Analysts: Taiwan Should Build Own Subs
By Wendell Minnick
TAIPEI — A group of U.S. analysts told Taiwan Ministry of National Defense (MND) officials in late February that Taiwan and the United States should abandon the 2001 proposal to sell U.S. diesel subs to the island, and gear up instead for an indigenous-building effort.
“The group intends to recommend to senior policymakers in the incoming Obama administration that it take the initiative and propose that Taiwan model its acquisition of submarines after its acquisition of PFG-2 frigates and the Indigenous Defense Fighter [IDF],” said Mark Stokes, one of the members of the Washington-based Taiwan Defense Working Group (TDWG), a joint project of two Washington-based think tanks, the American Enterprise Institute and the Project 2049 Institute, which studies Asia-Pacific issues.
In the TDWG briefing, “Taiwan’s Defense Strategy: A Look Toward the Future,” the analysts also recommended that Taiwan build an “effective initial independent defense,” improve cyber warfare, buy vertical-takeoff fighter jets, impede Chinese special forces and fifthcolumn agents, and remain able to strike mainland targets.
The briefing was presented by Stokes and Randy Schriver of Project 2049 and Dan Blumenthal of the American Enterprise Institute.
All three served as U.S. defense officials during the Bush administration. The TDWG includes former top-tier U.S. Defense and State Department officials, Stokes said.
The effort is meant to describe how Taiwan’s military could contribute to national objectives, to support the military’s next Quadrennial Defense Review and to offer the Obama administration an “alternative perspective regarding Taiwan.”
Stokes said the current approach to acquiring submarines was not working. “Someone needs to take the initiative, untie this knot, and come up with a more modest and workable solution that better fits the military, economic and political realities,” he said.
Taiwan built Perry-class frigates and the IDF with U.S. assistance, but the local defense industry has faltered in the past decade because of MND procurement policies that emphasize U.S. over indigenous production.
Those policies reflect a fear of corruption among MND officers after the Lafayette frigate scandal in the 1990s, and also a history of failure that makes MND officers shy away from indigenous programs, said Lin Chong Pin, former MND vice minister.
“Generals want to get three stars. They don’t get them if they back indigenous programs,” Lin said.
Stokes said the working group recommends that U.S. officials “not attempt to obstruct Taiwan’s own indigenous efforts to develop its own capabilities, even if those capabilities were able to interdict [People’s Liberation Army] targets on the ground in mainland China.”
The United States has been accused of withholding components for three under development missiles due to Chinese pressure: the Hsiung Feng 3 (Brave Wind) antiship missile, the Hsiung Feng-2E land attack cruise missile, and the Tien Kung 3 (Sky Bow) air defense missile.
The programs have been on hold since Ma Ying-jeou, of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), won the presidential election in 2008.
The briefing did suggest “interdiction throughout range of battlespace, defined as that area from which [People’s Republic of China] military operations are carried out against Taiwan.”
“There could be concerns over escalation control, but Taiwan’s political leaders would be expected to assume the risks associated with its actions,” Stokes said.
Lin said the briefing has a “blind spot” by not recognizing the forces behind improved cross-Strait relations since Ma’s election, and China’s grand strategy for unification that includes economic and political pressure on Washington and “winning the hearts and minds” of the Taiwanese.
Ma and KMT officials have been promoting economic relations with China, including direct flights and financial agreements. Ma has also proposed confidence-building measures and a peace accord with China.
Stokes said the briefing recognizes improved relations and recommends cross-Strait military dialogue, including high level exchanges, exercise notifications, Dangerous Military Activity agreements, arms control agreements and a hotline.
However, Lin said many of the brief’s recommendations have been tried in the past with little success. Given improved relations with China, the proposals are “too little, too late.”
On March 5, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao told delegates of the National People’s Congress that Beijing was “ready to hold talks on cross-Strait political and military issues and create conditions for ending the state of hostility and concluding a peace agreement between the two sides of the Taiwan Straits.”