The NT$600 billion military purchase from the US has been badly handled and made to drag on for four years, causing much bickering and conflict. We see a situation in which the pan-blue alliance, which controls the legislature, resists President Chen Shui-bian (
When Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) led a delegation to the US recently to discuss the purchase with the Americans, it was given VIP treatment and received by the US deputy defense secretary who explained the importance of the deal.
The US is anxious to push the deal through, but in Taiwan, some people, especially pro-unification elements, are simply holding things up. In all the controversy that this issue has given rise to, what is the real problem?
With the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, the legal basis for the concept of national sovereignty was established. No power existed above the nation-state, and the international community entered into a state of anarchy, so that nation-states were forced to increase their national strength, especially their military strength, to protect their own national interests. They used that military strength to grab resources and resolve international disputes.
For over 350 years, this realist expansion of power and warfare has constituted the mainstream in international political discourse, a discourse that holds that "war is not only inevitable, it is also necessary."
The world's strongest powers, the US, Russia, and China, of course believe in and implement the reality of power, relying on their military power to solve international disputes.
In today's world, small countries like Taiwan find themselves in a difficult situation. In addition, Taiwan's neighbor is totalitarian China, which sees Taiwan as a rebellious province and believes that annexation by military force is necessary because unification by peaceful means is unachievable. The Communist Chinese enemy is the biggest threat to Taiwan's democracy, and that is the reality of power we have to face up to.
There are people in Taiwan, especially pan-blue unificationists, who think differently. They do not see China as an enemy or a threat, and they even believe that Taiwan and China will one day be united. Nor do they see the US as an ally that truly wants to help Taiwan based on the universal values of liberal democracy and assist in the defense of Taiwan. These people believe that Taiwan, for security reasons, should keep both China (the enemy) and the US (an ally) at an equal distance.
This is the issue that lies at the center of Taiwan's national identity crisis. The attitude was reflected in a column in the June 27 edition of the New York Times, where an anonymous Taiwanese professor was reported as saying that "The US won't sacrifice one single soldier for the sake of Taiwan independence, but 90 percent of the Taiwanese people believe they will, and are therefore encouraging Chen and Taiwan independence advocates to push for Taiwan independence."
But looking at the US, there are many people, including many Bush administration officials, who firmly believe the China threat is real. There is also the Taiwan Relations Act, which clearly stipulates that the US shall assist in the defense of Taiwan, not only through the obligation to sell advanced arms, but also through the responsibility of sending troops to defend Taiwan. It is this difference in the understanding of the China threat that lies at the center of the arms purchase conflict.
China's national defense budget has increased sharply over the past 10 years. In the midst of China's astonishing economic growth (8 percent to 9 percent), the defense budget remains 4 percent to 5 percent (probably more) of China's GDP. Purchases of advanced submarines, warships, fighter planes and missiles from Russia have given China the world's third-largest military, in terms of capability, after the US and Russia. By contrast, Taiwan's national defense budget has fallen sharply over the past 10 years, and now only makes up about 2.5 percent of GDP.
International military strategists believe that if this trend continues, China will have sufficient military power to attack Taiwan in five to 10 years' time. US Department of Defense officials and strategic experts all agree on this, regardless of whether they are closer to China or Taiwan.
US Defense Department officials are of the opinion that this ongoing decline in Taiwan's military power relative to the growth in China's military power is a very serious situation. Not only has Taiwan's ability to defend itself declined, but it has also become much more difficult for the US to help defend Taiwan. The situation also helps China's threats and the possibility of a Chinese military attack on Taiwan, and it may force a military encounter between the US and China, making it more likely that US troops will die in the Taiwan Strait.
US officials, such as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, are convinced that these are realistic strategic considerations and calculations. They are therefore deeply worried and dissatisfied with the fact that Taiwan's NT$600 billion arms purchase keeps being postponed, and Wolfowitz has said that if Taiwan does not take its defense seriously, neither will the US.
When Chen recently met US Representative Scott McInnis, a Colorado Republican, Chen said that Taiwan requested the arms purchase after making a careful assessment; that he was grateful for US President George W. Bush approving the purchase; and that the purchase is the result of the US responding to forceful requests by the government and not the result of US pressure. Chen also pointed out that Bush, when deciding whether to approve the purchase in April 2001, requested that Taiwan submit its requirements and priority order.
After an assessment, the first item on the priority list submitted by the Ministry of Defense was diesel-electric submarines. The purchase of diesel-electric submarines, the Patriot PAC-III anti-missile system and Orion P-3C anti-submarine aircraft is aimed at fighting submarines and missiles, thereby strengthening Taiwan's defensive capabilities.
Chen also reiterated that the purchase is aimed at increasing Taiwan's ability to effectively resist and deter any rash moves on China's part, and that Taiwan will absolutely not provoke China or bring Taiwan to the brink of war. However, faced with a bellicose China that has never given up the option of attacking Taiwan, not being provocative does not mean we can let down our guard.
This is the realist's plea for rationality.
After Wang's delegation returned home, legislators requested that the price of the submarines be renegotiated and re-evaluated, because they felt the cost was too high and the delivery period was too long. Given the doubts regarding the submarines and the overly expensive arms purchase as a whole, a consensus seems to have formed among both government and opposition politicians that Taiwan must not be played for a fool and tricked into spending too much money on the special budget allocated for the arms purchase. This is, of course, only what a responsible legislature should do, and is both reasonable and legal.
But the Democratic Action Alliance, made up of scholars and social groups, immediately called a press conference to announce their strong opposition to the arms purchase, saying they will organize demonstrations if it is passed by the legislature. Attendees at the press conference included former National Assembly member Cheng Li-wen (
Wang said he could understand the alliance's vociferous opposition to the arms purchase, but that in the face of the Chinese threat, national security had to be the main concern and attention had to be given to the cross-strait arms balance. That statement makes sense, but does not highlight the crux of the matter.
These unification proponents are really underestimating the US. Given its status as the world's strongest nation, would a mere NT$600 billion be able to buy US protection? To say so is nonsense and only insults the US. Even if we were to pay a hundred times that amount, we would still not be able to buy ourselves US protection. NT$600 billion would pay for a mere two weeks of US warfare in Iraq, and is but petty cash in US defense spending.
In sum, the attitude of refusing to see China as our enemy and the US as our friend is not unique to the Democratic Action Alliance. It also exists among many of the Taiwanese opposing the green camp, Chen and the arms purchase. The question of whether we will be able to purchase submarines and other advanced arms is of course relevant to the future of a democratic Taiwan. This inability to differentiate between friend and foe, this lack of a crisis awareness, and this ignorance of the great increase in China's military power, allowing it to attack Taiwan whenever it so chooses, is unrealistic in a world ruled by realism.
The Americans see this, and they are trying to make us see the urgency. Taiwan, however, does not see it, and we do not feel the urgency. This is the greatest danger facing Taiwan today.
Chiou Chwei-liang is a visiting professor at Tamkang University.
Translated by Perry Svensson
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