Tue, Dec 09, 2008 - Page 8 News List

Government must tune its policies on defense

By Wang Jyh-perng 王志鵬

On June 22, William Murray, an associate research professor at the US Naval War College, published an article entitled “Revisiting Taiwan’s defense strategy” in the Naval War College Review. The article attracted much attention among top Taiwanese national security authorities, who invited him to a conference on Sunday. The Ministry of National Defense was also invited.

Murray argues that Taiwan should adopt a “porcupine strategy,” since neither its navy nor air force would be able to resist a Chinese attack.

In his words, “Taiwan should harden key facilities and build redundancies into critical infrastructure and processes so that it could absorb and survive a long-range precision bombardment.”

His view is based on the idea of a protracted war.

In January 2006, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) opposed three US arms procurements, suggesting that the government instead purchase quick-setting cement and mines to be used for defense purposes. This suggestion fits with Murray’s view, and the deeper meaning is that a war in the Taiwan Strait should be avoided. And if there will be no war, why should the nation spend a fortune on arms procurement?

During his election campaign, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said the nation must develop a defense as strong as a rock.

The military must develop a comprehensive defense force that “cannot be intimidated, seized, swallowed or broken into pieces,” he said.

If war is unavoidable, the military must take advantage of its strengths, space and time to deploy troops rapidly in an attempt to win the first battle, throw the enemy off and win crucial time for maneuvering, Ma said.

There are thus two core aspects to the government’s defense policy: trying to win the initial battle in case of war and seeking a protracted war. But these two goals are fundamentally different.

To win the first battles will require continuous investment in strengthening the navy and air force. A strong air force would be key to gaining time for land deployment and troop mobilization. This strategy is necessary in order to boost the nation’s offensive capacity as much as possible.

But a protracted war would require heavy reliance on a large army and strong facilities. That is contradictory to the government’s goal of continuing to pare down the military to 200,000 troops.

Surprisingly, Murray’s argument ignores the capacity and intimidation of diesel-electric submarines. This, despite Murray’s expertise in naval strategy and his background as a former US Navy submarine commander.

The diesel-electric submarine group is the most effective portion of the US air carrier strike group for dealing with the Chinese navy’s development of anti-access strategies in recent years.

Even KMT legislators and KMT-affiliated think tanks have expressed opposition to the defense strategies professed by top government leaders, but the ministry is often put in an awkward situation because it can do nothing about this.

Matters of national defense require continuity and consistency from the government and military transformation brooks no delay.

Yet, there is no one clear, straightforward strategy.

Mishandling national defense will not only weaken the military but also severely damage national security and interests.

The national defense leadership should be brave enough to take a stand for the sake of national security.

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