Mon, Sep 10, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Ian Easton On Taiwan: The great defense debate

In contrast, Taiwanese officials often emphasize the need to take the fight to the enemy. They argue that Taiwan’s armed forces must prepare to defend against a wide range of possible Chinese actions. The near-term doomsday scenario is not the only one out there.

For reasons of military feasibility and political prudence, national security authorities in Taiwan are reluctant to shred long-worked war plans and retire serving hardware in favor of experimental concepts and systems like unmanned mini-subs. They prefer tried and tested defense capabilities and standard methods of strategic competition.

While positive parts of the US government-approved defense strategy for Taiwan appear to have been incorporated into Taiwan’s Overall Defense Concept, Taipei hedges its bets by continuing investments into major platforms. Taiwanese leaders clearly cherish the hope that their country could one day join a broader American-led regional defense network with compatible operating systems. This future option remains open, but uncertain. At the same time, they also know that Taiwan must strengthen its local indigenous defense industry to maintain its freedom of action in the face of the ever-present question marks that surround Washington’s dedication and commitment.

American leaders, beset by a seemingly endless series of international and domestic crises, have long ignored the main strategic issue: the predatory ascendance of China. The dysfunctional diplomatic relationship between Washington and Taipei (unofficial relations are inherently abnormal), and significant Chinese Communist Party influence activities in the United States, further ensure that Taiwan is not treated like an important player. As a country that is not treated as a country, Taiwan gets taken for granted. Its voice gets lost and its ability to contribute to a greater cause restricted.

The room for improvement is vast. It makes sense for the US and Taiwan to do more to ensure their own respective national security interests, even when this can mean doing things that could complicate relations with the regime in Beijing. As the long-term strategic competition between the free world and China unfolds, it will probably become increasingly important that Taiwan is able to offer the Indo-Pacific region a balanced suite of military capabilities far sharper than those currently envisioned by many in Washington.

The good news is that the great defense debate has not embittered either side.

Military professionals in America and Taiwan have a huge advantage over their Chinese adversaries: They come from open societies where hard questions are encouraged and intellectual jousts are warmly welcomed. Both sides continue to regard each other with sincere goodwill. Thousands of exchanges are now occurring every year between the Pentagon and the Ministry of National Defense, and work is progressing in the spirit of friendship.

The US and Taiwan must do far more to keep Chairman Xi Jinping (習近平) from breaking the peace. It is essential they develop a joint defense work plan and become a unified team.

Efforts are needed on both sides to forge a smart path forward. Discussions and debates can and should continue. But action is needed before the strategic scene becomes unhinged.

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