Wed, Jul 20, 2011 - Page 8 News List

Refusing to aid Taiwan is illogical

By Reuben Johnson

Observing daily life in Rio de Janeiro, the most famous of Brazilian cities, one is instantly aware that Brazil’s economy is booming and that Rio, in particular, is about to be the scene of two mammoth international sporting events: the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games.

Brazil feels that it is now reaching its rightful position in the world community — one of the so-called “BRIC nations” — and that the international recognition of Brazil as an up-and-coming nation is an achievement it has largely reached as part of its partnerships with European nations — most specifically France.

Thus, when it comes to modernizing the economy in general and the military in particular, Brazil feels no sense of exclusivity about its relationship with the US. During Brazil’s period of military dictatorship, the nation was under a US embargo forbidding any trade in armaments, putting the Brazilian military in a difficult position.

Even when the embargo was lifted and US firms were free to sell their wares to Brazil, there was resistance to building a closer relationship with Washington on the grounds that US technology export guidelines were far more restrictive than European arms producers and there could always be another US embargo someday.

Not surprisingly, there is not a groundswell to “buying American” when it comes to purchasing new weaponry.

In contrast, Taiwan has never had anything but a positive and enthusiastic attitude about purchasing arms from the US. Its flirtations with European suppliers have proved to be unhappy ones. The air force’s decision to procure Dassault Mirage 2000 fighter aircraft has proven to be an expensive experiment.

The air force is probably going to have to mothball these aircraft because of the excessive costs and other problems associated with obtaining spare, so the focus of the Taiwanese military’s procurements has almost always been very pro-US.

Therefore, as someone who has been writing about the defense industry and arms exports for more than two decades, I find myself asking why the US is pulling out all the stops to sell up to 120 of one of its most advanced combat aircraft, the twin-engine F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, to the Brazilian air force, while at the same time US President Barack Obama’s administration is refusing to sell 66 of the smaller, single-engine and — in some respects — less capable F-16C/D aircraft to Taiwan.

Aside from being one of the US’ oldest and most traditional allies, Taiwan is one of US’ best trading partners. US trade with Taiwan was US$59 billion in 2009, at a time when the world was trying to recover from the fourth quarter 2008 economic crash and trade was in free fall. Last year, Taiwan was the US’ 13th-largest goods export market and the US also buys 50 percent more from Taiwan in most years than it does from Brazil. Clearly, Taiwan is as important to the economic well-being of the US as Brazil, or even more so.

The nature of the proposed sales to Brazil and Taiwan could also not be more different.

Brazilian policymakers are intent on using the purchase of the new fighters as a way to substantially increase the capability of the country’s aerospace industry and provide considerable work in the form of licensed production. Most of the aircraft they want to buy would be assembled in Brazil. Moreover, the Brazilian government would also like to be able to assemble aircraft for sale to other nations as part of the bargain. In other words, there is not a lot for the US aerospace worker to do in the Brazil deal.

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