening its military to civilian oversight and control, and coincided with the US view that joint military operations were a necessary first step.
It also, incidentally, accelerated the use of off-sets as part of arms procurement. The price tag for advanced military equipment is high, but the effects of off-set arrangements is also substantial. It gives Taiwan a greater capability to produce more of its own equipment, and helps stimulate the economy in the process.
To be sure there was some grumbling that the pace of reform was going very slow. But from my viewpoint the inevitable American impatience, once decisions are made to"fix it," were showing a reasonably good awareness that this reform had to take place under a democratic system.
The pace of change in military technologies moves even faster. In the Gulf War some 10 years ago, many countries, including China, were suddenly awakened to the vast change that had taken place. Not just World War II strategies and equipment, but the once "modern" warfare of the Korean War and even Vietnam, had become history. In East Asia, China especially began to change it's strategies and look for more relevant equipment.
But one needs only to think of the more recent Afghanistan action by the US to see that in large measure, even the Gulf War has become history. We saw small groups of soldiers, working with local fighters, roaming in no-man's land, able to call in cruise missiles, F-16 fighter planes, even B-52 bombers to hit a specific spot in very difficult terrain. The army, navy and air force, with capable troops, were all working together while separated by long distances.
One has to ponder just how much transfer of organization, training and up-to-date know-how, not to speak of equipment, Taiwan's long-isolated military establishment must absorb.