Sat, Jan 14, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Taiwan still needs a good offense

People who are serious about defending Taiwan have to accept a number of realities if they hope to improve the military's capabilities.

The first reality is that national security has taken a back seat to partisan maneuvering in Taiwan, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

The pan-blue alliance is pathologically opposed to any measure that would give the Chen administration a legislative victory. And the pan-green camp is powerless to implement any action on its own.

In this framework, the much-ballyhooed special arms budget will never move forward, regardless of how it is chopped up, rearranged or repriced. The budget is stillborn, and the Legislative Yuan, no matter how much bureaucratic legerdemain is employed by the executive, will block the three major weapons systems included in the original bill.

The second reality is that bureaucratic infighting within the US often results in curtailed procurement options for Taiwan. For example, the commander of US Pacific Command (PACOM), Admiral William Fallon, in October essentially told Taiwan to give up on purchasing submarines. It would be better, he said, for Taiwan to focus on "some things that would be much more useful than others in helping Taiwan better prepare its defenses." He offered his view that sea mines would be a worthwhile investment.

The story behind PACOM's historic opposition to Taiwan's acquisition of submarines is long and tortuous, but it can be boiled down to its essence quickly: The US Navy worries about Taiwanese subs getting in its way if it has to sail to Taiwan's assistance, and some within the "nuclear navy" are opposed to all diesel-electric subs. But the Ministry of National Defense (MND) wants Taiwan to have an indigenous deterrent force. Submarines, they feel, are a key component of such a force. So the battle over subs must be fought on two political fronts: domestically, in the Legislative Yuan; and overseas, within the Pentagon and the US Congress.

Since neither of the two realities outlined above seem likely to change anytime soon, many defense experts have felt that other options for procuring needed weapons systems should be explored. So it was not surprising that the MND asked the Chung Shan Institute of Science and Technology, a pseudo-state-run military technology research firm, to try and make cruise missiles. It succeeded.

Some critics decried this move as embracing an "offensive" strategic posture, which they said was sure to provoke China. This is idiocy. China already has the world's largest military, and it is spending heavily to make it one of the world's most advanced.

It is absurd to say that "offensive" capabilities somehow disturb the delicate "balance" in the Taiwan Strait. There is no military balance in the Taiwan Strait, only a chasm between China's growing martial strength and Taiwan's increasingly obsolete armed forces.

Many thoughtful military thinkers recognize the ludicrousness of worrying about Taiwan gaining offensive strike abilities.

"In modern warfare, however, even a strong defense requires strike warfare and offensive options," wrote Larry Wortzel, an expert on the Chinese military who is a retired US Army colonel that served as a military attache in Beijing.

But the US government appears to have taken a different view, and this must be why -- on the American Institute in Taiwan's recommendation -- it denied Taiwan's request to examine the purchase of high-speed anti-radiation missiles, which are used to destroy enemy radar sites and joint direct attack munitions, more commonly known as smart bombs.

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