Thu, May 16, 2019 - Page 8 News List

Isolation hurts Taiwan’s military

By Grant Newsham

However, when it comes to Taiwan, there is a curious timidity in Washington.

If the US-Taiwan military relationship is to move beyond the pro forma, the US must go first and draw Taiwan’s military out of isolation — show that it is backing up a smaller friend facing a powerful bully. Do this, and Taiwan just might believe the Americans are serious.

Here is a suggestion:

Establish a “Central Pacific Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief (HA/DR) Force” — using US and Taiwanese amphibious forces to plan, train and exercise, and — when disasters occur — respond to them. Base the outfit in Taiwan and attach US officers, say, from the US Navy’s 7th Fleet and the US Marine Corps’ 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, which are well-versed in disaster response.

A particular advantage of using amphibious forces is that they combine the air, sea and ground capabilities needed for effective disaster relief. Coincidentally, these are the same skills used for regular military operations — except for the shooting.

Do some of this joint training and Taiwanese military skills would rapidly improve — as would American and Taiwanese military interoperability.

Where to train? Besides Taiwan, Guam is a perfect training location and there are other places elsewhere in the South Pacific where Taiwan still has diplomatic allies.

A natural outcome of this effort would be Taiwanese and American military personal interspersed in each other’s amphibious units and headquarters, as well as ships and aircraft using their partners’ ports and airfields.

Expect political and psychological knock-on effects in Taiwan, Washington and Beijing, and regionally. People will see Americans are serious, and friends like Australia, Japan, France and the UK might join in. A few “undecided” nations might also come down off the fence. Meanwhile, adversaries might reckon they have underestimated the US, once again.

A Central Pacific HA/DR Force would also address long-standing carping in Washington that “Taiwan won’t fight.” It has never had a fair chance to show what it can do. Why not give it one?

This all should have been done a decade or two ago. It is scandalous that it has taken so long. In fact, one sometimes suspects the reason why the US has not exercised with Taiwanese forces is because the US departments of state and defense, and successive US administrations have wanted Taiwan to “go away quietly.”

US President Donald Trump’s administration seems different, but still has to produce when it comes to Taiwan.

If the free people on Taiwan one day give up after concluding that Americans are all talk, it would be a disaster for the US and the region, and globally. And it will be noted, centuries from now, as the date US influence collapsed in Asia.

Grant Newsham is a senior research fellow at the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies. He is a retired US Marine colonel and was the first US Marine liaison officer to the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force. In that role he was instrumental in developing Japan’s nascent amphibious capability.

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