Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Tough Talk to Taiwan

For months Washington has been growing increasingly frustrated by Taiwan’s lack of spending on national defense in the face of China’s rising arms expenditures and force modernization. But seldom has the U.S. delivered such a stern tongue-lashing to an old friend and ally as it did earlier this month.

The occasion was the U.S.-Taiwan Business Council-Defense Industry Conference Sept. 18 in San Diego. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia, Richard Lawless wrote the message, but it was delivered by defense department official Edward Ross, since Lawless was in Beijing taking part in the Six-Party talks.

Ross told the delegates that he was going to speak “straight from the heart untainted by political rancor and partisanship,” and he opined that the Taiwan press would misconstrue his remarks. Yet it would be hard for anyone not to get the basic message to Taiwan: stand up for yourselves if you expect the U.S. to stand by you in a crisis with China.

Washington’s complaints focus on two things. One is Taipei’s foot-dragging over a large arms procurement package that involves acquiring eight submarines, six Patriot anti-missile batteries and a dozen anti-submarine patrol aircraft. The other is Taiwan’s declining defense expenditures as a percentage of its gross domestic product.

The Bush administration authorized this arms procurement in April 2001, but money to pay for it has been blocked in Taiwan’s Legislature by the opposition parties. The package initially cost about $18 billion, which was too large to be covered in the normal annual budget, so it has been presented as a supplementary item, the “special budget.”

Actually, the total cost was negotiated down to around $11 billion. And desperate to get something passed, the administration of President Chen Shui-bian split the purchase of Patriot anti-missile batteries off and placed it in the regular defense budget. Nonetheless, the opposition recently announced that it would oppose that too.

Said Ross: “In the last year, the Special Budget has been submitted and rejected 28 times in the Procedural Committee. This means that it hasn’t even made it to the Defense Committee for consideration – 28 times, rejected out of hand, no debate and no opportunity for real compromise, just plain rejected.

“Instead, the special budget has become a political football. Its destiny was to be kicked and head-butted as the center attraction in the field of Taiwan domestic politics, as the centerpiece of a near five-year game of bait-and-switch. In fact, the neutral observer could draw the conclusion that this battered ball has been kept in play more to entertain the players - the politicians – than to serve the needs of Taiwan.

“Even as the Legislative Yuan has failed to take action on the special budget, the Chen administration in all of the regular budgets it has submitted has consistently placed defense spending behind other priorities. While defense spending has increased only marginally, spending on economic and social priorities has lept, often in double-digit terms.

“So the question begs; why would Taiwan, a society so prosperous, so well-educated, so highly developed, but yet so threatened, make the conscious decision to allocate only 2.4 percent of its GDP to its security?”

Ross noted that Singapore, a country that does not have 700 ballistic missiles pointed at it, spends about five percent of its GDP on defense. “In spite of growing GDP over the past ten years, Taiwan’s defense budget in relation to its GDP has declined, both in absolute and relative terms . . . in stark contract, China has been able to sustain double-digit increases in its annual defense expenditures for well over the past decade.

“I want to be clear. No one is suggesting that Taiwan engage in an arms race with China. No one expects Taiwan to outspend the PRC on weapons procurements. What we do expect is that Taiwan have the collective will to invest in a viable defense, to address a growing threat and be in a position to negotiate the future of cross-strait relations from a position of strength.”

He said Taiwan must “stop short-changing itself on reserves of critical munitions” – a reference, presumably, to the fact that the U.S. has outsourced replenishing the U.S. Army’s stores of small arms ammunition expended in Iraq and Afghanistan to Taiwan in order to keep production lines at the country’s sole armory in operation.

Counting on America
Ross made clear that his comments were not just about arms procurement per se but a perception that Taiwan doesn’t have to defend itself because it is counting on America to do it for them. “Richard [Lawless] and I have been asked frequently, ‘if Taiwan is not willing to properly invest in its own self-defense, why should we, the U.S. provide for its self-defense?’

“We always cite the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) because it is good policy and it’s the law. However, inherent in the intent and logic of the TRA is the expectation that Taiwan will be able to mount a viable self-defense. For too long, the Taiwan Relations Act has been referenced purely as a U.S. obligation. Under the TRA, the U.S. is obligated to ‘enable’ Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense, but the reality is, it is Taiwan that is obligated to have a sufficient self-defense.

“For the past ten years, the leaders of Taiwan appear to have calculated U.S. intervention heavily into their resource allocation equation and elected to reduce defense spending despite an ever prosperous and stable economy. And this short-change math does not work. We’re watching the partisan stalemate over Taiwan’s defense spending, and we’re doing our own math. In a crisis . . . Taiwan will be stood up against the yardstick of ‘national will’ and will be measured accordingly.”

Ouch.

What is the reaction to all this in Taiwan? It’s hard to say, although several thousand people demonstrated Monday in Taipei in favor of the special defense budget. Some held banners reading “Strength is Defense.” President Chen Shui-bian, visiting Nicaragua, said he was confident that U.S. would “prevent Taiwan from being annexed by China.”

108 Comments:

Blogger Sun Bin said...

"Actually, the total cost was negotiated down to around $11 billion"

this isn't quite accurate, is it?
i think there hadn't been any re-negotiation. the special budget was reduced to 11bn, after the rest of the amount was re-allocated into the annual defense budget of the coming 10 years.

September 28, 2005 at 11:08 PM  
Blogger IJ said...

“So the question begs; why would Taiwan, a society so prosperous, so well-educated, so highly developed, but yet so threatened, make the conscious decision to allocate only 2.4 percent of its GDP to its security? Ross noted that Singapore, a country that does not have 700 ballistic missiles pointed at it, spends about five percent of its GDP on defense."

But what is an appropriate %age of GDP for a nation to spend on defence? In NATO, members spent between 0% (Iceland) and 3.9% (USA) in 2004; sychronisation is difficult.

With a view to discussing future funding, among other matters, NATO met on the 13th and 14th of September 2005. It was pointed out that a poll by the German Marshall Fund has shown there is little public support for increasing defence spending.

At the meeting, the S-G said: "And that means that we have, . . . as NATO, to do lots of public diplomacy, to explain why we are in Afghanistan. Why is the German Bundeswehr making such a big contribution in Afghanistan, far away from home, unthinkable ten years ago. Why is that?"

Without public support, defence spending - nationally and internationally - will surely reduce.

September 29, 2005 at 4:22 AM  
Blogger pkd said...

I've always assumed that part of KMT hostility to the plan was just to embarrass Chen. So it is indeed a political football. I suspect if the KMT were in power, the DPP would be against it.

September 30, 2005 at 2:26 PM  
Blogger Michael Turton said...

Hi Sun! Good to see you around here. Logan's article fundamentally misunderstands the situation. I responded to him here

Why is Taiwan's defense budget so low? Because it's not -- 2.4% is not low. Singapore has to spend more because weapons have absolute costs....Taiwan's GDP is bigger, can get more bang for smaller ratio of GDP.

The DPP would probably be for the purcahse, although I suspect those idiotic submarines would be a much bigger problem. The KMT would also support the purchase if they were in power. Recently they have been experimenting with a new propaganda line, that the reason they are against the purchase is because pro-independence types shouldn't be allowed to have weapons. Given the massive opportunities for graft, I expect the KMT will reverse its position on the arms purchase when it comes into power.

BTW, you might consder setting your blog to word verification in comments to prevent spambots from showing up here.

Michael

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