Friday, March 02, 2012

The faulty logic behind US arms sales

Pressure from Beijing, fears of technological transfer and bureaucratic friction cannot fully explain why it is so difficult for Taiwan to obtain what it needs to defend itself

The US is Taiwan’s principal source of advanced military technology, but it is becoming increasingly clear that the US government is reluctant to share with its ally systems that have offensive potential. While such limits reflect the spirit of the US’ Taiwan Relations Act, they also undermine Taiwan’s ability to present an increasingly powerful China with a credible military deterrent.

Over the years, Taiwan’s failure to acquire certain weapons, such as the F-16C/Ds it has been requesting since 2006, or diesel-electric submarines, has often been blamed on pressure from Beijing and its so-called “red lines,” which if crossed would presumably endanger US-China military relations.

However, pressure from Beijing alone cannot account for recent decisions on arms sales. Moves by Washington to sell Taiwan the Patriot air defense missile system, for example, sparked early threats by Beijing of dire consequences to bilateral relations, but nothing happened when PAC-3 (an upgraded version of the Patriot) fire units and missiles were finally released to Taiwan.

While Chinese pressure should not be discounted altogether, something else appears to be governing Washington’s decisions on arms sales to Taiwan: ensuring that Taipei does not acquire or develop offensive weapons.

My op-ed, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.


Michael Fagan said...

"The same fears apply to other types of offensive weapons, which according to Washington’s calculations would increase the risk of a military conflagration in Asia and likely force the US to intervene."

That word "calculations"... is that meant seriously (if so then surely it refers to assets other than a few F-16s?), or is it just a diplomatic expression for what might elsewhere be mocked as "strategic abandonment"?

J. Michael Cole 寇謐將 said...

Mike: This refers to various weapons systems or technologies that would allow Taiwan to develop offensive platforms. Various types of artillery comes to mind; strict enforcement by the US State Department of MTCR regulations against Taiwan, which has hurt the island's ability to miniaturize warheads and extend missile ranges, is another aspect of this. This is all part of US "calculations," fears that a more offensive-capable Taiwan would prompt China to respond in kind.

Michael Fagan said...

Presumably though, the ATMS order that went through in 2010 was not hampered by MTCR regulations?

Incidentally, there is an interview with Condoleezza Rice at Peter Robinson's place.