Tue, Mar 04, 2008 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: The KMT is killing national defense

The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has struck again. After years of successfully blocking arms appropriation bills in the legislature, the party has now managed to shoot down, before it could even take off, a venture that could have been of tremendous benefit to the nation's ability to defend itself.

As this newspaper has argued before, Taiwan Goal, the semi-private arms manufacturer at the heart of a recent controversy, could have provided the military with the means to develop weapons systems that would have best suited the nation's defense needs and allow it to circumvent many of the barriers to procurement that the nation faces because of its international isolation.

But as a result of the KMT's smear campaign and threat to launch an investigation should the company not be disbanded, that project is now dead.

This raises a number of issues about KMT presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou's (馬英九) promise, made in his speech before the Association for the Promotion of National Security last month, to strengthen the nation's deterrence capabilities.

First, Ma argues that the "offensive defense" philosophy espoused by the Democratic Progressive Party administration -- in which, rather than taking place on Taiwan proper, battle is pushed "offshore" -- is counterproductive. Ma says that the KMT would instead work to strengthen the nation's command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) capabilities to ensure that a first strike would not cripple Taiwan's ability to defend itself.

While strengthening one's defenses is a sound strategy, reliance on that alone speaks of a lack of understanding of the concept of deterrence, which involves the threat of force to dissuade an opponent from launching an attack in the first place. This cannot exist if the strategy, as proposed by Ma, is one of homeland defense alone. In other words, deterrence is the promise of punitive action, not merely passive resistance. Security specialists are unanimous on this point: Taking the fight "offshore" is the wisest course for Taiwan.

Second, Ma's defense plan reiterates the need to obtain F-16C/Ds to modernize the Air Force. Again, this makes sense, but it is symptomatic of a policy of reliance on US systems that will be costlier than one of indigenous or semi-indigenous development. The dependence on US weapons is, at best, a short-term palliative and drains national resources that could be better spent elsewhere. One wonders, therefore, if the KMT perhaps does not stand to gain from ensuring that Taiwan continues to buy weapons from the US alone.

Taiwan Goal, while no panacea, would have been a step in the right direction, and unlike what some critics have argued, it would have tapped into the nation's world-class private technology industries -- with or without help from the government.

By shutting it down and by opposing a deterrence strategy, the KMT has demonstrated a total ignorance of what the cost of a Chinese invasion would be for Taiwan. By closing the door on new possibilities for weapons development and acquisition, the KMT has revealed an inability to move beyond the unhealthy reliance on the US as a patron for the nation's defenses, which also imposes a needless financial burden on the taxpayer.

Such an approach to defense could only have been dreamed up by a party that does not believe that China would resort to force to settle cross-strait tensions. But as we saw from the manner in which Taipei's envoys to Seoul were treated last week -- a delegation that included Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) of the KMT -- the pan-blue camp has a rare talent for misreading Beijing's intentions.

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