Fri, Jul 11, 2003 - Page 3 News List

US think tank calls for missile shield

DEFENSE The Atlantic Council says the US should provide Taiwan with the technology to blunt a missile attack from China and urged Taipei to beef up its military capabilities

By Charles Snyder  /  STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON

A Washington think tank has proposed that the US consider providing Taiwan with a missile-defense shield against a potential Chinese attack as part of an overall US missile-defense strategy for Asia.

The Atlantic Council, whose members include some of Washington's leading defense, foreign policy and strategic policy officials from administrations over the past three decades, made the recommendation in a report on an extensive trip last November by four of its scholars to East Asia.

The report cautioned, however, that any US missile defense aid to Taiwan must be tailored to fit specific threats facing Taiwan, and has to be seen as a military action, rather than an action with political dimensions.

"The United States should not rule out providing Taiwan with access to military defenses that would blunt, it not defeat, any hypothetical use of PRC missiles," the report said. "US policy on missile defense for Taiwan should be geared to the scale of the threat and to Taiwan's self-defense needs."

The report also warned against accepting a reported offer last October by then-Chinese president Jiang Zemin (江澤民) to US President George W. Bush to reduce China's missile buildup against Taiwan in exchange for a reduction in US arms sales to Taipei.

"The United States should refuse any proposal by China to trade a `freeze' on further missile defense deployment opposite Taiwan for a ban on US missile defense assistance -- much less limits on broader US military sales to Taiwan," the report said.

While previous reports tied Jiang's missile offer to a reduction in US arms sales, this is the first time that the offer has been linked by Washington insiders to any US missile defense aid commitment.

The report, written largely by Walter Slocombe, former under secretary for defense in the Bill Clinton administration, does not hold much promise for Taiwan to develop an effective system to beat back a concerted Chinese missile attack, and indicates that Taiwan would be better off spending its limited resources on other systems to improve its military.

Washington and Taipei should recognize, the report says, that any missile-defense system "would provide only very limited defense, given the scale and quantity of the PRC missile capability facing Taiwan. Furthermore, missile-defense costs would be high and compete with other, arguably higher-priority, needs to modernize and reform Taiwan's military capabilities."

As a result, US cooperation with Taiwan should be "geared to both real military needs and the overall strategic interests of the two sides," and not become a "test" of US sincerity or Taiwan's commitment to its own defense.

The report takes issue with those in Taiwan who see Washington's help in securing missile defense as "not for military effectiveness of a defense, but as a test of the US commitment to Taiwan's defense."

It also rejects any contention by Beijing that "any [US] system defending Taiwan would necessarily have so many links to the United States' own systems as to create an integrated US-ROC defense, and, in substance if not in form, restore the US-ROC military security alliance" in existence before 1979.

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