Sun, Oct 16, 2005 - Page 1 News List

US official urges switch to `defense'

PRIORITIES A top US military commander said that the nation could best protect itself by investing more in mines and other defensive weapons, not offensive ones

AP , CAMP H.M. SMITH, HAWAII, WITH STAFF WRITER

The top US military commander in the Pacific said that Taiwan should upgrade its Patriot anti-missile defense batteries and buy other weapons, such as mines, that would help protect the country if China attacked.

Admiral William Fallon, head of the US Pacific Command, said buying such weaponry would be a more effective use of funds than buying more expensive, high-tech offensive weapons that the US offered to sell Taiwan four years ago.

Fallon told the Associated Press in a Friday interview at Pacific Command headquarters that defensive weapons would also have the benefit of being less provocative to China.

"As I take stock of the situation and have had an assessment of where we stand, it seems to me there are some things that would be much more useful than others in helping Taiwan better prepare its defenses," Fallon said.

Examples of steps the nation could take include upgrading the Patriot anti-missile systems it already has and buying airplane-mounted missiles that could shoot down invading aircraft, he said.

Taiwan also could buy sea mines to protect the country's beaches from an amphibious assault, he said.

Fallon said he brought up the subject with Taiwanese military officials several months ago.

"We would hope they would contemplate ways in which they could be more effective in their defense," he said.

In 2001, the Bush administration offered to sell Taiwan four Kidd-class destroyers, a dozen P-3C Orion antisubmarine planes, eight diesel submarines and other weaponry.

Taiwan purchased the destroyers, the first two of which are due to be commissioned into service in December.

But the pan-blue legislature has for months blocked the purchase via a special budget of the diesel submarines, P-3Cs and three new Patriot anti-missile batteries.

At the request of opposition parties, the Executive Yuan removed the Patriot batteries from the proposed special budget and included them in the Ministry of National Defense's regular budget instead, slashing the special arms budget to NT$340 billion (US$10.16 billion). But the pan-blues are still blocking the bill.

The lack of progress on the special arms purchase has prompted some US critics to question whether Taiwan is willing to help shoulder the burden for its own defense.

Fallon didn't express such criticisms. But he said the failure by Taiwan to invest more in its defense would upset the military balance in the Taiwan Strait.

He noted the nation's defense spending has been dropping as a percentage of its GDP even as China spent heavily to modernize and upgrade its military.

"If these trend lines continue, there is a clear gap and a potential to have a significant imbalance which might not be useful for long-term stability," Fallon said.

Fallon said his emphasis on defensive weapons did not mean the US was adopting a new policy toward Taiwan.

"The big goal is, no military interaction, long-term stability -- you guys solve your problem peacefully. Now what's the smartest way to get there?" he said.

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