Taiwan was the world’s largest purchaser of US defense products and services in 2011. Although US officials do not draw a link between the pivot and arms sales, the pivot is often mentioned during briefings to justify the arms transfers. US officials will not rule out future arms sales.
Critical elements of the
security relationship remain low-profile. For example, Taiwan and the US appear to have long enjoyed a cooperative intelligence-sharing agreement whereby the US National Security Agency and Taiwan’s National Security Bureau monitor China’s military communications from a facility north of Taipei.
Intelligence cooperation might be increasing. According to media reports, Taiwan may share data acquired through its new US$1.3 billion long-range early-warning radar system in Hsinchu with the US military.
In addition to an increase in security ties, Taiwan stands to gain indirectly from the pivot. Taiwan’s military welcomes plans to reallocate US naval forces from a roughly 50 percent split between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans to 60 percent stationed in the Pacific. This might benefit Taiwan in an emergency. Moreover, Taiwan’s security will be bolstered by any effort to ramp up missile defenses.
The US will deploy two additional X-band radar systems in the Western Pacific — one in southern Japan and the other in Southeast Asia. Although officials claim the new systems reflect concerns about Pyongyang, they may also track other developments.
In addition to the radar systems, the Pentagon has taken note of China’s “carrier killing” missile systems and pledged that “the US military will invest as required to ensure its ability to operate effectively in anti-access and area denial (A2/AD) environments.”
The US military also promises to counter China’s advances in cyberwarfare and “invest in advanced capabilities to defend its networks, operational capability, and resiliency in cyberspace.”
These commitments help ensure that the US can respond to an emergency in the Taiwan Strait and thereby enhance the deterrence to China’s plans for military action.
So Taiwan will benefit from the pivot, but the policy also has challenges. Paradoxical as it may seem, the pivot — an initiative intended to promote stability — might increase the likelihood of conflict in the Western Pacific. Washington is starting to favor Tokyo in its dispute with China over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. At the same time, the US has unnecessarily challenged Beijing by increasing military deployments and by inking numerous security agreements with China’s neighbors. These moves could provoke Beijing and destabilize the entire region.
It is difficult to predict how the US pivot to the Asia-Pacific will play out. It could conceivably benefit Taiwan, on the other hand, like other Asian governments, Taipei might suffer some collateral damage if present trends continue. The pivot might prove to be yet another problem — not a solution to regional difficulties.
Dennis Hickey is a distinguished professor of political science and director of the Graduate Program in Global Studies at Missouri State University.