Wed, Feb 14, 2007 - Page 8 News List

John Tkacik on Taiwan: The best defense is a good offense

By John Tkacik

Ever since US president John Kennedy "leashed" Chiang Kai-shek's (蔣介石) army in the early 1960s to prevent Chiang's Taiwan from attacking a China paralyzed by the "Great Leap Forward," it has been an unspoken article of dogma for both US and Taiwan defense planners that Taiwan must be limited to "defensive" weapons.

Washington policy-makers continue to refer to the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), which says "it is the policy of the United States ... to provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive character," meaning the US can only sell Taiwan "defensive" arms.

This interpretation ignores the plain language of the TRA that "the nature and quantity of such defense articles and services [shall be] based solely upon ... the needs of Taiwan."

The State Department still insists that Taiwan be limited solely to "articles of a defensive character."

As a result, the Pentagon has been hampered in giving their best judgment on what Taiwan "needs" to deter Chinese aggression.

The State Department fought hard against selling Taiwan the production technology for the IDF fighters in the mid-1980s, and battled against the Pentagon's push to sell F-16s in 1992.

In 1992, France sold Taiwan 60 Mirage 2000-5 jets, long-range fighters with a heavy bomb load -- clearly an "offensive weapon."

But as a French official told me in 1992, "the government of France believes that any weapon system sold to a country of 17 million to confront a country of 1.2 billion is a `defensive' system."

Although US President George W. Bush made an exception to this policy in 2001 by approving the sale of conventional submarines to Taiwan, a defensive-arms-only mindset still seizes US and Taiwanese policy-makers.

China's People's Liberation Army now has over 900 short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) aimed at Taiwan.

By the beginning of next year, there will be over 1,000 SRBMs aimed at Taiwan.

Each missile can carry a payload of 500kg of high explosives -- which means each missile can leave a crater 50m wide and 20m deep. Each has an accuracy within 50m and can reach any target under Taipei's control except for Taiping Island in the South China Sea.

At least half of those missiles, the DF-15s -- otherwise known as the M-9 -- have a range of 1,000km. This is sufficient to reach US bases in Okinawa.

Chinese military writers say these missiles would not be used all at once, but would be part of a barrage campaign lasting several weeks or months.

They can destroy every military installation in Taiwan, all its power generation plants, communications nodes, and most of Taiwan's major political centers.

These missiles probably cost around US$1 million a piece -- meaning China has spent less than US$1 billion over the past 10 years to assemble them.

To counter this threat Taiwan certainly needs an advanced ballistic missile defense (BMD) system to protect high value targets. But existing BMD technology that the US is making available to Taiwan costs in excess of US$3 million per missile, and their 50 percent "kill ratio" means that Taiwan needs over US$6 million worth of defensive missiles to kill US$1 million in offensive missiles.

To protect Taiwan convincingly against US$1 billion worth of Chinese SRBMs, then, Taiwan must spend US$6 billion.

This is doable, but it is not much of a deterrent.

China's civilian and military chiefs need not fear that Taiwan will be able to inflict similar damage on China because Taiwan does not have offensive weapons.

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