Washington-based academics are warning US President Barack Obama not to sign the UN Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) because it could make it more difficult to sell weapons to Taiwan.
The treaty is to be negotiated next month in New York.
“The US is obligated by the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act [TRA] to make available the hardware and services necessary for Taiwan’s defense,” Heritage Foundation Research Fellows Ted Bromund and Dean Cheng (成斌) wrote.
In a paper published on Friday, Bromund and Cheng said that because Taiwan is not a UN member state — and is not recognized by a majority of UN members — the ATT would not recognize its right to buy or import arms.
“The ATT thus provides the basis for a Chinese argument that US sales of arms to Taiwan would circumvent the PRC’s [People’s Republic of China] import control system, violate China’s territorial integrity, and thus violate the treaty,” Bromund and Cheng wrote.
They said the ATT would “very likely” establish a series of criteria that treaty signatories are required to apply to proposed arms transfers. One of these criteria is likely to be that arms transfers should not seriously undermine peace and security or provoke, prolong or aggravate internal, regional, subregional or international instability.
“Since the Chinese Civil War has never been formally concluded, a state of war still exists between Taiwan and the PRC,” Bromund and Cheng said.
They said that this criteria offers the PRC a third argument that the US weapons sales or transfers to Taiwan would violate the terms of the ATT.
Bromund and Cheng said that the ATT poses three distinct threats to the legal obligation of the US to provide for the defense of Taiwan, or to the ability of Taiwan to provide for its own defense.
“A US administration that earnestly wished to fulfill its obligations under the TRA would likely do so, regardless of the ATT,” the academics said.
However, they said a US administration that believed US sales to Taiwan endangered US relations with the PRC, or did not want to sell arms to Taiwan for some other reason, would be able to cite the ATT as a reason not to proceed with those sales.
“Even if the US does not sign or ratify the ATT, US legal scholars who interpret it as customary international law could use it to argue that the US should not proceed with a proposed sale,” Bromund and Cheng said.
They conclude: “The ATT can only raise yet another hurdle to US arms sales to Taiwan.”
Arms sales, like international relations as a whole, are always a matter for judgement. In next month’s negotiations, the US should make it clear that it will not accept any treaty that would impinge on its ability to apply that judgement to its legal obligation to provide for the defense of Taiwan, they said.
“Elected officials have the broader responsibility to make it clear that they recognize the importance of the US commitment to Taiwan, and to stand by that commitment in word and deed,” Bromund and Cheng said.
In Taipei, Director-General of the Department of North American Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Bruce Linghu (令狐榮達) said the ministry is aware of the proposed UN treaty and would keep abreast of any developments.
Issues related to the proposed UN treaty have not been placed on the agenda between Taiwan and the US, but the ministry will look into the matter, Linghu said.
Additional reporting by Shih Hsiu-chuan