The West’s resolute response in supporting Ukraine came as a surprise to the Kremlin, as well as many analysts who argued that the West was in decline. There is no doubt that the US and its NATO allies have shown a political unity not seen since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskiy, too, has defied people’s expectations and risen to the occasion to face down a country 28 times larger than his own. Rapid changes in global events reveal the best and worst in leaders, institutions and ourselves.
The West in the past few months has faced an uncomfortable reality, as its rapid response to supply Ukraine with armaments has left its arsenals at risk of running dry. A larger problem looms: replenishing the acute shortage would take years.
The shortage in the West’s “arsenal of democracy” should be of utmost concern to Taiwan. Nothing guarantees Beijing will not repeat the actions of its Russian partner of no limits. Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) has never ruled out the use of force to secure “reunification.” With Taipei’s military equipment mostly imported, and primarily from the US, diversifying the nation’s sources of armaments is essential to prepare for confrontation.
One case from Ukraine’s situation should serve as a warning for Taiwan. The Economist reported that Washington produces about 180,000 155mm artillery shells annually, while Europe produced 300,000 last year. The sum of this is short of what Ukraine utilizes in three months.
Taiwan’s overreliance on foreign military imports is not unknown to domestic policymakers. One of the Ministry of National Defense’s guiding principles of arms procurement has been the need to develop the domestic defense research-and-development industry. Despite this principle, 23 percent of the military’s weapons come from foreign sources.
In September last year, US President Joe Biden’s administration approved a US$1.1 billion arms sale to Taiwan, including systems such as anti-ship missiles and air-to-air missiles. Over the past 10 years, the US has approved upward of US$20 billion in arms sales.
However, US industrial and procurement issues have lengthened the timeline in which these systems are to be delivered. For example, a sale of F-16s — approved in 2019 — is estimated to arrive in Taiwan in 2026.
Certain US lawmakers have blamed material support to Ukraine as the cause for weapons shortages, but reports have suggested that the oligarchical nature of the US defense industry is the main reason for procurement issues. Since the 1990s, the number of main defense companies has been shrinking, falling from 51 to just five in the past 30 years.
Two other Ministry of National Defense procurement principles are that arms from foreign sources should be acquired directly from manufacturers and that supply sources should be diversified. The aforementioned oligopoly not only has consequences for the US military’s supply, but also for the Taiwanese military’s fighting capabilities.
In Taiwan, there are two main defense companies that are able to design and produce indigenous weapon systems: the Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology and Aerospace Industrial Development Corp. While there are smaller companies that contribute to the domestic defense industry, the two main companies with control over the industry might discourage competition and innovation.
Although the US and Taiwan have issues in their defense industries, there are ways to ensure that Taiwan is prepared for any surprises.
The US has some of the best military technology in the world, with state-of-the-art aircraft such as the F-35 coming from US manufacturers. The US should share certain technologies with Taiwanese defense companies, helping the domestic defense industry produce cutting-edge military equipment. While US security concerns would not permit the sharing of all of its military technology secrets, areas of the Taiwanese domestic defense industry that are lacking could be supplemented with US technical sharing.
The US should also license out the production of certain military equipment such as naval mines, missiles and other systems that the US produces. That would allow Taiwan to ease its reliance on imports as well as skip the line when it comes to receiving US weaponry, by allowing it to produce the systems domestically.
However, these propositions cannot be implemented effectively without Taiwan raising its defense budget. Taipei only spends 2.4 percent of its GDP on defense. For a nation under constant threat of invasion, this is woefully low. Countries such as Israel have been spending just over 5 percent since 2010 and Ukraine, prior to Russia’s invasion, was spending 3.8 percent.
Taiwan should raise this figure. It would not only allow it to purchase more weapons for defense, but also bolster the domestic defense industry. This increase in spending would also incentivize younger talent to join the defense industry, as more contracts to local companies would bring in more money.
While it might be in the interest of each country to bolster their arsenals, it might also pave the way for greater dangers ahead. International relations students might be familiar with the “security dilemma,” in which one state’s quest for security is perceived by another as a threat.
This is already exemplified most terrifyingly by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to suspend Russia’s participation in the New START nuclear treaty. A renewed arms race, conventional and unconventional, would be a fixture of this new era of great power rivalry.
In the not too distant future — if we have not blown each other up — when the West reaches its current demands, a surplus of conventional weapons might find eager consumers in conflict zones ranging from the jungles of Myanmar to the ruinous desert towns of Yemen. Overcoming weapons shortages might only perpetuate conflict throughout the world, and not least heightening tensions across the Taiwan Strait, but it is the only good policy that states can pursue without taking the risk of trusting adversaries.
Nigel Li resides in Moscow and writes about current affairs on the blog A Singaporean in Moscow. Kai Suherwan, an international relations student in Washington, is a division chief at American University’s Pericles Institute and writes about defense issues in the Indo-Pacific region.
The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has a good reason to avoid a split vote against the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in next month’s presidential election. It has been here before and last time things did not go well. Taiwan had its second direct presidential election in 2000 and the nation’s first ever transition of political power, with the KMT in opposition for the first time. Former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) was ushered in with less than 40 percent of the vote, only marginally ahead of James Soong (宋楚瑜), the candidate of the then-newly formed People First Party (PFP), who got almost 37
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) presidential candidate and New Taipei City Mayor Hou You-yi (侯友宜) has called on his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) counterpart, William Lai (賴清德), to abandon his party’s Taiwanese independence platform. Hou’s remarks follow an article published in the Nov. 30 issue of Foreign Affairs by three US-China relations academics: Bonnie Glaser, Jessica Chen Weiss and Thomas Christensen. They suggested that the US emphasize opposition to any unilateral changes in the “status quo” across the Taiwan Strait, and that if Lai wins the election, he should consider freezing the Taiwanese independence clause. The concept of de jure independence was first
Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) Chairman and presidential candidate Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) on Thursday reiterated that he is “deep-green at heart” and that he would mostly continue President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) national defense and foreign policies if elected. However, he was still seriously considering forming a “blue-white” electoral alliance with the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) less than a month ago, telling students he “hates the KMT, but loathes the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) even more,” while constantly criticizing Tsai’s foreign policy these past few years. Many critics have said that Ko’s latest remarks were aimed at attracting green-leaning swing voters, as recent polls
Taiwan’s Ministry of Labor and India’s Ministry of External Affairs have confirmed that the two countries plan to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) this month on recruiting Indians to work in Taiwan. While this marks another step in deepening ties between the two nations, it has also stirred debate, as misunderstandings and disinformation about the plan abound. Taiwan is grappling with a shortage of workers due to a low birthrate and a society that is projected to turn super-aged by 2025. Official statistics show that Taiwan has a labor shortfall of at least 60,000 to 80,000, which is expected