Tough Love for Taiwan

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s recent visit to Washington was for urgent consultations with President Bush about drawing borders with Palestinian areas and the Iranian nuclear weapons program. Olmert’s approach to the threats Israel faces and its need for American provided a clear context for reconsideration of our relationship with Taiwan. Olmert’s Israel is deadly serious about dealing with its enemies. Taiwan is not.

In the spring of 2001 the newly-inaugurated George Bush was tested severely by China’s intentional force-down of a US Navy EP-3 Orion reconnaissance aircraft. The Beijing regime held the crew hostage to an apology from Bush which it never got. Soon after, renewing our commitments to defend Taiwan from Chinese aggression, the president offered to sell Taiwan a large package of badly-needed weapon systems, including Patriot anti-missile batteries, diesel-electric submarines and a host of others. These systems were offered based upon previous Taiwanese government requests for the weapons they said they needed most.

Since then, Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan has turned down bills to appropriate funds for purchasing the weapons Taiwan told us it needed more than fifty times. And that’s not the only indication that Taiwan is no longer serious about its own defense. Last week its government issued its first-ever report on national security. In it, the Chen Shui-bian government expressed a plan to grow defense spending to 3% of gross domestic product by 2008 while, at the same time, reducing the number of its military personnel by one-third if relationships warm across the Taiwan Straits. Since 2001, President Bush has repeated many times America’s commitment to defend Taiwan militarily from any attack by Beijing. But Taiwan has no plan, and no apparent desire, to do what is necessary to help defend itself.

The new 2006 Defense Department report on "The Military Power of the People’s Republic of China" emphasizes how the balance of power has shifted so far against Taiwan. While Beijing has deployed 100 more short-range ballistic missiles against Taiwan in the past year, Taiwan has done nothing. The Patriot anti-missile batteries Taiwan was supposed to buy could help restore the balance, but won’t if they’re never bought. Beijing has five submarine acquisition programs under way, including nuclear attack and ballistic missile submarines. Taiwan has no answer. Taiwan can’t compete in an arms race against Beijing. But it could be doing a lot more to keep the balance of forces across the Straits from tilting irrevocably toward Beijing.

In history, the emergence of every superpower has been characterized by war, from Rome in the defeat of Carthage to America rising from the ashes of World War 2. Beijing’s emergence as a regional superpower, if not significantly influenced by the United States, will likely be as violent as the Soviet Union’s in the late 1940s. No nation has ever managed the superpower ascendancy of another. But we must with Beijing, or we shall be at war with China within the next decade. Their military buildup — as outlined in the new Defense Department report — is something that hasn’t been seen since 1930s Germany.

To keep the peace while China rises, our strategy must be a modern version of the "containment and engagement" strategy we pursued against the Soviet Union in the last few decades of its life. The new containment and engagement strategy can be expressed in four parts.

First, in conversations between Chinese President Hu Jintao and President Bush, as well as between Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and his Chinese counterparts, a habit of very blunt and candid discussions has been developed. As senior defense department officials have said repeatedly, we have learned that this kind of discussion is most productive with the Chinese, and does not lead to enmity or even unease. These talks must continue in that manner.

Second, as the DoD report explains, China is building some types of weapons that cannot be characterized as defensive. Ships and aircraft can be both, but anti-satellite weapons and cyber-war capabilities cannot. China is investing heavily in both of the latter. If we don’t create and deploy offensive and defensive weapons to protect our military and commercial satellite and computer networks, we are complete fools.

Third, and possibly most importantly, we need to continue to make alliances with the nations surrounding China. Those nations — India and Japan especially — should be as close a group of allies as we can convince them to be. President Bush’s successes with those two nations (in the agreements last year for rapprochement with India and this year on Japanese ballistic missile defense) are enormously important. They must be the model for other agreements with China’s neighbors, and the foundation of a tough approach to Taiwan.

It is time to tell Taiwan that our patience is exhausted. No nation should be able to rely on our defense if it isn’t willing to do as much as it can to defend itself. Our commitment to defend Taiwan militarily should be withdrawn until they keep up their end of the bargain.