Wed, Apr 04, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Randall Schriver on Taiwan: Defense: Time to take ownership

By Randall Schriver

In April 2001, I boarded a plane for Taiwan charged with a very exciting mission. I was tasked, along with two colleagues from the US government, to deliver the US response to Taiwan's requests for military equipment and services.

We brought with us a proposal for the largest arms sales package made available to Taiwan in the history of bilateral relations. But more than that, we brought with us the hope of a new era of cooperation between two long-time friends and democratic partners.

Six years later, I only feel regret, disappointment and frustration upon seeing the arms sales devolve into one of the most contentious bilateral issues between Washington and Taipei. I was proud to play a role -- even a small one -- in 2001 in laying the foundation for unprecedented cooperation. But today the presentation we made to Taiwanese friends in 2001 has become a lingering source of dispute.

In the subsequent six years, the threat from the People's Republic of China (PRC) has grown. The threat has increased in terms of both capability (see the 17.8 percent defense spending increase Beijing announced last month), and intent (see the 2005 "Anti-Secession" Law). Yet remarkably, much of what was offered to Taiwan in 2001 for self-defense has not been procured.

This has led to suspicion among Asia hands in the US government that Taiwan is leaning too heavily on Washington for its defense at a time when the People's Liberation Army (PLA) threat is growing.

Taiwan's domestic politics are causing greater concern in Beijing, and Washington has its hands full in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

So who is at fault?

Everyone is.

The pan-greens, the pan-blues, the US government and the US industry all share the blame over the six year lifespan of these issues.

Though fault is diffuse, we can nonetheless identify where the next step must come from. Only the legislature, or more specifically, the party in control of the legislature, is positioned to take the next meaningful step. The legislature must pass a responsible defense budget and provide resources to procure the major systems made available in 2001.

Clearly designating the Legislative Yuan and its pan-blue leadership as the party that must move next, however, carries the risk of contributing yet another volley in the back-and-forth argument of who is to blame.

Here's where I want to divert from the usual legislature-bashing that Taiwan increasingly hears from the US.

Instead, let's change the nature of the discussion entirely. Let's talk about how the leading party of the legislature can claim defense issues as its own.

Can the legislature take charge and take ownership of defense spending to protect Taiwan?

I believe it can, and it is essential it does so in order to secure enough affirmative votes on a responsible defense budget for successful passage.

Here are five specific ways for the legislature to take charge and ownership of the defense budget as we move forward.

One, in parallel with passing a defense budget with substantial spending increases, the legislature should also add clarifying language as to legislative intent behind previously passed legislation known as the National Defense Act Article 22.

This Act calls for greater reliance on Taiwan's domestic industry for defense procurement. However, implementation to date has been difficult given the vagueness of the legislative guidance. If legislators had greater confidence that more defense spending would translate into more jobs and more profit for home-grown businesses (as is the case with US defense budgets), they would naturally be more inclined to spend taxpayer money on defense.

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