Attack is the best means of defense. As such, “effective deterrence” is a much less costly and more effective policy than “resolute defense.”
When the Ministry of National Defense held a missile exercise on Jan. 18, it acknowledged that a single surface-to-air missile has a 70 to 80 percent chance of hitting its target, so anti-missile engagements would mostly involve firing two defense missiles from either one or two launchers. That means, to defend ourselves against an incoming missile, we have to fire at least two surface-to-air missiles, with each costing more than a surface-to-surface missile. In last month’s exercise, the interception rate was just 73 percent — just above the minimum that the military considers acceptable. This is the Achilles’ heel of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) “resolute defense” policy.
Since the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) was voted back in power in 2008, the Ma government has followed a very different defense policy to that of his predecessor, Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁). Whereas Chen’s defense strategy stressed “effective deterrence and resolute defense,” Ma has reversed the emphasis with its policy of “resolute defense and effective deterrence.”
While Taiwan has shifted its focus to a defensive strategy, China continues to modernize its People’s Liberation Army (PLA), with double-digit annual growth in defense spending for most of the past decade. Can “resolute defense” maintain peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait in the face of the most concentrated missile threat in the world?
In September 2004, then--premier Yu Shyi-kun (游錫堃) said: “If you hit Taipei and Kaohsiung, then we should be able to strike Shanghai in return.”
His words expressed the core spirit of the Chen administration’s “effective deterrence and resolute defense” policy. As long as others did not attack us, we would not attack them, but if someone attacked us, we would definitely strike back. Taiwan would not be the first to use offensive weapons, but if Taiwan were to suffer a first strike by the PLA, our armed forces could consider using offensive weapons to make a tactical counterstrike against key political, economic or military targets in China. The crux of this strategy was to keep the peace through effective deterrence centered on a counterstrike capability, so that China knew that it would suffer heavy losses, outweighing its gains, in the event of war. Based on a rational assessment, China would then drop any plan it might have to use military force against Taiwan.
However, Ma has replaced this defense policy with one aimed at building a rock-solid defense force that cannot be intimidated or broken. In September 2008, the Ministry of Defense announced that it would not seek to improve the range and accuracy of the Hsiung Feng IIE cruise missile that had been developed under the Chen administration and that its deterrence capability would be aimed at military targets in China, not cities. This change shows how keen Ma is to bring about a cross-strait detente, achieve breakthroughs in economic cooperation, build mutual trust in military affairs and possibly sign a peace agreement.
Ma also wants to signal to the US that Taiwan is not a “troublemaker” and would avoid worrying the US by developing a counterstrike capability. In an interview with CNN in May, Ma said: “We will never ask the Americans to fight for Taiwan.”