Fri, Feb 09, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Kurt Campbell on Taiwan: Neglecting defense budget a folly

By Kurt Campbell

The adjournment of the legislative session last month, which culminated with angry recriminations and shoe throwing, was yet another reminder of how badly Taiwan has lost its way on the critical issue of national security.

The legislature broke up without allocating funds for key elements of Taiwan's defense modernization effort, leaving it to next month to again take up defense-related appropriations.

Yet again, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the People First Party (PFP) were unable to set aside differences to move forward on at least part of the long-stalled package of defense articles originally approved by the administration of US President George W. Bush in the spring of 2001.

Now, nearly six years later and after innumerable promises, delays and excuses, the defense relationship between the US and Taiwan stands at a crossroads.

There has been the inevitable and predictable second guessing since this most recent setback -- the defense articles were too expensive because of greedy arms merchants, the KMT have given up on the defense of the nation and the expensive military toys mean relatively little in the larger scheme of things -- but there is reason to believe that this time, the potential consequences of a failure to act will be more far reaching.

There is, at times, an unspoken belief in Taiwan that the US will continue to support them.

Yet there are important changes underway in the larger international context that should worry supporters of peace and stability. And the lack of action on the defense agenda in Taiwan makes this larger context all the more problematic.

There are three larger worries for the nation to consider when it comes to the lack of success in coming together around a defense modernization effort.

The first issue is the matter of China, the giant that lurks just across the strait. China's diplomatic gains in Asia and elsewhere over the course of the better part of the last decade are now well understood, and the PRC's military strides accomplished over the same period are equally sensational, though not as well understood.

While Taiwan has essentially been content to tread water in defense terms over the last several years, China has charged ahead with a new generation of every conceivable form of combat, including naval ships, fighter aircraft and expeditionary capabilities with seemingly one task in mind: creating a capacity to seriously threaten Taiwan.

In many areas, Taiwan is now in a position of distinct disadvantage in strict military terms. While the situation across the Strait is currently essentially stable, it is impossible to make predictions about the future.

China's shadowy military strategists undoubtedly take a certain comfort from Taiwan's inability to shape a domestic consensus on what is necessary in terms of a prudent defense modernization.

The second factor that should concern Taiwan is the inevitable but unfortunate preoccupation of the US away from Asia towards the Middle East as the Iraq war continues to bog down and undermine the global influence of the last superpower.

This preoccupation of course coincides with China's historic rise and the US has not given nearly enough attention to the dramatic changes sweeping Asia in recent years.

In this sense, Taiwan has been more on its own than ever before. Given these circumstances, Washington now expects a certain self-sufficiency among its allies and friends in the region, and behind the diplomatic niceties there is a growing dissatisfaction and impatience in Washington about the lack of progress in the defense arena in Taiwan.

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