Sun, Oct 19, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Former top US official calls for closer military ties

By Charles Snyder  /  STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON

The US and Taiwan must closely coordinate their military response to a potential Chinese attack on Taiwan and develop long term relations among officers of their respective militaries to help defeat such an attack, a former senior US defense official said.

Stephen Bryen, who served as deputy undersecretary of defense under former US president Ronald Reagan, told a seminar at the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank that the greatest problem facing US-Taiwan military relations is the lack of communication and coordination between the two sides.

Bryen is also a member of the US-China Security Review Commission, a group set up by the US Congress to advise on US military policy toward Taiwan.

Bryen told the Heritage audience that the commission is currently studying issues related to the US-Taiwan-China relationship, and expects to issue a report later this year.

Bryen recalled his experience in 1996, when he was in Taiwan with former CIA director James Woolsey as China launched missiles near Taiwan in advance of that year's presidential election. At the time, he recalled, the "panic factor" led to "great uncertainty whether this was an exercise or was a war."

He said that experience taught him that greater communication was needed.

"You need to have some sort of common communication and control capability, so that both sides [US and Taiwan] know exactly what both sides are doing," he said.

At the same time, both sides have to have "some agreement on scenarios," in which each side would explain in detail to the other how they would react militarily in case of a Chinese attack or threat, so they can coordinate their response and work together to defeat an attack.

Assuming that the US would come to Taiwan's defense, Washington should let Taiwan's military know how long it would take to respond, what equipment would have to be moved and how the movements would be made.

"All these things would have to be laid out in advance," Bryen said.

US policy has rejected such close, direct military relationships, and repeated efforts in Congress supporting closer US-Taiwan military interactions in recent years have failed, in part because of opposition from the White House.

The continued Chinese buildup of ballistic and cruise missiles opposite Taiwan is "probably the most important issue involving relations between Taiwan and China," Bryen said, adding that the US should push China to reduce the number of such missiles, or relocate them inland to take them out of range of Taiwan.

"If you want to reduce the danger level, you must reduce the missile threat," he said. "Installing ballistic missile defense in Taiwan is not going to solve the problem."

Byren also raised doubts on the roll of US aircraft carriers as the chief means of an American response to a Chinese attack threat. First, he said, it takes time to move carriers into position. Second, China is working on ways to take US carriers out of operation before they reach the strait, and incapacitating them with cruise missiles, advanced torpedoes and other weapons once they get there.

"So we must think of what else we can do that would be equally formidable and would act as a deterrent," he said.

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