Tue, Oct 05, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Peace in our time, or peace on our terms?

By Tsai Ming-hsien 蔡明憲

St. Augustine wrote in The City of God that "All men desire peace, the problem is that they all want peace on their own terms." Peace can be achieved under various conditions. The ancient Romans achieved peace by slaughtering the Carthaginians, and a peace -- of a sort -- was achieved behind the Iron Curtain. Warmongers always call for peace -- but it is always peace on their own terms.

The special budget for the procurement of submarines, anti-missile batteries and anti-submarine weapons for the Ministry of National Defense has given rise to heated controversy. I believe that at its core, the debate centers on the issue of "peace": on whose terms do we want peace, and what price are we willing to pay in order to achieve the peace that we seek?

China's situation in relation to its neighbors has greatly improved since the Cold War. Russia, once an implacable enemy, is now a major arms supplier, and Beijing is now making friends with both Vietnam and India. But despite these developments, China's military strength has continued to increase by leaps and bounds. Its primary objective, in addition to replacing the US as the dominant military power in the Pacific, is to force Taiwan into accepting "one country, two systems." As a result, in the last few years China has become the world's largest arms importer.

That its armaments program is aimed at Taiwan can be glimpsed from its deployments. The new Sovremenny-class destroyers and Kilo-class submarines have all been deployed with the East China Sea Fleet (東海艦隊) and its Sukhoi-27 and Sukhoi-30 fighter aircraft are deployed at airbases suited for an assault on Taiwan.

The people who oppose the arms procurement budget for the reason that it is likely to lead to an "arms race" are forgetting one important point: Taiwan's deployment of F-16s is a response to China's deployment of Su-27 fighters; that Taiwan seeks to purchase Kidd-class destroyers to counteract China's Sovremenny-class destroyers. Taiwan is reacting to the continuous pressure from China, but in seeking to maintain the military balance in the Taiwan Strait, the Ministry of Defense has acted with great caution, always purchasing a minimum of armaments to counter China's buildup. We do not wish to engage in an arms race with China, but the greatest threat to stability in the Taiwan Strait is the temptation for the People's Liberation Army to act because they perceive that the military balance is tilted in their favor. Our current raft of purchases aims at making such an invasion more costly for China. If you don't lock the door, you're just inviting the thief in.

Obviously, the cross-strait issue is complex and will not be determined by military factors alone. Taiwan is a small country and to meet force with force is not the best policy. The military force of a small country must be reinforced by the determination of the whole people to defend the country. But if we oppose an arms procurement bill that aims at maintaining the minimal force to counter-balance China, how will this be perceived by Taiwan's citizens? How will it be perceived by the international community?

Opposition to war is a universal value, and in comparison, the preservation of peace is a much more difficult task. We can simply take to the streets to oppose war, but in the face of China's ambitions, we must work hard to preserve peace.

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